One of the most common decluttering questions I hear is: How many (fill in the blank with whatever item they’re currently stressing over) do I need?
It’s a logical question.
I’ve asked it many times in my own home.
Many, many times. How many hangers should I have? How many t-shirts do I need? How many pairs of shoes should I keep? How many boxes of cereal should I buy when our favorite brand goes on sale?
In the past, I’d go through several phases in my quest to find the answer to this common decluttering struggle.
Phase One: Stare into space. Think really, really hard. Come up with nothing.
Phase Two: Try to do math in my head. Number of days when I wear undies (ummm, all the days) times (or divided by?) how often I do laundry minus something-or-other. Give up. Math and I don’t mix.
Phase Three: Get logical and decisive. There’s no such thing as too many undies! Really. Undies are totally necessary things. Why am I even asking myself such a dumb question? (Write undies on a shopping list.)
Phase Four: (weeks later, while pushing on the dresser drawer with my full body weight, unable to close it because of the abundance of undies) Ugh. I have way too many! I have got to figure out how many I should actually keep!
Repeat phases one through four.
That endless cycle didn’t work.
So, how do I know how many of something to keep?
Really, there’s nothing to analyze or figure out.
I can keep the number of socks/undies/t-shirts that will fit in my sock/undies/t-shirt drawers.
Or the number of cereal boxes I can fit on my cereal box shelf. Or the number of hangers that will fit on the bar in my closet. Or the number of shoes that will fit on my shoe shelf.
It’s the Container Concept. No math required.
Here’s a non-hypothetical example:
My dresser drawers had (once again) gotten out of control. How did I know they were out of control? I couldn’t shut them.
Not being able to shut my drawers was the obvious clue my Slob Brain needed to alert me to the face that I had too many t-shirts/socks/undies/whatever.
I love obvious clues (especially ones that used to not be obvious to me at all).
I needed to declutter however many items needed to be removed for the drawers to be able to close. No math needed.
When I looked at it that way, I didn’t have to ask myself how desperate I would need to be to wear that very faded and a-little-stained freebie t-shirt from a fun run I didn’t even participate in back in 2009.
I just knew something had to leave the drawer, so it might as well be the thing I didn’t even like.
I purged (with very little angst) enough stuff to allow me to close the drawers easily.
I even had leftover space.
Leftover space meant that on Laundry Day, when more clothes needed to go in those drawers (clothes I had recently chosen to wear), there was room. When there wasn’t enough room in a certain drawer, I practiced the one in one out rule to make room.
Because that is the answer to the question, “How Many T-Shirts/Shorts/Pairs-of-Undies Do I Need?
I need as many as can fit in the drawer.
Any more than that and the drawer can’t close and my house has no chance of NOT being messy.
Yay for non-math-based answers!!!!
This post is an example of how a mindset change has changed my home. If you are desperate to change your mindset, and you want home management strategies that actually make sense (to us not-naturally-organized types), check out my new book, How to Manage Your Home Without Losing Your Mind.
Linda P. says
I could have benefited from this 35 years ago when I tried to fit all my mother and father-in-law’s things into our home after they passed away. I figured that since my husband had no family, I should keep their stuff for him. It didn’t work! We are still struggling with letting go of the duplicate “tools and parts” type stuff. So I AM using this concept now that My mother has gone. If I want it AND it fits in the cupboards, I am keeping it. Otherwise, someone else in the world can have it. Encouraging post!
I have to smile at this one, several years ago I couldn’t shut my dresser drawers without pushing things in to make them fit. So, when thinking I only had about 6 prs of underwear (not enough to go a week plus), I pulled everything out, sorted, folded neatly, and didn’t really throw anything way (well several empty boxs for panti-hose) and I had at least a months worth (no kidding) at least 28 pr of wearable, underware. So, I stacked them in bunches of 7, rotated the stacks as I used them, and when a pair had worn out and just couldn’t be worn, I threw them away. After all this time, I really am down to about 10 pr. but have a ways to go before I go shopping.
I fairly recently went through my drawers. I had 2 that were socks, undies and bras alone… I managed to purge enough that I had only one drawer and freed up the other for my work uniforms as I had been storing them ontop of my dryer and when laundry was done they would dissappear into the pile until I needed to get to them… I definitely needed something more practical and hanging them in the closet didn’t seem the right solution to me. I ended up opening the other 3 drawers and purging stuff from them as well! Now all the drawers close now! Yeah!!!
I’ve been reading your blog for years, so none of this is really new to me. Just because it isn’t new to me, though, doesn’t mean that I am particularly good at it. It really depends on my mood that day. But, as I have been working with my 3 kids (5, 9, 13 years old) this past week to change over our clothes for winter (we live in MI) we have ALL been applying this. I am so relieved that after years of trying to and/or partially applying this, the kids have caught on and are keeping mom in check. We aren’t quite finished yet, but I have no doubt that the drawers will all close…laundry and picking out clothes each day will also be infinitely easy this winter. My closet will take a bit more work, but it will get there. Maybe I need to ask my daughters to come in and help me. 🙂 Thanks!!
Yes! Yes! I hadn’t put a name to it, but I recently did this with my bookshelf. If I’m going to repurpose some of my bookshelf for quilting fabric, I need to get rid of the things on that shelf. Not move them. Not find them a new home (there isn’t one, all the other shelves are full!) But I need to get rid of them, or swap them out. This theory of not buying more storage has been a great part of a journey to right sized living!
I’d say there still is a little math or logic you could throw at it. Whenever one of my husband’s favorite shirts gets to the point that it shouldn’t be worn in public due to holes or stains it gets demoted to a “yard work shirt” (or working on the car, whatever). We went through his clothes recently and he insisted he wanted to keep all of his yard shirts (fine, whatever, they all fit in the drawer), but I did feel the need to throw some logic at him. How often do you do yard work? Once, maybe twice, a month? How many torsos do you have? Just the one? So are you *sure* you need TWELVE yard work shirts?? Especially considering you almost always do yard work WITHOUT A SHIRT on so you can work on your tan??? He still kept all twelve. Just because you have the space to keep something doesn’t mean you necessarily should.
LINDA ANNE BROWN says
When I am purging socks, underwear or any clothing I will take the most wearable items and put them in my suitcase for the next time I travel. Not a lot of things, but a few. I wear them the first couple of days of vacation and then throw them away. Less stinky laundry to bring home and less worry about my luggage being overweight at the airport.