Decluttering Cure

5 Questions I Always Ask Myself When I Need to Declutter

updated Sep 6, 2019
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Credit: Liz Calka

Apartment Therapy’s September Sweep is a free 15-day decluttering program, guaranteed to leave you with a lighter, leaner home by the end of the month. Sign up here so you never miss a lesson, or go here to view all of the assignments so far.

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In my experience, it really doesn’t matter if you’re decluttering a huge home or a small drawer; they both can be equally overwhelming tasks. That’s because the toughest part of decluttering isn’t how many things you need to go through, it’s making the choice of what to keep and what to let go of.

When it comes to making the cut between keep and purge, the biggest speedbump for most people is what I call the “maybe I’ll need this” moment. When you’re idle—in your bathroom or kitchen or sitting on the floor of the closet—holding an item and thinking to yourself, “I might need/use/wear this,” as you set the thing back into the drawer to be “decluttered” again (read: not decluttered at all) this time next year.

My advice to those people: It’s time to be ruthless. And your decluttering truth serum is these five questions…

Credit: Liz Calka

Today’s Assignment:

Use the “5 Rules” to declutter one tiny area at home.

I want you to print these questions out, save them to your phone, pin them to your Pinterest board, or re-write them into your notebook. Then throughout the month during all our different September Sweep assignments, refer back to this list to help you make bold—but vital—cuts to your stash of stuff.

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.

You can watch the video above to get an idea of how to apply the questions to your life, but it’s really simple: When you’re iffy about an item, run down the list of questions real fast. If you answer “yes” to any question (even the first question), that item is an automatic keeper. But if you can run through all five questions and have to honestly say “no” to every one, that item needs to go into the donate or sell boxes we set up on day one.

Now that you know the rules, your assignment today is to use them to declutter one tiny spot at home. Choose a drawer in your kitchen, a bin under the bed, or a cabinet in the bathroom. Take everything out and put each item through the five-question assessment. Keepers go back in the drawer, bin, or cabinet, and the tossers go into your boxes.

Drop a comment here to let me—and all your fellow Sweep’ers—know what area you went through and how it went. We’re all in this together!

All month long, we invite you to share your progress here in the comments and on Instagram with the #septembersweep hashtag. Or join our Apartment Therapists Facebook group to start your own conversation.

Just joining us? It’s not too late to sign up!

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