Are you getting ready for a big decluttering session? Aside from the normal supplies, make sure you are yourself with these essential decluttering questions to help you purge effortlessly.
*This post may contain affiliate links for your convenience. Please see our Disclosure Policy for more details.
So you watched a bunch of Tidying Up with Marie Kondo and you’re ready to start decluttering. You created your plan, grabbed your supplies, and headed off to your first room.
Five items in and you’re stuck. You just picked up an old bat from the softball team you haven’t played on in twelve years.
It’s still in perfectly good condition, but you’re not displaying it anywhere and it’s just kind of just laying around. What are you going to do with it?
Just seeing that bat brought back memories of a time you haven’t thought about in a while. Now you’re all nostalgic and don’t know what to do.
You’re going to run into situations like this in every step of your decluttering journey. When you do, use these decluttering questions to help you decide how to move forward.
What Is Clutter?
We should probably start by defining clutter. The Cambridge dictionary defines clutter as “a lot of objects in a state of disorder'”
For the purposes of this article, we’re going to take it a step further and define clutter as any object or group of objects that are in the way, causing you stress or annoyance, affecting your mood, or bringing about negative feelings.
By that definition, clutter doesn’t have to be several objects, it can be one item, many items, or a collection of items. If its presence has any kind of negative impact on you or your life, it’s clutter.
On the flip side, you can have many items or a full collection of items that aren’t considered clutter. If they truly make you happy and don’t create any negative impact, we’ll call them collections, not clutter.
For example, some people love books and have massive libraries. To that person, their books are collections. If there comes a time when they can’t walk through a room because stacks of books are blocking the way, the collection has transitioned to clutter.
The Problem With Clutter
Clutter becomes a problem when it starts to have a negative impact on your life in any way.
That negative impact could be as simple as constantly tripping over a stack of books because all of your shelves are full.
It can also be as complex as being in trouble at work for constantly being late because you can’t find your keys and work credentials in the endless stacks of stuff crowding up your kitchen counters.
You’ll also want to have a plan to keep moving forward and making progress.
Why is Decluttering So Hard?
Decluttering is difficult for a lot of reasons, and those reasons make it hard for us to let go of things we don’t necessarily need. Here are some of the top reasons people struggle to declutter.
So Overwhelmed Don’t Know Where to Start
Often the sheer amount of clutter can be so overwhelming that people struggle with figuring out where to even start the process. There’s so much to do, they can’t wrap their mind around how to get through it.
I suggest starting with whatever is sitting right in front of you, and start with the garbage and recycle first.
Might Need it Later
Some people find it hard to declutter because they lived through a time of scarcity or are afraid that if they declutter something, they’ll end up needing it later and won’t be able to get it.
This is certainly possible, but not likely. Chances are you have something else you could use instead. If not, you can probably borrow one from somebody else.
Emotional Attachments to Sentimental Clutter
Some of the hardest decluttering is sentimental decluttering. Whether it’s grandma’s vintage china set or the first teddy bear somebody special gifted them, people form strong emotional attachments to sentimental items.
Taking pictures and repurposing these kinds of items make them a little easier to let go of. I have a quilt that’s made from squares of my great grandma’s old pants suits.
Instead of having boxes and boxes of old clothing I never see because it’s stashed in my garage, I can look at this one quilt and remember my great grandmother every day.
Those are just a few of the reasons that make it hard to declutter, but these questions will help you work through those challenges.
15 Decluttering Questions To Help You Identify and Remove Clutter
One of the easiest ways to keep making progress while decluttering is to have a set of questions that help you make the ‘keep’ or ‘let go’ decision.
Here are 15 decluttering questions designed to do exactly that.
Psst – our VIP’s get a printable copy as a welcome gift!
1. Do I Love It?
Always start with the ‘Do I love it’ decluttering question. It’s the quickest and easiest question to answer when decluttering.
I’m a throw blanket person and I’m always bundling up. I have a fuzzy, black throw blanket I bought at Costco several years ago. That thing is so warm and cozy that I don’t know if I’ll ever get rid of it.
I’ve bought other blankets throughout the years (I did say I’m a blanket person after all) and none of them compare. Sure, they’re warm and cozy, but not like that black one.
I’m not sure how old and ratty it will have to get before I can answer this decluttering question with a NO.
If you truly love an item, keep it around as long as it isn’t damaged in some way.
2. Do I Use It Regularly?
A few of these next decluttering questions are going to focus on how often you use an item, but I suggest starting with the ‘Do I Use it Regularly’ question because it can be another quick ‘YES’ with many items.
If you use an item regularly, put that thing back where it belongs and move on to the next item and next decluttering question.
There’s absolutely no reason to get rid of an item you use regularly or ask any more decluttering questions for that item. In fact, if you do get rid of it, chances are you’ll end up purchasing another one which will be wasting money.
If there are several ‘quick YES’ items in the area you’re decluttering, get rid of those first and get them out of the way, then start decluttering the stuff that’s a little more difficult to answer to the decluttering questions for.
3. Have I Used It In the Last Year?
I ask this decluttering question next because the ‘NO’ answer can come just as quickly as the YES ones above.
Me and my quick wins, but getting them out of the way builds momentum.
If you can’t answer the ‘Have I Used It In a Year’ decluttering question with a quick and certain, Yes, you likely haven’t’ used the item, and you’re probably not going to. Even holiday and party items get used once a year.
Seriously! Be brutally honest with yourself. That chevron fabric that was making a comeback two years ago is on it’s way out again, and you’re never going to use it. Donate that stuff and move on.
4. When Was the Last Time I Used It?
If you didn’t get the quick YES or NO to the last two decluttering questions, then ask yourself the ‘When WAS the Last Time I Used It’ decluttering question.
If it’s been more than six months, or you can’t remember when it was, let it go. Chances are you don’t need it and only use it occasionally out of a feeling of obligation.
The one exception is the holiday items mentioned above. If you’re the likely host for holiday get-togethers, go ahead and hang on to those items. Maybe just box them up and store them somewhere out of your way until you need them.
5. Can Somebody Else Use It?
You’ve gone through the first four questions and still haven’t decided the fate of your electric roasting pan, what now? Ask yourself is somebody else can use it.
Maybe your daughter roasts a ham or a turkey a few times a year and doesn’t really have the oven space for side dishes. She could certainly use an electric roaster to free up her oven space.
You rarely use it, it’s kind of in your way, and it could be really helpful for her. Besides, you can always borrow it if you need it, which leads us to the next question.
6. Can I Borrow It From Somebody Else
If you’re trying to make a decision on a seldom-used item, think about who else has one. Is it somebody you can borrow from if you really need it?
Let’s use the roasting pan as an example. Your daughter’s probably going to use it four to five times a year, and you’d only use it once.
Give her the roaster with the caveat that you get to use it for Thanksgiving dinner every year.
7. Can I Use Something Else?
Speaking of kitchen items, another decluttering question to ask is ‘can I use something else?’
Do you really need that roasting pan, or can you just roast that turkey in the oven? I spatchcock mine and roast it in the oven quicker than that electric roaster can get it done.
Apply this thinking to all items. The last time I decluttered my kitchen drawers, I discovered I had three (not a typo) avocado tools.
One was metal and sliced the avocado half into individual slices, one was a plastic version of that, and one was the mac daddy multipurpose avocado tool.
I eat a lot of avocados, and can you guess which one I used the last time I ate an avocado? None of them. I used my Chef’s knife.
Needless to say, somebody at the Salvation Army will make a good score finding all of those.
8. Do I Have More Than One?
Ask yourself if you have more than one. If you do, pare down to just one where it makes sense.
We often buy multiples of things only to find out we’ll stick to one favorite.
I just finished telling you about my three avocado tools, right?! I didn’t need three. I truly didn’t even need one because I always reach for my trusty chef’s knife.
9. Do I Really Need It?
Now there’s a very good question! How much of the stuff in our homes do we really NEED?
As you move through different stages of your life, your activities, hobbies, and lifestyle change.
In my twenties, I was in a bowling league. I had my own custom ball, shoes, and accessories. I hung on to that stuff for at least a decade after I stopped bowling, and there’s no way I could have used it.
If you don’t need an item any longer, give it to somebody who can use it.
10. Would I Buy It Today?
This is the decluttering question I tend to ask a lot when it comes to kitchen items, decor, and clothing. Our taste, style, and preferences change over time.
That bright, colorful fruit basket you fell in love with at Home Goods was adorable when you bought it three years ago, but you’ve changed a little and lean towards more muted colors now.
And that leopard print blouse you rocked at a concert in your twenties just doesn’t have the same appeal at the grocery store in your thirties.
That example was a little extreme, but you get my point. If you can look at an item and honestly say that you wouldn’t buy it if you saw it in a store today, then why keep it around?
11. Do I Feel Obligated to Keep This?
Feeling obligated is a funny thing. It can be an expectation you impose on yourself or one that somebody else imposes on you.
You might feel obligated to keep something for several different reasons.
- It’s been passed down through several generations
- The item was a gift from somebody close to you
- It belonged to a lost loved one
If you’re keeping something just because you feel obligated, DON’T. Keeping things out of a feeling of obligation can cause a lot of stress and even some resentment.
Figure out why you feel obligated to keep something, then deal with those feelings.
If it’s self-imposed, really dig deep to find out why you’re setting that expectation. Once you know the Why, you can work to change it.
If you’re emotionally attached you’ll need to use some strategies for dealing with sentimental clutter.
If somebody else is making you feel obligated, talk to them. Tell them how you feel and try to find a way to address the issue.
They might not even know that they’re making you feel this way.
12. Am I ‘Saving’ This for Somebody Else?
Next, ask yourself if you’re holding on to something just to save it for somebody else.
This happens a lot with people who have children that are just moving into adulthood, or people who are in the later parts of their lives and want to pass family heirlooms on.
If you’re keeping something because you think somebody else wants it, make sure.
Ask them if they really want it. If they say YES, make arrangements for them to pick it up as soon as possible. If they say NO, tell them you’re getting rid of it, and do it!
13. Is It In My Way?
This decluttering question can be a real eye-opener. If something’s ‘in your way’, it’s probably not that important to you.
If you’re answering YES to this question, you need to really evaluate the item and decide if there is a better place to put it.
If not, it’s time to get rid of it.
14. Does It Cause Me Stress?
Here’s another ‘can of worms’ type of decluttering question because your stuff can cause stress in many different ways.
We’ve already addressed several of the reasons clutter causes stress in the questions above, so I won’t rehash them here. I included this decluttering question in case the others didn’t seem to apply.
The bottom line is, if specific items are causing you stress, you should probably get rid of them.
15. Can I Let This Go?
If you still haven’t had a resounding YES or NO answer from the fourteen decluttering questions above, then ask ‘CAN I let this go?’
If you’re decluttering sentimental items or for the purpose of simplifying and adopting a minimalist lifestyle, this should actually be your first question.
For regular decluttering, this is a ‘last resort’ question to clean up any items you have left.
Which Decluttering Questions Help You Purge the Most?
Now that you’re a decluttering pro, let us know which decluttering questions helped you the most.