Tosser’s Remorse: Our Staff Reveals Their Biggest Decluttering Regrets

The other day, I caught my husband in the act of…watching Marie Kondo’s Netflix show. I was shocked—not because the show’s bad (I quite like it; see my review here), but because his Netflix viewing habits skew more toward nature shows, endurance sport documentaries, gross-out comedies, and serial-killer mysteries. It’s hard to imagine that he would also be intrigued by a series on decluttering. But then again, January can do that to you.

It seems that everyone is on a KonMari kick this month—us included here at The Organized Home. We, on the whole, are decluttering veterans who have gone through the keep/donate/toss ritual many times between us—which means none of us has escaped without a good war story to tell. Here, we share some of our biggest decluttering regrets.

Featured photograph by Justine Hand for Remodelista, from Before & After: A Low-Cost Summer Guest Room Makeover, Cape Cod Edition.

“Cultural Artifacts”

A bookshelf in Julie’s Wellfleet house, post-decluttering. These volumes, as well as a landscape study by her daughter, survived the purge. Photograph by Justine Hand for Remodelista, from Before & After: A Low-Cost Summer Guest Room Makeover, Cape Cod Edition.
Above: A bookshelf in Julie’s Wellfleet house, post-decluttering. These volumes, as well as a landscape study by her daughter, survived the purge. Photograph by Justine Hand for Remodelista, from Before & After: A Low-Cost Summer Guest Room Makeover, Cape Cod Edition.

Julie: “A couple of summers ago I went on a decluttering bender in our Wellfleet house and deaccessioned half of my late mother’s cookbooks; at the time it seemed like a good idea (was I ever going to refer to Ada Boni’s Italian Regional Cooking, published in 1969?). I took a whole box of books to the town “swap shop” at the dump, a sort of free-for-all shack for depositing (and acquiring) household items. The next day, I spotted a man at the beach reading my mother’s copy of Italian Regional Cooking. I am full of regret that I banished these books, which are fascinating cultural artifacts. I’ll be spending the next few years rebuilding her collection.”

Family Photos

Margot: “On the day my husband left for a three-week work trip, I dashed into the basement to grab some laundry, only to discover a swimming pool of knee-deep water.  (It had recently rained hard. We’ve since installed a French drain.) My husband’s Captain of the Safety Patrol certificate floated past as I stood on the stairs aghast.

“We have two rooms down there, mine (laundry included) and my husband’s, both packed with stuff. I hired someone to help me cart the sodden—and incredibly heavy—substratum: into the garage for Ted’s boxes and dozen file cabinet drawers; straight into the garbage for my holdings. I couldn’t cope with sorting through it all, so out went my drenched high school yearbook, my letters home from overnight camp, my mother’s curly lamb coat, my father’s Thorton Burgess books.

“Weeks later, Ted returned and methodically went through every one of his soggy files, drying out the important papers and scanning them. I regret that I didn’t save more, especially the family photos. But there are countless others. And in truth, for a packrat and sentimentalist like me, it took a flood to make a dent in my holding—and for that, I’m actually grateful.” (For our story on minimizing paper and print in your home, see Your Weekend Project: Go Paperless.)

High School Jeans

Fan: “My old Levi’s from high school that I had embroidered with flowers (I was going through a hippie phase). There was no real reason to keep them. I had bought them at a thrift store, so they were already pretty worn and hole-y—’destructed,’ in modern denim parlance—when I found them; by the time I graduated, they were threadbare. I’m sure I tossed them out the summer before college, probably thinking they were a little too earnest for the intellectual life awaiting me (oh, sweet, younger self).

“But boy, do I wish I still had them now. I’m not a crafty person; to have visual proof of my once-creative self would have been great. I still have the photographs I shot, developed, and printed on my own for an intro to photography class in college, and I love those peeks into my perspective then—what I deemed worthy of training my lens on when I was 21, an adult in so many ways but not quite yet a grown-up. All of which is to say: Don’t throw away your creative efforts. They have whole stories to tell.”

Mother’s China

Max Rolitt UK Colorful Kitchen with Wood Table and Blue Cabinets
Above: Photograph by David Gibbons, courtesy of Max Rollitt, from Kitchen of the Week: A Whimsical Edwardian in the South of England.

Michelle: When Michelle’s mother tried to bequeath her beloved china set to her, Michelle firmly said no, thank you. The patterned set wasn’t exactly her style, nor did she have room to store it. Years later, after her mother’s death, she found herself unexpectedly nostalgic for her mother’s things—particularly those 12 place settings. Fortunately, this regret has a happy ending: Her brother ended up with the china. And “ever since [he] sent my mother’s dishes to me, I’ve been scouring the Internet as ruthlessly as a Russian hacker, on a quest to replace chipped or misplaced dinner plates, coffee cups, and gravy boats,” she writes in The Design Skeptic: How Nostalgia Made Me Stop Hating My Mother’s China. Michelle now has 16 settings of her mother’s chosen pattern—and counting.

Christmas Lights

Annie: “I think mine would all be practical, not sentimental, things. I tend to go on late-night weeding-out binges, ruthlessly tossing everything from books to clothing. Usually I feel better having been ruthless, and don’t miss what I throw out or donate. (And I’m certainly enjoying the benefits of all of that regular weeding, now that I’m moving.) But a few times I’ve gone too far, thinking, ‘I don’t need Christmas lights right now,’ and throwing them out, only to have to buy them again the following December; or tossing a black sweater I’d tired of but later realized was a good staple item. As a rule, I don’t believe in keeping something in case it’s needed later or in case my tastes change, but I guess that’s not such a great rule when it comes to seasonal things and basics you might fall back on later.” (For holiday decoration storage solutions, see Holiday Storage: 5 Ways to Store Your Ornaments, From Cheap to Steep.)

Vintage Sweater

Kristina: “I don’t have a decluttering regret (yet!), but I have been on the receiving end of someone else’s. I was gifted a vintage Ralph Lauren sweater during the closet clean-out of a friend of mine. A few months after she gave it to me, I got a frantic text message asking if I still had it and if she could have it back for her kid to wear. It was a near-miss, and she was super grateful she’d given it to me and not a thrift store!” (For ideas on how to organize your kid’s hand-me-downs, see How to Organize, Store, and Keep Track of Hand-Me-Downs.)

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