5 Questions to Ask Yourself About Clutter

As we’re clearing our homes of clutter, here are five questions to ask yourself:

1) Do I Need This Item?

Need is the keyword here. Sometimes it’s hard to look at our own stuff objectively, but it’s a really good exercise to do so.

If you’re having trouble deciding whether or not you truly need something, step back and think, “Could I live without this? Is my survival dependent upon this item?”

I’m not saying that you can only have things you need in your home. Flowers are not a need, but I enjoy them so I buy them on occasion. But once you can discern between needs and wants, it helps you to be much more free to streamline what items you keep in your home.

2) Do I Use This Item on a Regular Basis?

As you’re going through your home, ask yourself: “How often do I use this item?” If the answer is less than a few times per year, it’s high time you consider getting rid of it. You can always borrow it from someone if you need to use it once a year or so.

There’s no point in having stuff take up space in our home if we’re not using it on a regular basis.

3) Do I Like This Item?

Sometimes I think we keep junk around our home just because we always have. It becomes a “part” of our home without us even realizing it.

If you don’t need an item, you don’t use it on a regular basis and you don’t like it, what on earth are you hanging onto it for? Pitch it and be free from excess stuff.

4) Is This Item Taking Up Space I Don’t Have?

If you’re short on space, you especially need to be ruthless about clutter, otherwise it will greatly hamper your productivity. Either you control the clutter or the clutter controls you.

5) Could I Bless Someone Else With This Item?

I find so much joy in blessing others with things I don’t need or use. Now, please don’t go dump off ten bags of junk at your friend’s house. They probably won’t see that as a “blessing”! However, if you have something  that someone else could find more use out of, ask them if they’d be interested in having it.

photo credit: Lori Greig

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Comments

  1. Kim says

    We will be moving three times in less than 9 months. I have to get rid of clutter!! Thanks for this post.

  2. Mary says

    I am constantly de-clutter-ing! With five, soon to be six, people living in a three bedroom home it’s beyond me when my husband and oldest daughter can’t let go of anything! It drives me bonkers! That’s why I LOVE the work week all school year long! I get to purge their junk! And 98% of the time they don’t notice anything is missing! ;) Thanks for the extra inspiration to de-clutter more then normal! It’s a must with a puppy coming home tonight! Yikes!

    • says

      For some reason, WordPress is automatically flagging most of your comments as spam so I have to manually approve them–which doesn’t happen as quickly since I only check and approve comments flagged as spam a few times per day. I wish I could tell you what to do to fix that, but I’m not sure. Maybe another WordPress geek knows!

  3. says

    Hm, well, that one showed up so I’ll try again!!
    I agree with you on all the points but especially #5 – I have started going through my house with a specific person in mind that I can give things to (instead of just thinking “I need to declutter”, finding stuff and then figuring out who to give to.)
    The JOY in giving to others is so real.
    I have found it easier to part with more “treasured” items when I have a dear friend in mind to pass things on to. Of course I know (and tell her!) to only keep that which she wants and pass on the rest, but knowing it’s going to someone I love makes it easier to pass on things I like but don’t need.

  4. Melissa says

    Have a friend there to ask these questions. It makes you a lot more honest. My best friend helped me clean my garage and I cringed a couple of times, but no regrets long run.

  5. says

    I SO need this today b/c I am dealing with lots of this. I love the previous idea of having a friend help out with it. We are moving soon, and my goal is not to take things with us that we do not use, need or want. Timely post for sure!!

  6. Andrea says

    I read an article about cleaning out clutter last night in the latest copy of Cooking Light. Another suggestion was on the emotional level – does the item remind you of something “bad” or a bad emotional experience? If so, get rid of it – it’s emotional clutter that no matter how organized and clean you are, could drag you down!

    I’ve got 3 bags of clothing so far…reorganized the kitchen yesterday, and the hall stockpile shelves. I think a trip to Walmart is in order to buy a few more baskets for kids’ toys, etc.

    • Lisa says

      @Andrea,
      I read a great article on this yesterday. Professional organizers suggest having a plan first before buying “organizational” items (bins, baskets, etc). They say that’s a common trap people fall into. They have great intentions, go shopping for the stuff, then get unmotivated because they don’t know where to start and how to organize things. They also tend to overbuy because they buy for the CURRENT stuff and not for what they have removed from the clutter.

      So good job de-cluttering first THEN buying the bins!!

      • Andrea says

        @Lisa,
        Heh…part of our problem is the kids’ toys. I really don’t want to “get rid” of anything yet – even though some toys aren’t age appropriate for my son anymore, my daughter will soon be able to play with them. I have to admit, I do know why the “experts” say that about overbuying – I went to Walmart yesterday BEFORE I started organizing for the most part, and I was so completely overwhelmed by all the organizational stuff. I seriously think I stood in the same spot and just stared for about a half hour.

        Granted, I keep a running inventory of EVERYTHING in this house – food, books (they’re cataloged…), toys, everything. I know what I have – it’s just a matter of figuring out how best to make it work for me.

        Now clothing, shoes, and extemporaneous stuff? That’s getting the boot since I just decluttered the stockpile and donated a bunch of food/HBA/medicine, etc recently. And I know of a few bookshelves that my husband used that are going to get the kick. ;)

  7. says

    FREECYCLE…..I always ask family & friends if they want something that I no longer need – if no one does, I Freecycle it – it’s great to know that it’s going to someone who needs it – for free!!

  8. says

    I have also found another question vital:

    Does my husband like this item?

    I have items that I use to find precious to me that really bugged my husband. Like a coffee maker for example. Being a good health nut he doesnt like me to have coffee. Having that coffee maker reminder daily for him was hard. I showed so much love by getting rid of it. Showed him that I loved him more. Are their other items of a simular nature?

    • Amy says

      That’s really nice of you Challice! I LOVE my coffee and thank goodness that my husband does too!

      • Andrea says

        @Amy,
        Challice – I understand the sentiment behind your question, but if I applied that to my possessions, my bookshelf would be half empty, not to mention most of my clothing would be gone (I tend to prefer conservative turtlenecks, button ups, etc). We’d have 4 cups, 4 forks, 4 spoons, etc…

        And I’d never get rid of the coffeemaker. ;) That’s how I survive!

    • Charlotte says

      @Challice, That is an excellent idea, Challice!! The essence of real love is asking what can I do to make another person happy and to meet their needs, not mine. Thanks for the post!

  9. Paige says

    One thing I have that I rarely use is my springform pan for cheesecake. I rarely make cheesecakes, but I would need one if I did. Is it wrong to keep it? I have no female family members in town to borrow from and I don’t know I would ask my neighbors to borrow theirs. But there are many other things that I am getting rid of so I feel better about that.

    • Mchelle says

      @Paige, I think that is where question #4 (Is it taking up space you don’t have?) would apply. Yes it is used rarely but if you do have the space to keep it and it is not causing you or the family stress then Iwould say keep it. If, however, you are never again going to make cheesecake then get rid of it.

    • Lana says

      @Paige, I think we can go overboard on getting rid of things we only use occasionally. Some items are only seasonal use and others just as needed but it would take up so much time to have to find someone to borrow an item from, go get it, and then have to take it back that it seems to be easier to me to find a place to keep an item than get rid of it. I have some nice tart pans that I rarely use but I love having them available if I want to make a nice dessert.

      • elizabeth says

        @Lana,
        i agree, i would keep the springform pan. Plus, if everyone were to declutter totally, then we would have no onetoborrow from. :)

    • Corissa says

      @Paige, Do you EVER use your springform pan? If you do use it (even occasionally) and you don’t have someone from whom you could borrow it, AND you have room for it, I would say to keep it.

      When we moved last we tossed our ice cube trays. We’d been toting them from house to house for 8 years, and I don’t think we had used them more than once. Well, this morning my son found a recipe he really wants to make. It requires freezing pureed blueberries in an ice cube tray. I tried to suggest other containers we could use to freeze them, but he really wanted it to look like the recipe picture. We will go spend $1 on an ice cube tray, but it is more of a hassle than if we had just moved one of the trays. =) A springform pan is more expensive than a $1 ice cube tray.

      But if, like me, you own a springform pan and HAVE NEVER USED IT (and honestly wouldn’t even know how if you wanted to use it) or if you don’t have room for it, I say get rid of it!

    • brookeb says

      @Paige, For things like that, I try to find other places to store them, especially for things that are taking up needed space in the kitchen. It might feel odd putting kitchen stuff in an office closet, but if it’s something you only use occasionally and you’ll be able to get to it in the new storage place, it makes sense.

      I also think about future costs. If I get rid of this seldom-used thing now, will I be likely to just buy another one in the future? If so, it’s still less expensive to keep the thing that I have.

    • jennifer says

      @Paige,
      Sometimes your local library has cake pans and such that you can borrow! Ours does so it’s worth checking out!

  10. says

    I think it’s especially true that things become a “part” of our home. That’s one of the biggest factor in how much clutter I have. I have four kids (who vary in age by 13 years so they each have their own set of clutter) and a husband whose father was a hoarder. Our house is jam packed with stuff. I made it my new year’s resolution to clear things out on a regular basis. I find it easy to get rid of my own stuff, but much harder to make those decisions for everyone else.

  11. says

    I very much agree about being, “ruthless with clutter!” We get way too emotionaly attached to things and often let guilt make us keep things someone, such as our mother lol! has given us, that we just dont need and are taking up our time living life around them! I have found that the guilt doesnt last too long, :0) and you will eventually get in the mind set that, yes, less is more!

  12. says

    Since starting my blog last fall, I’ve been decluttering like a crazy woman! My slob-brain loses focus with too many questions, so I break it down to two: 1. If I was looking for this item, where would I look first? (Take it there.) 2. If I needed this item, would it EVER occur to me that I already had one. If the answer is no, I get rid of it. I keep way too much stuff with a “just in case” mentality.

  13. says

    I just donated 4 more kitchen size bags of clutter to the Kidney Foundation this morning. At 28 weeks pregnant, it’s getting harder to haul those bags into the store!

    Anyway, my husband is one of those who can’t let anything go. We have a hair dryer under the bathroom sink that hasn’t been used once in the 7 years we’ve lived in our house. I asked him this morning of we could donate it becaue it gets in the way when I get the scale out or try to put it back.

    He said we need to have one in the house.

    It hasn’t been used in SEVEN years!!!

  14. says

    Those are good points. We put a lot in storage because we knew we’d be moving twice in a year (turned into two years), and I keep thinking – if you can live that long without it, do you really need it? I have a feeling a lot of friends will be “gifted” with items after we unpack.

  15. says

    So, I’m laughing that our posts on this topic are almost identical. Great minds? Good point about the space issue. I missed that one. ;)

    • says

      @FishMama, My post was scribbled on paper a week and a half ago. I promise I didn’t copy and paste from yours. :)

      That’s hilarious how similar they are. Great minds think alike!

      And maybe I need to start consulting you before I run any posts!

  16. Heather says

    Please post an article about saving vs. decluttering for future children. Do you have guidelines you use for what to save and what to give away/sell after your children outgrow them (clothes, shoes, toys, etc.) and you’re planning on having another baby?

    Thanks,
    Heather

    • Sara says

      @Heather,
      I agree with this one. My daughter’s old clothes and toys are stored neatly and out of the way for our future children. What do you do with your children’s stuff?

      • Stephanie says

        My stepson’s and daughter’s old stuff are in labeled boxes in the attic. I only keep the best items (no broken/worn out toys, chewed up books or anything with missing pieces) and there is a 7 year age difference between them so his clothing is long gone. My daughter will be 23 months older than the new baby so we have kept all of her clothing that is still in good shape that we like and will either use it if the baby is a girl or give it away if the baby is a boy. We have space in our attic so this works- if I tried to keep everything and not just the best things we would have run out of space years ago.
        My husband had packed away his son’s baby/toddler stuff before we had met and was very upset that I was throwing most of it away when we were getting ready for our daughter. I showed him what was in the garbage- broken toys, ruined/torn up clothing, destroyed books, etc… After taking a look he wondered out loud why he had bothered to pack garbage in the attic and told me to use my judgment on what to keep. I think our daughter ended up with 1/10th of what had been set aside.

  17. Nina says

    My question is what to do with “sentimental” items? I have a handmade high chair that was given to my oldest for a baby shower gift and we used it maybe once. But it was made by a dear friend and I cannot part with it! Or the few dishes that were my grandmother’s. I’m trying to declutter (and making significant progress), but it’s that kind of stuff that I just don’t know what to do with.

    • says

      @Nina, The question I always ask myself on sentimental things is: Will this matter to me in 25 years? If so, then it’s probably best to hang onto it!

      • Stephanie says

        I do the same thing- my parents have a huge Victorian and kept all of our school papers. Last time Dad brought four boxes of them and I think I kept four pieces. He also brought the toddler rocking chair that was mine 30mumble years ago. It is now in the living room and when the kids outgrow it then it will go back in the attic for another 30 years!

    • brookeb says

      @Nina, This won’t work for the high chair, but things like dishes can be made into art projects — hang them on the wall, or if it’s a few chipped plates you can break them up and use them for mosaic.

    • Catherine says

      @Nina, If it really doesn’t make sense to keep something, and I’m only holding onto it for sentimental reasons, I like to document it with pictures or just save part of it (I had a few toys as a kid and I would save a piece or 2 of a set and pass the rest on). That allows me to still have a way to remember it, but not to have it taking up a lot of space.

  18. LindseyRochele says

    Hate clutter! Love this post! I have never been a clutter bug myself but have helped my Mom for years to just get rid of things she doesn’t need. We all need to have pride in our homes and cluttering it with things that are not impacting our lives in a positive way does not show that pride. Good job ladies! :D

  19. Janice says

    If I am struggling with not being motivated to get rid of stuff, I ask myself “If my house burned down (heaven forbid), would I be sad that I could not replace this? OR would I want to spend money to get another one of these??” That helps me prioritize what I really find special or what has just been hanging around for so long, I think I am attached to it!

    When we added on an addition to our tiny home, we got to add on a beautiful master suite…I CHOSE to not build in the closets. Instead we went with the wardrobe units from IKEA…only one for me and one for my husband. They are extremely space efficient, but on the small side for a “traditional” American closet. I love that I only have that much space for clothes and shoes…when space is getting tight, time to purge!!

  20. Charlotte says

    I have been a messy for most of my life, but my worst issue is being organizationally challenged with paperwork-lots of medical bills, etc over the years and I take care of my mom’s business stuff, also. I am a terrible decision-maker and need something that is pretty simple. I can be a perfectionist, which makes deciding how to deal with stuff even worse! I feel like I have to keep it in sight in order to not forget about it! Feels hopeless some days. :( Any ideas?

  21. Kristy says

    You can always “freecycle” your clutter! Go to freecycle.org to find a group in your area….it’s been really great for our family!

  22. DeAnn says

    My big question follows a lot of the previous comments: my husband doesn’t mind clutter. He is, in fact, very attached to it. Some of our biggest fights have come from me trying to get rid of his stuff. I recently put my foot down and insisted on downsizing his clothes- we’re talking 30-40 t shirts! So, how do other people deal with it? Move to a bigger space and let him enjoy his clutter? Manipulate him somehow into seeing my point? Help!

    • says

      @DeAnn, My advice would be to come to a happy medium.

      My husband is more of a collector than me (though he’s by no means a huge pack-rate), so we’ve talked about it and decided on what works for our family so that he doesn’t feel like I’m throwing out all his stuff and that I don’t feel like I’m drowning in clutter.

      I believe a happy marriage involves lots of communication and both spouses being willing to give.

      I’d love to hear input from others on this.

    • Megan says

      @DeAnn, Good advice from Crystal. My husband and I have the same issue and we’ve both had to communicate and compromise significantly. He’s agreed to get rid of a number of things which were a big deal for him to let go of, and though we still retain more clutter than I would like, I’ve agreed to respect his boundaries. I’d rather have a happy marriage than a perfect house. I’ve found that by being really diligent about purging my own clutter, and finding creative and attractive storage options for his, we manage to have a pretty organized home.

  23. JuliB says

    I would suggest watching Hoarders and following some of the advice. I struggle with a low level of hoarding and something I read hit home. We’ve already made a decision that we NEED to keep something, so it takes a lot of work to get around that previous decision.

  24. Lee says

    I am a huge enemy of clutter. Another rule I use is do this have a home? I used to have things that I used and needed but couldn’t find because it didn’t have a “home”. Once I realized the problem it was easy to fix.

    Also my husband is such a pack rat, it drives me crazy. We have 2 rules here. 1. I don’t go through his stuff. 2. He must go through his stuff before we spend money on new things.

    For example 4 years into our marriage my husband said he needed new clothes. Yet he had a full dresser and a full closet (at least double what I had). I told him he had to get rid of 2 shirts for every 1 I would buy. He had shirts I had never saw him wear. He donated 4 shirts for every 1 I bought him.

    p.s. we also had a hair dryer for 5 years without being used, until my hair dryer went and now it is. I tried to sell it 4 times!

  25. says

    So, my husband is a whizz at the stuffed animal machines & my daughter thinks it AWESOME! Sooo….we are constantly going through our stuffed animal collections & it is great to bless others. We have a lot of kids at our church & to see their faces light up when they get a new animal is priceless!
    I don’t enjoy de-cluttering until its all done & I see the space it freed up! haha! I love to do garage sales too. You accumulate a lot things & until you de-clutter you never know how much you have to make a few quick bucks to stash!

  26. Mary says

    I moved into my house 7 (YES, SEVEN!) years ago and put stuff in an upstairs bedroom.

    Haven’t touched it since.

    Do I really want to learn to speak Hindi or can I get rid of the cassette tapes that will teach me how? LOL

    Now I’m moving and I’m trying to break my packrat ways. It’s just so hard. Sigh…

  27. says

    Yes, decluttering is always a good goal for me with 3, soon to be 4 people living in a small 2 bd. apartment.

    I struggle with a couple of things such as knowing exactly what to do with the stuff I don’t want. I have “green guilt” about throwing things in the trash that are too messed up to give to the thrift store, for example. And it seems like the time and effort it takes to most efficiently get rid of stuff is so off-putting that I just never get to it. Then I’ve got the whole “I’ll probably need this at some point in the next couple years” thing going on.

    Ugh!