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How to decide whether to keep or declutter something (when you might need it later)

Is decluttering wasteful if you’re living on a budget?

What if you’re living on a low income and can’t afford to buy something again if you realize you need it later?

If you’ve ever wondered how to make decluttering decisions when in a similar situation, this post can help!

 When decluttering, how do you decide what to keep and what to toss? Is it wasteful to declutter things that are still useful? Get some simple decluttering tips and advice on how to decide if something is clutter or not. Plus, grab a free printable mega list of where to dispose of the clutter you're discarding.

I received this question from a reader and it’s a good one. Most of us have been taught that it’s wrong and wasteful to get rid of perfectly useful items. After all, you spent good money on them, right? They’re worth something.

And if your income is low, you may hold on to as much as possible just in case. You’d be frustrated if you decluttered something and then needed it later.

Here’s how I make this decluttering decision

The most important thing is that YOU decide what you want to keep.

So although I have my ideas, I always urge people to make those decisions for themselves.

This is one of my “decluttering rules” I spell out in Step-by-Step Decluttering.

Be realistic about the challenge

The challenge with this question is that you never really know what things you’ll end up needing in the future.

One reader wrote in that she decluttered over 50 different cookbooks. Then later she discovered that her child had many food allergies and some of those cookbooks would have been useful.

Frustrating, right?!

But here’s the thing – you can only make a best guess as to what you’ll need. My reader had no way to know that her child would have so many allergies – who could predict that?!

While she may have saved a bit of money if she’d kept the cookbooks, think of all the storage space she redeemed by getting rid of so many cookbooks.

 When decluttering, how do you decide what to keep and what to toss? Is it wasteful to declutter things that are still useful? Get some simple decluttering tips and advice on how to decide if something is clutter or not. Plus, grab a free printable mega list of where to dispose of the clutter you're discarding.

Are you being frugal in the right areas?

Sometimes we’re very quick to be frugal with our money but we’re much less frugal with our time and space. And keeping something because it could be handy or “just in case” is different than keeping something you truly plan to use.

People often use one reason in place of the other.

When you hold on to so much stuff “just in case,” you’re saying your personal space and time are less important than a use sometime in the future that may never come about. The $2 you spent on those pipe cleaners is more important than cleaning out that over-flowing craft box. Those clothes you don’t wear are more important than being able to close the closet door.

Who would rather spend more time cleaning (or living in a mess) than getting rid of the stuff and having a cleaner home?

You can always buy more stuff!

Or even better, you can make do with what you’ve got. But you cannot ever get back the time you spend dealing with the stuff or being frustrated and unhappy that it’s clogging up your home.

This simple 20/20 decluttering rule can help with this point.

Decluttering can bring unexpected blessings

I have a friend whose family was living on a low income. She had given away all her baby items when she discovered she was expecting her 3rd child. She was distraught. But it turned out to be the greatest blessing.

Friends blessed her with so many things that they didn’t have to buy anything for the baby for the first year.

 When decluttering, how do you decide what to keep and what to toss? Is it wasteful to declutter things that are still useful? Get some simple decluttering tips and advice on how to decide if something is clutter or not. Plus, grab a free printable mega list of where to dispose of the clutter you're discarding.
A few stuffed animals are treasured friends; a closetful is just clutter that attracts dust.

Is decluttering wasteful?

My answer: Not when you do your best.

You keep the things that there is a good chance of using, taking into account your precious storage space of course. You don’t sacrifice your sanity for all those “maybes.” And you trust that the universe will provide what you need when you need it.

Having a read of these additional decluttering rules will help, too!

Friends, this is an intense struggle!

We’ve seen some great progress by readers of Step-by-Step Decluttering!

Our print book is free (just play shipping!), and it will help you make progress on all your decluttering projects.

step-by-step decluttering print book

Making these tough decisions while decluttering, and letting go of seemingly useful items, can be scary if you’re used to scrimping and saving and worrying. But you have to decide what’s more important – peace in your home or saving things just in case?

Unfortunately, you can’t have it both ways.

How do you decide what to declutter?

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21 thoughts on “How to decide whether to keep or declutter something (when you might need it later)”

  1. I think that decluttering, especially if i did a thorough clean up of my whole house, would cause me to be more frugal because I would be more careful about what I buy in the future. It also could keep you from having to buy more storage bins and bookshelves. Sometimes decluttering is the answer, not organizing the clutter.

    Reply
  2. Hi Sarah,

    My husband and I are actively decluttering our townhouse, and by doing it in stages we’ve been able to really think about what we need and don’t need. We’ve purged a lot over the last two years, and we’re realizing that we STILL have stuff we don’t need and don’t use. It’s so freeing to be able to get rid of things and spend less time maintaining them!

    Thanks for all of your advice!

    Reply
  3. Moving into a smaller house has made us realize how much stuff we have that we don’t need. We cleaned and organized closets this weekend and have lots going to goodwill or the garage sale pile.

    Reply
  4. What a well thought out response. I am the queen of keeping things ‘just in case’ , then when I do have a big clear out guaranteed there is something that would have been useful that has gone! The things is though that we manage without it .
    We moved last year and I cleared out a lot, then did a second sweep recently to get all those ‘what was I thinking’ bits out. Yes there are some things I know think could have been handy but nothing essential and the feeling of space and calm that clutter free gives is worth millions!

    Reply
  5. I really need to declutter my closet – I fall into the trap of going through my clothes and thinking maybe I’ll want to wear this item next season, and so I put it back. Thanks for sharing your tips at Merry Monday this week!

    Reply
  6. Thank you for these useful insights. I view decluttering as an ongoing task rather than a one time event. Sometimes I even feel like I am winning the clutter war!

    Reply
  7. Hi – not finding the “free printable MEGA list at the end of this post”. Am I just overlooking it. Thanks

    Reply
  8. Hi! Thank you for all your useful tips! I would love to purchase your “book”, but my laptop doesn’t like the downloaded PDF. I was wondering if you have any hints…
    Again thanks so much. I am ready for this!!!!!

    Reply

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Welcome. I’m Sarah!

 
Sarah

I’m the creator of Decluttering School (formerly known as Early Bird Mom), lover of organized spaces, encourager to women and mom to four boys. Click here to read more!

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