In a recent blog post, I mentioned that Robby and I are exploring the “simple life.” Part of that involves decluttering the home—not just reorganizing, cleaning, and buying more storage bins, but letting go of items we no longer need or want. It also means not buying more stuff that we don’t need.
I’ve actually tried to do this for years, but I couldn’t seem to make a dint in our boxes of stuff. Finally, I realized my approach was all wrong! Before, when I would try to get rid of something, I would ask myself, “Can we use this?” I’m a creative, resourceful person, so I would often think of several uses for it. (Empty glass jars can store juice in the fridge, loose buttons, or change. Torn items can be repaired. Old t-shirts can be torn into rags to wash the car. And so on.)
Now I ask myself different questions—and I’m getting a different response! We’re letting go of items we don’t need and we’re making the most of what we do keep. Even better, we’re helping others by passing down good items that still have some life left in them. It’s a win-win!
Here are four questions that can help you declutter the house and avoid buying more junk.
1 – Is it necessary?
We all need clothes, toiletry items, blankets, pots and pans, etc. But do you need that particular item?
- You may have needed it in the past…but do you still need it?
- Is it still in proper working order, or is it missing a lid, broken, or damaged?
- Do you have multiple versions of the same item, or a similar item in better condition?
Consider letting go of duplicates and items that have outlived their usefulness.
Avoid buying new items that are not necessary for your health, wellbeing, or everyday needs.
2 – Is it beneficial?
Most of us would probably consider the majority of our belongings as “beneficial.” Why else would we have bought them in the first place? Comfort items (e.g. extra blankets, pillows, candles, and decorations), make our homes feel cozy—until we have so much it becomes suffocating. Sentimental items bring back happy memories—if we can actually find them. Even kids’ toys and electronics can lose their value to us if we have more than we can use and enjoy.
Is all that stuff really beneficial to your household?
- Does it stay in a box, out of sight, for most of the year?
- Does it take up valuable space that could be used for something more important?
- Does your family appreciate it the way you do?
- Does it give you joy or stress you out?
Focus on those items that are really special.
Consider limiting items to a certain number of boxes or a specific closet shelf.
Avoid buying more until you’ve gone through all the items you currently have.
3 – Is it affordable?
We usually think about cost only when we make purchases, but that’s just the beginning. Expensive items—like cars, lawn mowers, phones, TVs, and computers—must be insured and maintained. Technology items usually require installation and periodic updates. All items, regardless of type or cost, take up space in our homes. They also take up our time as we store, dust, and organize them. All of this adds to the true cost of the item.
The question, then, is not just can you afford it, but do you really want to pay for it?
- Does the item’s benefit to you outweigh its true cost?
- Would your money be better spent elsewhere?
- Will you have to pay for someone else to maintain it?
- Will you have to insure it?
- Will the item become obsolete in the near future, requiring you to upgrade it?
Consider your goals. If an item doesn’t help you meet those goals, then it may not be worth buying or keeping.
Avoid the expensive “bugs” of new technology. Instead, look for tech items that have been on the market for awhile.
Avoid buying brand-specific items that only work if you use components by the same brand.
4 – Would it benefit someone else more?
For Robby and me, the simple life isn’t just about decluttering the house; it’s about putting God first and foremost in our lives. As we focus on Him, we lose interest in consumerism. We walk out on faith that God will provide for our future needs. The natural by-product of this is generosity.*
The question then becomes, should you pass the item on to someone else who needs it more than you do?
- Do you use the item, or does it sit on a shelf or in the garage?
- Do you know someone personally who could really benefit from it?
- If you no longer owned the item, would you be glad to have more space in your home?
Recognize that you are just a steward of your belongings. Ask God to show you people in need and give you the courage and opportunity to help them.
Let me know your thoughts!
What is your goal in decluttering your home?
How do you determine what items to keep or pass on?
* See my post Practicing Simplicity for three great books on the discipline of simplicity and how it fosters generosity.
You may also want to check out the blog BecomingMinimalist for practical posts on living the simple life.