Keep or Toss? A Checklist

It’s getting harder and harder to pare down my belongings. Though I recently had a small light bulb moment about my stuff: I need to consider short-term clutter and long-term clutter. Short term clutter consists of daily life stuff: school papers, toys, books, chargers, art supplies.

Long term clutter is tougher. My work so far has been assessing and dealing with this category. Things like a pair of pajama pants I wore in college and supplies from a painting class I took in 2003. Old clothes. Rollerblades. Nearly everything I’ve donated or tossed this year since has been long term clutter, and parting with most of it wasn’t tough. The paints were nearly used up and separating. My last two attempts to skate landed me in the emergency room. Getting rid of these things was a no-brainer.

I’ve read lots of articles about decluttering, and questions to ask yourself when you’re sorting through stuff. And those questions should make it easy, right? But they don’t. Because on one shoulder you have the Declutter Angel, who wants and knows the truth about the item you’re considering, and the Declutter Devil, who wants you to keep everything no matter what.

  • If I was moving, would this item come with me? Clearly I failed the first time around with this question, or I would not have brought the bedding from my college apartment, among other things. I just blindly packed, and didn’t give anything away. But now we have a larger home and an additional person, so there is way more stuff. And even though we have no immediate plans to move, thinking about packing and moving all these things can help you part with things you’re on the fence about.
  • Do I need this? If the answer is yes, ask yourself again: Do I really need this? I almost always say yes the first time, but if I ask myself again I get a more honest answer. Need is also very subjective and tricky to determine. There’s very little we really truly need but I’m going to try and take this more into consideration.
  • Is this useful to the person I am right now? We all have aspirational cluttter- things we buy for the person we want to be- the person who sews all her kids’ clothes, exercises every day, and cooks gourmet meals. Then we buy these things, use them once or twice, and they gather dust. On Saturday I accepted that I don’t care about entertaining and finally parted with some platters and bowls I will never use. It can be tough to let go of the ideas connected to this kind of clutter but keeping it around probably makes you feel guilty because you don’t use it.
  • Where is this item currently located? Does it have a ‘home’? Or is it in the garage, but not the kind of thing that belongs in the garage? Or is it shoved in the back of a closet where it’s not being seen or used? A couple months ago I pared down my stash of home decor, and last week I added several more things to a donation box, when I decided I no longer liked those things enough to display in the house. I still have some things I’ll rotate, but I know where I’m going to put them.

It sounds silly but I’m thinking about making a condensed version of this list and keeping it on hand the next time I tackle a space. I’d hoped to be further along by now but there’s still a lot to deal with.