"No obstacles are insurmountable when God commands and we obey"
- - Heber J. Grant
January 23, 2014
It's Hard to Throw Things Away
by Cyndie Swindlehurst


It is hard for me to throw things away. I see my old junk out at the curb and feel anxiety just thinking of how I could have used it up more, or saved part of it for something else. As a result, I have a hard time throwing things away that are objectively garbage, and it's getting to be a problem in my house.

I have a large family to care for, and I don't think I will ever have the time to go through all off our stuff and sort out the junk. I get overwhelmed just thinking about it and the anxiety I will feel when it is all out at the curb. And I worry about how I will afford to replace the things I'm throwing away, even though I cannot use them anymore because they are so worn out.

Any suggestions?


It's January, and that means that every magazine in sight is full of ideas and tips for de-cluttering your home. They give good advice: Don't keep what you don't use and don't like. But you pose an interesting question: What if you know something is junk, but it's still hard to throw it away?

Before we go any further, I want to acknowledge that this problem will be incomprehensible to some people. To these lucky folks, there is no point keeping something that you can't use anymore. You get rid of it. It's just stuff.

You may never become one of these people. But you can learn to throw things away instead of holding onto them in the vain hope of recycling them in some kind of useful or decorative way.

Here are five suggestions for you.

First, you need to think differently about your time. Your time is valuable. You need to use it wisely. Although it is commendable to want to re-use, fix up, or salvage old possessions instead of just throwing them away, you need to remember that doing so takes time and effort.

So, when you look at a worn-out, used-up item in your home, you cannot simply ask yourself, "What could I do with that? How could I use it again?" After all, there will always be something you could do with it. Instead, you need to say, "That project will take me two weeks. Is that project worth two weeks of my time? Do I want to work for two weeks to get that finished product?"

In most cases, when you are dealing with items that are ready for the trash heap, the answer will be "no." Your time would be better spent elsewhere. (Not to mention your money. Projects always cost money.)

Second, I suggest you think differently about your possessions. Everything has a life. And once an item can no longer be used, it is okay to throw it away.

Even if you can't afford to replace an item, there is no sense keeping something around that is broken and un-useable. Why have chairs that can't hold anyone over 30 pounds? Why keep sweaters with giant holes in them? Why keep plastic ride-on toys that have no wheels? Or VHS tapes?

This process might mean giving up on projects that have been hanging over your head for a long time. That's okay. You can give up on your plans to fix and paint that old table, or to turn your worn-out jeans into a quilt. If those projects have been sitting in your garage for three years (or twenty), it's time to say, "You know what? I don't really want to spend my time on that old table. I'd rather watch TV. Or read a book. Or play Monopoly with the kids."

Give no harbor to thoughts like, "If only I were organized enough, or industrious enough, I could turn that old dresser into something amazing." Instead, say, "I don't want to. It's only stuff. I have other things to do with my time, and I want to use that closet for coats, not old jeans."

Third, I suggest you form a new habit: Every time you realize that an item is junk, throw it away immediately. Don't leave the job to your future self. Your future self has other things to do.

Don't think of the item as part of a larger project you've been meaning to do. Don't look at it and say, "Oh, I need to clean out this room," or "Oh, I have so much junk to sort through!" Just throw away the item. Even if you do need to clean out the room, (a) you will have one less item to clean out, and (b) you are not adding to the problem. Make sure you have a trash can in every room of your house.

Again, your time is valuable. When you see an item that is beyond its useful life and think, "Oh, but I could use that for ... ," stop and say, "That will take me seven hours. Is that project worth seven hours of my time?"

The answer will almost always be, "No." So pick up the item and take it immediately to the trash. Push it way down in the can and dump bacon grease on it. Then cover it with a newspaper. Then, start thinking about something else, or humming a catchy tune. In no time at all, you will probably forget about the item, and your house will be one item lighter.

Fourth, you indicate that your house needs a major clearing out. That is a big job. It is going to take you a long time. If you are overwhelmed by the thought of a massive project, try taking it in small bites.

Choose one area you'd like to clear out. Make it definable: the corner of your bedroom, the hall closet, a particular pile of boxes in the garage.

Block out a morning on your calendar, call a good friend to help you, and put on a movie for the kids. Get a jumbo box of trash bags, and go to work.

When you fill a bag, take it out to the trash can immediately. Or, load it into your friend's car. When the space is clean, be sure to admire it.

Finally, if you begin to feel nervous as you clear out your old stuff -- or even as you contemplate clearing out your old stuff -- remind yourself that you always feel nervous about throwing things away. Then, reassure yourself that the feeling will pass, just as it did last time. When the feeling does pass in an hour or a day, make a mental note of it for next time.

Do you have a quandary, conundrum, or sticky situation in your life? Click this button to drop Cyndie a line, and she’ll be happy to answer your question in a future column. Any topic is welcome!

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About Cyndie Swindlehurst

Cynthia Munk Swindlehurst spent her childhood in New Hampshire and her adolescence in San Diego. She served a mission in Manaus Brazil. She graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in English and from Duke University with a law degree.

She practiced law until her first child was born. She enjoys reading, tap dancing, and discussing current events. She and her husband live in Greensboro, North Carolina with their two sons.

Cyndie serves as the Sunbeams teacher in her ward.

Visit Cyndie at Dear Cyndie
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