4 Questions to Ask When Decluttering (What to Keep and What to Toss)

Knowing what questions to ask when decluttering will help you decide what to keep and what to let go of.

Once you’re clear on that, taking the 30-day declutter challenge will be a breeze.

Sort of. You still have to do the work.

My mother used to refer to herself as a JIC person. (You know the sad story of Justin Case, right?)

She couldn’t bear to part with anything, because there was always the chance she’d need it down the line.

Not surprisingly, Mom was also a bit of a hoarder.

This approach to possessions does have some merit. Like, say, if the item in question is seasonal.

You’re obviously not going to turf your winter coat just because it’s the middle of summer.

On the other hand, if the closest you’ve come to playing tennis in the last decade is watching Wimbledon and quaffing shampers, hanging onto your old racquet is just silly.

It’s time to face facts, Bjorn.

Letting Go of the Guilt of Letting Go

Questions to Ask When Decluttering

For a lot of people, letting go of stuff elicits feelings of guilt. If your favorite aunt gifts you a really ugly teapot you’re going to feel conflicted. 

There’s an emotional attachment that’s preventing you from letting go of it, but is leaving it to gather dust in the attic any better?

The first thing you need to do is let go of stuff guilt

For Ruth, it took losing her mother-in-law and her sister-in-law to realize that memories and stuff are not the same.

“The reality is that at some point, it is no longer practical, healthy or reasonable to hold onto things we don’t need simply because you’re trying to hold on to a memory,” says Ruth.

Hear, hear.

Okay, but what about all the impulse buys or that expensive pair of jeans you’ve, um, grown out of? Zoë Kim of Raising Simple has a few tips to help you let go of perfectly good things.

It may sound obvious, but the first thing you need to do is accept that you made a mistake.

We’ve all bought something we thought we’d use and never did. It happens. Holding on to it is just cluttering up your home and serving as a reminder of a something you’d much rather forget. Make peace with it and move on. 

Zoë also recommends keeping your eye on your why. “In times of discouragement, make a choice to focus on why you are giving perfectly good things away. Remember, you’re giving up the good for the best.”

Now that’s worth repeating: You’re giving up the good for the best.

The guilt won’t magically disappear overnight, but it will lessen the more you declutter. Whenever you find yourself holding on a little too tight, remind yourself of these wise words from Marie Kondo, “The question of what you want to own is actually the question of how you want to live your life.”

Hmmm, pretty deep thoughts for a whimsical blog on minimalism, eh?

4 Questions to Ask When Decluttering

woman thinking

Downsizing requires inquiry. Knowing what questions to ask when decluttering will help you decide what to keep and what to purge. This exercise requires a commitment to being absolutely honest in your responses.

Yes, it’ll be uncomfortable, maybe even a little scary, but there’s every chance you’ll find the process quite liberating. Oftentimes, we don’t even realize the half-truths we’re tell ourselves about our stuff.

1. When Last Did I Use This?

As I mentioned earlier, certain items are seasonal. Even so, you should still check in with yourself. If you last wore that winter coat three years ago, it’s time to send it on its way. For everything else, set yourself a reasonable timeframe.

In our house Sporty and I employ the three month rule. If we haven’t used something in three months we generally get rid of it. There’ll be the odd exception from time to time, but on the whole we’re pretty ruthless in our approach.

If you’re still getting your head around the whole decluttering thing, you could decide on a six or twelve month timeframe when assessing what to keep and what to toss. I definitely wouldn’t go longer than a year though, and I’d also suggest scheduling another round of decluttering for six months’ time to reassess the situation.

2. Do I Need This Many?

An ex-colleague of mine once admitted to me that in his household of two they had three full dinner services and enough pots to start a restaurant. Our current landlady has somewhere in the region of 20 coffee mugs (and she lives alone).

A couple of years ago we embarked on a lifestyle experiment to see just how little we could live with. It turns out two of everything is plenty. That’s a little extreme for most folks —especially if you like entertaining— but the question bears ruminating on.

3. Do I Even Like It?

I once took a job that required me to ‘dress up’ a little more than I was used to. I bought some pants and shirts I liked enough to wear to work everyday, but they weren’t really my style.

I held onto them long after I left the company and every once in awhile I’d try and wear them again, but I always felt uncomfortable. Eventually I had to make peace with the fact that it was time to let them go.

I reminded myself that I’d already gotten my money’s worth and put them on the give-away pile. Honestly, it was a relief to see the back of those clothes. I didn’t realise how much the guilt of not wearing them was wearing me down.

4. Who Can I Help?

Sometimes a shift in focus is all that’s needed to reframe the way we think or feel about something. Knowing that someone else really needs whatever it is you’re struggling to let go of will make it easier to part ways with the item.

Contact a charity or homeless shelter in your area to find out what they could use more of. Donating the things you were holding onto for no good reason will declutter your home and enable you to make a difference.

Look for Support

Whether you’re looking to embrace a more minimalist lifestyle or simply want to declutter your life a little, it can be daunting to go it alone. Fortunately, there are plenty of people who’ve walked this road before you.

It doesn’t matter if you’re looking for some simple ideas to help you thin out your closet, want help letting go of sentimental items or need some tips on how to declutter when you don’t know where to begin, you’ll find it on the interwebs.

If you’re someone who does better in a group scenario, Joshua Becker’s Uncluttered course will appeal to you. Co-hosted by Joshua Becker and Zoë Kim, the 12-week online decluttering course has helped more than 25 000 people get a handle on their clutter.

Now that you know the questions to ask when decluttering there are no more excuses. The sooner you dive in and do it, the sooner it’ll get done and the better you’ll feel.

Let us know how it goes and if you have any questions leave them in the comments.

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One Comment

  1. Just like Ang’s mom, my mother was a JIC person. Unlike Ang’s a-bit-of-a-hoarder mom, my mother was a full-blown hoarder. She fought for life to keep everything including kids’ own outgrown stuff. She always challenged us in case we needed them. And she won all the time.

    First forward two decades, my husband turned out to be Justin Case. This time I’ve got a strong weapon to counter his just in case tantrum. The 20-20 rule. I read about it somewhere in a minimalist site. If you can replace an item in question for $20 in 20 minutes, get rid of it.

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