6 Things Designers Think You Shouldn’t Declutter

published Mar 4, 2019
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(Image credit: Lauren Kolyn)

Marie Kondo, the organizing queen du jour, bills tidying up as life-changing. But what happens when throwing away your belongings—even the more random odds and ends—sparks anything but joy?

While there’s certainly something appealing about those KonMari’d spaces peppering Instagram, the truth is this magical organizing method simply doesn’t work for everyone. For some, more really is better—even designers agree.

“For a lot of people, their home decor is the product of years (maybe a lifetime!) of collecting. Each piece is a treasure that brings to mind the time, place, and story behind where you found it,” says Decorist elite designer Kendall Simmons. “So before you start loading your car for a massive trip to Goodwill, think about whether or not you’ll regret giving these things away someday. The most fascinating homes I’ve been in over the years always belong to people who have lived a full, rich, and interesting life. And you know what? They have the cool sh*t to back it up.”

Though exactly what gets tossed and what stays will vary from person to person, designers say you’re most likely to regret ditching the following items:

(Image credit: Heather Keeling)

1. Books

“Don’t feel obligated to go totally paper-free,” says Simmons. “I’ve never really liked reading on a screen, and physical books have a quality that can’t be replicated digitally.” Think about how to incorporate your prized books into your home decor. “Add built-in shelving in unexpected places, like a dining room or up high around the perimeter of a bedroom. Or, do what I do, and keep adding artful stacks of books into every available corner.”

(Image credit: Diana Paulson)

2. Artwork

Art is practically begging to be collected. But what if you’re prone to picking up every last piece you see? “Be more intentional about what you bring home in the first place,” says Simmons. “Wait until you find the perfect piece, rather than buying a cheap or not-quite-right filler. It’s okay to have some blank spots in your home that you’re waiting to fill!”

(Image credit: Minette Hand)

3. Family heirlooms

If you truly love your mom’s china, who cares if you rarely—if ever—use it? Find a good home for it in a safe spot, and let go of your hang-up. But if you hate the vase your aunt Betty gifted you, find another home for it—sell it on Facebook or donate it to Goodwill. Or better yet? Don’t accept hand-me-downs from friends or family out of guilt or obligation, says Simmons. “It’s better to have an uncomfortable conversation on the front end than to deal with the burden of living with things you don’t want!”

(Image credit: Mackenzie Schieck)

4. Photos

If you don’t mind having a digital-only catalog of photos, more power to you. But there’s something special about flipping through a library of your most precious memories. “Even if you have digital copies, save a special place for those old packets of college photos you drove to pick up at Walgreens,” says Simmons. “If only for the sake of nostalgia and remembering the days before you had thousands of digital photos stored on your iPhone.”

(Image credit: Anna Spaller)

5. Expired passports

“Don’t think of it as just an outdated document,” says Simmons. “It’s a physical reminder of all the awesome countries you visited in that 10-year period, and it’s a way to mark the not-so-subtle passage of time by comparing the passport photos.” Tuck these types of mementos somewhere safe and out of the way—in a file folder or taped to the inside of a photo album, for example.

(Image credit: Adrienne Breaux)

6. Personal mementos

You know that old box of bits and bobs—the one that contains marathon medals, pageant crowns, Boy Scout patches, sorority formal T-shirts, and the like? “We all have one, and they pack an emotional punch,” says Simmons. “There is power in having a token from an important experience. Keep the truly important things, but limit them to one reasonably-sized box that can fit on a standard shelf in your closet to prevent yesterday’s memories from taking over your home today.”