Discarding and Regrets

As someone who strives to make minimalism accessible to everyone regardless of financial standing, living arrangement, or socioeconomic class, I feel the genuine need to be honest about the impacts of minimalism.

I want to discuss regrets (and/or lack thereof) as they relate to the discarding process. In particular, I want to answer one question:

Have you had any regrets about discarding a particular item?

Yes and no, for one item. I have been getting back into a few hobbies lately because I have been stuck at home due to Minnesota's Stay At Home order. The item I have thought about the most since discarding and donating it is a book about one of my hobbies.

I want to discuss first why I said "yes" in addition to no. Yes, I regret discarding the book because it was aesthetically pleasing. It was fun to flip through for ideas. It had some interesting recipes and projects in it that I wanted to adopt and adapt for my craft. And what made me regret discarding it the most was that it had a recipe I could have shared with a likewise crafty friend. I felt bad when I searched high and low for the book for a few minutes before realizing I had discarded it one of the last times I went through my craft book library. I was sad that I couldn't share the recipe inside with my friend. But that last bit brings me to why I also don't regret discarding it.

I answered "no" as well as yes because since I had last read the book, I'd come up with my own recipe that I could share with my friend. I remembered why I discarded the book--as much as I liked to flip through it, not much was valuable to me other than the pictures. The recipes were not particularly original, and they weren't quite "from scratch" enough for me. I remembered how much I liked the book when I first got it, but as I became more advanced and adept with my craft, it became less and less useful to me. I remember putting it in a donate box hoping that it would bring joy to someone whose interests were similar to my own. When I shared my own original recipe with my friend, she thanked me for it, and I realized then that her gratitude was proof that I really did not need to regret giving the book away.

Regret is a natural feeling that I'm sure every minimalist, experienced and new, has felt at some point. It's okay to regret giving an item away or donating it. Items are just things; they're replaceable. If there's a lesson that I would say I learned, though, it's that sometimes I can be overzealous with my discards. If I had kept the particular book I'd donated, I'd probably have spent time reading it on and off this week for more ideas... but I know I also would have gotten a little bored with it because many of its recipes were similar to those in another book I decided to keep. It's the balance of yes and no that can be difficult to find. But talking through the regret of discarding an item is helpful for confirming the choice to discard as the right decision to have made.

Tips for dealing with the regret of discarding an item:

  • Ask yourself: Did the item fulfill its original intended purpose?
    If yes, it's fine that it was discarded because it was well-used.
    If no, it's also fine that it was discarded because it could not fulfill its purpose.
  • For donated items, think about how happy they could be making another person right now.
  • Remember that items like books, trinkets, and anything purchased in a store can be replaced if your regret is so strong that you want to have an item back.
  • Think about why you discarded an item. Ask yourself why it was not bringing you joy when you discarded it.
  • Never, ever beat yourself up over discarding an item, even a sentimental one. We're all human. Sometimes we make mistakes and the best we can do is learn from them.
  • Things we discard are just that--things. Sometimes it's stuff. Sometimes it's junk. And honestly, sometimes it's junk/stuff/things we wish we'd kept. (But it's ultimately okay in the end that we didn't.)
I hope my honesty about my own regret helps others puzzle through their own. Not every item is meant to be discarded... but sometimes when we let an item go and think about it for a while, we realize we might want it back. In my case, I realize that I am content with the other books I have on the subject. What I have done to explore my regret is shared it, sort-of meditated on the item, and remembered why I discarded it in the first place. I will not be beating myself up about the decision to discard it any time soon. It was just a thing, and an easily-replaceable one at that should I ever decide I want it back. If it had been a sentimental item? Well, the memory of it would always be with me, and I could preserve the memory further by writing a journal entry about it or drawing a picture of it. I think it's important to remember: not all is lost when items are gone.