Most of us have some junk laying around. And it gets very, very tempting to start down the “I need to take a trip to Goodwill”, or even the “I need to call a local junk removal company” road. But before you load up the car or make the phone call, you might want to consider asking your junk some questions.

There are two easy questions you can ask your junk, and they may just help you avoid re-junking your space in the future.

The first question is, “what does this junk say about me?”

Most junk has a story to tell. You don’t just accidentally wind up with a garage full of downhill skiing clothing & equipment, for example. Why do you have it? Maybe you have it because at one time you liked downhill skiing, but you’ve since moved away from a place where that’s convenient. Or maybe you have it because you used to go every weekend, but you injured your leg a couple years ago and just haven’t worked up the desire to try it again.

The follow-up question to this is simple: “how does this fit into my life now?” Maybe you absolutely love skiing, but you just never have the time. Rather than just reflexively throwing out the equipment, maybe you would do well to sit down and consider how you’re using your time – and whether or not you’d rather be skiing. Or maybe you never really liked skiing, and you’re just holding onto it because you paid a lot of money for it. You could consider whether it’s worth it to you to essentially keep paying for it every month by letting it take up space in your garage.

Many people have a kitchen cupboard full of “aspirational clutter”. Kitchen gadgets and gizmos that promised to make it super easy to chop veggies, make pasta, cook burgers, etc. Those people had a desire to make good-tasting, healthy food for themselves and their family. And just because the kitchen gizmo didn’t deliver on the late-night TV sales promises doesn’t mean that’s a bad goal, or that they’re a failure – but it almost certainly does mean that they’d do well to sit down and think about how they can accomplish that goal. 

The second question is, “what does this junk say about my habits?”

Anybody who’s ever known a “messy kid” knows how this works. There will be a pile of clothes somewhere it doesn’t belong, frequently next to the bed. There’s a perfectly-good hamper in the closet – why don’t they put the clothes there? Well, the hamper is behind a door. It’s theoretically easy to get to, but for certain people (not just kids!) that’s just not on their mind at the moment. They’re getting ready for bed, and are eager to get to sleep.

In a situation like that, it might help to put the hamper next to the bed. Having the visual reminder will help them remember that’s where the dirty clothes go. And maybe, once the habit is more developed, it could be moved over to the corner of the room – within tossing range. 

Kitchen tables covered in mail and paperwork are another great example. If your kitchen table is covered with mail, that indicates that’s probably where you naturally want to set things down when you get home. Could you maybe come up with some sort of “inbox” or “processing area” close to the table that you could use instead? That’s where your mind is telling you it wants to put the stuff, so don’t beat yourself up about how you could’ve hauled the mail downstairs to your office – come up with a way to work with your brain, not against it.

The usual objection to this last concept is something along the lines of “well, but that’s not how you’re supposed to do it”. Keep in mind that “supposed to” is a loaded term, and what works for other people may not work for you. The only opinions that really matter in this case are yours, and the other people that live in your home with you. Check in with those people, and then come up with strategies that work for you!

The bottom line here is that junk is both what it is, and where it is, for a reason. If you just get rid of it without considering those reasons, you may find yourself re-acquiring the same stuff, or making the same piles on the floor or kitchen table. So before you just throw stuff away, give it a few minutes worth of thought. Figure out how why this junk is in your life, and what it has to teach you.

Then use those lessons to help yourself plan a more junk-free future!

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