“If organizing your stuff worked, wouldn’t you be done by now?” —Courtney Carver
Organizing our things is important. It is helpful to know where things are stored and how to easily access them. But let’s be honest with ourselves, organizing is always only a temporary solution. We organize our things and find new storage solutions today… but are left again tomorrow, doing the exact same thing.
Finding better ways to organize our stuff holds some benefit, but that benefit is fleeting at best.
However, when we take the step of fully getting rid of stuff we do not need, we find permanent, longer-lasting benefits.
Minimizing possessions is an act of permanence because they are removed from our care entirely. It lays the groundwork for overcoming consumerism altogether. This step of intentionally living with less forces questions of values and purpose. And it provides the opportunity to live life pursuing our greatest passions.
Minimizing is always better than organizing. (tweet that)
How then do we accomplish this in our unique living space in a way that aligns with our lifestyle? We accomplish this room-by-room physically handling each and every item in our possession. And we learn to ask better questions.
In fact, almost all of decluttering comes down to asking ourselves only two questions:
1. Do I need this?
Discerning the difference between needs and wants has become almost a full-time job in our society. Advertisers routinely market items of comfort and luxury as items of need. I never knew I needed so much until somebody told me I did.
Almost all decluttering has to start somewhere. And every professional organizer will ask you to answer this question over and over again: Is this something I need to keep?
This is an important place to start because it provides a beginning framework within which to make better decisions. If we can identify the things we no longer need, we can begin to recognize the things that can be removed.
Of course, our human needs are actually quite slim: water, food, shelter, and clothing. It’s important to note we’re talking about more than mere survival here—nobody wants to just survive life, we want to make the most of it! What we’re talking about is realizing our fullest potential.
The deeper question then that we should be asking is, What items do I need to keep to realize my life’s full potential and purpose?
This question will get us further and provide an even more robust framework to make decisions about what to keep and what to remove. But even this falls a bit short.
Just because your answer is, “No, I don’t need this,” doesn’t mean you are going to remove it—or at least, not easily remove it. We all have things in our home that we know we don’t need. And yet, we choose to keep.
This, then, is where the second question becomes so helpful. And why it is even more important.
2. Why do I have this?
This question moves our thought process beyond functionality and into intentionality.
Ask yourself that question with everything you touch: Why do I own this? When you do, you will be surprised at the answers.
Case in point: Your closet. One of the first areas of my home that I chose to minimize was my wardrobe closet. When I did, I noticed all sorts of different styles and colors and fits—many of which I no longer wore.
And I am not alone in this—many of our closets are filled with items we no longer wear. Clearly, our over-filled closets have nothing to do with functionality. Instead, they have everything to do with intentionality.
Why do we own all these different articles of clothing and so much more than we need? Is it because we love them all or need that many shirts or shoes? No. We buy them because we are trying to keep up with changing fashions—the same changing styles that the fashion industry told us we needed to remain in style.
Additionally, when we look in our living rooms, we notice all kinds of decorations and knick-knacks cluttering our shelves. Why do we have them? Because we love them and they tell the story of our lives? Doubtful. Instead, we bought them because they were on sale, they matched the couch, or those built-in shelves needed something on them.
In each case, we buy things and keep them, not because they benefit our lives, but for some other intention. This realization makes the process of decluttering easier and it holds benefit for almost every item we own: Why do I own these CDs, that piece of furniture, these toys, these old electronics? Once we determine the why, we are better equipped to answer the What now?
Those two questions: “Do I need it?” and “Why do I have it?” form the basis for your best decluttering efforts going forward. They will prove to be enlightening and will open up new ideas about what items to keep and what items to remove.
And ultimately, isn’t that goal? To remove things entirely from our homes that we no longer need… so we can begin living the life that we want.
If you need more help on where to start, check out our Declutter Your Home Checklist.
I can see the potential value in decluttering and minimalism. However, I was brought up in a family that is very sentimental/nostalgic and passionate about collecting. This article mentions that decluttering helps people to pursue their passions and purpose. What happens when you don’t know what your purpose is because you’ve been sidelined by a life you didn’t plan to have? I don’t have children and I am a 40 year old former preschool teacher stuck at home every day on disability from multiple unpredictable chronic medical conditions. My family and friends are mostly in other states, so I do not feel connected to a community. My passions, goals, dreams and sense of self purpose have gone out the window to be replaced by a feeling of limbo.
joshua becker says
Strip away the excess and begin discovering your true self.
I mean this from a place of caring, find a good therapist and get working! Being on disability doesn’t mean you can’t have a happy fulfilled life, but first you have to process the fact that it won’t look like the life you thought you would have! Once you are able to do that, you can start discovering new possibilities! I wish you the best of luck!
Mrs Right says
No one CHOOSES to be on disability. Telling a Disabled person to get back to work isn’t realistic. DISABLED PEOPLE WOULD LOVE TO WORK! Before offering advice you should consider that possibly their health or medical condition prevents them from being ABLE to work. Plus, your career does not make you who you are. Therapy may help with coping and grieving the life we wish we had, but only a cure can save some of us.
I think they meant “get working” on the therapy.
Cynthia Reed says
Find a place you can serve others…I would suggest plugging in to a Bible believing church. There are countless ways to serve. The more you help others, the better you will feel about yourself. And if you can’t get out, you can help online. You can even teach and tutor online.
I’m just finishing up de-hoarding a relatives house. Oh my word!! Do your family a favor and deal with your stuff while you are able. It took 4 dump truck loads and multiple trips to the thrift store to empty everything. And this was AFTER family, friends and neighbors took what they wanted. The amazing thing to me is that under all the mountains the really important treasures were hiding.
Susan Evans says
We have recently moved to a smaller house. We are retired. Got rid of a lot before moved but still had too much in the new home. I am still taking stuff to to charity shops if I feel it is good enough for someone else to make use of. Our children will not want much of what we have so we feel cutting back on “stuff” saves them a job in the future. Also easier on the eye and the cleaning. Only have enough bedding and towels that I really need. I heard the phrase “how many towels do I really need “ I find this mantra works for me.
I startet so with a 30 day declutter Challenge:
Every day I discarted items.
On the first day 1 item,
on the second day 2 items,
on the third day 3 items,
on the fourth day 4 items…
And so on Till the 30 day. It was the last day of the Challenge!
It really helped!
And I second hand Shop more often.
It is worth it!
I really like this idea of taking one day at a time . My friends just move out from their huge house they lived in for a decade. Her wife just got exhausted and mixed up by the removal . That’s definitely a way to go by , just clear it out before you plan to sell. She had so much of things that dated and had never used or touched . Now put myself into decluttering more and more and keep this place safer and healthier. You can’t believe what is in store when you start decluttering AND organizing your living space. I do really thing decluttering one room at a time would work best for me.
Joy Stockman says
Just in the process of doing this also. 50+ yrs. of accumulation. So many trash bags, recycling, shredding. Having an estate sale soon.
It’s amazing what people save & never discard. I do not want to do this to my kids. Material things do not bring happiness. Simplify your life now.
there is so much to touch up and reaarange everywhere. This well picked up list is therefore very useful if you want to go through all of it and get more work done. This does not guarantee that your job will be less tirying, however. A very good list, which unfortunately only stresses you out even more. wouldn’t it be better to do just a single task rather than having multiple goals or tasks
why would I want to throw out stuff that I can and will (I did, I love repurposing) use later? that I already gave money for? I hate shopping. if I own less, my stuff will get used much faster. I tried, believe me, I missed all of the stuff I’ve thrown out. and there is no ‘out’, it’s an illusion! people are responsible for stuff they buy, throwing it out or donating is easier, I know. just dump them, somebody else would have to deal with it, right? I started buying only what’s vital, and even that I buy pre-owned. I love my stuff, I don’t have much and I cherish what I have. do you declutter fussy friends too?
If you ‘don’t have much’ and you ‘cherish what you have’ then it sounds like you’re already in a minimalism mindset and possibly this page isn’t going to be useful to you… I don’t understand why you’re having a go at the author.
Z Ingrid says
To be quite fair I would say this blog has a lot to learn from if you have the mindset – and not everyone has it. There is always more to it as opposed to what it seems 0 ) . :
Rush to declutter says
Declutter fussy friends? Why not? They give you more headaches than stuff lying around your house.
Little Jem says
A while ago I came to the conclusion that I had far too many knick-knacks and ornaments, and displaying them all made the living room cluttered and hard to dust. I bought 3 large plastic tubs with lids; I put down 4 towels on the living room floor, and then sorted all the items I wanted to keep into one of 4 categories: glassware and crystal; wooden things; china and pottery; other stuff, and put them each onto one of the towels (to make sure I had roughly even piles). I plucked up courage to get rid of anything tatty or ugly or broken. I put labels on the tubs – Spring, Summer, Autumn, and the 4th pile was the one currently displayed. At the turn of each season, I could bring out the next box, clean or dust the items going to be put away, and that was it for the next 3 months …
Only a quarter of items on show at once, and everything else stacked neatly away under the eaves.
Susan Evans says
I used to do this with my son’s toys when he was young. Every now and then would swap his toys. Instead of having loads of toys all over the place he would have “new” ones to play with. I found it such a good system. Good idea for ornaments too if you have ones of sentimental value but too many on show.
Melody Jeffrey says
I like this idea! We have treasures from traveling and living in Japan. They carry meaning but we have too much to display all at once. This would work well
I had kept my mother’s velour dressing gown in a wardrobe for more than 20 years after she passed on. During a decluttering I finally realised it wasn’t honouring her memory so I had it made into 7 teddy bears. This meant that myself, my 2 daughters, 2 sisters-in-law and 2 nieces all received one. Gave everyone pleasure.
Roberta DiPasquale says
What a wonderful idea!
Be kind! says
I think it is very unfair and burdensome for people to collect (hoard?) things for their entire adult lives, then expect their adult kids to go through their things and make decisions on what to keep, donate, throw away, etc. Downsizing/ decluttering is very important, not just for the owner, but those who have to deal with all the stuff after death. Be kind, downsize!
I sometimes look at things and wonder what will happen to them when I die or if I had to move into a small house suddenly. Makes the job of sorting out much easier.
Patricia R Thompson says
THIS is my motivation for downsizing!!!
Barb J says
My current declutter mantra is, ” Whose memories are you saving?” If I am saving an item because someone gave it to me (so they did not need to deal with it), I have an easier time getting rid of it. If I also share that memory, I need a little think first.
Karen Kirk says
My mother is a young 84 and her home is so messy that my 2 sisters and I can no longer visit her. I have offered to hire someone to help her declutter on a regular basis but she refuses. I feel like she cares more about the clutter than she does her family. It is really sad to watch her live this way.
This is how it is with my mother. It’s sad because we, (her kids and grandkids) realize we will never have family get-togethers at her house again. It’s too messy and too cluttered. She lives in a four bedroom, two bath house with garage and every room is full. It’s really heartbreaking for us.
My daughter comes over periodically and she’s a drill sergeant! She tells me what I need to get rid of because it’s not being used and she will not want in future. She’s tough but it definitely helps me part with “stuff” and it helps knowing I’m not parting with something she’s interested in. Often, getting someone’s advice and accepting it is the hard part.
When I moved into a smaller house as I took items out of the boxes I asked myself “if I didn’t have this is there something else I could use instead”. Especially with serving platters, etc the answer was “yes”. I now have less cluttered cabinets and the things I have get used more often. Win/Win!!