As I mentioned in an earlier post, my family and I went to Michigan last week to visit family. Part of our trip involved picking up a new-to-us car. (Hooray!) This means we have an old car to sell and it also means I have even more excess keys on my key chain. I’ve been meaning to declutter my key chain for a while. I mean really, I have been lugging around the same keys for years, and some of them I don’t even recognize anymore. I think I have a key to my Mom’s condo…but which key is it? And really, do I need her key with me every single day when she lives 500 miles away? Uh, no. I sure don’t.

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But there’s definitely some fear in decluttering keys, isn’t there? When you lose track of what a key is for, you fear the worst. As soon as you pitch a key, you’ll need it (even though you haven’t needed it for the past ten years.) And so…we continue to carry around extra keys everywhere we go.

Now normally these excess keys aren’t really much of a problem, just random clutter and a bit of extra weight in my purse. But Monday night, all of that changed. These extra keys created a tremendous amount of chaos when I really, really, really needed to get my hands on the new car key quickly. See, my kids and I stopped by a quick mart to run in and get a bag of ice. My son wanted to stay in the car (he is 13, so I’m okay with that) but, of course, I wanted to lock him in and keep him safe. There were a bunch of people outside the quick mart, so I was really focused on making sure he was locked in the car and would be okay for our quick run inside. I was so focused on his safety, in fact, that I locked the car door, got out of the car, and proceeded to slam my thumb in the car door!

And my thumb got stuck…in the locked car door.

Oh my gosh did this hurt! But somehow I stayed eerily calm on the outside (though inside I was totally freaking out!) All the while, with my thumb stuck in the door, I was fumbling around on my cluttered key chain trying to find the key to my new car!

And then it got even more complicated. When we got the new car I got two keys—a big silver one (that I used the whole time we were in Michigan) and a factory-issued black key (that just so happens to look like the other two back car keys on my cluttered key chain, especially when my thumb was throbbing and stuck in a car door.) Earlier that morning, (as luck would have it) I gave the recognizable silver key to Jay, leaving me with the black one. With my finger stuck in the door I couldn’t figure out which was the right key. I kept dropping the key ring, picking it up and trying desperately to find the right key so I could free my thumb. I just kept saying to Kailea “Please help me. This really hurts.”

I never did get my hands on the right key. Instead, Kailea realized that Collin (who was still safely locked inside the car but not understanding what was going on right outside the car window because I was so freakishly calm) could unlock the door for us. Of course, he had to undo his seat-belt and climb up to the front seat, but ultimately he freed me from the car door, thanks to Kailea’s quick thinking. Whew!

You might say I’m now more motivated than ever to declutter my key chain. But what about those random keys that I know I will need tomorrow—just as soon as I let them go? Well, Jay had a great suggestion:  create a key incubator, a little jar to hold my all those questionable keys for a period of time until I’m sure I don’t need them. Brilliant idea! (Why didn’t I think of that…on say, Sunday?)

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So, if you’re carrying around key clutter, too, take this as a little nudge to lighten your load and declutter your key ring. Put any questionable keys in a little jar with a date to remind you when you established your key incubator. After a few months have passed and you haven’t needed any of the keys inside your incubator, you’ll feel much more comfortable letting them go.

Keys you know for sure you want to keep, but don’t need with you all the time, can go on a separate key ring that you keep at home. My Mom’s key has a new home with other spare keys.

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The result is a simplified, decluttered key ring, with that all-important car key in an easy to find spot.

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When was the last time you decluttered your key chain? If it’s been a while, take action today. Create your own key incubator for those questionable keys, and then, let me know what you think. Do you have trouble getting rid of keys that you aren’t quite sure about? (Or is it just me?) I’d love to hear from you. :) Happy decluttering!

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P.S. My thumb is doing much better. I have a really “pretty” black finger nail…but all in all it’s doing okay. It definitely feels much better than it looks.

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Aby Garvey is a creative organizing expert and simplify 101’s founder. She has created 14 online organizing classes, which she has been teaching since 2007, helping thousands of people around the world get organized. Aby loves to help people create positive change in their lives through her online classes and organizing eBooks.