The traps and benefits of “just in case” thinking

Why do we hold onto things that we don’t use or value? Why do we take certain actions that don’t make sense, given current circumstances? Very often the internal rationale is “just in case”. We tell ourselves that we might need an item sometime in the future, even when it hasn’t been used in years. Sometimes we act in a certain way because of perceived possible future scenarios.

We all know the Boy Scout saying “Be prepared” and the old adage “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail”. I’m not sure that this is always great advice or rather, it has taken too literally by some people and becomes their Just In Case (JIC) excuse.

1 in 11 Americans, pay $90+ per month to store their personal junk in self-storage facilities

The JIC mentality is evident in many areas of our lives:

  • Holding onto clothes that once used to fit, JIC one day you lose weight
  • Having overflowing pantries of food, JIC the shops are closed and you need something immediately for a recipe
  • Keeping excessive amounts of cash rather than investing, JIC the stock market crashes and a recession comes
  • Paying for a storage container to keep furniture, books and old sporting equipement, JIC you get a bigger house or need them someday
  • Overpacking for a holiday to account for every social and weather eventuality JIC

While often harmless, JIC thinking inevitably means we carry through our lives unnecessary physical and mental burdens. In extreme circumstances, it can manifest itself in hoarding tendencies, or paralyze us from making liberating life changes because of a somewhat pessimistic view of the future.

Of course “Be prepared” is sage advice in some JIC circumstances and makes perfect sense. Wearing a helmet when riding a bike. Establishing an emergancy fund of cash. Taking action on climate change. Carrying a spare tire. Adjusting your drawdown strategy in retirement when markets are depressed. Buying insurance to protect against catastrophic life and health events or property loss and damage.

So what is a good way forward with a better balance? How to avoid the downsides of JIC thinking but establish effective mitigants against potential downside scenarios?

  • Be honest with yourself and admit what items are being kept “just in case”. In most instances, this actually means never. Acknowledging this will help letting go of the clutter (physical and psychological) and the fear of not having enough, or that future circumstance which is unlikely to eventuate;
  • Recognize that in the event that you do actually need something, the reality is that in most circumstances it will be possible to buy or borrow a replacement.
  • Establish safeguards that allow you to live more in the now. Consider protecting against low probablity but high impact events and circumstances. This will help reason prevail over fear.
  • Learn to be more open and embrace an element of uncertainty in your life

Personally I’m trying to live a more simple, intentional and sustainable lifestyle. We are in the process of downsizing, which has required us take a hard look at our JIC possessions, most of which have been now given to charity or sold.

On the otherside of the coin, I’m becoming increasingly concerned about the climate crisis and what that might mean for how we live in the near future. As a family we are actively thinking about JIC mitigants to global warming that are within our personal sphere of influence to implement. Even if the scientists are wrong (which I don’t believe), I figure having a lighter footprint can’t hurt.

We are also pursuing financial indpendence which requires planning and sacrifice. We’ve set up automated systems to counteract JIC pessimistic thinking, which negatively influence our savings and investing strategy. At the same time establishing a smoothing account (our version of the emergency fund) and insurance to cover expected and unexpected events that might impact our FI ambition. When the time comes to “retire” from my corporate job, I need to resist JIC thinking of working just one more year to make sure we have enough saved. Multiple studies have shown that having assets that allow a 4% withdrawal rate which meets our expenses, has a 96% probability of being sufficient. These are great odds and there really is no reason to delay life post work, just in case!

Good luck finding your own “Just in Case” balance.

Thanks for reading

Mr Simple Life

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7 thoughts on “The traps and benefits of “just in case” thinking

  1. Couldn’t agree more!
    Think the main danger, as you highlighted, is the mental burden that this JIC mindset can cause. Clutter in your house / finances / wardrobe will cause clutter in your mind!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Pingback: How to teach a young child money mindfulness – PathtoLife2

  3. This is so accurate!
    I’m the “throw away anything i don’t need immediately,” type of person
    And sometimes I’ve needed the stuff i discarded
    Right now before i do so, i ask myself if whatever i want to discard of would be useful to me in a month if not it’s gone

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Those big self-storage facilities are becoming more common in Australia too.
    Another way to cut down on “stuff” is to accidentally move into a house with far less storage space than the previous place.
    That’s what I did My new place is actually bigger than the old house but there’s less space to hide things away. It’s stopped me bringing anything into the house that I don’t have space for.
    Works a treat!

    Liked by 1 person

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