De-cluttering: the “should I keep it?” list

In my last post, I talked about my inspiration and plan to de-clutter. One of the key things you need to establish before a big de-clutter is a “should I keep it?” list. This is what my list looks like:

1. Is it something I use regularly? 
Example: A shirt that I wear almost every week or a favourite pair of earrings

2. Is it something that I love?
Really love, not just “love” because OMG it’s so pretty! Example: A Mexican coin bracelet that I never wear. If I were inclined to wear more jewelry and didn’t work at a computer all day, I would wear this bracelet every other day, but for now I keep it, and a few other treasures, for special occasions.

3. Is it something with sentimental value?
Example: Elephanté, my stuffed elephant from childhood. I love her dearly and have been known, in my adult life, to take it out when I needed a few moments of comfort. If I had shelves, I would put her and her companions (two dolls made by my great grandmother and a stuffed tooth fairy made by my mother) out on display because I am not ashamed to be an adult with a handful of very special stuffed toys

4. Is it something that would cost a lot to replace?
Example: I have an KitchenAid mixer which I don’t use very often as I’m not much of a baker. They’re not cheap and I got a really sweet deal on it, so it’s not going anywhere, not even if I get to a point where I only use it for Christmas cookies.

5. Is it something that’s essential?
Example: My winter coat. You cannot live in Edmonton without a proper winter coat.

6. Is it something that I use rarely, but when I do use it, I’m bloody glad to have it?
Example: I have a canning funnel. 90% of the time is gathers dust in the back of a cupboard, but I’m always very happy to have it when I make cranberry sauce.

7. Is it something that I rarely use, but is still useful when I pull it out of storage?
Example: … Actually, let’s go with an example that doesn’t meet this criteria: my re-chargeable batteries. I have 3 things that need batteries: an old portable CD player, a small alarm clock, and a flashlight. Thanks to my iPod, I no longer need to first two. The flashlight is very useful, but I have a eco-flashlight (hand-crank flashlight) and rarely have issues with power outages. The rechargeable batteries are old (very old – as in from back in my university years), take a long time to charge, and don’t keep their charge while in storage. I’ll keep the flashlight for emergencies, but the rechargeable batteries are *not* useful when I pull them out of storage (as they are usually dead by then), so they have to go.

8. Is it something that I know I will need/use later?
And, when I say “know”, I really mean it. Example: I used to keep boxes of all sizes for sending parcels, but shipping is expensive and I found that, more and more, it cost as much to ship an item as it did to buy the item. I can’t afford to waste that kind of money, so I recently decided to switch to gift cards or donations in the gift recipient’s name. This means that I can now get rid of all the boxes I’ve been hoarding.

9. Is it something that I will need when I repair something?
Example: Anything in my minimalist tool box that I’m likely to use at least once a year. There’s an additional question with this one: Is it something that I can easily borrow from someone else or rent? Of course, I ask this question anytime I consider buying a tool, so my tool box remains very minimal.

10. Is it something that I will need when I next move?
Example: A box that something came packed in that would be useful for repacking to move, like the box my KitchenAid came in. There’s an additional question with this one: If I were to move across the country (or to another country), would I bother to move that item with me? This is a really good question to ask yourself. Moving things across the country is expensive, and there are some things that aren’t worth taking with you. For some things, it may be cheaper and easier to donate the item and buy a new one (or live without the item) after you move. For these times, there’s no point in keeping the box they came in.

11. For things that come in groups: Do I need to keep them all?
Example: Chopsticks. I bought some really pretty ones while in Vancouver last year. All I could find was a collection of 12, but I don’t need that many, so I need to decide how many I really need, and get rid of the rest.

The list of questions will be different for everyone, as will the need to be strict. Let’s face it, there’s always something that falls in a grey area: you don’t “need” it, but you want to keep it even though it doesn’t fit under any of the pre-defined reasons for keeping things. That’s OK. Sometimes you just have to allow yourself to hang on to things. The important thing is to avoid hanging on to too much.

If you’re worried you’ll have too many things that fall in this grey area, make a rule to deal with them: you can keep one extra thing per space or only as many things as you can fit in a standard sized box. I’ve done the latter before. I even labeled the box “grey area” and left it in the hall to gather “grey area” items. Anytime I decided that an item fit in the grey area, I put it in the box. By the time I was done, the box was over flowing. I reminded myself that the rule was that it had to fit in the box. To me, that meant that I had to be able to close the box. So, I sorted through everything, got ride of a few things right away, and then put them in order based on how much I wanted to keep them. Then I started packing them in the box, starting with the thing that I wanted to keep the most, and working my way down. When the box was full, that was it – everything else had to go.

It can be hard, especially if you are a very sentimental person or this is your first really concerted attempt to de-clutter. Even seasoned organizers like myself can find it mentally exhausting, but it’s worth the effort.



  1. I make a habit of decluttering and a i rarely regret throwing anything away. The grey area/maybe pile is important, I find if you make one of these and in say 6mths still haven’t used/worn whatever is in there, then it’s time to chuck. Its a very helpful way to make a decision. My Bf is a total hoarder though and really bad at throwing things away. Part of me would love to have less stuff- but then the other part of me is a collector. Just thinking about it too much fries my head.


    • My dad was a hoarder and I have hoarding tendencies. It’s something I’ve always struggled with because I hate clutter and feel smothered when I have too much stuff. Thankfully, after moving a dozen times over about 10 years, I got really good at getting rid of things and a little better at not accumulating more things. Nowadays, I find that if I have defined and limited spaces for things, I tend to be better at not hoarding (ex: keeping collections of things in boxes and not allowing myself to expand beyond that one box).

      I also use maybe piles. I’ve recently also started to put reminders in my calendar to review maybe piles or areas that tend to accumulate things (like my book shelf or pretty much anything online … which reminds me, it’s high time I purged what I follow on a few accounts).

      Liked by 1 person

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