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Ask the Organizer: Did I make a mistake by throwing this away?

by respaced on May 13, 2011

Question: I was going through my closet when I came across an old jacket that was 15 years old. It seemed gross to me and I thought, “Who would want this?” So I threw it away. But now I am wondering if I should have donated it to Goodwill. Or maybe it was worth something and I should have sold it. Did I do the right thing by throwing the jacket away or should I have donated it or sold it instead?

Answer: First of all, congratulations for taking the initiative to go through your closet and being brave enough to discard something that you have had for so long. The longer we hang onto things, the harder it is to part with them, so I commend you for your courage.

In this era of eco-consciousness, many of us want to avoid throwing things away as much as possible, because we know those discarded items will simply add to our landfills. And in this time of recession (it might be post-recession in other parts of the country, but we’re definitely still in a recession here in Oregon), it’s natural to want to be as frugal as possible, which can mean hanging onto something if we think we might be able to sell it for a little extra money. But hanging onto stuff because we can’t figure out the perfect thing to do with it can be unhealthy. When we try to think of all the possible places to discard or donate our unwanted items, along with all of their relative advantages and disadvantages, we find ourselves paralyzed by fear of making the wrong decision. So we choose not to make any decision at all, or in your case, we make a decision but then second-guess that decision. This can make us feel very anxious.

In the end, we have to realize that there is usually not one “right” place where each of our unwanted items belongs. Instead, there are many acceptable places. We get to choose one place. And our reward for choosing that place is more room in our homes. So even if you weren’t able to make money off of that old jacket, you were able to make more space in your home (which some would argue is just as valuable). And if you feel guilty about putting that jacket in a landfill, then consider it a learning experience: Next time, you will go through your closet more frequently, so you can donate items while they are still of value to someone.

Organizing means making tough decisions sometimes (which is why so many people avoid organizing!) But it’s also an opportunity to liberate yourself from the burden and guilt that infests our unwanted items. Don’t let your anxiety about finding the perfect destination for your clutter rob you of your right to live in an orderly and healthy space.

***Do you have a question for me about kids’ rooms, living rooms, kitchens, garages, attics, closets, collectibles and memorabilia, to-do lists, time management or more? Leave your question in the comments section or email me at Thanks!

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