Downsizing your wardrobe doesn’t have to feel like a funeral.

If you have ever felt bad about getting rid of clothes you hardly wore, you aren’t alone. Everyone has felt it before, so don’t be too hard on yourself.

Science explains exactly why you feel guilty.

For a psychologist, Daniel Kahneman is an entertaining writer. Besides winning the Nobel Prize in Economics, Kahneman wrote the approachable New York Times bestseller, Thinking, Fast and Slow.

In his book, Kahneman repeats a story from Richard Thaler. Which of the ticket holders would you pick?

Two avid sports fans plan to travel 40 miles to see a basketball game. One of them paid for his ticket; the other was on his way to purchase a ticket when he got one free from a friend. A blizzard is announced for the night of the game. Which of the two ticket holders is more likely to brave the blizzard to see the game?

If you picked the ticket holder who paid for his ticket, you’re right! Everyone wants to get their money’s worth. When you spend time or money on anything, you feel a loss.

An experienced financial or business expert would tell you not to worry. The situation has changed (i.e., the blizzard) and the time and money you spent are gone. They are sunk costs.

If you believe the two sports fans are facing different situations, you have fallen victim to the sunk-cost fallacy. Trying to justify earlier mistakes is something we all have done.

The emotional attachment to lost time and money makes you feel guiltier and guiltier.

Ever stay in a relationship too long? You might blame the sunk-cost fallacy.

The sunk-cost fallacy rears its ugly head everywhere.

Have you ever stayed in a relationship too long? Or kept up a hobby you stopped enjoying long ago? The guilt associated with used time, energy, and money is powerful.

I joined a civic club two years ago and was–by far–the youngest member. I enjoyed the club in the beginning, but when it came time for some major projects, the problems started.

I agreed to help lead some of these projects. But with this club, leading a project meant the responsibility got dumped in my lap and everyone scattered.

I’m a man of my word, so I finished these projects to the best of my ability. Everything went fine, but the experience left me burned out and feeling resentful. I thought about leaving the club, but all the time and energy I had already spent made me feel guilty for giving up.

After a few more months, I followed the four steps outlined below to overcome my guilt, and I left the club. I didn’t want to spend any more time or energy in a place that made me feel bad. Looking back, it was a great decision.

4 steps to overcome your guilty feelings.

You flip through your closet trying to find something to wear, and there it is. A $200 shirt you’ve only worn twice.

And now you hate it. It’s out of style. It doesn’t fit. And this feeling of guilt and disgust wash over you.

How do you get over such terrible feelings? Follow these four steps.

  1. Accept that the money you spent on this shirt is gone. There’s no way the store will take it back, and you’ve already paid off the credit card.
  2. Realize that feeling guilty about the lost money is normal. For some people, it’s easy to ignore. For others, it induces gut-wrenching anxiety. The guilt will always be there, but it’s okay.
  3. Write down a list of options for your next step. With this shirt, what could you do next? You could throw it away, give it to someone, donate it, sell it, or keep it.
  4. Decide which of your options to do next by imagining you received the shirt for free (like the sports fan who got his ticket for free). If you hadn’t spent any time or money to get this shirt, what would you do next?

This last step is important because you can only go forward. You will spend more time, money, and energy on one of your options. Like my choice to leave the civic club, you need to decide what’s best for you going forward.

The final lesson is to be better than yourself.

There will be more times in your life where past decisions will make you feel guilty. Learn from your mistakes and move forward.

You only have so much time and money to deal with problems. Don’t let the guilt of past mistakes get you down.

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