Are You Hoarding Ideas?

Are You Hoarding Ideas?

When was the last time you cleared up your clutter? I don’t mean office clutter (though you should probably take care of that; it’s been a while since the last time you tidied up).

I mean mental clutter: ideas you’re never going to action.

I bet that over the past months or even years, you’ve collected a ton of half-formed ideas. Heaps of them. Because they’re Good Ones. You’ve jotted those Good Ideas down on some sort of document somewhere so that you won’t forget them, and you keep them handy just in case.

Just in case. Because one day you might need them.

That’s hoarding.

People with hoarding behaviour collect all sorts of items. Clothing. Furniture. Knick knacks. Stuff they have no real need for. Stuff they don’t use… and never will.

But they keep all that stuff anyways. They stash, they store, and they fill rooms (even entire houses!) with all sorts of possessions. They sometimes even hoard so much they nearly crowd themselves out of their own house and onto the street.

Hoarders have a problem: They can’t discard what they don’t need or can’t use. They let clutter take over their life.

And they can’t stop.

You hoard. I know you do. Maybe not clothing or gadgets, but you hoard ideas. Freelancers are FULL of good ideas, and entrepreneurs are even worse. So I know you have all these little bits of ideas kicking around. You stash, you store, you fill up your hard drive with half-written files and snippets full of good intentions.

Just in case. Because one day you might need them. You’re planning to do something with them.

One day.

The problem is that one day never comes. You collect months and years worth of ideas and never action any of them. If you do, you give the idea a half-hearted start, eventually letting yourself get sidetracked onto something else, and the idea just sits there, taking up space.

You aren’t going to use that idea, the same way hoarders won’t ever use 90% of all that clutter they’re collecting.

Here’s the big question: If we’re not going to use our ideas (or our stuff), why do we cling to them and let them clutter up our minds?

Well, that’s easy. Some people hoard because they think the items are valuable – when they’re really not. Some think they might one day need those items – and they never do. Some hang on out of a sense of frugality, to save money… which costs them on several levels. And some have emotional attachments. They just can’t bring themselves to let go.

Can you?

Think of the half-written blog posts you won’t finish. The business venture ideas you won’t start. The products you won’t create. The courses you won’t put together. Think about the files on your computer, the notes you’ve written to yourself, the cheat sheet full of partially formed stuff you’ll do.

Maybe. One day.

Imagine what you could do if you cleared out that clutter. If you just wiped everything clean and started fresh. Imagine grabbing onto one idea that you know has potential… and sticking to it. Actioning the steps. Seeing it to the end.

Finishing it.

Not one day. Today. Now.

Fair enough – it’s not that easy to clear away piles of Really Great Ideas. You might throw out a good one! And never find it again! It’ll be lost forever, the dream of riches and millions…

See how insidious hoarding behaviour can be? If you don’t stop clinging and start something, you’ll never have anything but a pile of ideas that go nowhere.

So here are a few steps to help you tackle the junk, let go of the clutter and start achieving great goals:

Start Small

Don’t decide to clear out everything. Pick something small that you can clean up now so that you can finish quickly and actually see your progress.

Choose a single folder on your computer and clean up the files. Grab one idea sheet and decide to eliminate 10. Work for only half an hour, then stop. Tomorrow, pick another folder, clear out another 10 ideas or work another half hour.

Otherwise, you’re probably facing a huge task. Minimalizing your clutter can be done in an exhausting weekend marathon, absolutely – but it’s far less stressful and manageable when done in small sprints.

(Just ask the intervention-assaulted hoarders on TV how they feel after two intense days of watching their homes being ripped apart and emptied by those helpful clutter killers.)

Be Honest

Most of us aren’t truly honest with ourselves. It’s damned hard to admit we’re never going to run that dream marathon or set aside money for that new car. It’s much, much easier to lie to ourselves and say of course we are! We’re just not ready. We don’t have the time. Besides, it’s a Good Idea – we should hang onto it for now.

No. Come on. Be realistic. Ask yourself questions, like, “When will I actually ever move forward on this idea? How long do I need to hang onto it before it’s okay to let it go?”

The answer – if you’re really being honest with yourself – is that you’re probably never going to action the idea, and you don’t need to hang onto it for five years before figuring that out.

So why cling to it?

Here’s an example: Just last week, I nearly let an automatic renewal of a domain name I owned go through. Cool name, very catchy.

But then I asked myself when I’d really ever do anything with it… and how many years did I really need to fork out money just to hang onto the name?

The answers? Never, and I’d already wasted enough money. I let the name expire.

And that’s really all there is to it. Start small, ditch, sort and organize, and be honest with yourself. By the time you’re done chucking those old files and lists of ideas, you’ll realize you’re left with just a few.

A few good ideas. REALLY good ideas. Ideas that you’re actually going to do something about, because as you revisit them, you realize they’re still exciting to you. Worth your time. Worth your energy.

In fact… Excuse me, but I think I have to go action one of those really good ideas. How about you?

Want to learn more about mind-cluttering roadblocks holding you back from freelancer freedom? Then get your free copy of Peter Shallard’s awesome guide, Seek and Destroy.

Packed with damned wise advice for freelancers and entrepreneurs, Seek and Destroy lays out ten common business obstacles so you can discover which you suffer from and get fast tips to clear them out of your life forever.

Post by James Chartrand

James Chartrand is an expert copywriter and the owner of Men with Pens and Damn Fine Words, the game-changing writing course for business owners. She loves the color blue, her kids, Nike sneakers and ice skating.

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  1. Thanks for these tips. I think starting some of the ideas might be more helpful than keeping on accumulating ideas that are not being acted upon. Nonetheless, wouldn’t a person be working on too many project if he/she starts a new idea everyday?

    • Well, I’d say the general rule-of-thumb on keeping clutter to a minimum would apply: If you bring in something new, then something old has to go!

      • On the contrary and as for me, I think I have few hoarded ideas that I should really take action on. In fact, this is a challenge for me to take. Weeks have passed and I just hated myself for not doing it. *sigh*

        But anyway I so agree with you, James. Take action, even if it’s a small step. And so I gotta go and so something asap 😉

      • Buba Garba says:

        Well i agree with you on the level of lack of honesty, sincerity and trustworthiness in the mind of people, which virtually affect the level at which one can be trusted,as many were trusted, tested and failed.This type of people are found allover the world which close the chances of others with good intention and worthy to be trusted.Is only when this is properly checked and people learn how to trust and to be trusted, to trust will be very difficult in the present world of today.

  2. I never thought to articulate the problem like this.

    For me, the hoarding is evident when I take a look at all my drafts in WordPress. (Many of them are just titles and a short description of the full post.) From time to time I have to convince myself it’s time to write the post or delete the entry and move on.

    • I actually canned a bunch of these draft ideas last week – half I couldn’t even remember what I’d wanted to say in the first place!

      • Buba Garba says:

        The world of today is seen to be jet age and computer age which inverribly play a very significant role in hording ideas all the same is not everything i remember though it depend on the importance of the idea to me.So i agree with you.

  3. And sometimes you get a push.
    Just last week I lost 2 flash drives with “work” from the last 3 years on them. I had started saving some files to the cloud and those were still available – historical research for a current screenplay. When I tried to remember what was on the drives, I realized most of it was ideas, half-started and then ignored – only one really stands out. And the focus I’ve generated for the current screenplay has been amazing.
    You’re so right – hoarding comes in all forms.
    Thanks for the reminder.

    • My condolences. I’ve been through a few hard disk crashes and they’re painful, forced decluttering. Until I realize that nothing I lost was really that important :)

  4. Guilty as charged, James. I’ve got a string of ideas I haven’t developed, and the sheer number of them induced paralysis. I’m now working my way through them one at a time and developing or discarding as appropriate.

    • Ha, you’ve got it going on! I bet you’ll find some are really worthy of some action. “Yeah, about time I do this!” And some… well, less so. :)

  5. I’ve realized that great ideas are a dime a dozen. Mine included. What’s NOT so common is an idea well executed. I’ll take a so-so idea well executed over a “great” idea any day.

  6. HA! HA! HA! HA! HA!!
    There’s this girl I know who had 1.5 years worth of work in 2 facebook email messages she sent to herself, adding to them daily.

    Till a few days ago, when after safely guarding those precious ideas, articles, resources and thoughts that she was gonna use to create a membership site on her blog, she accidentally deleted them whilst deleting a bunch of other stuff.

    Of course, this should come as no surprise as by then she had downsized her life, gotten rid of 80% of her belongings, packed her life in 8 boxes and unfriended a bunch of unfriends, letting go and purging from every area of her life. Oh and those digital files too.

    With so much uncluttering going on in her life, she was panic stricken at first, but had to laugh at the way the rest was taken care of. The end. Ie, The Beginning.

    Boy, has she ever learned to purge and up and at em, atom ant :)

    • I learned to downsize when I had to take a two floor duplex containing three people and make it fit into a single dwelling, adding another person to the mix. The most commonly heard questions for a month as we packed and moved were, “Where will we put this? Is there room? How will we make it fit?”

      So we all had to sit down with everything we owned in life and decide what stayed and what had to go.

      And like that girl you mentioned, I probably ended up getting rid of 80% of everything I owned. If I had to move again, I could likely fit it all into a car.

      Felt good. Up with minimalizing.

  7. At least your spot-on article means that I’m not alone in this 😉

    Yes, I do have files with great articles, registered domain names, projects that started and then I moved to something else – but I can’t kill them, I just give them attention every now and then. They grow but slowly, never reaching their full potential. We could argue the problem is lack of focus, but that’s not the case – it’s giving up that’s the real challenge. To let go! The choose only one project, or three and not bringing more ideas to life. Ideas come fast, to materialize them.. that’s the problem when a day only counts 24 hours.
    It’s not about what you planned to do, but what you’ve accomplished that counts.

    • A lot of people feel guilty about all those ultra-slow-growing someday projects. I’d say it’s probably relieving to finally own up, set the slow stuff aside and focus on something that’s exciting. Slow growth can very often mean lack of interest or motivation – find the stuff that fires you up instead!

  8. I don’t know what the connection is with this, but before I came back here to check out this post, I unintentionally flipped channels and there was they guy who was hoarding rats in his house. It started with a small number like 3. But over 2 years, he had found himself with a small collection of maybe a thousand rats.

    As I typed, I don’t quite know if the timing of this viewing along with reading of this post on hoarding ideas are just a co-wink-e-dink or not, but it makes even more sense to me at the moment.

    So many ideas I had (say, 12 years ago or so) are still popping to mind to this day. MAKE IT STOP!!!

    Time to purge things, I know. To some extent, it makes sense to “start over” with simpler, more focused and action-taking ideas instead of these things which have been around since (GASP!) the 90s.

    • I’m actually glad you found that channel – now you have a beautiful visual image to support the message, and you’ll probably never be able to think about one without the other! :)

  9. I am pretty ruthess with files and emails. They are not a problem. But I was beginning to clutter my mind with ‘service’ ideas for my business. It was starting to freak me out – so imagine what would have happened if I had thrown them open to my readers and potential clients.

    The way I am trimming my excess service clutter is to always go back to my ideal reader. And for that I have you to thank


    • Aye, I used to have a few lists of potential money-making ideas for the business… that grew and grew in length but that never went anywhere.

      Putting all my focus on the course I’m building (soon to launch!) has been far, far more worthwhile than dinking around thinking up ideas that I’m never going to action.

  10. Hmm interesting. I’d never thought of ideas as ‘clutter’ before but I think you’re right. I guess it’s also related to mental clutter – when we hoard thoughts (especially negative thoughts), it’s never going to help us start/finish a project or move forward on that one great idea.

  11. I have definitely been a hoarder. I know exactly how it feels to not want to through away all your useless gems, because one day you just might open that box and find a use for it, but to often those ideas become unnoticed because new ideas are constantly coming in.

    • Ever think, “Hey, what’s in this box?” and open it up only to discover a bunch of things you haven’t seen in years? I had a friend like that – she was thrilled to rediscover the stuff… and then put it back in the box to store for another few years.

      • Lol. Yeah, I can definitely say I have. Although I’d have to say my favorite thing to find is money. In a pair of washed jeans, Under my bed, or in my car. Doesn’t matter to me! lol.

        But seriously I do appreciate the times I find an old poem or song I wrote. Those are priceless moments in time.

  12. I’m reminded of the quote: “10% inspiration, 90% persperation” ideas are so easy–it’s the hard work that is er…hard.

  13. I read this just in time. I have a couple of undeveloped domains that I will be letting expire next month on your recommendation.


  14. This post hit home. I have been downloading a lot of reports and clipping a lot to my Evernote- great stuff that is relevant to my work. But like shopping the joy seems to be only in downloading.

    Right now I have a ton of reports that I wanted to use as starting material for my blog posts but are lying unopened. Will have to take these reports one at a time, starting today. Thanks for the wake up call James

    I am also suffering from the idea overload in the shower syndrome. I get brilliant ideas in the shower, mostly about blog posts and marketing techniques for myself. However once I am out of the shower 90% of the ideas dissipate.

    Do they make waterproof paper?

  15. Great timing. I took a step in the right direction this weekend by decluttering my office. There were stacks papers to be filed, articles ripped from newspapers and magazine with ideas for blog posts and a shoe box full of business cards collected at networking events.

    The thought of actually filing all that paper made quite a bit of it seem less important, so in the trash it went. Now I am working in a beautiful, clutter-free office and I feel so much more productive.

  16. Okay, will someone provide me a second opinion here? I have a few ideas for novels. sixteen to be exact. I’ve got a synopsis for each and a pile of research completed. These ideas have had their genisis, have been noted on and are currently sat waiting to be sprung. Is that hoarding if I am working on one exclusivly and am hanging back on the others? (btw the seven parter used to be nine parter- so ha- decluttterage has commenced)

    • Well, the question is, how many novels can you write, based on your speed, lifespan and actual motivation and interest? If you’re determined to write all 16, then I’d choose one (as you’ve done), work exclusively and burn through that baby like no one’s business.

      Then revisit the 15 ideas. Still like ’em? Still want to do ’em? GO!

      Then revisit the 14…

      To me, it’s not hoarding if you’re actually doing something with the stuff. Hanging onto it for “one day” or just in case when you know you won’t actually write/work on/finish whatever it is… is hoarding.

  17. Switching to multi response for comments… didn’t realize there were so many!

    @ Mary – Never let them see you sweat. 😉

    @ Tammi – What got me on the domain name is that I’d owned it for about 5 years, so that’s $50 lost, completely! And thinking of losing another $50 more? Yeah, no. Out it went!

    @Bhaskar – White noise (like in the shower) is highly conducive to creative ideas. Embrace being clean and creative! As for Evernote… everyone raves about it but I could never really see the point of hanging onto all these little bits of “stuff”.

    @ Clara – I loves me some clean office. It DOES feel good!

  18. Actually I think white noise is not the major factor here. It’s just that my bathroom has no laptops yet (I am not a rich Japanese) so I get a lot of time to think over things.

    Just staring at the mirror while shaving my head or sitting on the throne staring out into space gives me a lot of ideas. In front of the laptop there is so much going on that the ideas don’t get any time to etch themselves.

  19. I think it is important to distinguish between ideas that are costing you something to hang onto and those that are not. If you are paying every year for a domain name, it’s costing you money. If the half-finished ideas are distracting you, stopping you from finishing any one thing, that is costing you too! Even if you look at the list of unfinished stuff and feel guilty, that’s costing you energy that you don’t need to spend.

    On the other hand, a file of Good Ideas I Might or Might Not Use Someday doesn’t cost me anything to hang onto. Sometimes an idea is too big or the timing is not quite right for it, but in the future, after I get more of the small-to-medium-size ideas started, I might be ready to dig back into the Big Ideas file and run with one of them.

  20. Kerwin Von Pfeffer says:

    So, now I have hoarded all these good ideas… With whom do I share them? Who wants all these half-baked ideas and what are they going to do with them… hoard them somewhere else? I really want to know a good idea outlet because I have lots of “good” ideas… Thanks!

  21. I have the opposite issue, I don’t like clutter. As a traveler and writer I use the rule of thumb, “When in doubt, leave/toss it out.” I go through my ‘business and writing ideas’ and delete the ones I’m not ‘excited’ about. I delete or override WordPress drafts with new topics which I write straightaway. I also like the rule of thumb of home organizers, “If you haven’t worn an article of clothing or used something, toss it out or donate it.”

  22. Hoarding iDeas? Ummmm..never spin on the idea of procrastination. I think those who hoard ideas are the ones who fear the greatness inside of them that is YEARNING to be used and abused like domestic violence. But as usual it’s up to the person to quit horading ideas and create greatness themselves. If NOT, they will just read this post and Move away Swiftly from the TRUTH and that’s the TRUTH!

  23. Y’know… this is a well-written, well-supported persuasive piece of writing. I don’t know if I agree with it, though. I can’t put my finger on it just yet — there’s something nagging at me, though, about the difference between maintaining/filing and hoarding… will work on it, promise. Maybe this will become a new blog post. (Wait, am I hoarding now?)

    • I used to work in a large corporate office. We had file cabinets FULL of information… that no one ever went back to look into.

      When someone suggested we needed a 7th 5-drawer monstrosity as the other six were getting quite packed, I suggested cleaning up old files instead. The company saved $500… and downsided to two active cabinets that they’d sort and clean every year.

  24. This is an interesting and timely post for me as well as I’ve recently decided that part of my business focus is to help small/solo biz owners simplify their content/creation, marketing. Everyone is overwhelmed, overloaded whether creator or reader of ideas, so to be able to simplify I think will let both parties come up for air.

    Now to the admissions part, I definitely hoard ideas, but I also hoard resources. I have more stuff bookmarked to maybe use or refer to later than I’m sure I’ll ever get to. Some of them will be used as I expand my site/need to manage or automate, but some are just ideas I liked, thought could be good to springboard off of at some point. I have gone in and purged before, and the thing is, many of those saved sites aren’t even there anymore. That definitely helps with the decluttering.

    I’ve been in a mood to simplify for a while now, both physically and digitally, time to tackle at least one item soon! Thanks for the motivation.

    • Ha, old bookmarks is one of mine – I bookmark because I don’t have time to look at something and want to come back to it later… but after two weeks flies by and I visit the bookmarked site, I think, “Uh, what was it I wanted here again?”

      So I stopped bookmarking about six months ago – I either action right away or get honest and know I’ll never do anything about the info/site.

  25. What’s the name of that domain? I’m going to pick it up. 😀

  26. Great article! I love decluttering and dematerialising; it’s so cathartic. I have reduced all my stuff to one room and am working through folders and drawers. I usually think of this activity in physical terms but lately, I have also started reorganising my virtual space, clearing out desktop folders of excess junk that I no longer need so the most interesting projects / ideas / concepts remain. It definitely feels like a weight has been lifted. Eventually maybe I’ll reduce everything to almost nothing or is that going too far?

  27. Hi James,
    Love the idea of cleaning out small chunks every day. Breaking things down into small manageable tasks has always worked great for me. I am guilty of holding onto things on my computer, potential blog posts or inspirational images that I want to use someday. Cleaning out this clutter will save me space on my hard drive. Thanks for the link to the Finish it post. Focusing on one great idea and following it through until success is much better than storing thousands of half baked ideas for later. Cheers.

  28. I love this title. I often do hoard my ideas, although I’ve never really thought of it that way. It’s so easy to pile up the ideas and think, ‘one day’. You’re right, it’s much easier to take action than it is to keep postponing action.

  29. It’s not just files of ideas I have jotted down… it’s also shoeboxes! Oh dear me… it’s true what you say though. I never thought of it as mental clutter… righty-o, I have a lot of cleaning up to do! Why do I feel sad already? *sighs*

  30. Wish i had the problem of too many ideas. Like most people my problem is not having a cluttered room so much as a neat but virtually empty one!

  31. Have you ever thought of writing a blog? You have some great ideas 😉 Don’t sit on this idea… act on it! I love your posts- this one hits home directly as I sit here looking at the BIG FAT post ideas folder.

  32. I do know what you are talking about. My problem was always that I had too many ideas at the wrong place, at the wrong time, or just forgot them. So to solve my own problem, I started building openideas. It was about to be what opensource is for software, just for ideas. I am still working on putting the app together for now, but I looking forward to the day, ideas can be free…

  33. Thanks for the tips. I can be a hoarder sometimes. No, most of the time and yes, you are totally correct when the opportunity to release these canned ideas never come. You wait and wait and wait until new ideas overlap the others and it will be a vicious cycle. It’s great that you gave tips on how to make this experience less frustrating.

  34. I LOVE the way you describe this practice as “hoarding.” My friend and I always call ourselves information hoarders because we squirrel away knitting patterns, photocopied exercises, newspaper articles, links, etc etc etc, but it totally makes sense that the behavior applies to intangible things like ideas. I think they’re probably a lot of good karma involved with just letting an idea go if you’re never going to do anything with it. Here’s to putting it into practice!


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