The Difference Between Actual vs. Potential Value

Many people appear to be unaware of the difference between actual and potential value of objects, especially those with hoarding tendencies but others too. They hang onto items they don’t use because “they have too much potential to throw away.” They believe that potential value must inevitably become actual value, that is, something they really use.

So how can you tell the difference between potential and actual value? The easiest criteria is that items that have actual value are IN USE and items with only potential value are not. Regardless of the frequency of use, items with actual value don’t merely sit on a shelf, in a cabinet, or in a pile. Things in piles probably have only potential value, as things can rarely be used from a pile, at least not without wasting time looking for them or digging them out.

A few words show that an item’s only value is potential: Should, Ought, Might, Could, and Maybe. {Please email me if you think of others!} Why? Look at the meaning behind each word:

Words that indicate actual use of an item include: “Am” (as in “I am using it”), “Will” (“I will use it on ____), “Do” (“I do use it with ___ frequency”), and “Every” (“Every ____ I use it for a specific and regular purpose”). Items described by these words have actual value.

The difference between actual vs. potential value is also shown by how long an item has been in your home or workplace without being used. With the exception of work supplies (for you work from home), every item that comes into your home needs a deadline or regular cycle for its use. For most items, this deadline needs to be based on a rational analysis that includes:

It’s also difficult to determine what we actually need vs. what we want because we don’t know what the future will bring. We try, rightly, to prepare for a variety of situations so that we won’t be caught off guard. But none of us can really predict the future so we will always be wrong by some amount. Being over-prepared is perhaps safer than being under-prepared, but over-preparing means over-spending and storing and tending stuff we never need, not the most efficient use of time, money, energy, or space. Careful thought is needed to balance appropriate preparedness with having healthy finances and space.

So given how much confusion there is over actually vs. potentially useful items, how can you tell them apart before acquiring them? Several tests may help:

Every item we acquire and keep brings pain along with whatever benefits it gives (or potentially gives). That pain includes:

Preventing Unnecessary Acquisition
Don’t look at ads on TV, the Internet, in magazines, or on podcasts or radio. Avoid catalogs – they are cesspools of temptation and manufactured need. Hit the mute button on the TV the minute the commercials come on – TV ads are more insidious than other ads because movement and sound convey advertisers message more powerfully. Ignore store windows.

Screen all phone calls; restrict incoming calls to those that allow caller ID. Use an answering machine and don’t answer calls from unfamiliar numbers. Tell telemarketers to remove your name from their call list.

Always shop from a list. Don’t buy anything without a clearly defined need.

Many people acquire things for which they have no immediate use because of a condition young people call “FOMO”: Fear of Missing Out. This is the idea that if you don’t have or do something, your future or life will somehow be impoverished. This often leads to bad decisions. If you do something mainly because you fear not having the opportunity later, you aren’t acting rationally but under the impetus of an emotion. When you are ruled by any emotion, your ability to rationally analyze consequences or outcomes is impaired. If the desire lasts and seems important, step back from the emotion and try to understand it in terms of the overall direction you want your life to go in.
Each task associated with an item creates a burden, one that increases with every item we own. It's one thing to have this burden for items in actual use and quite another for items that aren’t. Relieving yourself of the burden from any item not used in the past year will make your life easier and less stressful. Freedom from such burdens feels good.

AdBusters (love their description: the Journal of the Mental Environment)
Consumer Reports – the back page of each issue
“Overcome Hoarding and Transform Your Life: How to Choose Life and Hope Rather than Things”

Setting Priorities For What To Keep And What To Discard


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© Gloria Valoris, 2015

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