How To Declutter Without Sacrificing What’s Meaningful

How To Declutter Without Sacrificing Whats Meaningful

As a minimalist who lives in a tiny house, I’m pretty ruthless when decluttering. However, I have learned to also be intentional when deciding what to keep around. It’s important to remind yourself that it’s okay to keep items that have meaning and add value to your life.

ryans tiny house

Hi, I’m Ryan

I’ve learned a lot over the years about being intentional not only with what I discard, but with the things I keep. Intentionality is equal parts what you remove and what you decide to keep.

ryan mitchell simple living expert

Sometimes I have to stop the ruthless cleaning, take a step back, and remember that minimalism is a mindset built on quality. It’s not about getting rid of everything you own, it’s about removing the excess while keeping the meaningful things around. But how do you identify what items are truly worth holding onto?

Questions To Ask Yourself When Deciding What To Keep

Seven Questions To Ask Yourself When Deciding What To Keep

A single Google search will instantly spit out thousands of how-tos and tips on what to eliminate when you’re decluttering, and where to start. But in some cases, it can be helpful not to begin with your junk mail, your extra electronic cords, or your closet that’s bursting at the seams.

Start with the things you know you want to hang on to, and let that be the first step for the ruthless decluttering to come. Here are seven simple questions I’ve learned after years of failures that make deciding what to keep a walk in the park.

30 day declutter challenge

Is This An Item I Use Every Day?

Is This An Item I Use Every Day

Decluttering isn’t about deprivation. Of course, there are those extreme minimalists out there who like the challenge of getting possessions down to the bare bones and going into survival mode. For me, I believe that if I truly use it, I don’t have to lose it.

Sure, I might not need 10 sets of dishes in my minimal kitchen or 50 pairs of shoes in my minimal closet. However, if I have two different types of Tupperware that I use actively throughout the week or have three really good pairs of tennis shoes that I rotate out when I run, it’s okay to keep them.

How Often Do You Use This? Should I Keep This Item?
Daily Definitely
Weekly Probably
Monthly Maybe
Quarterly Probably not
Yearly Rarely

Don’t get rid of all your essentials just to declutter. Make sure you have enough of what you need in each area of your life to maintain the lifestyle you prefer. For me, minimalism is about ridding myself of the excess, not the things that truly help me function. If I use an item every day, that’s a good reason to keep it around for the long haul.

Is This An Item I Would Part With If I Wasn’t Minimalizing?

Is This An Item I Would Part With If I Wasnt Minimalizing

It’s easy to get in a very particular headspace when you are decluttering. It can get relentless. You have a goal in mind and you want to discard as much as possible, as quickly and efficiently as you can.

Take a step back and evaluate whether or not the item you’re holding is one you would part with if you weren’t in machine mode. Ask yourself, if I wasn’t trying to declutter right now, would I part with this on a normal day? Make a pile of the items you are on the fence about and come back to re-evaluate once you are out of the hustle mentality.

Does This Item Entertain A Hobby That I Love?

Does This Item Entertain A Hobby That I Love

There’s a misconception that minimalists give up things they love, when in reality, the opposite is true! Minimalism is an act of removing what you don’t love so the things you do are accentuated.

Keeping books around is important to meDon’t let decluttering experts trick you into thinking you have to give up the things that support your hobbies and passions. I encourage you to keep things around that make you feel fulfilled and light that fire inside of you.

For me, that looks like an entirely full bookshelf in my tiny house. Keeping books around is important to me so that I am never without a good read. For others, it might mean keeping scrapbooking supplies, instruments, a pottery wheel, strategy board games, or sports and workout equipment.

Whatever it is for you, if it supports your favorite hobbies, keep it around — as long as you’re being honest with yourself that you’ll use it with some regularity. If you have an old art set in the back of your closet that you’ve never touched, don’t keep it around on the off chance that you’ll suddenly get the urge to paint. However, you should keep the guitar you play every day.

Ashlynne Eaton

“You don’t have to declutter items involved in hobbies you love. I love photography, embroidery, and water coloring, so I intentionally keep things to be able to practice each of those hobbies.”

– Ashlynne Eaton, Content Creator

Does This Item Have Sentimental Value?

Does This Item Have Sentimental Value

Sentimental items are infamous in the minimalist world for being hard to let go of. Rightfully so! Our minds associate cards, photos, letters, and sentimental knick-knacks with the memories they’re attached to. When we look at those items, we feel those memories and emotions again.

keeping things that have sentimental valueIt’s natural to want to hold onto those memories and the feelings we associate with them. There are many ways to repurpose sentimental items and give them a new life outside your attic, basement, or closet.

Maybe you take your grandma’s handwritten cookie recipe, frame it, and hang it in your kitchen. Or perhaps you cut up the notes in your greeting cards and make a collage to hang on your wall.

You could also create a memory box or keepsake drawer specifically for sentimental items you don’t want to let go of. That way, your memorabilia isn’t filling your room with clutter — it’s in a compact place created specifically for that purpose. You don’t need to feel pressure to get rid of those items that make your heart swoon.

My own personal rule is that I try to put things that are sentimental in places I can see or interact with daily. Beyond that, I have a large box that I keep most of my keepsakes in. I give myself permission to have that box be full of whatever I want without guilt. The box helps me have a simple way to keep it in check; if it fits, it stays.

antonia and the universe

“If something holds a beautiful memory, you don’t have to let it go. I keep a box in my closet full of small mementos and presents and I don’t intend to declutter anything in it anytime soon.”

– Antonia & The Universe, Content Creator

Should Every Item I Keep Spark Joy When I Use It?

Should Every Item I Keep Spark Joy When I Use It

Marie Kondo’s Kon Mari method is one of the most popular decluttering methods out there. Her book encourages readers to walk around their home, hold each item they own, and ask themselves if that item truly brings them joy. If not, it goes!

things you own that spark joy to useMarie’s method is a pretty ruthless pursuit of less, and for some it’s the perfect way to approach it. For those like me, I appreciate the intent behind Marie’s ideas but have a more analytical mind and tend to rely on the other questions in this list.

It’s not wrong to keep things around simply because they don’t awaken deep joy in your gut. It’s unlikely that your dish towels are going to make you giddy, but that doesn’t mean you don’t not need them. Yet, I can’t deny that the idea of “sparking joy” resonates and helps so many people. What’s important is finding what works for you.

Do These Items Belong To Someone Else?

Do These Items Belong To Someone Else

Make sure you’re only getting rid of what’s actually yours. If you aren’t sure if an item actually belongs to you, you should probably keep it around until you are.

store items that belong to someone elseMaybe your mom left her purse at your house the last time she came for dinner, you borrowed your sister’s kitchen mixer, or you’re letting your neighbor store some boxes in your garage for the time being. Load those items up and return them to their rightful owner if you can.

If that’s not possible, store them away from your own belongings. That way, you don’t accidentally donate or sell your sister’s favorite kitchen mixer or your neighbor’s winter coats until you’ve had the chance to talk to them about what they want to keep.

Is This An Item I Will Regret Not Saving In The Future?

Is This An Item I Will Regret Not Saving In The Future

Sometimes you don’t have a purpose in mind for an item right now, but there might be a purpose for it in the future. Consider toys your children may use when they’re older, clothes for special occasions, or sentimental items you want to give as gifts later on.

saving a vintage wedding dress for the futureTypical minimalist practice is if it’s not serving you now, let it go. While I do think that is a helpful way to declutter your home, there are some cases when it’s okay to keep things around for a someday moment.

My advice would be to keep things around for someday moments that are certain and specific. For example, maybe you want to wear your grandma’s wedding dress in your own wedding, give your daughter a specific doll when she turns 10, or use your microphone to record music in the near future even if you don’t have time this season.

By contrast, if you’re keeping an item around as a “just in case” or “maybe someday item” but don’t have a specific plan in mind, it’s probably time to part with it. You don’t need to keep that calligraphy set you haven’t touched in fifteen years just in case you finally decide to start hand lettering your envelopes.

Your Turn!

  • What items do you want to keep around when decluttering?
  • What questions do you ask yourself to decide what items to keep?
1 Comment
  1. This is really helpful. Thank you!

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