Declutter Saga: Balancing Usefulness and Joy

I’ve spent a lot of time decluttering my life of things that aren’t bringing me joy over the last 18 months. This includes everything from relationships to physical things. I’m not a minimalist by most standards, so the goal of this super declutter was to simplify my life by simplifying my belongings. I feel like I’m finally ready to share my experience and want to touch on one thing in particular – the balance between usefulness and joy.

How to start

One of the most stressful parts of decluttering is just getting started. Different people have different ideas of what the best way to start a big declutter project is. Some say item type, others say by area of house. Personally, I prefer lists. I list out every room In my house, and if I’m feeling extra organized, every area in that room that needs to be looked at.

While this seems like overkill, I have found that this is the most manageable way to get started. You can pick a room, an item type, really anything to start with and work your way down the list. Having a list also allows you to break down the project into multiple days (today you’ll do the bedroom, tomorrow the bathroom, the next day the living room, etc). Always remember that decluttering doesn’t have to be a “do it right now!” thing, it can be done whenever.

Mid-declutter photo of my closet.

How to decide what to keep

This is very personal from person to person, so I can just give advice on the “scientific” approach I took. I kept the same categories that most people use (trash, donate, keep/it belongs here, keep/it belongs elsewhere). Where I approach things differently is looking at why I’m keeping something. I look at each item and assess whether I’ve used it in the last 6-12 months (meaning there’s a high chance I’d have to replace it), and whether it makes me happy on a scale of 1 – 10. My target is to donate usable items that have not been used in the last 6 months and fall below a 6 on the happy scale.

I struggled with a few areas in this project – one of them is my baking supplies. Difficulty came from deciding what is worth keeping and what isn’t because I love to bake (especially sugar cookies – recipe coming soon). It was a lot easier to distinguish what to get rid of by using the method above. In 4 years, I never used the mason jar cookie cutter I bought. And if I’m being honest with myself, I probably wasn’t going to use it anytime soon. This is a perfect example of an item that can be donated in this declutter process.

What to do when something brings joy but isn’t used

Keep it as long as it brings joy (like a 7 or above on the joy scale). The point of this exercise isn’t to remove every thing that you don’t use in your life, the point is to condense down into what is functional and what makes you happy. There is no value in removing things that make you happy from your life.

Another declutter tip

One other thing to note: I tend to keep a box of all the items I’ve decluttered in my garage for a month or so before dropping it off at the donation center. This gives me a huge peace of mind that in the unlikely event I change my mind about something or end up needing it.

That also became a big signal for me to think about the way I make purchases. Yes, that new planner or notebook is cute, I want it and feel like I might use it one day. But will I use it over the 10 other notebooks and planners I have at home? Probably not.

In Conclusion…

Deciding what to keep during a big home declutter is always a challenge. It’s hard to adjust to new habits of not brining things in that won’t get used. BUT it will get easier with practice and taking on declutter projects like the one I outlined above. Before you know it, you won’t even be bringing in items that don’t bring joy or have a purpose!

Tell us about the declutter projects you’ve taken on and how you decided what to keep. We’d love to hear from you!

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