How much to keep when decluttering

Lesson 6: Free online downsizing course

Possibly the most common question we get from people decluttering is:

How much should I keep?

People are worried about decluttering things they might need later.

There is never one right answer to this question.  It really depends on the individual person.

The considerations outlined below should help you settle in your mind what the “right” amount for you is.

Where there’s little need to declutter

We once told a client’s mother she didn’t need to declutter at all.

A client’s mother had reached her 90’s and had a very well kept home. The home was tidy, with no excess items that we could identify but she did have a lot of pottery and display objects.

Her collection was causing her a great deal of stress, as she was worried about burdening her son. So I told our client I was happy to visit his mother.

It turned out that her collection was not impeding her day-to-day activities, nor was it particularly “excessive” in volume for her current home.  And, as it turned out, she really did want to keep the items.

If she were moving home, we would have advised her to consider how many of the display objects might fit into her new home. However, she was successfully ageing in place and the pottery and display objects brought her a great deal of pleasure (when she wasn’t worried about her son dealing with them).

She didn’t want to burden her son with a clearout when she passed away, but I was able to assure her that it was a straightforward estate clearance from our perspective and that she may as well enjoy and display the items it had taken her a lifetime to curate and collect.

She was relieved to hear this.

The fear of burdening others

However, it is a real concern for many people that they don’t want to burden their kids or other people with “all of the stuff”.

We live in an age where consumer goods are cheap and accessible so most people have full homes. Often time-poor adult children are struggling to manage the volume of items within their own home, and ageing parents are often conscious of this.

Often people want to make sure that they’ve dealt with items they’re no longer using before their health becomes problematic. Their goals here are often to:

  • Clear out the items they’re no longer using
  • Sort through inherited items from other relatives
  • Get the volume of items to a manageable level in case a move becomes necessary

We’ve seen first-hand how meeting the above goals can be a massive relief. People say that, by doing so, they feel more at peace for their remaining years.

Be wary of too many “useful” things

Where people often become unstuck is where they are keeping items “just in case”. Or that they have so many “useful” items that their spaces become unusable and less functional.

Often people focus on the money that they spent to acquire these things.

However, others find it helpful to consider the cost of excess items as a “sunk cost” that they won’t get back, whether their kitchen drawers are full or not.

If some of those “useful” things can be given to charity where they can go to a good cause, it can actually represent a cost saving where you don’t have to buy extra cupboards or storage containers to store the items.

It can also be helpful to think of spending the time decluttering yourself or the money in hiring a professional organiser in terms of an interior design or home renovation project. By decluttering and renewing spaces this way, people will often be able to avoid having to renovate their homes.

There is an immense amount of satisfaction in opening well-ordered kitchen drawers or a functional wardrobe with only clothes that you like and wear inside it.

It really can feel as though you’ve made upgrades to your house itself.

And it is quite common to find money or items of value whilst decluttering which can be a win in itself!

You have the space you have

Many people find that they “outgrow” the storage spaces in their home. More items come in than go out and existing cupboards and spaces become overfull.

It can help to scale back the items to fit into the available spaces to give you breathing room in the home.

To do so:

  1. Identify categories of items which are important for your current lifestyle
  2. Assign cupboards and shelves to the purposes you need them to serve

Start with the functions you need for your home to fulfil in mind, and work backwards from there

Be realistic about your current hobbies and activities

It can be useful to call the items in your home by their name.

By this I mean, that sometimes we can be overly optimistic in acquiring or keeping objects.

We each have a version of ourselves who perhaps re-reads books, does a wide variety of craft projects, may take up certain sporting activities again, bakes frequently and entertains frequently.

This hopeful version of ourselves may incorporate activities that we previously pursued (but no longer pursue) or activities that we wish we would pursue.

It can be helpful to shift our evaluation of certain items in the home.

Instead of: “this was a wonderful book that I might re-read at some point so I may as well keep just in case I get around to it”.

It can be useful to say: “this was a wonderful book that I enjoyed reading but probably won’t re-read. It’s probably time that someone else enjoyed reading this. There are other books I will enjoy reading.”

I bring up books as this can be a common sticking point for people. I find it to be a useful exercise to ask the question, “When you want to read a book, do you want to read a new book, or do you find yourself re-reading your old books? Do you re-read all of your books or just certain favourites?”

It can be liberating to give yourself permission to let books you’ve enjoyed (but are unlikely to re-read) find a new home.

People have different “set points” around clutter

I am a relative minimalist but I have a partner and daughter (who has generous grandparents) and different activities we like to do at different times.

Once I notice that we have outgrown certain activities or that the spaces are starting to become overfull, we will cull and reorganise the items accordingly.

I notice everyone seems to relax a bit more with clear, clean surfaces in the home and relatively well ordered cupboards where items we need or want are easily accessible.

However, I have friends, relatives and clients whose “set point” around clutter is different from mine. And I would never deign to tell them to live differently.

Some people love to be surrounded by books in most of their rooms.

Some people love being surrounded by ornaments and items that remind them of loved ones.

Some people love to have projects in progress in different spaces in the home.

Different people have different comfort levels with the amount of items which are visible on surfaces and in spaces.

If you know what your comfort zone is, work towards that.

Some people have a high set point with their comfort zone around clutter, and that is perfectly fine. As long as safety is maintained in the home (access for walking or using walkers and fire safety), and comfortable function is achieved in the home, then it’s no-one’s business how many accumulated items you have in your home.

However, if function in the home is an issue or the clutter in your home is causing you anxiety, it may be useful to get professional assistance.

If you’re moving, use a floor plan as a guide

When relocating, people can get stuck in a kind of “analysis paralysis” about how many of their items to take with them and how many to declutter/donate/sell.

I find that a floor plan cuts right through this problem.

The first thing we will often do with a relocation client is measure the furniture they want to take and measure the unit they’re moving to and create a floor plan to scale.

The floor plan will soon show which existing furniture fits best in the new unit. Which will often dictate the rest of the downsizing and relocation process.

Once we have created the floor plan, the rest of the process often falls into place.

A highly individual decision

How much to keep in a declutter/downsize is such an individual decision

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to the question of how much to keep when decluttering, as it varies depending on a person’s circumstances and needs.

However, it is useful to consider the benefits of decluttering, such as avoiding burdening loved ones with unnecessary items, improving functionality and aesthetics of living spaces, and finding hidden treasures.

It can be challenging to let go of items that we perceive as useful or are sentimental, but it can often be important to be realistic about current lifestyle requirements and assess whether we truly need or enjoy the items in question.

By keeping function in mind and calling our possessions by their true names, it can be easier to arrive at the “right” amount of items to keep when decluttering and downsizing.

Next lesson: Selling items of value when downsizing

Similar Posts