I fight a mental battle over health, wealth and social responsibility all the time. Let me give a brief example. For my son’s room, we bought some blinds. These blinds were behind the curtain, and just there to block out the early morning sun so he could sleep a bit. After a while we realized they weren’t doing a good job. They were white, and thin, and didn’t block the bright blast of the early morning sunrise.
So we went and bought a second set of blackout shades. I took down the blinds and replaced them, and the room is much brighter. Here’s where the battle begins.
Health: I really want to de-clutter the house. I have no other windows where blinds would be particularly useful. Result: Throw out the blinds.
Wealth: I may need the blinds someday in the future. This exact situation has happened before – I threw out something and then needed it two months later and had to buy a new one. Result: Store the blinds somewhere in our cluttered storage room.
Social Responsibility: I may need the blinds in the future, but I doubt it. Maybe someone else needs them – maybe a neighbor, a family member. Throwing them away just adds to a huge trash mountain somewhere on the eastern seacoast, a thought that makes me sick. Result: Try to give the blinds away, probably with limited success (they are not heirloom blinds, after all) and they sit in the storage room.
Before I go any further, I know the answer is that I shouldn’t have bought them without thinking more about it in the first place. But it really fulfilled a particular need, they fit the window perfectly and my honest, reasoned thought was that all we needed was a light diffuser, not a blocker. I didn’t count on Little Buddy being such a light sleeper.
This mental battle is played out again and again. I know throwing out clutter adds to garbage. I have 10 old black binders I have not used in 5 years. I have no need for them. Yet I keep them, because I hate thinking of them sitting in a trash heap somewhere. However, the clutter they create is really annoying. Clutter ruins mental (and even impacts physical) health in my opinion. Yet throwing out the clutter may be wasteful, and it’s certainly not socially responsible.
So given a situation like this, what to do?
I try to take this approach these days: if I cannot instantly come up with a use for it, I have to throw it away. I kick myself about it, but throwing it away now or 10 years from now has the same end result for the environment, but very different results for me personally. And when I throw away big items I will think long and hard before buying my next big purchase. However, I think the battle will go on and on as long as I continue to buy new things. The secret is not to buy ANYTHING new, ever, but that’s hard to do. It’s a habit we work on, but it really involves undoing the habits of a lifetime… which is what personal improvement is all about, after all.