When everything is special, nothing is special. So how do you decide what is special enough to keep and what needs to clear out so that you can have a clean, peaceful, and decluttered home?
Every organizer, minimalist, and decluttering aficionado has their own set of questions that they prefer to use when they're deciding whether or not to declutter something. We can go from one question -- "Does it spark joy, anyone?" -- to a giant list of questions. There's no one right or wrong way to ask questions as you are decluttering. You just have to find what works for you and your space and your personality.
As I talked about in my channel introduction video, I am still responsible for clearing out two very overfull estates: my mother's and my grandmother's. There are still many boxes in my basement that I am going through trying to decide if I'm going to keep the item or trash it, donate it, sell it, otherwise get it out of my house.
I'm sharing the three questions I use when I am decluttering to decide whether I'm going to keep an item or get rid of it.
"Do I use it?" And not just do I use it now because if I'm decluttering in January, I'm not using my garden trowel. You want about a six-month look back and look forward, Have I used it in the last six months? Am I going to use it in the next six months? If you are keeping it because you might use it someday or keeping it “just in case”, then you’re not really using it. That item needs to go!
“What would I use if I didn't have this item?” This question comes to us from Joshua Becker. And it's one of my favorite decluttering questions. If you can answer that question quickly, then you don't need the item.
This question does a good job of catching duplicates -- exactly how many Flathead screwdrivers do you need? It also catches some of those one-trick ponies that really love to live in our kitchens, like the As Seen on TV things that could probably be replaced with one good kitchen knife.
It also catches things that you do use, but that you have a lot of alternatives for. We only need so many pitchers, platters, vases, and such. If you've got a whole bunch of alternatives and you can say, I've got this, this, and this I could use instead, that item needs to go.
“Does the item have positive or negative value?” This question comes from my favorite minimalism content creator, Katie Coughran, with How to Be a Minimalist podcast and YouTube channel.
Does the item add a positive value to your life? Does it help you fulfill your life's goal or your life's purposes? Does it make you feel good? Does it make you smile when you see it?
An example in my life is two egg timers that I have. I don't really use egg timers. I don't make soft, boiled eggs that often. When I do, I can pretty easily use my smartphone or my Google Nest for timing. But one came from my mother's kitchen and one came from my grandmother's kitchen and they just hold positive memories to me. So I enjoy having them on the window sill in the kitchen.
Or does the item have negative value in your life? Does it remind you of something bad? Money wasted? Pounds not lost? Or that jerky ex-boyfriend from college?
A lot of the items from my grandmother's estate actually fall in this negative value category. My grandmother was a difficult person -- that's a story for a whole other day. So a lot of those items, while they are monetarily valuable or family heirlooms, they don't really bring a positive value to my life. They remind me of times that weren't so great. I'm going to get rid of them and give them to somebody who will find positive value from their beaut.y
The positive and negative value question can help you a lot with sentimental items. You can also use this question for non-sentimental items. For example, books. I may have purchased a book at a time when I was interested in a particular subject, and I'm no longer interested in that subject. Now the book is taking up space. Every time I see it, I feel kind of guilty and maybe not great emotions over the fact that I bought this book and I never read it.
Conversely, there may be some book or article of clothing or knickknack that's not really useful, but it just makes you smile every time you see it. It makes you feel happy. That's a positive value. You want to keep that.
I've used these three questions to help myself declutter for some time. But when I set out to research this topic, I thought I should have five questions. So I set out listening to podcasts, looking at YouTube videos, reading blog posts, to see what other questions were out there, and see if any resonated with me.
I really couldn't find a question four and five that helped me answer any questions that my three questions didn't already help me answer. Now, if you've got a four or five that you can suggest, please leave it in the comments below to share with me and all of my other readers.
So, ultimately, I'm sticking with my three questions. I think three questions is a nice number. It's not too many so I am frozen in question answering decision-making for every item I'm trying to declutter, but I also felt like the one super popular question -- does it spark joy? -- wasn’t enough. I didn't feel like it encompassed all of the things I wanted to consider, but it also still feels very stuff-centric. It's still about you finding joy in your things. And one of the things I love about the minimalism, decluttering, and organization sphere of people is that it's about finding joy in your experiences and not your things.
I hope my three questions are helpful to you. If you've got a question four and five, or six and seven, that you want to leave in the comments, I would love to see it. If you would like to follow along on my decluttering journey towards minimalism-ish, make sure to subscribe to my blog by entering your name and email address on the form below.
Until next time, I hope your days are increasingly clutter-free and filled with the people and things that mean the most to you.