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7 Questions to Help You Make Decluttering Decisions

I recently got this email from a reader:

painted white Bassett dresser with cup pulls

As a long-time reader/fan, I know that you declutter your home every summer. I wonder if you might be willing to do a post or series on decluttering that includes your thought process when you declutter.

I particularly have trouble with knowing what to do with our library of books and things like cleaning supplies, etc. I seem to always be of the “But what if I need it in the future?” or “Well, I might use this in the future.” or “You know I’ll need that as soon as I get rid of it.” mindset.


This is an interesting question! When I got this email, my first thought was that I don’t have a well-thought-out process for decluttering.

But as I pondered this, I realized I do have something of an unconscious process.

I often feel like I’m just going with my gut, but I do have a series of quick questions I ask myself, particularly if I’m feeling a little stuck on an item.

Benjamin Moore Cloud White Advance painted dresser

1. Would I be willing to pack this up and move it?

This question is useful whether or not you plan to move in the near future! I find that it really helps me figure out how much I value something.

Do I like this enough to take it with me to another house?

Do I find this thing to be so useful that I would take it with me?

Is this thing so valuable/unique that it would be tough to replace?

If the answer is no, then it might be good to get rid of it.

2. Could someone else use this?

If I come across something that is not useful or valuable to me but it would be useful or valuable to someone else, I’m prone to give it away.

This is especially true if it’s something that might be useful to me once in a blue moon, but that same thing could be regularly useful to someone else.

For instance, if I keep a toy here, maybe a visiting kid could use it every now and then.

But if I give the toy to a house that has kids in it, the toy will get used regularly.

3. Will I REALLY use this, based on my history?

If it’s an item that you have aspired to use for years but you still haven’t gotten around to it, odds are good you still won’t use it in the future.

Better to pass it on!

4. Could I make a plan to use this soon?

If you unearth something useful, is there a way to make sure you use it instead of just putting it back on the shelf or in the closet?

Sonia's desk and dresser

For instance, if you find a cleaning item you want to use, make sure you put it with the rest of your cleaning supplies.

If you found a shirt you really want to wear, put it in plain sight on your dresser.

If you found some golf clubs you want to use, schedule a date with a friend and put the clubs by the door.

If you found a crafting supply or project, can you see yourself making time to work on it in the next month?

If you found something you want to fix or repurpose, will you do it in the next month?

A box of tshirt rags on a wood floor.

Lots of old t-shirts? Make some t-shirt rags!

If you don’t think you’re going to make a concerted effort or a concrete plan to use something promptly, then get rid of it.

Putting things back in a closet with a “someday” plan is a recipe for clutter continuance!

5. Do I have something else that serves this purpose?

No need to keep specialty kitchen equipment if a multi-purpose kitchen item works just as well (could a knife work as well as that specialty chopper?)

And the same thought applies if you have many multiples of something. If you do laundry once a week, you do not need a month’s worth of towels, socks, or underwear.

6. Could I borrow or rent this item instead of owning it?

Once-in-a-blue-moon items are fine to keep if you have lots of space. But if your space is limited, it can help to consider what you could borrow or rent.

For instance, if your library has copies of your books, you can feel freer to give away some of yours. You can always borrow the book if you feel inspired to reread it.

craiglist Pottery Barn bookshelf

If you know that you could rent or borrow baby equipment for visiting small children, then you can give away your old pack ‘n’ play without worrying.

One last tip: most things can be replaced

Sometimes, we put too much pressure on ourselves to avoid the odd, “Nuts! I should have kept Item X!” situation.

(Which, let’s be honest, is going to be the exception, not the rule.)

Unless you are in serious financial straits, or the item you gave away was extremely unique and expensive, it’s not usually a big deal to replace whatever you gave away.

And if you are a person prone to clutter, you probably don’t need to be particularly worried that you will accidentally give away too many things.

The more likely scenario is that you will keep too many things!

Readers, how do you make decluttering decisions? Any other good questions to add to mine?

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Saturday 12th of June 2021

Ugh, I needed this post about 3 1/2 weeks ago. I've been a long time reader yet never commented. I had major surgery back in February followed by infection which has kept me out of work on disability since then. Fortunately for ADA I return to work at the end of this month. However, and getting back on track, we faced a HIGHLY unexpected move during this out of nowhere -- from an apartment I've lived at for 24 years. Long story short -- I actually asked myself some of these questions you listed in the post but now I'm going to do my utmost best at not being such a "collector" of stuff. The term hoarder may apply but makes me cringe.


Saturday 12th of June 2021

Oh man, there is NOTHING like moving to help you realize how many things you don't need!


Tuesday 8th of June 2021

I've been decluttering for about 2 years now and I find the things I have the most problems with getting rid of are 1) books 2) memorabilia and 3) aspirational stuff (clothing that I might fit into LOL, craft supplies that I might use, etc)

in 2011 I had to clear out my house cause I needed roommates to be able to pay my bills. Turns out both my stepmother and my dad were hoarders. I threw away 15 big bags of garbage every week for at least a month (maybe one or two bags were *my* garbage, the rest was stuff that was broken, out of date, etc.

One of my major problems with getting rid of stuff is that my mother and grandmother threw my stuff away or destroyed it in fits of rage (also we rented out our house here in Bend when I was in the fifth grade, we moved to Hayward (CA) and left a lot behind, the 'good Christian lovely young couple" renters threw away, sold, or stole EVERYTHING that wasn't nailed down


Tuesday 8th of June 2021

We used to have more celebrations at our house when our boys were younger. Now that they are grown I have severely decluttered the kitchen. I figure if I do need anything like dishes/glasses/etc. I can "rent" them from the thrift store.


Tuesday 8th of June 2021

I'm struggling with this on another front. I entertain often for my family or for several of my favorite causes. I don't like plastic, so I have tons of dishes, glasses, servingware, linens, etc. Most of it has been obtained second hand, and it's all nice stuff, but I haven't used any of it in over a year. I'm itching to declutter, but I know I'll have need for it again. Come on pandemic, away with you!


Tuesday 8th of June 2021

If it’s something I don’t use often, I have a rule of 20. Can I replace this in 20 minutes for less than $20? If so, I don’t hang on to it.

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