De-cluttering was something of a hobby for me and my sisters. In our large family, there was always an endless supply of stuff to go through, and always another wardrobe stuffed too full of never-worn clothes. I hadn’t yet worked out I needed to be more ruthless with disposal, and much more careful with acquiring.
We might not have had lasting success, but we did have fun! One of the mantras we worked by was “Do you love it? Do you use it all the time? Do you need it for legal purposes?”
This mantra still echoes in my head when I’m dealing with clutter, particularly when it’s clothing. My simplified version these days is “Love it? Use it? Need it?”. It covers all the bases, and it’s a good place to start if you really can’t decide.
Do you love it?
Although it’s the first one mentioned, this is really the category of last resort. Answer with caution!
Use this category sparingly. Remember that when everything is precious, nothing is precious. Don’t confuse an appreciation of beautiful things with love—or “love” for things with the real love you feel for your family, friends, and pets.
This category is not for broad groups like collectibles, or “anything purple”. It’s not for ornaments you hate that belonged to someone you loved, or any gift from your ex.
Save the “Yes” on this question for the things that make your eyes sparkle and your heart glow.
Do you use it?
If it gets used regularly, or it often makes your life easier, then keep it. Easy.
Don’t keep something you wish you had a use for, might use one day, or used once and don’t feel like you can justify discarding. It’s not whether you did use it, or will use it: it’s whether you do use it.
Don’t keep three items of the same type if you can (and do) only use one at a time, or there’s one you always gravitate towards. Use it, or lose it.
Do you need it?
Some things are simply necessary. You may not enjoy having them, but there are negative consequences if you don’t have them; consequences like legal penalties, financial loss, or physical harm. Other items might be needed for purely social reasons, such as an appropriate outfit for formal occasions. Great Aunt Ethel’s funeral is not the venue for your yellow sequined jumpsuit.
Lots of boring stuff falls into this category. Paperwork, safety glasses, uniforms…you’re probably more likely to want an excuse to toss them than to keep them.
Resist the temptation to upgrade “want” to “need”. We often think “I might need this someday”, when we are really thinking “I want to keep this”, or “I don’t need this, but I need to feel like I didn’t waste my money”. The reality is that someday isn’t coming, and you can’t un-spend that money. Get rid.
Only a hardened minimalist doesn’t need help deciding what to discard. Asking these three simple questions—out loud if you have to!—is a great way to focus your thinking. By consciously considering whether an item is useful, necessary, or beloved, you can weed out the rubbish, and preserve only what serves you and makes you happy.