Decluttering Cure

5 Ruthless Questions to Ask Yourself When Decluttering

updated May 3, 2019
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(Image credit: Jacqueline Marque)

The very hardest part of clearing things out of your home isn’t the actual brawn of walking them out the door. Nope, there’s another muscle that needs exercising to prepare for this fight: Your brain. The tough part of decluttering is truly the mental aspect of deciding what should stay, and ultimately, how to get over the hurdle of liberating those once-worthy objects from our ownership. You have to be merciless.

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So as we move swiftly through the September Sweep, our month-long organizing mission, I think it’s best to arm you with a handful of questions that actually serve as a rule book: If you can’t say “yes” to any of these questions, it’s a sign that the thing is ripe for being passed on to another home—whether that’s the “donate” or “sell” boxes you set up yesterday or, in some cases, the trash or recycling bins.

The Rules

If the answer to all of these questions is “no,” get rid of it.

1. Have I used this item in the past year?

This one’s easy. Try to remember a time when you used the thing you’re weighing on. If it hasn’t been worn, used, or appreciated since last fall, let it go.

2. Will I use it in the year ahead?

Try to resist any thoughts about how you “might” use it, and find something more concrete: Will you use it? If you don’t have a real need or plan to do something with it, the answer is “no.”

3. If I was shopping right now, would I buy this again?

Does it work? Does it fit? Do you have another thing that does the same job? Do you even like it anymore? Try to be present and mindful about your current tastes, habits and priorities.

4. If it is broken, is it worth fixing?

Consider whether you would use the broken item if it were in good shape (see question #3 above). And weigh the cost of fixing the thing against the cost of replacing it. And will you actually get it done? Soon?

5. Would I keep this if I moved?

Would it be worth packing up, moving and unpacking in a new space? We tend to be a little more ruthless and honest with ourselves about what stays and what goes when we’re moving from one home to another.

Get these rules—or any rules—down into a format you can revisit again and again (if you want to edit or remix our rules to fit your lifestyle, feel free—you’re the boss!). You can write them down in a notebook, scribble them on a memo board or just print them out and tack them up in a central place. The important thing is that you find a way to carry these guidelines with you while you “sweep” around your home.

(Image credit: Morgan Schemel)

Today’s Assignment:

Today’s formal assignment, after you’ve gotten those rules written down somewhere, is a quick setup to make a later task easier to handle: Today, turn your hangers around to help you identify which clothes don’t get worn often.

You may have heard of this trick before. Take a few minutes today to turn the hangers in your closet around—so the “hook” of the hanger hooks towards you. It’s a simple effort that works like hitting a reset button on your wardrobe. Each time you pull out a garment to wear it, you turn the hanger back the correct way—where you can just reach in and hang the hook on the closet rod.

At the end of the month, you should have closet full of visual evidence of what clothes remained unworn. I know it’s just a month, and I know we’re working within a single season, but believe me—this will be a simple shortcut to helping you figure out what stays and what goes at month’s end.

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