How to Decide What to Keep or Toss When Decluttering

When to get rid of clutter

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Every item you own—from shoes and small appliances to paper—takes up valuable real estate in your home. It's challenging to decide what to keep or throw out when going through the process of decluttering.

Here are seven questions to ask yourself every time you need help deciding what to toss or keep.

  • 01 of 07

    Has It Passed Its Expiration Date?

    Cluttered desk
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    Expirations dates apply to more than just food—they apply to documents and paperwork, too. If, for example, you've held on to old invoices and bills, contracts, resumes, and the like from 10 to 20 years ago, they're only wasting space. Shred and toss them.

    An expiration date can also relate to whether an item has outlived its usefulness. For example, you may be holding on to a piece of clothing from years ago for sentimental reasons that you know you'll never wear or fit into again. Instead, take a photo of it or turn it into a piece of art by framing it.

  • 02 of 07

    Is It Critical to Save and Why?

    Getting rid of clutter
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    Inevitably there will be documents that you must save without a doubt. Examples of documents you absolutely need to keep in a safe place include wills, warranties, financial papers, tax returns for the past five years (or seven years for complicated returns), various licenses, and insurance papers. Protect the valuable documents in fireproof lockable storage boxes and file the tax returns so they're handy if you're ever audited.

  • 03 of 07

    Do You Love It Unconditionally?

    Keep clutter you love
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    The items you love are part of what makes life joyful. You may love looking at certain photos or feel nostalgic towards an item of decor, for example. The trick is to not turn beloved items into sentimental clutter.

    When decluttering, choose a few important and meaningful photos that can be framed and displayed. Decluttering is not about throwing out items you cherish; it's about eliminating things you never use or won’t need in the future.

  • 04 of 07

    Do You Have Duplicates?

    Duplicate items
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    Choose wisely if you want two or more of one particular item. For example, do you need more than one air mattress or coffee maker? Or do you need two or three sets of formal dinnerware? Duplicates of items take up precious space in your home, especially if they're stored in prime storage spots, such as a hall closet or the kitchen. If you must keep duplicates, store them out of the way to free up crucial living 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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    Do you use the item consistently or could you get along without it but still don't want to toss it? Items you use all the time include your favorite pair of jeans or shoes, a handbag, and the candle you burn each night—these are the types of items you’d miss if you lost them. The stuff you can get along without or rarely use may include:

    • Sale items you thought were too good to pass up
    • Items purchased you thought you'd use one day
    • Things bought while on vacation that you thought you'd never find elsewhere
  • 06 of 07

    Was It a Gift You Never Wanted?

    Gifts as clutter
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    If you received a gift you can't use, it's appropriate in many instances to regift or recycle the item. Graciously accept the gift and send a thank you note, but you aren't required to keep or use it. If it doesn't feel right giving it away, such as if the gift is from a close family member who may notice it's nowhere in sight, put it in storage and display it when you have the chance.

  • 07 of 07

    Could You Put It to Better Use?

    kitchen cabinet cups

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    You may have an item that your gut tells you to keep. Perhaps you can put it to good use after all. Why keep antique glassware hidden away when you can use the pieces for everyday use? Many vintage items have stood the test of time and are meant to be used on a daily basis.

    Maybe you have items you can lend out to friends and family who may actually be able to use them. Some types of items like this may include:

    • Quality yard equipment and gardening tools
    • Expensive kitchen gadgets and appliances, such as bread makers or stand mixers
    • One-of-a-kind formal gowns and special occasion clothes
    • Costly camera equipment, sporting equipment, wedding gowns, party tents, kayaks, and skis

    Rent It Out

    Put your expensive items to work for you instead of tossing or donating them. Check out rental websites that list local items to rent.