Marie Kondo, organizer and bestselling author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, advises readers to let go of belongings that don’t “spark joy.” But for some, too many things spark joy, and this can make it hard to let anything go at all. If you’d like to create an orderly haven but are stymied by too many beloved items, we have help.
This closet in Sweden displays a selection of clothing that has been carefully edited by its owner so that only the essentials remain.
1. Start with your duplicates. Many people buy multiples of certain items. For me, it’s black T-shirts and jeans. I also have a penchant for collecting planters (along with too many plants). But holding on to multiples of the same item can lead to clutter and can make it harder to find the one you want to use.
If you have multiples in your closet, I recommend that you start by pulling out a specific category of your clothing in which you have duplicates, such as T-shirts (leaving the rest of your tops for later). Group your T-shirts by use: casual, going out, working out and messy activities like painting or gardening. Within each usage group, see if you have duplicates you can shed. For instance, if you have eight black T-shirts, can you donate those that fit funny? Also consider how many duplicates you truly need to last you between laundry days. If you wash your clothes each week, then perhaps 10 to 15 total T-shirts would be a sufficient number for an interesting wardrobe rotation as well as for avoiding the need for a midweek wash. Similarly, weekly gardening sessions may require only one gardening outfit, not 10.
Photo by majacvetojevic on Pixabay
2. Eliminate duplicates that serve the same purpose. Are you keeping multiples of items in case you need them in the future? For example, many of my clients do this with florist vases. Some clients say they intend to use the extra vases to create floral arrangements for friends, but when I ask if they have ever done so, the majority say no. While their intentions are genuine, busy schedules often prevent my clients from following through.
To pare down a collection of vases, start by lining them up. Select a few to keep that will accommodate the number and size of bouquets you are likely to have in your home at one time, and let go of the rest. You could donate your extras or offer them to your local florist to reuse. If you find time to give an arrangement as a gift at a later date, you can easily locate similar inexpensive vases at dollar stores or arts and crafts retailers.
3. Let go of decor items you don’t display. It’s OK to store decorative objects or artwork that you rotate in your home. But if you are saving items with no display intentions, I recommend freeing yourself of them.
My father was an architect, and my mother recently gave me piles of his work. Seeing his designs and blueprints reminds me of his life and legacy and of how hard he worked to achieve his goals. These items bring me joy, and I want to keep them all. But I know that if I don’t display them, they are merely piles of paper. So I plan to select my favorites, frame them for display, offer the remaining items to my sister and then discard the rest. The few items I’ve kept from my father evoke just as much joy and depth of memories as would boxes of his memorabilia, minus the clutter weight.
This photo shows blueprints of the home that the owner had framed — a striking way to appreciate something that might have otherwise been folded up in a box. Alternatively, if something is valuable to you but doesn’t flow with your decor, be sure to protect it from damage by storing it correctly. Nonetheless, I don’t recommend you store a lot — only a few of your favorites.
4. Catalog and get rid of items that you’ve forgotten about. Do you occasionally rediscover items from your past that make you smile and reminisce? And otherwise, are these things not on your mind or in your daily life at all? If so, you may want to reconsider whether these items are worth keeping for the few minutes of joy you feel when you stumble upon them.
If the item feels difficult to discard, perhaps a photo-captured memory will suffice. I’ve done this for my kids’ artwork and funny writings, and even for some of my wedding memories, and it’s been a great way to keep the memory without the clutter. One word of caution: If you think viewing the photo later might fill you with regret for discarding your item, I recommend biting the bullet now and deciding if it belongs in your life. If so, then prepare it to be displayed. If not, then recycle, sell or toss the item. Commit to your decision and don’t look back. If you’ve forgotten you’ve had it before, you likely will forget about it again once it’s gone. Also, keep in mind that unless you keep your photo files organized in digital albums or scrapbooks, they may end up getting lost or becoming digital clutter.
5. Say goodbye to things that spark only memories of joy. An important question to ask yourself is whether the item you are assessing brings you joy now. Sometimes, it’s tempting to hold on to things that used to spark joy. For example, perhaps you have an outfit that you felt beautiful and confident in 20 years ago, when you wore it to epic parties. But does it really spark joy in the present moment? If it’s a memory rather than a present-day joy sparker, let it go.
Similarly, I’ve noticed that many clients save beloved outfits hoping that one day they will fit in them again. But bodies change, and my approach is to simply discard ill-fitting clothes. Then, when you reach your fitness goals, treat yourself to a new outfit. In my opinion, keeping clothes and hoping that the style will re-emerge doesn’t work as well as people tend to think, because even when something comes around again, the new fashion usually has small modifications, and in comparison your old outfit may still look out-of-date. For example, wide-leg jeans were stylish 10 years ago with a low-rise waist, whereas I’m seeing current wide-leg jeans with a high waist.
This photo shows treasured quilts a homeowner has lovingly displayed near a reading nook, where they can be used to keep warm on a chilly night.
6. Release items you feel obligated to find joy in but don’t.Sometimes our decluttering efforts are thwarted by guilt about letting go of certain possessions. For instance, you may be tempted to hold on to family heirlooms, such as vintage quilts or your grandmother’s china, so that you can pass them on to your children. However, it may be worthwhile to first check with your children to see if they would like to have these items. If not, asking now saves them the burden of inheriting a decision that you avoided making.
When assessing items you feel obligated to keep, consider whether they truly add value to your life. If not, let them go. If you have items with historical value, you may want to consider selling or donating them to a museum. As for gifts, remember that you are not a bad person or an ungrateful friend if you decide not to keep something given to you by a friend.
Reducing your belongings can be an emotionally difficult and exhausting task. Sometimes it takes several passes at decluttering before you reach your goal. But visualizing your ideal, decluttered space can help you stay encouraged and motivated. And be gentle on yourself as you work — every step you take will get you closer to a decluttered home and life.
Patricia Lee is a professional home organizer in the San Francisco Bay Area. She is the co-owner of Tailorly with her business partner Jeanne Taylor. Together they create beautiful homes through decluttering, organizing, and styling.