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The 2 key questions to ask while decluttering

In the poll I had in my sidebar last week (I’ve got a new one there, by the way), I was somewhat surprised to learn that most of you find organizing to be the hardest part of your home management. I wasn’t surprised because I think it’s easy, but because you said it was harder than money management, menu planning, cleaning, or juggling parenting in the mix of housekeeping. None of those tasks are easy.

Photo by Molly

“Stuffitis” can clog our clarity, productivity, and peace to the point of exhaustion. It makes organizing our homes so much harder. When we have so much stuff that those items are no longer useful or provide enjoyment because the mere having it causes added stress – it’s time to rethink its purpose in your home.

One of our unexpected benefits of moving to the other side of the world last year was forced downsizing. Because we were limited in how much stuff to bring, we literally questioned every single item we owned. It either went with us, it moved into a very small storage unit (for those items we wanted to keep but not risk a major overseas move – like family keepsakes), or it left our home and went to another (via garage sale or donation).

And when we inventoried our belongings, the two main questions we asked – sometimes unconsciously – were:

1. Is this item useful to us?, and
2. Is this item beautiful to us?

The answers could be quite subjective, but it pointed us to an overall theme in our life and in our home that I hope we now keep lifelong. It’s this simple quote that is now my homekeeping mantra:

Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” -William Morris


Sounds extreme, and in a way, it is. But I like it because it validates the things you do have in your home, and it gives you the freedom to truly enjoy having them pass your threshold. Rather than making that collection of candles on top of your TV cabinet feel pointless, you can enjoy having them there because you’ve made a conscious decision that they were worth being there. They passed the test, in other words.

It helps us that our home isn’t too big. We live in a very urban high-rise condo, which provides about 1,300 square feet of living space. We have one closet, which is actually pretty unusual here, since closets are a rather American concept. Our bedrooms have wardrobes which serve as ample space for all our clothes.

Most families won’t have a major international move to force them to downsize. But I highly encourage you to quickly ask yourself an object’s purpose or beauty in your home the next time you declutter. If it merits neither, then maybe it shouldn’t even belong. Perhaps another family would find a better use for it.

And you might be surprised to learn how little you’ll miss the thing once it’s gone.

2nd photo by karly b

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  1. Jen

    My hubby and I are in the military and as such will be moving every 3-5 years for the foreseeable future. Keeping “stuff” under control is a must in my opinion! I read a fabulous book called “Clutter’s Dirty Secret” a month or so ago and was totally inspired to get rid of all the “junk” that I don’t need or don’t love! Thanks for reinforcing the point 🙂

    Jens last blog post..Q&A #1: Alpha Dog

  2. simplemom

    Sounds like a wonderful book! And thanks for serving our country.

  3. Karen

    I’d add #3: Does this item belong to one of my kids? Sigh.

    Karens last blog post..Friday’s Feast

  4. simplemom

    @Karen – 🙂 I guess my questions imply the kids when I ask them relative to “us.” I would not toss out my daughter’s My Little Pony because it’s beautiful to her. And I wouldn’t toss out all the crayon stubs we have because, for her, they’re useful. Everyone gets to answer the questions over here…

  5. Rachel

    Oh I love decluttering. I try to keep a bag for it ready at all times, so I can just toss things in there as I see them, rather than have a decluttering session. I also know it’s times to declutter when I have trouble putting things away.

    I hope you write more about this! I want to hear what you decided to take with you when you moved overseas.

    Rachels last blog post..Getting Your Car Insurance Right

  6. simplemom

    @Rachel – I love decluttering, too. I really like your idea about having a bag to be prepared at all times. I’m impressed!

    I’ll keep writing about this, but I don’t want to talk decluttering into the ground. I *heart* decluttering and organizing, but I know not everyone enjoys it like me. 😉

  7. Vicki Winterton

    As a professional organizer, another question I feel is useful is:
    “Is the serving me in my current life?” Too many of us have sentimental attachemnts to things from our past we will never again even look at. If something is of great value to us we ought to display it with honor.
    Thanks for this important post!
    You are doing good things.

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