The other day, my friend said something unassuming and uneventful, but it stuck with me for weeks and has changed the way I think about some stuff.

She and her family live in an incredibly small-but-functional space, so Kyle (my husband) asked her if she also has a storage unit somewhere in town. She doesn’t. “So I guess you just live with exactly what you need and nothing more?”

Her answer: “Yep. I figure if I ever need anything, I can easily head to the thrift store and buy it. I think of the thrift store as my storage unit.”

My mind exploded just a bit.

I loved this. Instead of storing extra stuff, she enjoys the beauty of small-space living by spending a few dollars when she absolutely has to have something she doesn’t yet own. Her cost of living is small, so paying $3.99 or whatever for a [fill in the blank] is no big deal—especially because the thrift store is kindly “storing” it for her, rent-free.

Okay, so yes, the thing’s availability is sort of a crapshoot. But unless it’s a really unusual object, it’s still worth the freedom of not owning something you hardly use. And if she finds she needs the thing on a regular basis, then boom—she keeps it and it’s in her house, problem solved.

This, to me, is the best answer to one of the most common questions I get when people confide in me their struggles with decluttering: “But I hate to get rid of something, because what if I ever need it?”

Unless it’s near impossible to replace, and unless you use it all the time, there’s really no need to hold on to excess (meaning, more than you need) just in case—especially when that “just in case” almost never actually happens.

I believe that that objection to living with less is mostly about fear—a fear wrapped around what if? What if I need it, so I have to buy it again? What if I get rid of it and then I can’t ever find a replacement? What if I get rid of it, and then the person who gave it to me feels hurt?

True, these things may happen. But really, are these the worst things? If so, then: 1. So you buy it again—and if you got rid of it because you truly never used it, then odds are, this probably won’t happen, 2. If it’s a common object, it’s most likely everywhere, and 3. Most of the time, that issue is about them, not you.

There is indescribable freedom to owning only what you truly, really, honestly need. I’ll take that beauty over the risk of “but what if?” any day. I’m now thinking of the local thrift stores as my storage units. If I need that thing, I’ll just go buy it. But odds are, I probably won’t, and I’m exchanging that risk for a more clutter-free life.

Instead of keeping something just in case, think of the thrift store as a rent-free storage unit with a tiny pay-per-use fee. Keep only what you need, and enjoy a clutter-free life.

p.s. 3 questions to ask when you declutter toys.