Decision Making

Some time ago I compiled a decision making guide for my readers to use as a tool to help them choose what should stay and what should go. I haven’t mentioned it for a while so I thought I might bring it to the fore today so that you can refresh your minds  on the strategies of letting go. So here is the guide…

Questions to ask yourself when you are deciding what stays and what goes when decluttering.

  • How long since I last used this:- If you are keeping an item just because maybe you might need it some day then it is probably clutter.
  • Is it still useful to me:- Do I still use this item or even participate in the activity that this item is used for if not then it’s clutter.
  • Is it in working condition:- If an item is broken and you do not have the expertise to repair it or you are not prepared to pay the price to have it fixed then it is clutter.
  • How many do I have and how many do I need:- If you have multiples of a certain item but only ever need one then the others are most likely clutter.
  • Do I need this item for the information it contains:- So much information is right at your finger tips these days on your computer and it is constantly updated do you really need to keep a library of books whose information may or may not stand the test of time.
  • Do I like it:– If you are keeping something that was given to you even though you do not like it, it is definitely clutter.
  • Do I really need this item in order to remember good times or lost loves:-If it is an item that has purely sentimental value yet you never get it out and look at it then there is a good chance you don’t need it to remind you of the good times you had and the wonderful people you have known. If it means so much to you put it out where you can see it if not let it go.
  • Am I keeping this item out of guilt:- I paid a lot of money for this so I hope one day I will get my money’s worth out of it (old hobby items, sporting equipment, expensive clothing all fall into this category). These are the items you need to cash in on now and sell while they are still useful to someone else.
  • Do I want to clean it:- Any item out on display will require dusting at least.
  • Do I want to store it:-Do you have the space to store this item or is it just taking up precious space you can’t afford. 
  • Do I want to move it out of the way when looking for something else:- The more items you have taking up space in your home the more likely they are going to get in the way of each other forcing you to have to shuffle things around when you do have cause to use them.
  • Does it have a real purpose other than looking pretty:-This one speaks for itself. Although I like to have some nice objects to enjoy just for their appearance there is a limit to how many I can accommodate or justify.
  • Will I be tired of it in six months:- This is a good question to ask before even acquiring an item in the first place.
  • Do I want to pack and unpack this item when we move in a couple years:- This is a critical question for anyone who tends to move location on a reasonably regular basis due to work commitments for example.
  • If this item had been taken from you and sold to a pawn shop (by a junkie friend or an evil in-law, whatever) would you buy it back? :- I bet there will be a lot of items that you wouldn’t waste your money on,  however low the cost. These are the things that need to go! (Thanks Gogol for this tip)

* * * * * * *

This guide can be a great help especially when sentimentality or “I might need it some day” ideas starts seeping in. These days I rarely have to think past “Do I want this item cluttering up my house or do I want it gone?” Gone usually wins. My desire to declutter my home now tends to override any petty reasons for keeping things that aren’t loved or well utilised. The chances are if you are considering an item for decluttering it is probably just that, clutter.

I never look at the pots and pans, my hairbrush, my one pair of slippers, the kitchen trash can or anything else I use everyday and think “Should I declutter those?” because I know they are useful. Same goes for useful items I use less regularly (such as my ironing board, the hairdryer, our ladder, or the immersion blender) or items I constantly enjoy like artworks, what’s left of my craft tools and my potted plants. Most other stuff that doesn’t fit into one of those categories does eventually end up as the focus of my declutter radar and is therefore more than likely clutter. Some things do pass the decision making test but that is a personal choice not because the item is essential to my existence. These items usually come under more scrutiny not to much further in the future and often end up sold or in the donation pile in the end.

So if all else fails and you still can’t come to a conclusion on a certain item then skip it and move on to something simpler to declutter. Chances are you will become more ruthless soon enough and wonder why you found in so hard to pull the trigger in the first place.

Today’s Mini Mission

Spy and declutter something shiny.

Today’s Declutter Item

These shiny gold bowls were given to me by my mother. I owned a couple of cups in the same style so she thought I would like the bowl which I did. They remind me of my grandmother and they are a good shape for eating cereal from. However I own plenty of other bowls that take up a lot less room that are also good for eating cereal from so these don’t need to clutter up my kitchen. I still have and use the cups that remind me of my grandmother and that is enough.

Shiny Gold Milk Glass Bowls

Something I Am Grateful For Today

Winning $10 on a scratch lottery ticket. I can exchange it for two more tickets and perhaps this time I will win a fortune. If not I will have had a few minutes of fun anticipation while scratching them. It is good to be easily amused. 😉

“In daily life we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy.” Brother David Steindl-Rast

It matters not how fast I go, I hurry faster when I’m slow

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  • Clutter Maintenance Every time I have moved house I have had a reasonable length of notice. Although, sometimes the definite ~ "Yes we are moving." ~ may have come a little last minute but the maybe had been […]
About Colleen Madsen

Colleen is the founder of 365 Less Things and lives in Newcastle, Australia.


  1. Okay, I keep my fingers crossed for you winning a fortune. That you can then spend on lots of clutter so you have to declutter for a looong time (because, frankly, one day you’ll run out of clutter and I’m afraid that will be sooner than me . And then?!?)
    Or you go on a long journey round the world and visit us all!

    • …. really? you are even joking about buying more clutter??? I am shocked. I was just thinking you inhaled too much dust by decluttering your own stuff, but then you came up with suggestion number two. and that one is actually a really good idea 😉
      so I keep my fingers crossed too (or as we germans do: “press the thumbs”) so that you can come and visit here, colleen!

      oh and btw I cant decide if I like those bowls or not, but they left me with my mouth open. never seen anything like it. you do have some fascinating items around.

      • Nope, no dust around here tonight. Though I am in super decluttering mode. After a really dissatisfying workday I need to give this day a good end so I am going through some drawers and the wardrobe and some boxes of random stuff.
        Colleen, see what little monsters you have created world wide?!? It’s like feeding a mogwai after midnight …

        • ah, the moment when you turn to decluttering as a treat. good one. I hope you can make it a successful evening then. its midnight soon, so you can go all nuts 😉

        • Hey, whatever floats your boat Ideealistin. If decluttering something will improve what wasn’t such a great day for you then I saw go for it with all your might. Being able to find joy in the little (or strangest) things is a gift to be cherished and utilised.

      • Hi Lena,
        it won’t matter how rich I became I still wouldn’t use the money on clutter, I’ve learned my lesson well there. But another trip to Germany would be wonderful. I love the food there and there are so many place I haven’t seen yet especially the ones where my ancestors came. Ooooo I’m getting itchy feet.

        Those bowls are cute and vintage too. I will have to post a photo of the matching cups that I still have for your entertainment.

        • lol. I bet you find more than just those cups that will provide me with entertainment.
          that brings me to a question I keep forgetting to ask you: is this displaying of your item of the day sometimes making you regret your decision, or is it actually enforcing your feeling about it? I sometimes read “those are cute, that I like, I wouldnt give that away” and I wonder how that makes you feel… probably not, as you are used to do this for more than two years now, but still.

          you come here and in return for the brainwash and the daily entertainment, we provide you with the best food (maybe bavaria), the best beer (bavaria for sure) and of course the best people (us german 365ers). I would be happy to show you around in my small minimalist home, haha.

          • Hi Lena,
            no I do not regret getting rid of any of the things I declutter. By the time I get around to the things that escaped the previous sweeps through I am usually well and truly ready to let go. My feelings about downsizing to a smaller home with less stuff are far more important to me than the trivial reasons why I kept the stuff in the first place. That doesn’t mean I am getting rid of everything nice in my home we still have beautiful artworks on display, some lovely furniture, creature comforts and enough hobby items to keep me amused so my house is still a home not a bland boring unstimulating space.

            I will hold you to that offer the next time we are in Germany Lena. I will enjoy the food and beer as well as the guided tour of your home. I have a 15 year old niece who is going to Germany for a month soon (I’m not sure where). She is apparently doing very well in her German language class in high school and has been offered a scholarship to pay for the trip. Well done her!

          • No, Lena, I don’t like Bavarian beer. There’s better one around…

            However, I would be looking forward to meeting Colleen as well! 😉

          • Bavaria! Oh, I remember going to their factory (they’re dutch, just like me! – “We” even come from the same provence! – lol). Actually it was a school excursion. I had so much fun on the trip back home, probably because I drunk too much “wort” (freshly made beer, not bottled yet so very sweet) and didn’t eat something in advance.

            Thinking about it makes me laugh. What an amazing experience it was – it still puts a smile on my face everytime I see a bavaria bottle or crate.

    • Ideealistin you are too funny! The most I could win on the ticket I bought was $100,000 and that isn’t going to get me far so you needn’t worry. It may get me far enough to visit you all though so you had better make sure your place is looking minimalist just in case. No pressure of course. 😆

  2. I’ve been asking myself similar questions about things as I pack (we’re moving in a few weeks– we only need a couple days to pack everything up, but I like doing a couple boxes per day so I don’t get exhausted). The question I use the most is “If I lost this item (by theft, fire, or some natural disaster), would I buy it again and replace it?” Most of the time the answer is no, but that doesn’t necessarily means it goes, it’s just something I keep in mind for the future. Finding a lot of hidden trash items, though, which surprised me.

    • That is a good question to ask yourself Faith. It certainly helps sort the wheat from the chaff. Like you say you can then choose whether to act on it. As for those trash items you found it would still be easy enough for the odd thing to get hidden in a household no matter how decluttered you feel you are.

      • Hi Colleen – first off, this is an AWESOME post! Am going to print it and pin it on my pinboard above my desk at home!!!!!!

        Second, I’ve had moment like Faith where I wouldn’t replace something but have reasoned that it isn’t doing any harm sitting there. Have a spare dinner set in the bottom shelf of the crockery cabinet – never use it, so technically it should go – BUT my husband has pointed out, that shelf will be empty if we get rid of it. So it lives on the ‘endangered species’ list. If we ever downsize, its going. But in the meantime, it stays. And it kinda annoys me.

        • Is there something you value / like more that can go on that shelf? Maybe something that is currently in another storage unit that can be emptied and also uncluttered from your house? If something annoys you it’s time to say good-bye to it.

  3. I think I have another question for your list – which I came up with when I sorted through my kitchen accessories a while ago … “What the heck are you and what on earth is your purpose?!?” ;-)) … For a bunch of really bizzare looking (mostly Tupperware) unitaskers which somehow gathered in my kitchen drawers over the years, the answer was quite clear – “I really haven’t got the slightest idea!” … and off they went into my shelf at the Buergermarkt 🙂

    • Ha ha Toffee that is a good question. I think I will add that one to the list just for the humour value if nothing else. I have to admit we have happened upon a few items like that ourselves at times.

  4. Very retro ! Anchor Hocking Peach Lustre -on to ebay?

  5. I do love the bowls!

    I have two pairs of slippers, which is a ‘first world solution’ (rather than problem like usual). One for inside, tucking up under me on the sofa, and one pair for outside (washing on the balcony sort of thing) Makes me happy!

    Oh the pretty one – just cause someone asked for ornamental birdcages on freecycle, I thought more seriously about my 7 (collection, which mum kept adding to!). I was able to off load 3, and there’s one more she would have got, if that cage was at my home when I was loading the car (It’s still at mum’s I now realise) I’m so proud of this!

    The most poinient post for me at the moment is when you did the on ‘second favourite/best’. I have two pairs of similar boots, and pants. And I won’t get rid of the ‘newer/nicer’ as I like them, but I won’t get rid of the older ones cause I feel like it’s giving charity my second best. grr!

    • *cheering in the background* – way to go snosie. getting rid of 3 birdcages (?!) will for sure give you a bit more space as well. you can be very proud of you.

    • Well done with the birdcages Snosie but as for the boots and pants why not just let natural progression take care of them. If they are both very wearable and useful to you there really is no need to get rid of them. When one of each pair wears out just don’t replace them.

    • Hi Snosie – well done you. I had three ornamental mini bird cages very cute but just not really me, if you know what I mean. I bought them as a decorative item for when I did my parent’s 40th party. Anyway……I couldn’t for the life of me think who would be interested in them. I mentioned them in passing to the local florist and she REALLY wanted them to put floral displays in and to use for wedding receptions etc. So that’s another option.

      • Moni -Funny you mention florists, I used to work in one, and that’s where the first one came from! They are very fashionable as a decorative item now days. But one was hiding behind a lamp on a shelf, hardly ‘pride of place’. Nor the one on the ground on the balcony. No regrets!

        Thanks Lena and Colleen for the encouragement!

  6. Here’s another good question to ask yourself: If it broke, would I feel bad or would I be secretly relieved? (This works well for fragile/decorative items, esp. those that were gifts or inherited.)

    • So true Melissa. There are several things in my home that aren’t mine that I wouldn’t mind if they broke (accidentally of course 😉 ). I have added this thought to the question about replacing something if it were stolen. Thank you for the idea.

      • Dang, I’ve become very clumsy lately. Yesterday it was a walnut eggcup, once repaired, that was a souvenir of my mother’s 1949 trip to Europe. Hit the basement floor and broke into little bits (if not the first time I dropped it, then surely on the SECOND!). Sorry Ma.

        • Hi Wendy B – LOL – one of my kids went thru a particularly clumsy stage and so I put away the glasses I like and brought out the old ones, four down and a lot of reassurance that I really didn’t mind at all, unfortunately he got his coordination back before the last two.

          • Accidental meetings of glass, crockery, ornaments with floor, I’m okay with that, cast iron pan hitting tiled floor and busting it up 🙁 🙁 🙁 I know hubby can work wonders but why is it always the tile you see first!!!! The cast Iron pan is going on a little holiday while Karri Tree is getting co-ordinated & focused on having to slow down around small home!!! 🙂 🙂 🙂

          • When I was newly married and moved out of home I was given way too many glasses but my Mum told me to keep them so I could use them up as I went through “smashing good times”. 10 years later and we’d only smashed (real accidents) a handful, so when I moved into my new home I only kept the dozen glasses I really liked and the rest went to charity.

        • Wendy, this made me laugh! “Surely on the SECOND…” ha ha ha!

        • With all the banging and clanging Liam does when he empties the dishwasher it is a wonder I have any crockery left at all. Somehow he manages to rarely break anything. Although one of my mixing bowls does have a few chips out of the rim.

          I am not sure you are all the sorry about that eggcup though. 😉

  7. Melissa I like your question about “if it broke would I feel bad or secretly relieved.” There are some things around here that I would be relieved if they disappeared. I keep hoping that when the “girls” come over to make cards/scrapbook someone will break a few of them.

  8. Terrific list, Colleen… happy to have this for my permanent collection of decluttering wisdom!

    My question of late has been “What items am I willing to give up in exchange for the peace and pleasure of clear, open spaces?”

    Because it really is an exchange, isn’t it? You’re getting rid of “stuff” in order to gain peace, you’re foregoing clutter for clarity, and trash for time.

  9. All good questions to ask when stuck on an item. I especially liked “Do I want to move it out of the way when looking for something else?” lol I often ask myself if I’d replace an item if it was stolen. More often than not, the answer is no.

    • What about, if it was stolen would I replace it OR would I even KNOW ?? HHHMMMMM?????

      • Great question Sue D. It would be nice if some of that back of the closet, under the bed, in the attic clutter was stolen, cough, mysteriously disappeared 😉

  10. One of the great benefits of decluttering with a friend is that she would answer no to these questions on way more stuff than I would and that helps a lot.

  11. I just LOVE the idea of asking yourself if you’d replace the thing(s) if they were broken/lost/stolen. I’ve come to the conclusion that we have a lot of our stuff simply because we have it. We made a decision once; we acquired it or accepted it, and we haven’t made a subsequent decision- to get rid of it. It’s there because it’s there. How crazy are we?!

    At the mo, I’m taking part in a challenge on another forum to get rid of 100 things in May. Am up to 45 so far, although some of them are collective items such as a handful of dried-up pens. I’ve harvested all the low-hanging fruit and am now having to think really hard about my stuff. I’m finally ready to part with an item of clothing that’s older than I am (parents bought it when they were courting). Sentimental, much? You betcha. But I haven’t worn it in about 20 years and realistically won’t wear it again, so might as well grit my teeth and release it to the thrift store where hopefully it’ll make somone’s day. It feels soooo good to let stuff go.

    • Well done GreyQueen. I am glad that you are now stretching yourself in the way of harder decision making over clutter. It is good to exercise that muscle on a regular basis. Even though I always say start with the easy stuff at some point you are going to deal with things that take a little more thinking about. So good for you.

  12. Colleen, I love these questions.

    I feel so good now all my stuff is in that fleamarket-shop, I think, I won’t bring the remainders home again but straight to the thrift store. It feels so much nicer here, when the shelves are empty.

    • Good for you Sanna. Sometimes we can get a little too bogged down in trying to recoup some cash for our stuff and it just makes the decluttering process more drawn out. Giving it one chance at the flea-market shop and then passing it on to charity is a good idea. i have a few things that I have tried twice to sell on ebay and they are still sitting in a cupboard. Some of it is stuff I never even paid much for secondhand in the first place. What a waste of space, time to get it out of here.

  13. Gail, you are so right about a friend being willing to say “no” to more of your items than you would.

    Years ago my friend Maureen helped me declutter my basement. I had a houseful of kids in a small home and the basement was the dumping ground for clutter. I remember her holding up an item with one of those quizzical looks on her face, which prompted my sheepish reply, “Ummm… I was going to take that to consignment.” Whereupon my dear friend said firmly, “Oh, NO. They won’t take stuff like THAT.”

    With her help, I filled something like sixteen large black trash bags full of stuff for charity.

    I’ve never forgotten the kindness she did for me and always feel a warm rush of gratitude whenever this comes to mind.

  14. I’m in a pretty bad situation lately and have still a lot of stuff. I’m planning my way out of here (probably after two years, 🙁 can’t get out of it quicker) by going through my stuff. When I’m (finally) free, I want to grab my belongings, put them in a large kipling, a sports bag and my purse and get the hell out of here.

    Paper is going to go digital, perhaps I save some photographs (or I will scan them) and put them in a little photo album and a few of my schoolbooks (quite expensive and I use most of them quite regularly).

    By every item that is non-consumable, I ask myself wheter or not it is tying me in my bad situation. If it is, it has got to go. I only keep items that are going me to help me in my new life (my sewing kit). For consumables (make up, etc.) I try to use them up, and not re-buy it. Who needs 10 lipbalms anyway?

    Every item that goes away, is like one step closer to freedom 🙂 Ah well, we can’t experience the highlights of our lifes if we don’t experience the lowlights.