Do you keep things just in case they come in useful someday, even though you’ve had them for years and they have never come in slightly useful, not even once?
A major reason that some people feel unable to let go of clutter is that they have scarcity issues. They fear that if they throw something away, there will come a time in the future when they will regret it because they will not be able to afford to replace it. They may also feel wracked by guilt about being wasteful. The two mindsets tend to go hand in hand.
Scarcity issues are relative
Something I’ve observed is that there seems to be no direct relationship between how much financial wealth a person has and their anxiety about not having enough. One person may feel destitute when they get down to their last $10 in the bank. For someone else, it’s being down to their last $10 million.
I know multi-millionaires, for example, who find it almost impossible to throw anything away because they have enough money now, but who knows what could happen in the future?
Some also scrimp and save needlessly, such as one very wealthy man I met who was so concerned about his money leaking away that he wore outdoor clothing and woolly hats at home all winter so that he could keep his heating turned down or off. He was in very poor health but, in his view, saving money by scrimping on heating was more important than looking after himself.
What causes scarcity issues?
A major cause of scarcity issues is having lived through a period when you didn’t have enough. This can leave emotional scars that can cause you to become fearful about the possibility of something similar happening again. Many people who endured the rationing of World War Two, for example, continue to worry about this for the rest of their lives, saving every little thing in case it comes in useful someday.
But not everyone is affected in this way. Some people who go through a period of lack simply shrug their shoulders afterwards and resume normal life, leaving the past behind. In other words, they do not allow themselves to become traumatized or neurotic. They update their behaviour to match their current situation.
Another cause of scarcity issues is behavioural conditioning. You may not have lived through a time of scarcity yourself but you may have been heavily influenced by someone who has, usually a parent or caregiver when you were growing up. This can also be the reason why you feel guilty when contemplating throwing something away, when thoughts such as ‘my mother would never throw that out’ or ‘my father would find a use for that’ immediately surface.
In these situations, the worries have no connection to the reality of your own life. They are only in your mind, repeating like a broken record. If you listen carefully, you will be able to hear whose voice you can hear in your head when scarcity thoughts arise.
Clutter clearing and scarcity issues
When it comes to clutter clearing, people with scarcity issues are usually reluctant to seek professional help because they prefer to spend money on something they can keep instead of paying someone to help them let things go. If they do decide to take action, they tend to take the self-help route instead of personalized advice in order to save money, which is usually a false economy.
No amount of intellectual persuasion will help a person with scarcity issues to change their standpoint about it. The only thing I’ve found that works is when they have something they want more than clinging onto their stuff, such as having reached the point where they are fed up with living in a messy or cluttered space.
When they first experience letting some things go, it can be a huge surprise how much better they feel and that life carries on. However, there will usually be a few wrinkles at the start. People with scarcity issues are more likely than others to suddenly discover a use for an item soon after it’s gone, even though they’ve had it for years and never needed it once. But this gradually stops happening, as I explain in Chapter 6 my book, Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui:
Keeping things “just in case” indicates a lack of trust in the future. If you worry that you will need something after you have thrown it away then sure enough, very soon afterwards, your subconscious mind will helpfully create a situation where you need that very thing, however obscure it may be. ‘I knew it would come in useful sometime!’ you exclaim, but in actual fact you could have averted this need by thinking differently. You created the need yourself by believing that you would have it!
How to change scarcity issues
If you have scarcity issues, the only way to change this debilitating habit is to first figure out where the mindset came from.
If it’s a hangover from a past experience in your own life, realize that’s what it is, update your beliefs to match your current situation, and move on.
If you learned it from someone else, make a clear decision about whether you want to continue to follow their example or not. How did it work out for them? Did they have the kind of life you really want to have? Does it make any sense to be living their life instead of your own?
Each time you find yourself worrying about not having enough, ask yourself, ‘What’s the worst that could happen?’ Face your fears and you’ll nearly always find that they are only in your imagination. Focus instead on being grateful for what you have. If you do this repeatedly, the scarcity mindset will have nothing to hold onto and will eventually melt away.
If this type of mental and emotional clutter is something you need help with, the Personal Insight sessions that my husband, Richard, conducts with people all over the world are a highly effective way of getting to the source of the issue and reclaiming your life.
Scarcity issues in a pandemic
You may have been thinking as you’ve been reading this article that surely we are all living in a time of potential scarcity at the moment because of the Covid pandemic. Well, yes, it’s reasonable at this time to have an extra 1-2 weeks’ supply of food and other necessities in case of shortages or having to go into self-isolation. Providing you can afford to do this, have the space to store these things and you use them in order of purchase, replenishing only what you use, that can work fine.
However, I’m hearing from countless people these days who have stockpiled a heck of a lot more food and household items in the last few months than they personally need or have room to store in a tidy and organized fashion. Some are generously donating their hastily purchased excess items to food banks, which is no doubt greatly appreciated by the recipients. But others, through mounting fear or anxiety, are holding on to things and stockpiling even more. It can become overwhelming.
The remedy in this situation is not too little and not too much. You need enough to meet your own needs and those of anyone whose needs you are responsible for, but not so much that it stagnates the energy of your home and holds you back. Getting the right balance is the recipe for a healthy, balanced life, which is especially important in times of uncertainty and change.
Copyright © Clear Space Living Ltd, 2020
Stash acquisition beyond life expectancy
Panic buying of toilet paper. Seriously?
Philanthropist Chuck Feeney has no scarcity issues
Personal Insight sessions with Richard Kingston
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I am in the middle of packing our house for a cross country move. I find so many brand new items stashed inside drawers that I thought I may someday use. I am trying to sell most of them. I am so afraid if I don’t sell them now I will end up taking them with me because they are still NEW and have value!!
Then there are things like paper that I use to make notebooks and cardmaking I have already donated a lot of them to my daughter’s school. I feel good they can use it. BUT I also feel sad to part with them because I know I would use them eventually. It is just not worth taking. Finally a lot of stuff I know I don’t need until later, such as bedding for guests. I’m stuck what to do with things I’ll use occasionally if I should take or get rid of. If it was a short distance move, I would probably take a lot of the stuff. For long distance move, I really need to get rid of a lot of stuff.
I know if the house burn down and all these were gone, I would be okay with it because insurance will pay me money for it so I’m getting the value back. I am so torn and feel stuck.