Overcoming FORO (Fear of Running Out)

One lesson from Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project that sticks in my head and that I keep coming back to: "Spend out." This covers two related ideas:

  1. Use the good china. Stop saving your nicest things for a special occasion. Any (every) day can be a special occasion!
  2. Use up your stash. Don't hoard multiples of things.

I definitely have a tendency to hoard and save and stock up, so this resonates. It poses a real problem for decluttering. Here are the strategies I'm using to overcome it.

Strategy for "Good China": Get rid of the everyday version

My "good china" is nice clothing. Whenever I own an expensive, hard to replace, or especially nice-looking garment, I tend not to wear it because I worry about wearing it out or getting it dirty (especially for items that need to be hand-washed or dry-cleaned). Given a choice between an expensive cashmere sweater and a cheap acrylic sweater, my instinct is to choose the cheapo sweater 99% of the time, even if it demonstrably looks and functions worse. "It's just an ordinary day. Why should I put mileage on the nice thing?" is my reasoning.

But that reasoning is flawed. There's no point in owning nicer things if you don't wear them! If it's really well-made, it'll actually suffer comparatively less wear and tear from ordinary use than a cheaply made thing. Besides, nothing lasts forever, even if you don't use it. Clothing in particular can waste away just from the ravages of time (or moths), and your body can change so that it no longer fits. If I own a nice item of clothing that actually fits me, I should be wearing it all the time!

This problem has been basically eliminated since I KonMari-ed my wardrobe. Previous decluttering strategies, like asking "Have I used it in the last six months?" weren't effective. I always had used the less-good, everyday version of the garment in the past six months. And I certainly wasn't willing to part with my nicer items, if they were so nice that I couldn't even bear to wear them!  

KonMari's "does it spark joy?" test allowed me to get rid of the "meh" everyday items and keep only the good things. It felt oddly dangerous to get rid of six terrible pairs of pants leaving only two good ones. In my mind I believe it's possible to live with only two pairs of pants, but still, there was a panicky quality to making the leap.

I'm here to tell you that it is possible to live with only two pairs of pants, that it feels great to wear clothes that you truly like each and every day, and that in spite of knowing all that, I definitely would not let myself only wear nice things if I had any "everyday" things to fall back on. Getting rid of the everyday things was the only way to enforce use of the things that are not only actually better but that I like more. I still find it odd that I have to force myself to use things I like, but there you go.

Strategy for Stashes: Let yourself run out

You don't have to be a hoarder to stock up past the point of all logic. When I was a kid I saved up all my Halloween candy in a treasure box. By December, opening the box filled my room with the pungent odor of cheap chocolate. It was less appetizing than sickening. Still, I refreshed my stock with a fresh infusion of Christmas candy. I forgot about my stash until a year later, when I went to add a second year of Halloween candy and found the treasure box crawling with ants.

As a child my hoarding was driven by greed, but now it's more likely to be driven by fear. Heaven forbid that I be caught without That Thing I Need for even one second! (Fill in with: tea, toilet paper, tiny notebooks, stamps, a new book to read, any number of things I could easily do without for a day or two.)

Consider chocolate. Chocolate has gone from being a special treat to being a thing I just keep in stock. When we're down to about half a bar or so, my wife or I will say, "We need chocolate." Need.

When it comes to things I really need, like medication, the drugstore refuses to fill my prescription a day early, meaning I actually have to run out before I can get more. This is frequently inconvenient, but psychologically, I think it's good for me. The first few times I panicked as I got down to just one or two tablets, but then I realized that the math totally worked out. I was going to be okay.

So maybe I'd be okay going a day without chocolate, too.

I want to make it clear that I am not saying that I plan to give up chocolate or that I think it's a good or admirable thing to go without chocolate. I DO NOT.

But even with the best, most life-giving and pleasurable things, sometimes it's nice to let yourself run out just to remind yourself that you can do without it. Just for a little bit. You're tougher than you think you are. You can get through this chocolate-free microsecond.

Strategy for "Pre-Stashes": Let Yourself Experience Need

This is a related problem and solution, but it's distinct enough for me to warrant a separate reminder. Some of my "stashes" are for things I don't even need yet. I have a tendency to stock up for future eventualities. In early fall or even late summer, I feel an anxious need to refresh my wardrobe with plenty of warm stuff before the cold weather comes. When I'm about to start on something new, like a job or a trip, I worry about "what ifs" like what if I want to eat off a plate at my new job and I don't have one yet? What if I'm in a hotel room and I need moisturizer at three in the morning?

This is "back to school" syndrome. When I was a kid, I always found it necessary to go and buy a lot of school supplies before school started, because it would be a total disaster if I didn't have everything I could possibly need on day one! Of course, once I actually started school, I'd realize that I still needed some items I couldn't possibly have known about ahead of time (Mrs. Marsh wants us to have a ONE AND A HALF INCH three ring binder, no more, no less!) And most of the stuff I had gotten would be totally useless in practice. All because I was terrified to be the kid who showed up to the first day of school with nothing but a stubby pencil in her pocket, although in retrospect that would have been a way cooler look.

So the strategy I'm trying to internalize--and this is very much a work in progress and not something I have done at all--is this: Let yourself experience need. I'm always trying to pre-solve problems that haven't happened yet, and often, my solutions turn out to be unnecessary or suboptimal. Faced with the real situation, I'd have all the information to come up with an idea solution, and maybe I'd come up with something more creative than buying a thing. Tiny necessity is the mother of tiny invention.

Bonus Zero Waste Strategy for Stashes: Replace a Disposable Thing with a Reusable Thing

Some of my stashes have disappeared purely because I don't use that type of thing anymore. Only disposable, consumable stuff needs to be stocked up and stashed, and I use less and less disposable stuff with every "zero waste" optimization. I no longer need to hoard any kind of paper cleaning or personal care product (kleenex, paper towels, etc.) because I use cloth now. Sure, my various rags occasionally need to be replaced, but there's no need to hoard because I can always use a slightly ragged or threadbare cloth until I get a chance to get a new one. Anyway, it takes forever for them to get to an unusable state. Extra bonus: better for the environment!

Bonus Super Zen Strategy for Stashes: Don't Need the Thing Anymore

Of course, not needing the thing at all is another way to free yourself of that feeling of need. That's what I've done with makeup, which I wore only on increasingly rare special occasions like weddings and job interviews. Makeup is a terrible product to treat like "good china", because it goes bad surprisingly quickly. Putting "off" mascara in your lashes is a recipe for eye irritation. I finally decided that you can either be a person who wears makeup frequently, or you can be a person who never wears makeup. Occasional makeup use doesn't really work. I went for "never."


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