7 Super-Useful Questions to Ask Yourself as You Declutter, According to Professional Organizers

published Jan 14, 2022
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Before you can actually start organizing, you have to tackle decluttering first. For some people, tossing or donating unused or unwanted items is easy. But for many of us, it can be pretty tough to decide what stays and what goes. 

What if Future You wants to use that panini press? And is it really a good idea to get rid of those holiday coffee mugs your great aunt just gifted to you? Don’t you need three rubber spatulas? These sorts of questions can slow down the decluttering process and make it way more stressful than it needs to be. The good news: You can easily figure out what is actually serving you and your space, and how to make room for more of what you love. You just have to ask yourself the right questions (read: None of those listed above).

These are the questions you should ask yourself as you declutter, according to professional organizers.

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Question 1: When was the last time I used this item? 

Whether you’re sorting through kitchen gadgets or dinnerware, ask yourself how often you use the item in question. If you haven’t used that gadget in months or years or your extra mugs are collecting dust on a shelf, it might be time to say goodbye. But keep in mind, that doesn’t necessarily you have to get rid of the item for good.

According to professional organizer Ben Soreff of House to Home Organizing, the answer to this question can also determine the best place for it to live in your space. For example, you could store seasonal items like holiday cookie platters or extra tea kettles in an area, like the garage, basement, or pantry, rather than hogging valuable cabinet space in your kitchen. 

Credit: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell

Question 2: Do I have something that can serve the same purpose? 

Duplicates are one of the more obvious indicators that you should part with something in your kitchen. But professional organizer Julianna Poplin of The Simplicity Habit recommends also asking yourself whether you have something else that serves the same purpose. 

“Often, gadgets that have one specific use aren’t really needed, and there is something else that can do the same job,” she says. For example, do you need all of those plastic food storage containers if you have a collection of glass Pyrex? Do you need a rice cooker if your Instant Pot can do the same thing? 

Question 3: Would I buy this today? 

If it’s difficult to figure out whether something is worth keeping, be honest with yourself. If you didn’t have this item in your kitchen, would you buy it at the store today? Give yourself permission to let go of belongings you’ve outgrown, don’t use, or simply don’t like any longer. “You might have had a juicing phase a few years ago, but if your juicer is massive and you have no plans to juice again anytime soon, best to sell it on Craigslist and make way for more space,” says professional organizer Caroline Solomon.

Question 4: If something is broken, will I realistically repair it? 

Of course, a broken item doesn’t have to go out the door if you have plans to fix it. But before you make a final decision, Solomon recommends asking yourself how likely it is that you’ll actually get it fixed (or if it’s even salvageable). For example, will you be gluing that handle back onto that broken mug? Or will you find someone to fix that food processor that only whirls 5 percent of the time?

Credit: Sarah Crowley

Question 5: Do I enjoy using this item? 

If you have a cherry pitter, but you hate using it, then it’s probably not worth keeping around. Ideally, Solomon says, everything in your kitchen should be making your life easier. Hanging on to items that you don’t use or don’t enjoy using only makes things more disorganized.

Credit: Jason Rampe

Question 6: Am I holding on to something just in case? 

Organizing your space is about recognizing what is adding value to your life right now rather than holding onto something because it benefitted you in the past or you hope it will in the future. Case in point: If you’ve never used that pasta maker you bought on sale, hoping you’d get around to learning all about Italian cuisine, Solomon suggests passing it along to someone who will actually be excited about using it. This will help you clear space for the things you use right now.

Credit: Sarah Crowley

Question 7: Why haven’t I used this item?

When it comes to food and spices, it’s a good idea to toss anything that’s past its expiration date. But as you clear your pantry and fridge of unused items, or even those gadgets you never got around to using, Soreff recommends asking yourself another important question: Why haven’t you used the item you bought? Perhaps the recipe you intended to make was too complicated. Or maybe you wanted to try out a new spice blend, but never got around to it. Either way, Soreff suggests being real with yourself about your habits so you can prevent bringing more clutter into your kitchen in the future. 

What other questions do you ask yourself as you declutter? Tell us in the comments below.