In this process of “coming clean,” decluttering has made the biggest impact.
I’ve said many times that I’m in no position to give advice. I’m a slob who is working hard to change and I share my struggles on this blog. I’m figuring out what works for me and hopefully that can help someone else figure out what works for them.
In the past, when I would look at a drawer-full, or a closet-full, or a room-full of junk, I’d get overwhelmed. I could do the big stuff, but when it got down to those potentially useful items, I was stuck. All of the “what ifs” would flood my mind and it was hard to let go of things.
While decluttering kitchen drawers last month (which were completely full of junk), I came up with two simple decluttering questions.
I’ve seen lists before. You know, the ones where you ask yourself a series of questions to decide if you should keep something or chuck it. I think that these will be the questions I’ll ask myself after my house is de–slobified. In my mind, they’re maintenance questions, decluttering questions for normal people. But I don’t have time to spend 5 minutes per item. I have (had) rooms full of stuff, so I have to be able to work quickly to keep from getting distracted.
Like I said, I don’t want to act like some kind of expert, but these two questions have helped me and have inspired quite a few comments from people who say they’ve helped them as well. So I thought I’d put them in their own post.
The two questions are:
If I needed this item, where would I look for it? (take it there)
If I needed this item, would it ever occur to me that I already have one? (If not, get rid of it because I’d just buy a new one if I needed it.)
If I ever achieve “normal person” status, I will need those long lists of questions to make decisions about tough items. But as long as I need to get rid of 7/10 of all the stuff in this house, I need a shorter list. One that doesn’t contribute to my feeling overwhelmed.
Check out my decluttering page for more ideas and inspiration on how to declutter!
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Lenetta @ Nettacow says
Thumbs up – I love those questions!!
Mama Melissa says
what great questions!! 🙂 that's a perfect attitude about items we use. that way you can know if you can get rid of it, or if you really do need it. 🙂
I've had that "list of questions" taped to my desk hutch for months, hoping it would motivate me to start decluttering. No such luck. I'll have to give your two great questions a try. Maybe that's what I was waiting for 🙂
I especially like that first one!
too Blessed to Stress says
That first wuestion is a hoot… but so true! just take it there. Awesome questions for my decluttering process as well 🙂
~ Emily N. from "too Blessed to Stress"
Perfect questions. I can so, so, so relate to the frustration of decluttering! Thank you for sharing!
You're doing a great job! I've really enjoyed reading of the progress you're making…and even of the struggles.
And the best advice comes not from those with head knowledge, but from those who have been there, done that.
LOVE those questions. Every time I asked myself if I had used something in the past 6 months, year, etc., I would think, "Well, I would have if I'd known where it was!" Which of course then meant that I'd keep it anyway, right where it was, and continue to be overwhelmed. Your first question actually involves forward motion without the guilt/shame. Question 2 confuses me though… maybe because it feels like I already have everything?!
Lauren H. says
The other question that can be asked is "If I am going to keep it to use it, WHY would I store it?!" I donno WHY I would throw everyday things into a storage bin and hide it into a closet…pens, erasers, scissors, tissues…really? LOL!
Lacy @ Catholic Icing says
I love how you refer to "normal people". Whenever we make the house really clean (like for company or something) we call it "normal people clean". Because "clean for us" is a totally different thing. 😛
Enjoy Birth says
Those are great questions! Especially the first one. That will help me know where to actually put some things!!!
My favorite question for decluttering is: Would I buy this item, FULL PRICE, if I didn’t have it already?
Kelly Jane Kovar says
Oh that is a GOOD question Amanda. Of course, I would virtually never buy anything at full price. Working in retail for six years made me too aware of mark-ups, and sale schedules. But, the concept of “would I buy this today?” is the one I have just started using with clothing decluttering. Its dynamite!
Carrie Doty says
Wow! I will definitely add your awesome question “would I buy this today” immediately as I’am just now started to declutter my sewing/craft studio. I worked in retail for over 40 years and rarely ever paid full price for anything.
Today I decluttered a box of junk I’ve been moving around my house for at least 3 years. I’m pretty excited. I actually gasped out loud when I saw the bottom of it. And since I actually did put/throw things away as I went (thanks to the space time continuum post) it isn’t just spread in piles on my bed. Joy.
OK, I think I need to also read the space time continuum post! Where can I find that? Thanks!!!
Kristy K. James says
I haven’t gotten to the place where I need to ask those questions yet (but I will get there). Right now everything is pretty clear cut, and things are much improved. So much so that my son…my AUTISTIC son…told me tonight that I need to get rid of a bunch of stuff in the cooking utensil drawer…that there were too many things in it. To give you an idea of what a breakthrough this is, this is the same kid who asked me if I got a new purse….about SIX WEEKS AFTER I replaced my black purse with a bright PINK one. A bright pink purse I’d been carrying every day since I bought it. He just doesn’t notice anything…but he’s noticing clutter now…and he doesn’t like it. (now if he would just apply it to the county dump that is his room!) 🙂
Despite the junk, I have an amazing mind for what I already have. My most recent duplicate purchase was frozen green beans. I waited three years for my mother to find the heat-gun rather than buy my own.
The inverse of this is that having certain items keeps me from even looking at coupons, much less get another on-sale.
Love these questions, simple and to the point! I’ll use them backwards though, because if the answer to the second question is that I’m going to toss the item, I don’t want to have to think where it would go if I was keeping it AND take it there. 🙂
I agree! I’m a pack rat at heart. Putting all this stuff “away” is what got me into this predicament of having more stuff than I can handle. I have to first decide whether I’m going to keep an item, then put it in its home.
Thanks for all your encouragement, Dana!
Amaris Freier says
Great questions! With the mess that is my home, they are the simple solution I can use to de-clutter and survive the process 😛
My favorite question is:
If I couldn’t donate it (because it’s that old, junky, ugly, worn out,stained, etc,) why is it still in my house? LOL 🙂
Not Alone says
Good question. :-/
That’s a great question too! I’m gonna write that one down as well. Thanks Traci 🙂
Jo Diehl says
I can’t begin to tell me how life-changing your blog has been to me since I started following it about a year ago–who knew there was an hope for this 65-yo “slob”?
Your 2 questions: I totally get the 1st one & am learning to automatically use it. The 2nd question, though, isn’t as clear for me. If I’m currently looking at the object, then obviously I know I have it & assume I’ll remember I do if it’s in the right place (per ques #1). What am I missing?
Dana White says
Technically, it is a question of “did” you remember you have it. Was it a total surprise when you found it? So the key is this: If you didn’t know that you had it, you’d never have looked for it. You’d have gone out and purchased another one. Then you would have two. Does that help?
I think the answer may be that like me, you think you’ll remember it and you may…but then the search begins because if I even do remember it, I won’t remember where I stored it anyway by the time it’s needed. I once had an almost photographic memory, I could close my eyes and picture where I had seen a certain thing. I have fibromyalgia now and many other health issues, I can sometimes still do that, but not almost every time any more. Oops I didn’t see you’d already been responded to on your question, I hoped I added clarification if nothing else and if my thoughts don’t apply to you, we are neither any the worse off. Good luck and enjoy the decluttering! 🙂
I LOVE THEM!!!
Nina Williamson says
I found your approach refreshing! AND LIBERATING! That is exactly how I think! I didn’t realize till I read the post that I declutter smaller areas that way all the time–my purse, my teaching notebook, etc. Don’t know why I didn’t think of doing the same thing with my house. THANK YOU!
I love your response Nina, I hadn’t thought of doing all the little things on an ongoing basis. I was really just considering the “big jobs”. Thanks for posting!
Lydia purple says
Just found this quote made me think of your deck uttering questions.
“Effective tidying involves only two essential actions: discarding and deciding where to store things. Of the two, discarding must come first.”
Marie Kondo in The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing
Excellent questions! I’m writing them down now and am going to post them on my refrigerator so that everytime I walk by it, it wil click my mind into “declutter/cleaning” mode. Thank you!
Do you have any advice, serious advice, for people like me who really cannot manage to give away my dead mother’s clothes? I am an only child, and they do remind too many dear and lovely moments of my life. I ‘ll have to spend my future life alone, because I am not married and I don’t have children, so at the moment they really mean a lot to me. They are still there in her wardrobe after 9 years, and even if I’d like to put them in another place, I’m afraid that my old father could be too sorry for that. Thanks, and sorry for my bad English, which is not my Language 🙂
P.S.: I feel the same about a few little things of my childhood, I could never ever throw them away! <3
Dana White says
Donata, I have not been through what you have experienced, and I can’t even imagine your grief. I am so sorry for your loss. I have this post with some ideas: https://www.aslobcomesclean.com/2014/03/how-to-deal-with-sentimental-clutter/
Thank you so much!! <3 Anyway it may be a different experience for every single person, I think.
Perhaps you could make (or get someone to make) a quilt? That way you have the memories and a useful warm blanket
Having a friend help you really will help here, I think. Don’t touch the things yourself, because psychologically we are more inclined to cling to things we are already holding, and then close your eyes/turn your back to your wardrobe whilst your friend describes the item to you. You should be guided pretty quickly to a keep/donate decision here (don’t second guess yourself), especially if you’re not allowed to open your eyes, or if you have to hold your breath, until you’ve made a decision. That way the really special things will still be kept, but there’s not so much that it’s overwhelming.
Kelly Jane Kovar says
These are the questions I use.
1) What is it? ~ Defining the item out loud or in my head helps me face if its worth finding a home for it. If it is trash or donate that’s a quick fix. If it is an item I need/want I go to #2.
2) Does it have a place? ~ If its “yes” then I take it there. If its “no” I think of what the logical place to keep it is.
My first question is “do I need this?” And the second is “what is the worst thing that would happen if I got rid of this?”
These are great questions. As I look around at my container and realize that I have no concept of the actual size of my container I know I have to ask these questions but my mind falls on another question. What if the answer to the first question is I would look for this item in the office but there isn’t any room in the office? And it isn’t a visible space so it isn’t an area I’ve tackled. And adding more to that space doesn’t make sense to me. So I do nothing which doesn’t solve the problem. How do I stop the circular reference and make progress?
Dana White says
Erika Ward says
What if the answer to the second question is yes? 🤔
Dana White says
Then you put it in the first place you’d look for it. The answer to question number one.
Great questions! The place I really run into issues is when I find things I don’t want anymore, but they’re not good enough to donate, but don’t seem bad enough to throw away. What do you do with that stuff? Or am I just crazy?
Dana White says
If they really aren’t good enough to donate, then they are trash. But if you’re talking about clothing, there are some donation places that take imperfect (but clean) clothes to sell to ragmakers.
Please help me with question #1.
If I needed the item, take it there. WHERE? I have never remotely mastered a place for everything and everything in its place. If the where I would look for it is in the kitchen, WHERE in the kitchen? I have 3 small drawers – one with cutlerly, one with misc. utensils (peeler, corkscrew, large spoons, etc.), and last a junk drawer– all are full. I keep spatulas in a crock on counter and have a magnet strip for knives. I run into same problem in bathroom – no vanity. Just a pedestal sink and small medicine cabinet. I can’t figure out where to put stuff. I feel like if everything had a place I’d be doing sooooo much better! :\
Hi! I’m really enjoying your podcast because you sound just like me!!! I am a little confused about your declutter questions though… how does the first question help you actually declutter? In my mind, it seems like it would help me organize and clean up, but not actually get rid of anything. Maybe I’m not understanding..
Terry Willibrand says
I just turned 80, and I have lived all my life wanting to have the perfectly clean house!. I just started reading your podcast, and on episode 1, realized I never will. Sad, but you are my twin sister from another Mother! I am up to episode 17. I listen every night and
the problems you’ve had, are the problems I’ve had all my life.
My Mother would say, “Terry, just
pick up your clothes and make your bed. You don’t need to clean the speck on your window”
But if I hadn’t cleaned my room to perfection, I felt I failed.
I wish I’d discovered your realization when I was your age.
Anyway, I’m enjoying your blog,
and may still put your concepts
into use…it’s never too late!
Thank you dear
Sheryl Garvey says
I have read both of your books, listen to both audio books, and now listening to your blogs; and this 65 year old pack rat can’t figure out question 2!!! Can you give me another couple of examples to question 2? I love that there are only 2 questions, even though I have only been using 1, since reading your 1st book, in February of 2019!!
Michele Campbell says
So. You’ve completely blown my mind with these two questions. Thanks for that.
We are in full nesting mode as we prepare for the arrival of baby #2. It’s so hard to declutter but we are holding off on adding a bunch of new baby stuff. Our 2 will be 2 years apart so it’s a struggle to know if we’ll need a second item or if our first will outgrow said item.
Love your suggestions, Dana!! My only problem is that I have a huge pile of your emails in my inbox that I can’t seem to get to….
Hi Dana! I have both of your books on Audible & have listened to each of them several times (whenever I need motivation to get started cleaning or decluttering I turn one on & they get me going every time!). I originally bought the books a couple years ago because my home of 15 years was cluttered to the point where I was so overwhelmed that I felt paralyzed & I couldn’t figure out how to start to begin to dig myself out of the mess. Your books helped me to slowly, but surely, start to work thru the chaos & I was finally beginning to feel empowered by the progress I was making! But then on Nov 30, 2018 I got a phone call that turned my whole world upside down. My husband (36) was working as a paramedic taking a patient (also 36) to Vanderbilt in Nashville, TN & the ambulance hydroplaned on the interstate. My husband (who was in the back with the patient) & the patient both died in the accident. Our 2 kids & I just couldn’t go back home after that night so we stayed with my parents for a few months & then moved into a new house. Now 14 months later I have only been back to our old house a few times to get necessities, but still have almost an entire house full of things to go thru & clear out. Now I’m faced with the overwhelming task of cleaning out the old house while trying to keep up with daily tasks at the new house & raising our 2 kids alone, one of which has autism. Just wondering if maybe you might possibly have some ideas or suggestions to help me get started in this unique situation? Any help at all would be so very much appreciated! And thank you so much for what you do in helping others to find their way out of the chaos so they can live better lives!
Here’s where I get lost-
#1. Would I know where to look for it?
If yes -> Take it there
If no -> Go to #2
——I have no clue where I would look for it.
……….So I go to #2
#2: Would it occur to me that I already had one?
If no -> recycle bin
If yes -> Go to question 2
—–It would occur to me that I had this. In fact, I just used it the other day.
……….So I go to #1
#1: Would I know where to look for this?
—–I would look for it where I was standing the last time it was in my hand. I was just standing there with it in my hand because I have no idea where the &*%$ thing belongs. Or, I do have a place my mind goes to, but it’s just not logistically acceptable.
………So I go to #2?
Eventually I’m either interrupted or defeated and it gets left somewhere near where I was standing.
I have a LOT of stuff like this. Some examples:
-The cake dish that I need and use multiple times a year that just ends up sitting on the counter after it’s finally washed.
-My backpack that I use for walks that I can’t leave anywhere accessible to my dog because his training treats are in it (It had a hook by the door, but the hook got pulled off the wall when he pulled down my backpack) and now just gets moved to someplace the dog is not.
-The stick vacuum that I sometimes put away in the hall linen closet which, like all the other little cabinety closets, has just enough open space in front of the shelves to fit either the vacuum OR the steam mop with the door closed, so instead it just gets leaned up against a wall or whatever.
Dana White says
Question 1 is not “ Would I know where to look for it?” It is “where would I look for this first?” There’s a huge difference. Check out my books for the deep dive into using and applying the questions https://www.aslobcomesclean.com/book. Or I talk a lot about this in my podcasts. https://www.aslobcomesclean.com/podcasts
Nikki A. Ruggles says
Hey! its working!! When I took the Decluttering seminar a couple week? Months? ago.I was soooo discouraged by the seminar, that told me to pull eveything out and put it on the table, counter or floor. What Table? What counter? What Floor? Those places were already too cluttered to leave anything. I didn’t need it to get worse. I needed better. Plus, that made it a whole day?, week?, Year? project Then I read in your book, “How to manage your home without losing your mind” Start small, do the easy stuff first. (not sure, if it was your book) set a timer, 15 minutes. I was amazed how much I could do in that small amount of time. First, My kitchen table got clean. As soon as I started finding homes or throwing out my stuff, My husband did too! OOOh my table was brown, had water spots and lots of bubbles and scratches. SO, I had to keep it clean for 2 weeks while I refinished it. Now it’s beautiful. But I have to keep it cleaned off so I can enjoy the beauty. Then I started cleaning the clutter off a wall ledge, which led to the Crock pot cabinet, which led to the drawers and the wall behind it. Now I have 8 actual drawers where there is a proper home for Measuring cups and spoon, strainers, funnels, and jars. My kitchen counter magically appeared after all these years. I’m still working on that. Hey here’s a measuring cup, ooo it has a home. Now I can put away all these homeless Kitchen utensils, or give it away. I’m 66 years old. you would think I would have discovered this stuff long ago. But I’ve always worked, which was my excuse for ignoring the pile. Also, Im so easily distracted. The timer keeps me on track. If I get sidetracked, thats ok. Ill work at it some more tomorrow morning, when hunger or coffee forces me back into the kitchen. Thanks for your wonderful Hints and terrific humor. I no longer insist that my house is perfect. Better each day, is good enough.
Ml haskell says
These are brilliant. Way more helpful for me than the joy kinda questions (no slam intended the on MK system). I spent an hour working with your questions, and I found we have:
5 sets of kitchen scissors
4 mini hoards of furniture protectors (pads, bumpers, glides, etc).
3 places where we store coffee mugs
3 identical TV remotes
5 locations where cleaning supplies are stored
And finally, no room is free of small tools (wrenches, screwdrivers, etc.) or craft items (glue, paper, yarn, fabric, paint, etc).
How much more of my brain will be freed of a sense of low level chaos and anxiety when I have one place and one place only for all these things?
Just discovered you and your brilliance this week. In two days you have already improved my home and my mood. Just by keeping dishes done and counters clear I am feeling soooo much better. Am really looking forward to learning much more from you. Thank you, thank you, thank you!
First, thank you. You come from a place of understanding how people like me think and how dejected we feel. Your book, blogs and videos are practical, humorous, engaging and helpful! Hooray! I love this first question and like others I’m realizing that I have multiples of things that I can easily move out of my house. But the second question is confusing to me. If I find a pair of gardening gloves or face paint or an extension cord (or 100 other things), then I’ve found and seen them and know I have them. Shouldn’t I just put them in the first place I’d look for them and then apply your container principle? Which has really altered my thinking by the way – great insight to help me move toward decluttering. I feel like I’m really missing something here and since there are only 2 questions, I want to understand both of them! And I’d get rid of the face paint since my kids are in college. Just saying.
I just finished reading Declutter at the Speed of Life. And I’m ready to start. I’m running into a block with the first question. The first place I would look for the scissors is in the giant pile o stuff on the kitchen counter. Because it’s been somewhere in some pile on the counter for years. My instinct is to put it in a keep pile to deal with after I finish decluttering, but I know that won’t work for me. Any suggestions?