Recently, I posted a quote on Facebook, without commentary, and the crowd went wild:
“Just because you use an item doesn’t mean you need to keep it.”
Some people told me I was absolutely crazy:
- “Are you dim?”
- “That’s illogical.”
- “Probably the worst decluttering tip ever.”
Others found the idea liberating:
- “This is fantastic.”
- “This is actually so true.”
- “I need to do this exact thing!”
Personally, I find the thought so incredibly freeing—especially when someone is actively working to own less—I wanted to repeat it again here.
It seems to me that a lot of people took the quote to mean that I was telling people to get rid of every item they use. “This is terrible advice. If I got rid of my comb, I’d have to brush my hair with my fingers.” “Why would I ever get rid of something that I use?”
But I’m not encouraging us to get rid of everything we use just because we use it.
“Just because you use an item doesn’t mean you need to keep it” is different from “Get rid of every item you use.“
In reality, our homes are filled with a whole bunch of things we think we need just because we occasionally use them.
“I can’t declutter this item because I use it,” is a thinking trap we fall into that can keep us stuck and keep us from making progress freeing up space, time, and money.
As an example: When we first started minimizing our possessions, we had six spatulas in our kitchen, and from time-to-time, we used each of them. But that didn’t mean we needed all six. I only used them because they were there. Our kitchen functions way better, and I love cooking more, now that we only own two and I’ve never needed more than that.
Likewise, before minimalism, I probably owned twenty pairs of pants. And from time-to-time, I wore all of them. But I didn’t need to own all of them, and I learned that through a Project 333 Experiment. Today, I find getting ready in the morning easier and more enjoyable now that I only own five pairs.
And don’t get me started on all the kitchen gadgets that I used (George Foreman grill comes to mind), but were taking up more space in my home than the benefit I was receiving from them.
I once helped a lady declutter her kitchen. She knew there was too much stuff, but was struggling to figure what she could remove. I stumbled upon a red Santa Claus platter in an already overstuffed cabinet.
Hoping I had discovered an item that could quickly get donated, I asked, “What about this platter? Do you use this?”
“Oh yes,” she replied, “I put cookies on it every Christmas Eve.”
Sensing hesitation, I asked a follow-up question, “Well, what would you use if you didn’t have it?”
Within seconds she was able to answer, “I’d probably just use one of the red platters from that other drawer.” That answer was a lightbulb moment for her (and me). Just because you use an item doesn’t mean you need to keep it—especially if you have something else in your home that already accomplishes the same purpose.
Minimalist principles will always look different from one family to another. And if you are a minimalist living in a tiny home with only 100 possessions, this decluttering tip may not be particularly helpful for you.
But for those of you reading this blog who are working hard to own less and struggling to make progress, remind yourself that just because you use something doesn’t mean you need to keep it.
There are life-giving benefits to owning less. And there is freedom to be found in realizing you don’t need to keep everything you use.
In my opinion, “What would I use if I didn’t own this item?” is a much more helpful question to ask than “Do I use it?”