7 Questions to Ask Yourself When Decluttering

When to get rid of clutter

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Knowing what to keep, how long to keep it, and how to store it are three very important pieces of information when dealing with clutter. In the What to Keep or Toss Guide, we go through the following:

  • How to determine what to keep.
  • How long you should keep it.
  • What papers you need to shred.
  • Options for disposing of items via shredding, donating, recycling, selling, or consigning.

Every item, every piece of furniture, shoe, small appliance, or paper you keep in your house is taking up valuable real estate, so it makes sense to have a thorough understanding of what to keep and what you can toss.

Here are seven questions to ask yourself to decide whether to toss or keep an item.

  • 01 of 07

    Has It Passed Its Expiration Date?

    Cluttered desk
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    This doesn't just apply to food—it's important when setting up a home to have a plan for how long to keep everything. If something has outlived ​its usefulness, it' time to toss.

  • 02 of 07

    Do You Need It?

    Getting rid of clutter
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    Examples of items you need are the obvious—wills, tax returns for the past five years, driver's licenses—the boring-but-important stuff you've got to have on hand.

    Other items fall into this category, too. Kitchen appliances you use every single day (hello, coffee maker!), work clothing, winter boots, the beach towel you use six times a year—these are all examples of items you need.

  • 03 of 07

    Is It Something You Really Love?

    Keep clutter you love
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    The items you love are part of what makes life worth living: pictures, decor, record collections—anything you truly love, so long as it's not turning into sentimental clutter—you should keep!

    Often when people are faced with the task of decluttering, they think they’re going to have to toss out decor and items they love. Not true. Most of decluttering is getting rid of things you never use, won’t need in the future and that you are sick of looking at anyway.

  • 04 of 07

    Do You Have Duplicates?

    Duplicate items
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    If you already own an air mattress, do you really need another one? If you're a household of four with 50 dinner plates, do you need more than 20? Duplicates only role is to take up space.

    Continue to 5 of 7 below.
  • 05 of 07

    Do You Use It Regularly?

    Several different pairs of shoes on the bedroom floor.
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    Many of the items in this category may fall into the Items You Need category as well but think of these as the items you use but could get along without but you don’t want to. Your favorite pair of jeans, your handbag, the candle you burn each night—these are the types of items you’d miss if you lost them, and you would replace them.

    Then there’s the stuff you never use. Common culprits in this category are:

    • Things you bought on sale but never used. Just because something was on sale doesn't mean it was a great deal.
    • Items you bought you thought you may like, but never used. If you thought about taking up golf, bought golf clubs and never used them, you should get rid of them.
  • 06 of 07

    Was It a Gift You Never Wanted?

    Gifts as clutter
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    The only responsibility you have to gift and gift-givers is to graciously accept them and send a thank you note. You are not required to use and keep anything you don't want.

    Caveat: if it’s something from a close family member whose feelings will be hurt if you throw it out or recycle it, then put it in storage.

  • 07 of 07

    Does This Item Get Used as Much as It Should?

    Kitchen cabinet full of plates, bowls, and cups.
    Thomas Northcut / Getty Images

    When something doesn't fall into the need/use zone, you can still decide to keep it as long as you love it and commit to finding a storage space for the items. What if an item's got you stumped? What happens when it doesn't fall into the need/use/love category?

    • Could you rent this instead of owning it to save space and money on upkeep?
    • Will you need this in the future?
    • Can you foresee a time in the (fairly near) future this will become a useful item to you?
    • Can you commit to storing this item properly?

    And if necessary, paying for its upkeep and storage? Example: If you are a single person living in a one-bedroom apartment and have a second bedroom.

    Bottom line: Do you need this item enough to take the time to find storage space for it, pay for its upkeep, and use it in the foreseeable future? If yes, then hang onto it.