There are any number of questions we can ask about our possessions as we seek to minimize them.
Some have offered questions such as:
Does it spark joy?
Does it add value?
Does it serve my purpose?
I personally recommend two questions:
1. Do I need this?
2. Why do I have it?
You will find both incredibly helpful in your decluttering journey (especially if you include the added step of touching every physical item in your home).
But I have come to recognize a third question that is helpful to many. And once people ask it, the decluttering process seems to go faster as more and more items are identified as unnecessary.
Ask yourself, with every item in your home:
What would I use if I didn’t have it?
If the question can be answered quickly, it is not an item that you need to keep.
I first discovered this question when I minimized the things in my kitchen and stood face to face with countless tools and gadgets.
Mark Bittman in his article A No Frill’s Kitchen Still Cooks lists the only 30 items you need in your kitchen and I used his list as a template to declutter my own.
I had collected WAY more than 30 items, including countless gadgets and tools I thought necessary to cook dinner for my family.
As I stared at a stainless-steel egg-separator that had lived in my drawer for years, I thought to myself, “Surely I need to keep this. How else would I separate the yolk from an egg?”
Until I asked myself the question above, “What would I use if I didn’t have it?”
Within seconds I discovered that you can separate eggs with a simple spoon or even no spoon at all.
I thought I needed an egg separator cluttering up my kitchen drawer, but in reality, I didn’t need it at all. There is more than one way to solve a problem and I already owned everything I needed to separate eggs. (Incidentally, I got rid of the egg separator that day and haven’t missed it at all).
When we ask ourselves the question, “What would I use if I didn’t have it?” and quickly discover an answer, it becomes easier to let go—even if the item is one we use.
Another time I saw this question help someone declutter was helping a friend of mine minimize her kitchen. Over the years, she had collected decades and decades of items.
We began the process asking the questions, “Do you need it?” “Do you use it?” “Why do you have it?”
We weren’t making very fast progress. At one point, I pulled a red Santa tray from a cluttered cabinet and asked if she needed it.
“Oh yes,” she responded, “I put cookies on that tray every Christmas Eve.”
I asked a follow-up question, “Well, what would you use if you didn’t have it?”
She didn’t have to think long before her reply, “Oh, I’d probably just use one of the other red serving trays that I have in that cabinet.”
And in that moment, as she was working hard to own less and free up space in her home and life, she discovered something important: Just because you use an item doesn’t mean you need to keep it.
Especially when there are numerous things in your home that serve the same purpose.
The question, “What would I use if I didn’t have it?” allows us to see our possessions in a new way.
It forces us to recognize the number of duplicate items in our home.
The average American home has 300,000 items inside of it. And most of them are simply duplicates.
You can make quick progress decluttering your home by removing the duplicate items that you own. The question above helps us recognize them.
And it allows us to find new solutions to the problems we face.
There is almost always more than one way to solve a problem. You can offload many of the possessions you think you need by simply reminding yourself that you already own a solution to that problem elsewhere.
Do I need it? Why do I have it? What would I use if I didn’t have it?
Ask yourself these questions and declutter faster.
Own less, live more. You’ll love it.
The question “What would I use if I didn’t have it?” has totally changed how I look at my belongings and made an amazing difference in how I am able to let go of items. The example of the red tray was a huge ah ha moment. This article and that question has been one of the most influential in my minimalist/simplicity journey. The idea that you don’t need to keep things that you use as there are other ways to get the same result has opened up endless possibilities to simplify my life.
Beverley Jones says
I would just use a plate. If I had Christmassy serviettes I might put one on the plate
Dr. Cory S. Fawcett says
Love this idea and am using it as I put everything back into my house after a remodel. I will add it to my Fawcett’s Favorites on Monday.
Dr. Cory S. Fawcett
Financial Success MD
My go to question when my decluttering had lasted long enough was:
DO I EVER WANT TO NEED TO MAKE A DECISION ON THIS ITEM AGAIN?
I had struggled letting go of some stuff, but that question made me see that I really didn’t want to see it again on my next round of decluttering (which of course will come up at some point)
YES!!! That certainly helps on many occasions! I deal with the same places once a year maybe and if I come across items that haven`t been touched or noticed since the last revision I feel free to declutter them :)
Thank you for this! ❤️ I have been nurturing my minimalist self, living this way increasingly for years now, but am still finding those “duplicates”. This time it’s our cutting boards. We have one, which is usually fine, but the other day I needed two. Feeling too lazy to wash it, I just pulled out a plate. ??♀️ I should have been doing this all along: good for veggies or meats, durable, and (most importantly) dish washer safe! ? I’m probably late to the party on this, but so glad I finally arrived! One more kitchen gadget down! Thank you for your guidance & encouragement!
Cutting on a plate can dull and damage your knives and your plate. Maybe a shortcut next time is to flip the cutting board over.
Kate McKena says
I love “nurturing my minimalist self”.
Thank you for this, it is very informative, and encouraging. Great post Joshua.
This is your best post, thank you Joshua.
Here is another question from minimalists.com but maybe not relevant to kitchen items: If this item spontaneously combusted, would I feel relieved? If so, let it go.
Karen Trefzger says
Brilliant! This question gets right to the heart of our clutter problem and speaks to that “just in case” mentality as well. It also encourages us to be flexible and creative. I love it.
Karen Trefzger says
Brilliant! It gets immediately to the root of our clutter problem and takes care of the “just in case” mindset too. Reminds us to be flexible and creative as well. Thanks Joshua.