But… what if I need 12 towels today?

But... What if I need 12 towels today?
(via Kevin Steinhardt on Flickr)

Spring has sprung here (yay!) and I spent an hour yesterday changing our linens over from winter to summer. As I was packing away the heavy sheets my eyes fell on our towels. Or, more specifically, our collection of towels.

We are a family of four. We do not need 12 full-sized bath towels. Plus beach towels. Plus 4 kids towels. Plus hand towels. Plus bath mats. While hardly excessive in Western terms, it is ridiculous to own so many.

Even with guests, illness or bad weather I have never gone close to needing all these towels. The ones on the bottom of the pile? I couldn’t tell you the last time I used them. So they’re gone. 6 full-sized towels, 2 kids towels, 4 hand towels and 2 bath mats. Donated.

And the annoying thing? I could have let go of more if it weren’t for that whiny voice in the back of my head saying, “Yeah, but what if…?”

What if what, exactly? That’s the $64,000 question.

What if I need all 12 towels at the same time?

Yes, messes occur and washing machines back up and guests visit, but the what-ifs and the maybes are not a good enough reason (for me) to hold on to the excess. If there is a flood, or a defrosted freezer or a family-wide illness, we will work it out.

I now look back at the things we held on to for so long, to placate that whiny voice saying, “Yeah, but what if…?” and I wish we got rid of them sooner. I can honestly say there has not been one single thing I regret having de-owned.

Not one single thing do I think of and say, “Oh, I wish I still had that.”

Part of the reason is because stuff simply isn’t as important to me now. Stuff doesn’t hold the weight or the status that it used to, so it’s OK not to have it. And it’s even more OK not to want it.

But the other part is that I’m no longer afraid of the what-ifs. Sometimes I still listen to them, but I know that, really, the world will continue to turn even if I don’t have enough of the same-sized dinner plates.

Which brings me back to our towels and the obvious truth that sometimes – despite all the lessons of simplifying over the past 4 years – it’s still hard to live with just enough.

So maybe the question shouldn’t be, “How many towels do I need?” but rather, “If I am wet, can I get dry?”

If the answer is yes, then I have enough.

And this afternoon, I’ll be taking those excess towels out of the linen cupboard and in to my ever-running donation bag. After all, we have enough.


26 Responses to But… what if I need 12 towels today?

  1. I agree that we often end up with more than we need, and more than we could conceivably use even during the ‘what-if’s. But I wonder whether in the specific towel situation, if you have the storage space, it would be better to hang on to the surplus you have already spent money on? That way, when the towels in daily use eventually wear out, you can replace them without going shopping. Then at that stage you would have downsized your towel stash. Just a thought :)

  2. I’ve done exactly the same thing this weekend. There are four in my family, so I decided to go with 4 bath towels for each person and 2 for guests. The four each consist of 2 “home towels” (respectable and match the bathroom decor) and 2 away towels (good for taking to uni/the gym/the beach). I have kept 4 hand towels (but they almost didn’t make the cut) and the rest have been packaged up for the local dogs home.

  3. I agree when you are decluttering you always think “just in case” and of course you justify the room in the linen closet because other wise it will be bear shelves. It’s hard to let go that’s for sure but looks like you are making progress. Yesterday I put near my garage door for donation 4 rolls of plastic mat that you would put on a pantry shelf. I bought them when I built my other house in late 2006 and didn’t use them in that house and then brought them to this house and they have been in the cupboard and not used. I haven’t thrown them out because I thought I should use them on the pantry shelves when one day I redo the pantry (ie a big overhaul). First I thought I might put them on eBay until I realized they only cost $2.99 at Ikea each which means a whole $12 anyway. So I have been hoarding these 4 rolls of mat that I might or should use in my pantry for 8 years and then that was enough to put them in the donate pile. It’s so silly. Regards Kathy A, Brisbane

  4. This post takes me back to some of my very first decluttering efforts. I remember counting almost 30 bath towels for my family of 5! I was doing a load of towels every single day, and couldn’t take it any longer. We are down to 10 bath towels for all of us now, with 5 beach towels for the summer. We use our towels then hang them to dry and reuse another time or two in between washes. I don’t see any need to wash them every time you dry off, if you just took a bath, you should be clean!

  5. Ha! I think I’ve got you all beat in the towel department. Well, my cats do anyhow – they own most of the towels in this household. At the moment my entire pack is healthy, so the towels just get used for sleeping on (to try to keep the fur down to manageable levels) or in a kitty carrier for trips to the vet, but I’m not naive enough to think that we won’t again have “issues” as the current ones age and little ones arrive, so the towels stay. Books that “I might want to read someday” on the other hand…

    At any rate, if you end up with towels that you don’t think are “nice enough” to donate, try your local animal shelter or rescue – they can always use them!

  6. I had a big cull of our linen cupboard last year. I couldn’t believe how much junk was in there. These days I have 2 sets of sheets for each bed, and 2 sets of towels. We have guests quite regularly so I just use the spare sets for them. Love not having a crowded linen press too!

  7. Strange to say, I have the exact same thing with towels! My airing cupboard is bursting, and yet I hold on to them incase the washing machine goes wrong! If this does happen I can use the ‘dog towels’. It would be nice to have a bit more space. I need to do this.

    • i just wanted to share that this post gave me the push I needed and I donated our spare towels to the dog home :) have I missed them? Um, no. Sheets and duvet covers next!

  8. we are renovating and changing bedrooms with our daughters, so while moving the wardrobes I also realized how many things we have that never get used, but we have them “just in case”. I downsized once more this weekend and got some place empty in the wardrobes (both mine + my husband and the one from the girls). Such a happy feeling to have empty spots :)

  9. I just did this same thing two weeks ago. We are a family of 4. I kept 5 towels and a 3 handtowels. My linen closet is so much more soothing to look into now. If you have an animal shelter nearby, they would love your extra towels. Our humane society was so happy to get ours.

  10. I recently did the same with the dishes in the house. It’s me and my 2 kids… Why do I need 8 dinner plates, 8 bowls, 8 bread plates, and 12 pint size glasses? I cut it all in half. I put away the rest (for when I have company or family over), but I don’t miss having to wash all those dishes.

  11. Brooke,

    Great insight. The key to minimalizing is embracing the reality of your concluding statement: “After all, we have enough.” When we let go of scarcity thinking, then we begin to realize that we have enough. When we live our lives as if we have enough, we become more generous and don’t hold on to unnecessary material possessions.


  12. I culled my pile of 20 something down to the 6 matching green towels (the others were at least 10 years old!) and my two children have 6 kids towels including swimming towels.
    When I did the clear out, it made enough room in my linen press to start storing some of the large kitchen appliances that I use and don’t want in the dark annoying depths of the kitchen.
    So Win-Win. More space in the kitchen and an orderly linen press

  13. Love this! I totally agree with your sentiments of the “what if” factor. When I first started de-cluttering and trying to live more minimally I threw those words around all the time (and still do secretly in my mind-hah). My biggest “what if” was dress clothes. I am a teacher and I couldn’t imagine parting with one of my ten pairs of slacks. I only have two pairs now and frankly it feels amazing. I *almost* always know what I am going to wear. Thanks for sharing! This really got my brain moving today :)

  14. As a society there has been a systemic diminishing of the sense of Enough. Most don’t enjoy a feeling of contentment about anything. This has been my journey for the last 15years or so. Towels, Sheets, Shoes, Purses, Scarves, Hats, Socks, Pants, Blouses, Bras, Dishes, Glasses, Vases, Pictures, Curtains, Books, Magazines, Pillows, Watches, Necklaces, Earrings, Notepaper, Cards, Files, Water Bottles. Whew… Breath.

    Where did all this stuff come from? It’s not just the items but also categories within: work clothes/evening wear/exercise outfits/casual/sleep wear/summer/winter/fall/spring. On and on and on.

    Turning the turret on every area of accumulation has brought me closer to the enlivening awareness of Enough.

  15. Decluttering my craft stash!! I got rid of most of my rubber stamps! My friend got very quiet on the phone when I told her what I did…I told her not to panic that it was ok for me to do this…what if I needed a certain stamp,she asked…no I said. I won’t need a certain stamp…I just won’t…how nice it feels to have empty drawers! I also know that I will be very careful about buying anything new.,

  16. When our dear wee neighbor passed away and her family cleared out her house, to their shock they found that, apart from the ‘company’ towels that matched her bathroom, she only owned one extra bath towel. It’s not that she didn’t have the resources. It’s that she’d use her favorite towel until it was time to launder it, run a small load, and start over. I take great inspiration from her restraint and have since narrowed down my own collection to two. We have more towels in the house for other family members and guests but I can easily picture just having those two towels (or their replacements) and a small set that matches the bathroom.

  17. “Stuff doesn’t hold the weight or the status that it used to.” This is the one thing I wasn’t sure could ever happen. Stuff used to seem so important, but after decluttering and downsizing, I’m feel the same way, stuff just doesn’t seem as important anymore.

    We have two bath towels each, but now that I think about it, that’s really unnecessary. One would do just fine, since i’m not usually doing laundry and taking a shower at the same time. I can typically wash towels during the day and bathe in the morning, so one each should be just fine.

  18. Love this! When we moved to this place I made sure we had two towels for each family member (one for hair and one for body). People were horrified and sent me their second hand towels, the charity bin did well for towels that week!

  19. If I am wet, can I get dry?

    There’s something a little zen there. If a person steps out of the shower and there are no hands clapping… uh, I mean…

    Thanks for this post. We’re due for a linen cupboard spring clean and this is the push I need to just do it.