This “Need-Use-Love” Method Will Change How You Think and Feel About Decluttering

published Jan 4, 2023
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
cardboard box with clothes on coffee table

Apartment Therapy’s January Cure is a free 20-day program that’ll help you reset your home for the year ahead. Sign up here and get all assignments delivered to your inbox. Joining us today is guest cure-ator Christine Platt, an author and advocate known as the Afrominimalist.

By far, one of the hardest parts of decluttering is letting go of the things you’re attached to. You can feel sentimental when it’s a family heirloom, guilty for discarding a gift, or hopeful that one day it’ll make sense that you kept it all along. But, if it has no true purpose to you, it’s just weighing you (and your home) down in clutter. 

Today, we’re going to take the first crucial step in decluttering any item: preparation. It all boils down to knowing how to really assess your belongings and your life with intention, shares Christine Platt, an organizing expert and advocate known as the Afrominimalist. Her most recent book, “The Afrominimalist’s Guide to Living With Less,” touches on the radical revisioning of minimalism to celebrate the importance of history and heritage, and provides an invitation to curate our homes and lives with intention.

As our guest cure-ator, Platt is going to enhance our decluttering process by challenging us to really understand ourselves through our clutter and overcome our difficulties.

Day 3: Set up an outbox (and declutter intentionally)

The first part of this assignment is to set up your outbox, starting with deciding where it’ll go and what it’ll be. What is an outbox, you ask? It’s kind of a decluttering purgatory, a place to put the things you’re thinking of getting rid of. The outbox doesn’t have to be an actual box, just what you have at home, like an extra storage bin or tote bags you were planning to declutter anyway. It should be placed in a vacant spot that’s easily accessible, like the back of your closet, since you’ll be using our outbox a lot. (And feel free to move it around too, especially from room to room, but if things get too heavy, park it right back to where it belongs.)

Once you have your outbox set up, you may be wondering what’s going to go in it. As you start decluttering things throughout the Cure program, anytime you’re unsure about an item, Platt recommends asking yourself this: do I need it, use it, and love it? If the item in your hand doesn’t meet all three, it should go in the box.

This need-use-love approach is such a game-changer, shares Platt, and it’s especially helpful for those that struggle with decluttering, which typically stems from two reasons: the psychology of ownership and loss aversion. 

The psychology of ownership is the feeling of possession over an item, an attachment really, and that attachment forms the minute we touch that item, says Platt. “Partial attachment forms when we pick up things and then we desire full ownership when we take them home — we feel responsible for them.”

Once attachments are formed, it can feel like a total loss when it comes to discarding items instead of the potential gains — that’s loss aversion. Platt says the remedy is tricking yourself into thinking differently. For instance, instead of thinking that you’ll no longer have things to wear, you’ll push yourself to think that you’ll now have more space for things you’ll only love to wear.

At the end of today, you should have these three tools to prepare you for all the decluttering ahead:

  • An outbox
  • The need-use-love strategy
  • An understanding of the psychology of ownership and loss aversion

PLATT’S PRO TIP: Platt urges that as you declutter, take a look at what’s really filling up your outbox. “The outbox gives us some clues as to what we tend to consume more than we need,” says Platt. Having this pause point of looking at what’s actually in our outboxes allows us to understand our clutter and make better choices in the future. So instead of purchasing mug after mug for each season and reason, maybe only keep the very important (and special) ones that’ll fill you with joy.

What are you using as your outbox for the January Cure? Share it with us in the comments below.

More ways to participate in the January Cure:

The Cure Program is a tradition here at Apartment Therapy — it happens every January, April, and September. Click here to learn more about the year-round program and when to sign up.