Love is an Overused Word

When working with clients to declutter their homes, we ask a lot of questions.  We look at items through a variety of lenses to help our clients determine whether or not an item is adding value to their life (and should stay) or is no longer relevant or needed (and should be donated).  

Some of these questions include: 

  • Is this a duplicate?
  • If you needed it, could you use something else in its place?  
  • Would you buy it again if it cost twice as much? 
  • And the ever popular (yet not always effective for reasons I am about to explain) question, do you love it?


Let’s imagine we are helping a client declutter her handbags (feel free to insert "backpacks," "costumes," "electronics" or "sneakers" if those are a better fit for you).  After staging all handbags for easy decision-making, Cary holds up the first bag.  Our client responds, “I love that bag, I use it all the time.”  Ok, we put it in the keep pile.  Cary holds up a second bag and again the client says, “I love that bag, I use it all the time.”  Ok, keep pile.  Fast-forward to twelve handbags later, our client has said the same thing for all 12 bags.  

Ok, waaaait a minute.  Do you really love all 12 separate handbags?  And use them all the time?  First of all, it is physically impossible to use all 12 handbags all the time.  So let’s just remove that reasoning from the table.  

Secondly, what about the true meaning of love? It is a noun, defined as “an intense feeling of deep affection”.  Do you truly love even one handbag? Like actually love it, the way you love your grandmother?  Or your kids?  Or your pet? Would you do anything for this handbag?

When you start to use a word like “love” to describe all your handbags, how is it possible to differentiate between them?  What if it came down to having just 2 and only 2?  What if your house were on fire and you could only grab 2 handbags on the way out, which ones make the cut?  (Never mind that if your house were actually on fire I’m guessing you would ditch the handbags altogether and save the family photos!)

Marie Kondo uses the lens, “spark joy”.  If an item “sparks joy”, then it earns the right to stay in your life.  And while that lens may work for some people, others first need to define what joy means for themselves.  Doing so requires a grounded self-awareness that won’t work for the people who claim to love everything that they own.

So, let’s say you are decluttering on your own and you find yourself rationalizing that you love all your items.  What do you do then? 

At this point, you have to pivot and use a different lens to look at your things.  You have to be even more discerning. You start by slowing down, taking a deep breath, and stepping back. Reexamine your use of the word love. Give it back the power it was originally intended to have. Be selective when using it in your day-to-day life. 

Because here’s the thing - even if you love something, you can still donate it!  

I know - it’s shocking!  It is possible to concurrently appreciate the beauty and craftsmanship of an item and let someone else own it.  The act of cherishing an item and donating it are not mutually exclusive, in fact, those two acts, at their heart, are probably positively correlated

Because things are made to be used, and when they are not being used you are not honoring the inherent usefulness, the time and energy it took to extract those resources, dye the fabric, product the zippers and assemble the materials. 

So if you actually, truly love your 12th favorite handbag, you'll understand that you are not using it with the frequency that this wonderful bag deserves, and you'll donate it, so that it becomes someone else’s No. 1, favorite handbag that they use all the time.