Whether working with a client or decluttering my own home, I find that I follow a certain decision-making process each time. The key to my process is to keep it as simple as possible and to eliminate the number of decluttering decisions that I need to make within any one step. By reducing the number of decisions overall, I find that more efficient decluttering gets done and my clients feel confident in their decision-making process. Read on to see how I decide what to declutter and start your decluttering process now!
Decluttering Decision Tree
Keep or Don’t Keep
The main key to keeping my decluttering simple and easy is to reduce the number of decisions in any one session. I do this by breaking each decision point down into only 2 decisions. Here’s an example: When cleaning out my closet, I take everything out one by one. As I take it out of the closet I decide “Keep” or “Don’t Keep.” That’s it. That is the only decision I am making at this time. If you find this part to be the hardest part, use the 5-second rule. If you have to think about it for more than 5 seconds, keep it. You can always re-evaluate later.
I then make two piles of stuff I’m going to keep and stuff I’m not going to keep. That way, if I have to stop or I only have a little time I can usually get through that first hurdle of decisions before continuing. PRO TIP: use marked bins to separate your decision categories. If you get interrupted and can’t finish all in one session you can tuck the bins away to continue another time.
Here or Somewhere Else
Once I’ve gone through everything in a certain space, box, or bin I will normally have a large pile of things I’m going to keep. I then again break the next decision point into only two more options: keep it here in this space or it belongs somewhere else. Example: As I was cleaning out my linen closet, I found some sleeping bags that I wanted to re-home with the camping stuff that lives in another storage closet. But, I didn’t walk it over there right then. I simply put it in another pile to be re-homed later and kept going. By the end, I’ll have a bin of stuff that can be put back away in that space and a bin that needs to be taken elsewhere. PRO TIP: only NOW are you ready to start thinking about organizing that space. But that’s a whole other process!
Practical vs. Sentimental
Now I have one more decision point with the things I’m keeping: Re-home somewhere else in the house or put it into a memory or storage box. I like to think of these as practical items or sentimental items. It is only now that I will walk these items to their new homes. Warning: don’t start decluttering those new spots though! 🤣 Stay focused! Follow through the space that you started with. Otherwise, it is very easy to get overwhelmed, quit the entire process, and binge the entire last season of “Only Murders in the Building.” Or maybe that’s just me…
Donate, Sell, Or Trash
When it comes to the “Don’t Keep” pile there are 3 decisions: trash, donate, or sell. Technically, if you need to return a borrowed item this could fit there, too, but try to return borrowed items immediately to avoid forgetting. Normally, while decluttering my home or helping a client, trash IMMEDIATELY goes into a trash bag so I don’t have to sort through that again. So really, I’m only deciding between selling an item or donating it.
Donating Your Items
I have a confession: I’m a lazy donator. I pretty much donate everything that we’re not keeping unless it is completely obvious that it is trash. Similarly, I don’t put a whole lot of effort into researching the donation place, or looking up all the ins and out of the place where I’m donating. Finally, I don’t worry about itemizing every item or taking pictures for deductions. The important part for me is to get the stuff out of my house or out of my clients’ houses as quickly as possible. All of those decisions that I just listed take up too much time, energy, and thought. If I find that a place will take most anything, then I’m likely to keep donating there to keep the process easy and seamless.
Now, if you have very strong feelings about where your stuff is going, then by all means research a place that will make you feel good about giving it away. I recognize for some that the feeling of giving to someplace they find meaningful makes it easier to part with their stuff. Here is a great article that goes into a little more depth on donation sites and what to consider when deciding where to donate. But, I caution you, don’t spend too much time deciding. Pick a place and donate!!
Selling your Items
In the past, I have sold a lot of our used items. I have used Facebook Marketplace, and eBay, and even held garage sales. But now, I feel less and less that is worth the hassle or my time. For selling, I like to think of the 20-20-20 rule. If I can easily replace it for $20 or less, in 20 minutes or less, and/or it’s worth less than 20% of its original value, it’s not worth it. Just donate it!
However, for larger items (outside items especially) you may find that you have more luck. Gym equipment, sports equipment, or certain electronic items may be worth going through the process of selling to recoup a little bit of your original investment. Just make sure you’re not spending too much time caught up in selling every little thing.
I hope this breakdown of how I decide what to declutter has helped you in your decluttering process! If you have any questions about how I help other declutter, please feel free to reach out anytime or consider setting up a Virtual Consultation with me. If you’d like a guide to get started, check out my 30-day Declutter Checklist now!
How to Declutter Your Purse in 15 Minutes
I like that 20-20-20 rule for helping to decide if something is worth selling. I do find that selling is work, whether it is done by me or someone else. In some cases, definitely worth it. But in most cases, the benefit of getting the stuff out quickly is more valuable!
Hi Seana! There was a time when we were a younger military family and money was tight. Selling was absolutely worth the time and effort. We still live on a budget now, but more and more, my time is only increasing in value. I definitely have to value my time against the effort it takes to sell something now.
I love your simple decision tree process. It includes the ideas you’re willing to let go of, like spending an abundant amount of time researching the perfect donation site or trying to sell items of low financial worth. Those are excellent boundaries to think about.
The other category, “Not Keep,” is related to donating, but not exactly. When my clients edit, they often find things they want to ‘gift’ or give to family or friends. This might involve dropping those things off to someone who lives locally or boxing them up to ship. It can add another layer to the decision tree, but one that can be a valuable help in letting go.
Thank you so much for this perspective Linda! That is another great option for getting rid of items, and I can see how that would be helpful for clients who are having trouble letting go of their stuff.
I like your process. Combining decluttering and organizing into one step can be overwhelming for clients. Giving clients only 2 choices at every step simplifies the job.
I really think most of the “organization” comes in the decluttering part, even though it’s not as flashy or aesthetic. And yes, I’ve had clients that were able to get through a lot very quickly using a simple decision process with only 2 choices (myself included!) Thank you so much for reading!
Your process is straightforward and would be easy for anyone who is neuro-typical and not chronically disorganized to follow; of course, 5 seconds to make a decision regarding keeping or letting go won’t work for CD clients (because they’d keep everything), but this framework ensures that there’s a simple focus that will work for most people.
While I can think of other options for things you don’t keep, for the sake of clean lines, they can fall under the categories you already have. For example, many of my clients like to offer items through Freecycle or Buy Nothing groups; I guess you could think of that as “selling” but at $0 (because it does require the same amount of effort to list as selling something at a real dollar value). Similarly, giving things away as gifts (Grandma-style) could fall under “donating” if you needed to keep the options pared down.
Ok, this is so interesting to me. So, I am new to professional organizing and still learning as I go. But, all of my clients to this point (myself included!) have been military spouses and around my age. To date, no one has thought of regifting or donating to other people. I wonder if this is because we normally live so far from family that it doesn’t even pop up as an option in our minds. However, this is good for me to remember if I ever work with clients of different ages or who are not associated with an active-duty lifestyle. Thank you so much for reading and lending your insight!
I like the process you outline, Jana. As Julie said, this idea isn’t as straight forward for most of my clients as many of them are challenged by chronic disorganization or other co-morbid diagnoses. For neuro-typical people this process makes total sense.
I also like the way you advise not to get involved organizing the place where you are re-homing items because that’s not today’s project.