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What to Keep or Toss

Learn What to Keep and What to Toss


Wall Mounted Coat Rack from Pottery Barn

Wall Mounted Coat Rack from Pottery Barn

Photo / Pottery Barn

Knowing what to keep, how long to keep it, and how to store it are three very important pieces of information when dealing with clutter. In the What to Keep or Toss Guide, we go through the following:

  • How to determine what to keep,
  • How long you should keep it;
  • What papers you need to shred; and,
  • Options for disposing of items via shredding, donating, recycling, selling or consigning.

How to Determine What to Keep

Every item, every piece of furniture, shoe, small appliance, or paper you keep in your house is taking up valuable real estate, so it makes sense to have a thorough understanding of what to keep and what you can toss.

Everything you keep must fall into one of the following categories:

1. Items you need.

Examples are wills, tax returns or the past 5 years, driver's licenses-the boring-but-important stuff you've got to have on hand. See the full list of How Long to Keep Documents.

2. Items you use regularly.

Your favorite pair of jeans, your everyday sauté pan, your wallet-the things you use regularly.

3. Things you love.

Pictures, décor, collections-anything you truly love, so long as it's not turning into sentimental clutter-find a proper storage space and keep it.

How to Determine What to Toss

1. It's passed its expiration date.

This doesn't just apply to food-it's important when setting up a home to have a plan for how long to keep everything. If something has out-lived it's usefulness, it' time to toss.

Check the How Long to Keep Everything checklist.

2. You have a lot of duplicates.

If you already own an air mattress, do you really need another one? If you're a household of four with 50 dinner plates, do you need more than 20? Duplicates only role is to take up space.

Read more about this in Top 10 Most Common Sources of Household Clutter.

3. It doesn't get used.

Common culprits in this category are:

  • Gifts you never wanted. The only responsibility you have to gift and gift-givers is to graciously accept them and send a thank you note. You are not required to use and keep anything you don't want.
  • Things you bought on sale but never used. Just because something was on sale doesn't mean it was a great deal. Read more about this in Why You Keep Bargain Clutter.
  • Items you bought you thought you may like, but never used. If you thought about taking up golf, bought golf clubs and never used them, you should get ride of them. Read more about this in Why You Keep Aspirational Clutter.

How to Decide Whether to Keep or Toss When You're Not Sure

When something doesn't fall into the need/use zone, you can still decide to keep it as long as you love it and commit to find a storage space for the items. What if an item's got you stumped? What happens when it doesn't fall into the need/use/love category?

Here are the questions to ask:

1. Does this item get used as much as it should?

Could you rent this instead of owning it to save space and money on upkeep?

2. Will I need this in the future?

Can you foresee a time in the (fairly near) future this will become a useful item to you?

3. Can I commit to storing this item properly?

And if necessary, paying for it's upkeep and storage? Example: If you are a single person living in a one bedroom apartment and have a second bed

Here's help: How to Store Everything A-Z

Bottom line: Do you need this item enough to take the time to find it a storage space, pay for its upkeep and use it in the foreseeable future? If yes, then hang onto it.

How to Declutter Everything
What you need to know to declutter everything in your home, office and life.

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