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Decluttering? How to Decide What Stays and What Goes

Let’s face it. For some of us, decluttering is so overwhelming we train ourselves to not even see all the “stuff” anymore. And those moments we do see it all, we quickly pretend that we didn’t. Am I right? Or is that just me? LOL!

While I love the idea that you only keep the stuff that “sparks joy,” sometimes it’s just not that simple. Just considering letting go of some of our stuff can make us feel guilty for so many different reasons. Someone I love gave it to me. It cost so much money. It only needs the zipper fixed. And on and on. 

So there it all sits, not only cluttering up our space visually, but cluttering our emotions too.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, just a few simple tricks can help make decluttering a breeze.

Keep What You Use, Leave What You Don’t

The first question you should ask yourself when deciding whether to get rid of an item is, When did I last use this? If the answer is more than a year ago, it’s time to take a long, hard look at whether that item should be taking up space in your home.

You can easily track which clothes you use and which you don’t by turning all your hangers backward. When you wear an item, turn its hanger around. Set a time limit for yourself, like the end of a season, and sell or donate anything that’s still facing backward when you hit that date.

Fix It or Ditch It: Broken Items

As you declutter, you will probably find items that are broken and need repair. They might have been stuck in your junk drawer or garage for ages, just waiting to be fixed. When you find these items, ask yourself:

Why do I want to fix this item? Did you spend a lot of money on it, so you feel guilty throwing it away? Do you feel that everything that’s broken needs to be fixed? Or do you truly want to fix the item so that you can use it again? If you don’t have a good reason for fixing it, the item goes.

Will you really fix it? If the answer is yes, make a plan to fix it right now. If you need to go to the store to get a part to fix the item, try placing it by your keys or on the front seat of your car. Next time you go out, stop to purchase the part you need. And if the answer is no … it’s time to let this one go. 

‘Wasting’ Money

Am I holding onto this item because I feel that I’m wasting money by getting rid of it?

Repeat after me: Just because I paid for something doesn’t mean I have to keep it. There. I said it.

I think too many of us hold onto items that we won’t use simply because we feel wasteful by getting rid of them. If you feel guilty throwing something away because you spent money on it, let me give you permission not to. There is value in clean space, too.

Consider the cost of the item you’re getting rid of to be what you paid for the lesson. Now you’ve learned not to buy things you won’t use, and not to keep them around out of guilt. The money is already gone, don’t go spending your space on it for years too.

Know What’s Worth Selling

When you declutter, you’ll inevitably come across items you can sell. But some of these items might not be worth the hassle of selling. Ask yourself these questions to help guide your selling process:

Do I have the time and energy to sell this item? Be honestWould you actually take photos to list this item online? Meet a buyer for it? Pack and ship it? If the answer to any of those questions is no, the item’s probably not worth selling.

Is it worth my time to sell this item? Your time is valuable. Decide on a profit threshold. Tell yourself, “If I can’t make X amount of money from selling something, then I’ll give it away.” Your threshold might be lower or higher depending on how much time and energy you’re willing to put into selling. Some people might choose a $10 threshold, while others might want it to be closer to $25 or even $50.

Even if you find things that are worth selling, be careful that you don’t fall into the “I can sell it” trap. I have had stuff in my garage for 20 years, yes, 20, that I’ve held on to because I kept thinking I’d sell it all. It’s valuable stuff, no question, but it has taken up a lot of real estate in our garage and has definitely not been worth it to keep all that long. 

Don’t Get Caught Up in the Maybe Items

For me, one of the hardest parts of decluttering are the “maybe” items. If you find yourself thinking, Maybe I should keep this, but I’m not sure, ask yourself:

Why do I want to keep this item? Am I holding onto it just in case some improbable situation happens? That “just in case” thought is exactly why I’ve got too much stuff  I am learning to be ok with the possibility that if I let it go now I might need it again in the future. But in the meantime, I’d rather have the empty space than a house full of ‘just in case’ stuff.

Is this item easily replaceable? Could you purchase this item at a low cost (I like to set a threshold of around $20) at a store near you? If the answer is yes, get rid of it. If you really end up needing it, you can buy, or even borrow, another.

Does this item have sentimental value? Sentimental items are often the toughest to decide on. Make sure you distinguish between keeping something that’s important to you, and keeping something out of guilt or because it’s important to an extended family member. If your late dad bought you that painting on your trip to Ireland, then, by all means, keep it. But if that painting was given to you by your great-aunt Marge, and you’ve been holding onto it because it’s a family heirloom even though you can’t stand looking at it, it might be time to let it go.

And my favorite question to ask myself is ~
If I didn’t have this, and I saw it at a thrift store today, would I buy it again? Usually the answer is no, which makes it easy to let go of. This question is the magic one for me.

Use a “Maybe Box”

If you really aren’t sure about several items, create a “Maybe Box.” Grab a cardboard box, fill it with your “maybe” items, label the room it came from, write “Donate on” and the date a year from now, and store it somewhere accessible (like your basement or garage).

If you find yourself needing any of the items in your “Maybe Box,” you can go retrieve it. But if there are any items left in the box after one year, donate them without reopening the box (so you aren’t tempted to bring the items back into your house).

A Word to the Wise

The last tip I’ll share is simply this: Don’t try to organize your clutter. You’ll just find yourself overwhelmed. There’s a huge relief in giving yourself permission to throw things away, donate them, or sell them.

Decluttering doesn’t have to be intimidating or overwhelming. Use these questions to guide you, and you’ll be well on your way to a tidy space.

I created this pack of fun printable charts to help you make a game out of your decluttering and get it done!


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