How to Decide What Stuff You Need and What You Don’t Need

My mom use to say she was a JIC (just in case) person. Not surprisingly, she was also a bit of a hoarder. She couldn’t bear to part with anything, because there was always the chance she’d need it again in the future.

This approach to possessions has merit if the item in question is, say, your winter coat and it’s the middle of summer. But it doesn’t hold water when you refuse to get rid of your tennis racquet even though you haven’t set foot on a tennis court in more than a decade.

Letting Go of the Guilt of Letting Go

How to Decide What Stuff You Need and What You Don’t Need

For a lot of people, letting go of stuff elicits feelings of guilt. Whether that’s because you spent a lot of money on an impulse purchase you ended up not using or because you inherited a really ugly tea service from your favorite aunt, there’s an emotional attachment that’s preventing you from letting go.

So how do you let go of stuff guilt? For Ruth, it took losing her mother-in-law and sister-in-law to realize that memories and stuff are not the same. “The reality is that at some point, it is no longer practical, healthy or reasonable to hold onto things we don’t need simply because you’re trying to hold on to a memory.”

But what about those impulse buys or the expensive pair of jeans that no longer fit you? Zoë Kim of The Minimalist Plate has a few tips to help you let go of perfectly good things. It may sound obvious, but the first thing you need to do is accept the mistake.

We’ve all bought something we thought we’d use and never did. It happens. Holding on to it is just cluttering up your home and serving as a reminder of a mistake you’d much rather forget about. Make peace with it and move on.

Zoë also recommends keeping your eye on your why. “In times of discouragement, make a choice to focus on why you are giving perfectly good things away. Remember, you’re giving up the good for the best.”

The guilt won’t magically disappear overnight, but it will lessen the more you declutter. Whenever you find yourself holding on a little too tight, remind yourself of these wise words from Marie Kondo: “The question of what you want to own is actually the question of how you want to live your life.”

4 Questions to Ask When Decluttering

How to Decide What Stuff You Need and What You Don’t Need

Decluttering requires inquiry. You need to ask yourself some pertinent questions when deciding what to keep and what to purge. This exercise requires a commitment to being absolutely honest in your responses.

Yes, it’ll be uncomfortable, maybe even a little scary, but there’s every chance you’ll find the process quite liberating. Oftentimes, we don’t even realize the half-truths we’re tell ourselves about our stuff.

1. When Last Did I Use This?

Obviously, certain items are seasonal, but even then you should still check in with yourself. If you last wore that winter coat three years ago, it’s time to send it on its way. For everything else, set yourself a reasonable timeframe.

In our house we employ the three month rule. If we haven’t used something in three months we generally get rid of it. There’ll be the odd exception from time to time, but on the whole we’re pretty ruthless in our approach.

If you’re still getting your head around the whole decluttering thing, you could decide on a six or twelve month timeframe when assessing what gets to stay and what doesn’t. I definitely wouldn’t go longer than a year though, and I’d also suggest scheduling another round of decluttering for six months’ time to reassess the situation.

2. Do I Need This Many?

An ex-colleague of mine once admitted to me that in his household of two they had three full dinner services and enough pots to start a restaurant. Our current landlady has somewhere in the region of 20 coffee mugs (and she lives alone).

Last year we decided to embark on a lifestyle experiment to see just how little we could live with. It turns out two of everything is plenty. That’s of course a little extreme for most folks, especially if you like entertaining, but the question does bear ruminating on.

3. Do I Even Like It?

A few years ago I took a job that required me to ‘dress up’ a little more than I was used to. I bought some pants and shirts I liked enough to wear to work everyday, but they weren’t really my style.

I held onto them long after I quit the job and every once in awhile I’d try and wear them again, but I always felt uncomfortable. Eventually I had to make peace with the fact that it was time to let them go.

I reminded myself that I’d already gotten my money’s worth and put them on the give-away pile. Honestly, it was a relief not to see those clothes everyday and feel bad about not wearing them.

4. Who Can I Help?

Sometimes a shift in focus is all that’s needed to reframe the way we think or feel about something. Knowing that someone else really needs whatever it is you’re struggling to let go of will make it easier to part ways with the item.

Contact a charity or homeless shelter in your area and find out what they could use more of. Donating the things you were holding onto for no good reason will declutter your home and enable you to make a difference.

Look for Support

Whether you’re looking to embrace a more minimalist lifestyle or simply want to declutter your home a little, it can be daunting to go it alone. Fortunately, there are plenty of people who’ve walked this road before you.

It doesn’t matter if you’re looking for some simple ideas to help you thin out your closet, want help letting go of sentimental items or need some tips on how to declutter when you don’t know where to begin, you’ll find it on the interwebs.

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Photo Credit: Thinkstock


Marie W
Marie W6 months ago

thanks for sharing

Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill10 months ago

Thanks, I really need to thin out my closet more!

Ann B
Ann Babout a year ago

my closet in high school had 5 out fits for school - a skirt, 1 pair of slacks and 4 blouses one pair of shoes...and a coat---funny i made it just fine NOW the closet is a disaster

Rosemary H
Rosemary Habout a year ago

Thinking again about the three month rule. I see Angela also wrote about how to make friends after you've retired and about artistic weekends. Now you can't have it both ways! If you are doing the latter two (sensible) you haven't got time to use or fix everything in the house in a mere three months! I know this from experience. It would be nice, but it entails turning my back on life, which brings all manner of evils....In fact you haven't time to do everything in a year. ..

I met a woman in a car boot sale who was getting rid of stuff she knew she might use after 7 or 8 months, and definitely would use within a year because she applied a strict six-month rule. It seemed to me she had problems and needed help.... The least help she would need would be financial as she forked out for expensive replacements...

Do not be afraid to hoard neatly for a time span that makes sense to yourself, bearing all other factors in mind.... As for Angela, I'm unsure whether to see if she knows as much as I do about making friends once you've retired or having artistic weekends, or just to bypass her stuff because I'm too busy and she doesn't always talk sense.

Rosemary H
Rosemary Habout a year ago

"You could decide on a six or twelve month timeframe"
Not much more sensible.... You could just have been too busy! Like Me. I don't hang around the house keeping on top of jobs. I get out and enjoy life! But when it quietens down - in January for example - there is time for some project or to fix something that needs doing. Store stuff neatly where it can be found easily and decide for how many Januaries you can keep it, before you know it won't be missed. Otherwise you could waste a lot of money replacing stuff.

"Who Can I Help?" My favourite way of parting with stuff!

Rosemary H
Rosemary Habout a year ago

" If we haven’t used something in three months we generally get rid of it. "

How *Stupid* is that!!!! You must waste a lot of money replacing useful stuff, and a lot of time looking for it only to realise you no longer have it! Think ahead and be an intelligent hoarder!

LF Fabout a year ago

Some things don't store well and tend to perish w time. I think taking a picture of them to keep the memory would help.

Elaine W
Elaine Wabout a year ago

Noted. I keep some useless but beloved stuff. My choice.

Glennis W
Glennis Wabout a year ago

Very informative if there is something you havent worn for 6 mths dispose of it Thank you for caring and sharing

Glennis W
Glennis Wabout a year ago

Great information and advice Thank you for caring and sharing