Decluttering isn’t just about parting with things. There’s an emotional aspect to it, too. Deciding what’s clutter requires being honest and a bit tough with yourself. The questions below will help you identify clutter and why you’ve been holding onto it.
1. Is it still useful to you?
If you use something often, it’s not clutter—but it might feel that way because you’re always leaving it sitting out. Find a more accessible storage spot where it’s both easy to get out and to put away.
2. Does it need work?
Wanting to repair things instead of throwing them out is great if you actually fix them. If not, it’s clutter. Same goes for unfinished projects and, yes, even crafts. If it was something you were into, you’d have fixed or finished it.
Here’s how to make letting go of those ambitious projects easier: create a specific spot where you put things to fix or projects to finish. Every month, check the spot. If you haven’t fixed or finished something in three months, toss it.
3. Is it out of style?
Even when styles return to fashion, they’re not the same. Mid-century furniture is a great example: the MCM we’re decorating with now isn’t the same stuff. In other words, what you’re hoping will come back in style won’t. So, unless you’re operating a museum in your home, let them go.
4. Would someone else love/use it more right now?
Unused things are clutter. If you give something to someone who uses it, you’ve rid yourself of clutter and helped them, too. But please don’t hold onto things for your adult children to inherit. That burdens you today and them in the future. Ask them if they want it now, or let it go.
5. Is it worthless aside from your memories?
Letting go of something is rarely about letting go of the item. It’s about letting go of what the item represents. Your child’s baby quilt, for example, is a reminder of your past. Your child won’t remember it. Without those memories, it’s an old piece of cloth with spit-up stains.
Step 6. Do you have something like it already?
Clutter wastes your money. When you can’t find something, you buy a new one. Then you feel bad about getting rid of the duplicate because you spent money on it.
The only kind of duplicates it makes sense to hold onto are consumables: paper items, cosmetics, canned goods, etc. Turn a cupboard or closet into a holding spot for these kinds of things. (If you’re decluttering well, that shouldn’t be a problem.) Next time you run out of something, “shop” that spot first.
Step 7. Are you only keeping it out of guilt?
Guilty feelings lead us to hold onto two types of clutter: stuff we spent money on and stuff we got for free. Do you see the trap there? Don’t turn your home into a guilt holding container by filling it with stuff you don’t want or use.
Step 8. Are you only holding onto it “just in case”?
Do you hold onto stuff you’re not using just in case you might need it someday? How about asking instead if you can live without it. If it’s something you can replace without for under $20 or in less than 20 minutes, get rid of it. If your imagined worst case scenario comes about, you can quickly get a replacement.
What if I Still Can’t Decide if It’s Clutter?
When your brain freezes and can’t make one more decluttering decision, try these things:
- Box it up and stick it in storage, then make a note on your phone to check it in a year. If you don’t need it in that time, haul the unopened box to the thrift store.
- Or put it where it’s in your way. Being repeatedly inconvenienced by a thing can help you decide quickly if you don’t want it or if there’s a good spot for it.