“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 have those two questions down to a t. The only question I seem to have now is “What else can I get rid of?”.
This is probably not healthy, but I do feel like some things are still holding me down.
I got rid of clothes, DVDs, household items, lamps, towels, makeup, pretty much anything that I haven’t been using anymore.
Will I ever be satisfied with how things are now or will I keep looking for things to get rid of?
Tracy B. says
Sonja, I think that decluttering is a journey, not a destination. Doubtless over time some things will become less important to you as you develop new interests and tastes and gravitate away from others. If you feel that there’s more to let go of, I don’t see that as unhealthy (unless it becomes a full-time pursuit!) I think of it as peeling an onion. It becomes apparent to me over time what else needs to go.
Claudia Landolfi says
Regarding the WHY question: Such a common rationalization my husband and I use, in our attempts to declutter, is “I might need this someday, and then I’ll be mad that I got rid of it.” This is no longer a valid reason in my mind; if there’s not a definite present use, out it goes.
Kristie Hill says
This is the same comment that comes up in our house all the time “one day, we might need this”
Ugh. So much stuff for “one day”
Patty Handy says
Yes that’s one I deal with often. If I do ever need an item like that I usually can’t find it! Electronics cords-what did they belong to, can I pitch them.
I have put £100 away incase I later “need” something that i have given away and I havent needed to use it , yet.
Kathleen Kocunik says
This post and comments really gave me all the right insights and the questions I need to ask myself. As I continue my decluttering journey that started a year ago with “2015 gone in 2015”, I was not seeing clearly what of my possessions needed to go and the essence of why. Thank you for clarity in simplifying my household and finding my retirement years true purpose.
Stephanie Tanner says
Thanks so much for the article! I definitely agree with the two questions.
Great article. The why question is really a good one. I have three storage units I’m paying on and that is the big question WHY??
Maybe thinking about what else you could do with that money (storage isn’t cheap) will help motivate you to reduce it. Paying debt, saving for a house, building your retirement…a vacation! The options are endless!
Love this Joshua. I’ve never asked WHY?! I’m going to look at the items in my home differently and see if it helps me to let go of some more clutter :) Thanks!
Bob Bryant says
The best most beneficial article for me that you have published. Thank You
When I start de-cluttering, I actually ask myself “When did I use it, last?” If I used it a while ago, I put it in a box and mark everything that is in it. Everything that I don’t pull out of the box within a certain period, I donate or trow out.
An interior decorator taught my sister two very helpful questions regarding decluttering:
1. Is it useful?
2. Is it beautiful?
Items that don’t answer with at least one “yes” shouldn’t be cluttering your home and your life.
The one exception: things with sentimental value, but even those need to be within reasonable balance. (Her suggestion: a max of 10% of one’s possessions.)
Jennifer @ Path to Simple says
I really like the idea of applying a number to the sentimental items kept. I try to ask myself if these items are important or meaningful, and only when I answer “yes,” do they remain in my home. But, this can be difficult, as it is easy to justify why sentimental clutter may be important or meaningful. When I limited sentimental items to only those that would fit in my two memory boxes, the answers to my questions really did become clearer. Since I knew my space was limited, I could only keep the treasured few.
I have been minimilizing what I own for the past 5 or 6 years. I am an artist/designer and also used to buy vintage/antiques for resale as a side business.
In the last couple years I have sold probably 50% of the inventory I owned and given truck load after truck load to thrifts stores and also many items to friends and family. The last couple years I have slowed down as I got married, adding all of my spouces stuff to the plate and now am pregnant with baby number two. I find myself daily challenged discovering what I actually need to take care of my children. Fighting feelings of insecurity that I am not giving my babies enough by providing x, y or z of what’s on the list. But even more then that, my greatest struggle has been deciding how to celebrate creativity and beauty without adding to consumerism and without living in bondage of not having anything nice. Perhaps you can shed some light on this issue as a fellow believer. How do we enjoy God’s beautiful creations and how do we create as an artist without adding to consumerism? I hope I am not being too vague. I could go off in so many directions but hopefully my comment makes sense and if you have time, I would love to hear your thoughts. :)
Hi Bethany! As a Christian also, I believe that art, music and dance was given to us as a way to glorify God. If you create art that glorifies Him, he will provide for you on so many levels. Every morning before your feet even hit the floor, place your day in His almighty, capable hands…and everything…all the little details will fall into place. Just always remember that your art should glorify God. He loves you and your family so much!!! :)
Thank you Judy! I need to work on surrendering my days to Him more. I believe art is meant to glorify Him too. My struggle is more of wanting to create art that helps people on some level as opposed to just creating objects that people lust over to make themselves or their homes more fullfilling in some way. Does that make sense?
Society/ marketing/ Consumerism make us believe that in order to be a good parent, you need this and this. It starts when you are pregnant, reading magazines and their adds. Want to be the perfect parent, you NEED this…. Except that there is no such thing as the perfect parent and that we don’t need half of those things.
I have 3 children (last one just turned one year old, and I realize that I barely really used half of the things I bought while I was pregnant from baby number one or just after she was born. What your children need is just a warm home and the love and time of their parents… I never heard of any adult complaining that he/she didn’t have enough toys while they were children (at least not in our modern society)…