The Reasonable Person Standard

In law, the “reasonable person standard” is used to judge a defendant’s behavior by asking whether “a reasonable person, under the same circumstances, would have acted in the same way as the defendant”.

So what does this have to do with organizing?   I sometimes use the “reasonable person standard” to help my clients determine how much is too much.

For example, let’s say a client has 75 pairs of shoes.  First we would divide the shoes into different types: work shoes, evening shoes, dressy shoes, casual shoes.  Then, picking one type, I would ask this client, “How many pairs of dressy shoes does a reasonable person need?”

Sometimes it’s helpful if I ask this question before we start dividing up the shoes and the client knows exactly how many she/he has!  If the client answers, “Five pairs”, and then we discover twelve, the client understands that there are too many without my having to belabor the point, and it makes the downsizing easier.

Once we have a target number, what criteria can help with the decision-making?

  • Comfort.  How comfortable is this pair of shoes compared to the others in this group?
  • Frequency of use.  How often do you actually wear these?
  • Condition.  What shape are they in compared to the others?
  • Flexibility.   Which shoes can be worn with the largest number of outfits?

What is not an appropriate criterion for deciding to keep something?   “I paid so much for it.”   Keep in mind that this is a sunk cost, and you won’t get the money back by keeping the item.  You’ll just continue to pay in emotional anguish because the closet is too crowded, and because you have to continue looking at something that you paid a lot for but aren’t wearing that much.

This method can be applied to many types of possessions .  I selected shoes as an example because it’s an area where over-collecting tends to occur, especially with some of my female clients.

What kinds of things do you have too many of?


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