Why It’s Easy to Throw Away Other People’s Junk

Have you ever noticed how easy it is to judge other people? I do it all the time! Even if you’re not a “judgmental” person, you’re still subconsciously evaluating others based on your perception of them. Their clothes, their hair, their tone of voice, posture, body language, and a whole host of other minute details, many imperceptible to the conscious mind.

This doesn’t make you a bad person, it just makes you a person. We all do this, and we do it because we’re social animals. It’s what you were born to do. Yet we humans often turn a blind eye when it comes to our own habits. A kind of cognitive dissonance that allows us to see flaws in others that we’re unable to recognize in ourselves.

I’m not a religious man, but as Matthew 7:4 says, “How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?”

Or as The Doctor might say, we put a “perception filter” over faults in our own personalities. They’re hidden in plain sight, but invisible to the naked eye… unless you look at them just right.

I suppose this is all just a fancy way of saying that it’s EASY to throw away other people’s junk, but HARD to throw away your own.

THEY squander their money on luxuries; I’M much more practical.”

THEIR purchases are wasteful; MINE are only for necessities!”

THEY waste their time; I make the most of it doing important things!”

“The stuff in THEIR house is clutter; The things in MINE are needed!”

Sound familiar? It’s easy to poke holes in other people’s spending habits, but fail to see our own mistakes because they’re habitual. Especially as we become more frugal. We’ve been making the same (often bad) decisions for so long that they feel right, simply by virtue of being “business as usual.” Judge not, lest ye be judged.

We create these fantasies, often as justification for behaviors we condemn in others, because it’s okay when we do it. The idealized version of ourselves – the one that lives in your head, the “us” that we compare to other people – might not be the prettiest, or the smartest, or the tallest, or the funniest, but we’re almost always the rightest.

And that’s why it’s easy to throw away other people’s junk. It’s easy to look at the stuff piled high in your neighbor’s garage and say, “you don’t need this crap! Get rid of it!!” and you could easily start throwing that crap into a dumpster without the slightest remorse. But if your neighbor were to come and do the same to you, you might say, “Now wait just a minute! I need that!!”

It seems important to you now because it was important enough for you to buy it in the first place. In fact, when you first traded money for those things they probably seemed like the most important thing in the world. That’s thanks to Attentional Bias: Basically, the more time you spend thinking about an item, the more important that item becomes to your brain. And your brain still remembers how important those items felt when they were shiny and new.

Nothing beats the feeling of getting a new toy, and it’s something we never outgrow, the toys just get bigger… or if you’re a nerd like me, they’re literal toys. Of course your neighbor feels that way about their stuff too, but it’s hard to put yourself in their shoes.

So what can you do??

  1. Be your own harshest critic. It’s not easy, but try to step back and ask yourself, objectively, “Does this add value to my life?” Another (arguably better) question to ask might be, “If this were lost or damaged, would I buy it again??” I would absolutely replace my keyboard or microwave, because they’re things I use every day, but probably not old Easter decorations or burned CD’s. I have no need for them… so why keep them?
  2. Put it in “the box.” If in doubt, stick it in a box or shove it to the back of your closet. Leave it for a few weeks or months. If you happen to find the item some time later and realize you had forgotten all about it – and never missed it – then guess what? You probably never needed it in the first place! Or you did, but it’s outlived its usefulness. Thank it for a job well done and send it packing! The “box method” worked well when I was decluttering.
  3. Get an outside opinion. This is probably the hardest (for your ego) because it means opening yourself up to criticism from others. I’ve just gotten brave enough to try this myself, but it works. Nothing will shatter your illusions faster than bringing a (brutally honest) friend into your home and asking, “Do I need this?” You’re putting them in your shoes, so to speak, as the one passing judgment. I’ve found this is the fastest route to learning things you may not know about yourself, like that your clothes are embarrassing, your apartment looks like a bachelor pad, and no one likes your action figure collection.

So next time you start to judge your neighbor’s financial situation or call them out as hoarders, put yourself in their shoes. Or better yet, try putting them in yours!

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