Are Just In Case Items Ever Justified?

We all have items that we hold onto “just in case” we need them. In fact, we rarely do.

Such is the joke about this that there is a news item from 2015 that tells of a man who managed to use the piece of wood he kept in his garage for over 30 years, just in case it became useful.

It’s a tough one to work through. There are, of course, so many arguments in favour of keeping things that we don’t need right now. Such as the money you’ve spent, the idea it can be a “backup”, that one time you happened to have the exact size envelope for a card that came without one. The list goes on.

I was listening to a podcast the other day and the hosts reiterated their two key pieces of advice when it comes to these items (you may be familiar with the hosts):

  1. If you can buy it for less than £20 / $20 within 20 minutes then get rid of it
  2. If you can borrow it then get rid of it

These are great “rule of thumb” guidelines.


Do these rules always work?

Do just in case items ever come to serve their purpose or are they just a security blanket?

Are Just In Case Items Ever Justified?

First off, let’s be clear about what “just in case” items are – they are things that you don’t need right now. The impact of never having owned them would be negligible.

What they are not is emergency items such as a first aid kit, or a backup generator. If you live in an area prone to floods, sandbags and bottled water might be on this list, too.

Now that’s cleared up, let’s take a look at those rules.

The 20/20 Rule

Many just in case items are really cheap or rarely have a resale value.

However, I have to say, this rule does annoy me a bit.

First up, buying it again is an exceptionally elitist attitude as £20 isn’t always within the budget for something that you had just a few months ago. Whilst our host claims that they have only bought 5 things for this reason in about 5 years, there is a possibility of costs spiralling if you aren’t selective in what you are applying this rule to.

Then we have a range of situations when it is perfectly reasonable to keep hold of items. Let’s take a look at an example, such as spare batteries. Certainly, they are very easily sourced, and cheaply so, but when the fire alarm is going off in the middle of the night because the battery needs replacing, knowing that you can get them from the now-closed shop around the corner isn’t helping you solve the problem is it?

When, then, is it okay to ignore this rule?

Things to keep

  • Spare parts for things currently owned
  • Batteries
  • Specialist tools

Things to part ways with

  • Spare parts for things no longer owned
  • Gardening equipment for a garden no longer owned
  • When you have multiples because you don’t know where the other one was stored and you just bought a new one instead
Link to a resources page to download a guide to goal setting, prioritisation matrix, habit tracker and 28 day challenge template

Of course, you also have to know your own tendencies, especially if the item will cost over £20 to replace:

  • Will you really use that left over paint or will you do a complete makeover?
  • Are you really going to use the old clothes when you lose weight or are you going to buy new?
  • Will you really go back to using the old vacuum that you kept as backup or will you just buy a new one?

It’s also worth bearing in mind that whilst you might need it 5, 10, 15 years in the future, there might be someone out there that needs it right now, but can’t get hold of the exact thing that you have. Spare a thought, hey?

The Borrow It Rule

I don’t think that it is unreasonable to borrow items from people if you don’t own something but it does raise a valid question:

What if everyone thought they could just borrow something from a neighbour or family member?

Who would own all the tools? Who would own all the ladders and chairs and jump leads and puncture repair kits?

It’s fair enough that if you don’t usually do a lot of DIY, but you have a mate who is often building a new extension, then you might not want to buy a workbench and power toolset for that one set of shelves you want to put up. In that instance, it’s probably cheaper to get someone in to do it if you can’t borrow.

Similarly, if it’s usually just the two of you enjoying your back garden, there’s no reason to have 10 folding chairs just because you might have family round. Pretty sure they won’t mind bringing their own chair.

However, if you might, even twice a year, need to borrow something from the same person, they might get a bit hacked off with you, depending, of course, on what it is. It isn’t always easy to keep a triple extension ladder hanging around, but a steam cleaner might be easier. You might have a great community, but you shouldn’t depend on them entirely to keep your house in the condition that you want it to be kept in.

Things to keep

  • when you use something at least once a year. It might not seem often but can be weather led or of a personal nature
  • when you have the space to keep it, and it can’t be hired

Things to part ways with

  • when it can be hired even if it can’t be borrowed
  • when, if it broke, you wouldn’t buy another

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Decluttering vs Minimalism

These two rules are both the view of minimalists.

Whilst minimalism and decluttering are closely related, they aren’t the same thing. You are likely to do a lot of decluttering when you adopt a minimalist mindset because it is focused on living with intentionality, buying only what you need and resisting the lure of bargains, keeping clothes that fit and books you will read, and generally keeping things around you that you need. Yet you can set about clearing the clutter without being a minimalist.

So when it comes to decluttering, there are two main pieces of advice:

  1. Keep only what you need (the minimalist view)
  2. Keep what is useful or you love (the decluttering view)

If you aren’t on the minimalist path, then don’t let other people’s flat rules hinder your progress in decluttering your life by adding stress where it isn’t needed. Instead, remind yourself of what you hope to do with your decluttering, be it freeing up space for your music collection or moving on from a past life. Just in case items shouldn’t make you feel guilty. Don’t keep your knitting equipment just in case you start doing it again – decide whether that was a past life or current life. Don’t keep your old pans as back up if you know they are worn out.

There are definitely situations when just in case items can be justified but it all has to be in the context of your current situation.

If you don’t mind the fruity language, you can find the spoof article about the man who used his just in case item here, but don’t say you weren’t warned!

What are you keeping “just in case”? Share in the comments below.

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Until next time, remember, if the excess baggage is weighing you down, you can always leave it in lost luggage.

Best wishes,

Ear Worm: My Next Door Neighbor, Sugar Ray and the Bluetones

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