How to Use Your List to Successfully Declutter (Finally!)

Last time I asked you to make a list of your most treasured possessions, the ones you’d hope you could take with you if your house caught fire.

This list is not a complete list of all your treasured possessions. That would be a really, really long list, because you have so very many belongings. No, this list consists of the items that first popped into your head. They make up the core of your treasured belongings.

Now, depending on how you define belongings, you may have included your spouse or partner, your kids, and your pets. Good for you: living creatures whom we love and who can love us back are always our greatest treasures.

But for decluttering purposes, we’re just going to consider things. The things on your list are what came to mind first. There’s a reason for that. They are your most treasured physical possessions.

If you couldn’t see them when you got home, you can remedy that. Putting our most treasured possessions on display where we can see them daily is important. It lifts our mood and reminds us of who we are. Go dig them out and put them where you can see and enjoy them. If you can’t find space for them, make space by removing lesser items (lesser meaning anything that didn’t make your list).

If one of the things on your list is your photo albums, you may already have them on display. But a house fire would quickly destroy them. Consider scanning them and saving them on a computer, thumb drive and even the cloud. Don’t risk losing your treasured photographs.

If your list included jewelry, wear it all the time. If it included something a late loved one left you, put it on display or use it regularly.

You may already regularly use the items on your list. That’s great!

Now, what about the items you forgot to put on your list? This is where things get sticky. Like it or not, those items were not important enough to you to come to mind during those crucial 15 minutes. I’m not saying you should get rid of all of them, but clearly, many things did not make the cut. Those items are all candidates for being moved along, given away, sold or donated unless you use them regularly.

The list you created is very telling. What it’s telling you is what’s most important to you….and what, by its absence, is not.

The list you created gives you permission to keep what’s on it, and to let go of what didn’t make the cut. It gives you guidelines of what’s really crucial to your daily life, not only in terms of use but also in terms of joy.

Of course, you can keep what’s really important to you. And you can keep things that didn’t make the list but that you use all the time. Personally, I don’t consider our cast-iron frying pan, our phone or our lawnmower to be personal treasures, but we use them all the time so we keep them. But there have been plenty of other items I’ve owned over the years that I liked, even loved, but at some point had to admit I wasn’t using anymore, so I let them go. This is how we need to look at the bulk of our possessions when we have kept too much.

If you choose to ignore the list and just go with your gut, you’ll end up where you always did when you tried to declutter in the past: overwhelmed and discouraged. But if you use the list as your guide for what to keep, and give up much of what didn’t make the list, you can finally enjoy the freedom of living in an uncluttered home, with lots of free space and no little paths through each room. Living that way is every bit as nice as you might imagine.

(Learn how to let go of possessions you’re emotionally attached to but no longer need in The Sentimental Person’s Guide to Decluttering, coming soon in print!)