Blog by Beebe Cline

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5 Questions to Overcome a Decluttering Roadblock

Let’s face it: For many of us, decluttering is really hard. First you have to find the time. Then you must make difficult decisions about what to keep and what to let go. Next you must figure out what to do with everything, whether that involves storing, selling or donating. And finally, you must follow through on your plan.

These tasks can be overwhelming, so it’s no wonder that many of us at some point hit a decluttering roadblock. And that’s OK. If you are letting go of something, you have to be emotionally ready to make that decision. If you’re not, you may find that certain items keep going into the “maybe” pile. Here are some questions to ask yourself when you can’t decide about a specific belonging. In my experience as a professional organizer, these questions often help my clients break through their decluttering block.

1. Would You Secretly Be Relieved if This Item Just Vanished, Through No Fault of Your Own?

Sometimes we hold on to things without realizing that we actually don’t want them. It doesn’t matter whether the item you’re contemplating is a quilt considered a family heirloom or an everyday dog bowl you bought on sale. If you don’t like it, you don’t like it — and that’s OK.

If you ask yourself this question and hear from your gut that your answer is yes, that it would be a relief to be free of the item, then it may be time to move it out of your home.


2. Are You Keeping This Item to Avoid Feeling Guilty?

I see this roadblock with so many of my clients. Many hang on to wedding gifts or handmade items that represent the thoughtfulness and love of the gift-giver. It can make you feel ungrateful to let such items go. But if you do not like and realistically aren’t planning to use or displaying the item, it may no longer belong in your home.

I like to think about gift-giving this way: For me, the joy is in the giving, and the appreciation is in the receiving. Even when the gift is no longer present, the memory of the thoughtfulness and kind intent will remain.

Another strategy that sometimes helps my clients is to consider the potential satisfaction of donating the item to a person in need. That hand-knit blanket might warm a baby in need. Your parents’ dinnerware might be just right for a recent college grad just starting out.

3. Do You Want to Hang On to This Item for the Future?

It’s always wise to be prepared for the future, and you may be able to save time and money by keeping extra supplies on hand. However, there is a limit to what is truly useful. Here are more questions to ask yourself if you feel inclined to hang on to something.
Will you be able to find it? Future-use items sometimes become filler for otherwise empty spots throughout the house, or get grouped into boxes of random belongings. If you were to need your future-use item, would you know where to find it? Would you even remember that you had it? If you plan to keep an item, be sure you can answer yes to both of these questions. For example, you might store in your toolbox the Allen wrench you used to put together a desk, or tape it to the back of the desk so it’s there when it’s time to disassemble the desk.

Will it degrade? Over time, adhesive loses strength, rubber becomes brittle, batteries corrode and nail polishes change color. Spices lose flavor, breadcrumbs become stale and oils go rancid. If you keep such items, you may want to occasionally check them to be sure they will function when you need them.
Have you stocked up more than you can use? Do you accumulate free notepads from local businesses faster than you can use them? Do you have five tablecloths for entertaining but use only two? If so, you may want to pare down the excess and keep just the ones you love.
Can it be easily and affordably replaced? While buying in bulk and on sale is a great way to save money, weigh that against any storage space you may be losing to these extra items. For example, the life span of LED lightbulbs is quite long (many manufacturers claim they last 10,000 to 50,000 hours). If you purchase a large quantity, it could take years or decades to get through all of them. Meanwhile, they’ll be taking up precious real estate in your storage.

4. Have Your Life Circumstances Changed, Making This Item Unnecessary?

Sometimes we get so used to seeing an item around the house that we don’t even realize we may not need or want it anymore. Moving to a smaller home, experiencing changes in your physical abilities, or gaining or losing members of your household could make some of your belongings irrelevant to your current life phase. Similarly, changes in your work, changes in children’s needs and preferences, or a relocation to a region with a different climate could also affect which belongings now fit your life. Unless the life change is temporary, consider assessing if the item still works for your new lifestyle.

5. Are You Keeping This Item Only Because It Was Expensive?

We all make purchases we regret. Some items are easy to let go of, like an inexpensive kitchen tool that is tedious to clean. Others may be more difficult, especially those you saved up to purchase. But if your attachment to an item is due purely to monetary investment, you may be surprised by the freedom you feel if you sell it or give it to someone who would truly cherish it.

Remember, if an item belongs to you (even if it’s an inherited one), it’s 100 percent your decision what to do with it. Don’t let others, including yourself, shame you into keeping something or not keeping it.

Finally, keep in mind that the five questions I’ve shared here are intended to help you view your belongings more objectively, and to make decisions that you’re comfortable with. I do understand that some items are very sentimental. If you have items you truly cannot part with — as opposed to those you keep because you don’t want to make the decision — then please enjoy, display or store them with the respect they deserve.

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