Decluttering your home is hard work, physically, mentally and emotionally. Some items are easy to decide what to do with. But it’s not always so clear. I’ve put together a list of decluttering questions to ask yourself if you’re struggling with decluttering, need to clarify for yourself if you should keep an item or get rid of it, or if you simply want to make your decluttering go deeper and be more effective.
Sometimes it can help to have another person helping you declutter to ask the questions that can be hard to answer. Once you answer them, it becomes clear what you should do with the item.
However, sometimes we don’t have someone to help us. Or we work on decluttering in small pockets of time throughout the day and it won’t work to have someone help us. If that’s the case, use this list of decluttering questions to help you declutter more effectively.
Some items you will intuitively know what to do with. The decisions will be easy and obvious, and you likely won’t even need these decluttering questions because you’ll answer them without even thinking about it. This is often the case for things you love and use often and know you want to keep, or things you have no desire to keep and are happy to get rid of.
Everything you choose to keep in your home should be able to pass the test of each of these decluttering questions. These questions help you determine if you really use and/or love an item, and if the item is worth the time/space/energy it takes up in your life. If an item doesn’t pass the test of these decluttering questions, that’s a good sign you can get rid of it.
These decluttering questions provide you with an array of things to consider when decluttering your home and deciding what to keep. Use them to shift your perspective, clarify and start thinking carefully about what you keep and why you’re keeping it. Rather than focusing on what to get rid of, it can be helpful to think about what to keep instead.
Questions to ask when decluttering
The following questions give you some perspective and things to consider when you are decluttering your home and struggling to decide if you should keep or get rid of an item.
The two most important decluttering questions
Every item in your home should be either something you use regularly or love. Start with these two decluttering questions and make sure everything you decide to keep passes them without a doubt.
1. Do you use the item on a regular basis?
When was the last time you used it? Unless the item is something you only use for a specific season or event, if you haven’t used it in the last six months, you probably don’t need it. If you can’t remember the last time you used it, let it go.
Your home should only hold things you use on a regular basis. If there comes a time when you need a rarely used item, more often than not, you can find a suitable alternative or borrow it from someone else.
2. Do you love this item?
Honestly asses your item. Does it evoke positive or negative emotions for you? Does it make you happy? If the emotion it brings up for you is not a positive one, it does not deserve to be in your home. If it makes you feel guilty, sad, inadequate, etc. it most likely isn’t something you need or want in your home.
Remember, your home should be your haven. Only allow things that add value to your life to live in your space. If it holds negative feelings for you, don’t allow yourself to be burdened by keeping it.
Additional Decluttering Questions
If you are still struggling to decide what to do with an item after the two decluttering questions above, go on to the following decluttering questions to help you clarify the usefulness of each item and if it truly adds value to your life.
1. Do you have more than one of the same or similar items?
If you have more than one of the same item, or similar items, do you really need them all? In most cases, one is enough.
2. If you didn’t have this item, could you use something else in its place?
Think about alternatives you could use if you got rid of the item. Try to avoid single-use items and instead, keep things that can be used frequently or for a variety of purposes.
3. Are you struggling to let go of the item because you feel guilty about wasting money after you bought it and no longer want or use it?
Feelings of guilt can be difficult to let go of. But remember, the money you used to buy the item is already spent. Holding on to an item you aren’t using or loving won’t get your money back.
If you aren’t using or loving the item anymore, let it go. Then use it as a lesson the next time you are shopping to be more intentional about how you spend your money.
4. Was the item a gift and you feel guilty about getting rid of it?
Gifts are given to show love. The person who gave you the gift gave it to show their love for you. You thanked them and appreciated the gift. Now the gift belongs to you and it is your decision about what you want to do with it.
If it’s no longer something you use or love, let it go. It’s your home, your space, your time, your life. You must be intentional about what you allow to remain in your home and only keep things you use regularly or love.
To put it in perspective, imagine if you gave someone a gift and then found out they were only keeping it out of guilt or because they felt obligated to. You wouldn’t want to burden someone with a gift you gave them! So don’t let yourself feel that way either.
5. Does the item have a lot of sentimental value and is hard to let go of?
I am not against keeping special items that hold a lot of sentimental value for you. However, you must set some kind of limit about how many sentimental items you want to keep. The limits will be different for everyone. But setting limits makes it easier to be more intentional about what to keep.
Remember that keeping too many special items lessens the importance and significance of each item, as they get overwhelmed and lost because there are simply too many things. But choosing to keep only the very important, most special items, means you can highlight, appreciate and value them more.
With this in mind, honestly assess how important or sentimental an item is. If it’s really important to you, can you find a way to repurpose, display or use it in your home? If you don’t want to repurpose, use or display it, do you really need to keep it?
Taking a picture of a sentimental item is a great way to remember the item and the memories it holds, without keeping the item itself. And remember, the item itself does not hold the memories or emotions. Those will always be with you, regardless of whether or not you keep the item. While there are some items important enough to keep, often a picture is enough.
6. Are you saving the item “just in case”?
We often keep things “just in case” some unusual or unforeseen circumstance arises in the future. First of all, these situations rarely actually happen. And secondly, on the rare occasion they do happen, we often either forget about the item we were saving “just in case” or find an alternative anyways.
Be realistic about your “just in case” scenario. How likely is it to actually happen? And if it did, could you find an alternative item to use if you let go of this one?
7. Do you have plans to use the item “someday”?
Again, be realistic about the likelihood of “someday” actually happening. We often save things with the best intentions of getting around to them, but never actually get to it.
If you are convinced you will use an item “someday”, give yourself a firm time limit. Put it in your calendar. If the time limit arrives and you haven’t used the item, let it go.
8. Is the item earning its keep in your home? Does the item add value to your life?
In order to stay in your space, an item should add value to your life. Everything we own requires our time and energy. We must buy it, look after it, clean it, maintain it, store it, etc. With this in mind, is this item adding enough value to your life to earn its keep?
9. Would you buy this item again if you didn’t already own it and saw it in a store?
Sometimes things come in our lives and we keep them, regardless of if we use or love them anymore. A great way to test this is to ask yourself if you would buy it again if you were shopping right now. Be honest with yourself and determine if you would hand over the purchase price you paid for this item again.
10. If you were moving, would you want to pack, move and unpack this item?
This is another great test to help you determine how much you value an item. I like to imagine I’m moving to a 3rd-floor walk-up apartment. Ask yourself if the item is valuable enough to you that you would want to carry it up three flights of stairs.
11. Could someone else benefit from this item more than you?
If you’re struggling to let go of something, this is a great way to shift your perspective. Rather than sitting in your home unused or rarely used, imagine the value and benefit it could bring to someone else’s life. Sometimes shifting our viewpoint to one of generosity makes it easier to let go of items.
12. Does this item fit with your lifestyle and the season of life you’re in RIGHT NOW?
Seasons of life, our interests, and our needs change overtime. Even if an item was something we used or loved last year, that does not mean we still use or love it today.
Only keep what you need, use and love in your current lifestyle. Hanging on to things from our past lifestyle or season of life only adds clutter to our space.
The same goes for saving things for the future. The items in our homes should be things we use and love today. Saving things for the future is a quick way to add a lot of clutter to our homes. Set realistic limits about what you will save for future use.
13. How would you feel if this item was no longer in your home?
Imagine you got rid of the item. How would you feel? Would you be relieved to no longer have to deal with it? Do you think you would even remember it after a week of it being gone? Would you feel sad if you didn’t see it every day?
Honestly assessing your feelings is a great way to determine an item’s importance in your home.
14. Do you have a place for this item?
Every item you decide to keep should have a home that’s easily accessible and logical, making it easy to put it away. Items without a home often end up as clutter. If you don’t have a place for this item, find a spot, make a spot or get rid of it!
15. How will you use this item and when?
Sometimes realistically defining for ourselves how and when we will use an item makes it easier to determine how likely we are to actually use it. If you cannot think of a specific and realistic time or way you will use the item in the near future, you probably don’t need to keep it.
16. Do you feel obligated or expected to keep this item?
Your home should be your haven, filled with only things that serve you and add value to your life. If you feel obligated or expected to keep an item you don’t use or love it is not fair to you or your mission to declutter your home.
If you feel pressure from someone else to keep an item, tell them you are working to declutter your home and no longer want to keep the item. Let them know they are welcome to take the item, but if they don’t want it, you will be getting rid of it. Establishing firm boundaries for what you allow in your space is important when decluttering and minimizing your home.
17. If the item is in need of repair, how and when will you repair it?
Ask yourself if you are realistically willing to invest the time, energy and/or money to repair the item. Do you have the skills to do the repair or will you need to hire someone else?
Put a deadline to complete the repair in your calendar and stick to it. If the deadline passes, and the item hasn’t been repaired, let it go. If it still hasn’t been repaired, it will likely never get done.
18. Is there a better way you could use the space this item is taking up?
Sometimes we keep an item by default because we’ve always had it. If you are unsure about keeping an item, imagine other ways you could use the space it takes up. Maybe you could use its space for something you love that means a lot to you. Or instead, maybe you would simply leave the space empty and enjoy the white space you’ve created.
This list of decluttering questions should provide you with some new perspective and clarification for items you are struggling to let go of.
Here’s a bonus tip: if you need to ask someone else if they think you should keep an item, that’s usually a good sign you don’t use or love it, but need some validation to help you let go of it.
If it’s something you use or love, you wouldn’t be wavering or needing another’s opinion to help you. Instead, you would just know it’s something you want to keep.
Which of the decluttering questions resonated most with you or helped change your perspective about something you’ve been struggling to let go of? Let me know in the comments below!
I always find mentally walking through my “just in case” scenarios helps me clarify how likely they are to happen and if I could use something else if the situation did happen, instead of keeping an item “just in case”.