The One Thing that Should Be at the Top of Everyone’s Decluttering List

published Sep 7, 2020
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The hardest thing to declutter is… any item that is inherently useful. Keep-it-just-in-case-itis will sabotage every effort you make to pare down your household.

And since it seems to be a universal truth that you can never really have too many bags, I have to be the bearer of bad news and suggest that we’re all, in fact, hanging on to way too many bags of all kinds.

In fact, I think bags should be at the top of every decluttering list. Once you’ve taken on the task of whittling down your various bag collections to the most useful, best choices for all the times in your life, you’ll be set up to cull any category of clutter.

P.S. If you need more help decluttering, join the 20-day Decluttering Cure, which begins on Sept. 8 (it’s free!).

Here are four categories of “baggage” we could all stand to unload:

Credit: Joe Lingeman

1. Reusable Grocery Bags

You probably already have an adequate stash in the car for grocery runs. So the first step in decluttering your collection is setting aside the rest of the grocery bags that you don’t ever use. Maybe they’re not quite the right size or maybe they don’t stand up on their own and always spill their contents. Take those cast-offs and put them in the donate pile.

Next, take a closer look at the ones you do use. If you’ve been using the same bags to transport food for a while, they could be harboring some pretty nasty nooks and crannies—which you don’t want near your food. Wash what you can and consider replacing bags that are beyond a good cleaning. This is especially pertinent with cooler bags that you use to transport meat. If they have torn corners or other damage, toss them. (Side note: Consider designating a separate bag that’s only used for raw meat.)

2. Luggage and Travel Bags

Start with luggage. At most, you only need one carry-on size and one larger suitcase per family member. Pick the best ones, the ones you reach for when you go somewhere. Donate the rest. Also get rid of any that have failing zippers or that have tears or holes. The last thing you want to deal with on any trip is a suitcase that falls apart on you.

Next, sort through your smaller travel bags like toiletry bags. Again, each person only needs one or two, and everyone probably has a favorite. Keep only those.

3. Purses, Backpacks, and Commuter Bags

This one might be trickier. Rather than keeping purses and backpacks based on what’s merely utilitarian, your criterion could be far more subjective: Donate or sell or give away the bags you never liked or don’t like anymore. Purses and backpacks are part of your wardrobe and you shouldn’t feel compelled to “wear” any that you don’t love or that no longer express you.

4. All Those Other Bags

There are so many “other” bags. The totes you grab when you have to carry your regular purse stuff plus your water bottle and sweater, the thick canvas bags you use for library books, the bag you use for summer swim stuff, and the bag that’s the perfect shape and size to carry a potluck dish.

Gather all these bags in one spot so you can see everything you have. Categorize them based on use and then thin out extras. For instance, you don’t need all eight canvas bags you’ve gathered over the years, and the beach bag you’ve been using for the past three years is probably the only one you need to hang on to. Stow special-use bags, such as soccer bags, in an appropriate location, making sure to only keep one per family member at the most.

Once you’ve finished going through your bags, you’ll not only have a best-of set, but you’ll have a better idea of what bags to use when. You’ll have breathed a whole new life into your bag world.