When you are first learning about minimalism you are bound to come across lists of questions to help you declutter. These lists may include questions such as “Have I used this in the past year?” “Will I use it often?” “Is this item a duplicate?” I struggle to use these lists effectively. The purpose of these lists is to help you determine what to keep (translation: what adds value to your life). The challenge is that what to keep (adds value) is different for everyone. Pre-made lists to help you declutter aren’t helpful, or at least haven’t reached their full potential, because these lists don’t reflect your individual values and approach to minimalism. Luckily it is not hard to create such a list.
For this reason, I believe it is worth your time to develop a list of questions that relate to your own brand of minimalism. In this article I will show you how I developed my own list of questions to help me declutter. This is a fun, creative process, and I highly encourage you to make it your own. This list is for you, no one else ever has to see it, and at its core it is really about what inspires you.
Here are the steps to create your own “Questions to Help Me Declutter” list:
- Identify quotes and recommendations about minimalism that inspire you
- Gather your favorite quotes in one place
- Determine which quotes will help you when you are decluttering
- Group remaining quotes based on idea/sentiment
- Order ideas in a way that makes sense to you
- Turn quotes (or grouped quotes) into questions
- Compile this list for reference
- Reorder and adjust as needed
Of course, the first step can be done over a long period of time. I mostly worked off of Pinterest as I had already compiled a board of my favorite quotes about minimalism, but it would also be fun to pull quotes from magazines or conversations. Remember, quotes don’t have to directly relate to minimalism, as you will see below, it is about the connections you make. As long as you find it to be inspiring and or helpful, anything goes.
Here are my favorite quotes with their rationale and associated questions. At the end I have compiled my final list:
Edit your life frequently and ruthlessly. It’s your masterpiece after all. -Nathan W. Morris
I decided to start my list off with a big quote, one that is more general to put me in a particular frame of mind. I like this quote because it relates to the way that the process of editing your belongings is supposed to serve you and your broader lifestyle and goals.
As a question, this quote becomes: Does this item contribute to my masterpiece/life/style?
I like to keep some of the key words from the quotes in my questions because the key words help me remember the quote which increases my ability to answer the question.
To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist that is all. -Oscar Wilde
This is an example of a quote that is not about minimalism, it isn’t even about things, but it made me think of a philosophy I was introduced to in Marie Kondo’s books that our material possessions have lives. Over time the items we don’t use accumulate dust and become dull. The items we use most and take care of can develop patinas and remain shiny much longer. This way of thinking has greatly informed my own brand of minimalism, and helped me consider what to keep.
Does this item have a life?
Relevant extension: Could someone else use this item more than me?
Cut down your closet by 25% by asking yourself this question: “If I were shopping right this second, would I buy this? If the answer’s no, out it goes.
The initial payment in the store is only the first time we invest in our belongings, by keeping things around we spend time caring for our belongings, moving items when we use them and tidy, buying accessories to protect these items or make them work better. Most items that we own do not exist on their own, but rather in a network system of interconnected things that we reinvest in. There comes a point that the item has served it’s purpose and becomes extra weight in what may have previously been a tight system.
If I were shopping right now, would I buy (reinvest in) this item?
This question also connects to another one of my other favorite quotes:
You will find that it is necessary to let things go; simply for the reason that they are heavy. -C. Joybell C.
I find it helpful to think of items as heavy, because it is when I am interested in shouldering the weight of using and taking care of an item that I know I truly value it.
When we really delve into the reasons for why we can’t let something go, there are only two: an attachment to the past, or a fear of the future. -Marie Kondo
Ah, now we are getting to quotes by Marie Kondo. If you are searching for inspiration, her books offer numerous ways to think about our relationships to our belongings. She can be a particularly good resource, because her response to tidying is to own fewer things.
Am I hesitating because this item is an attachment to the past?
Do I hesitate because I fear for the future?
These are two other quotes that ground me when I think about the connection to the past and fear for the future that I associate with belongings:
Don’t stumble over something behind you. -Seneca
Anything that costs you your peace is too expensive. -Author Unknown
Both of these quotes indicate the way that things/ideas/people can get in the way of where you are going. For me, part of asking questions while I declutter is thinking about what will get me where I want to go. This relates to my next favorite quote by Marie Kondo:
The space in which we live should be for the person we are becoming now, not for the person we were in the past. -Marie Kondo
Does this item promote the person I am becoming?
This question is not one you would typically see on a pre-made decluttering list because it may be confusing or misconstrued. My mentality and the quote grounds this question in a way that makes it useful to me.
Today is the day to let go of things that no longer serve you. -Author Unknown
This quote makes me think of The Minimalists and their documentary. As much as possible I try phrase these questions in ways that relate to the origins or prominent promoters of certain ideas. For me, it makes these questions more significant and associates a deeper narrative with the question.
Do I use the item? Or does the item use me?
The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnessessary so that the necessary may speak. -Hans Hofmann
Does this item diminish my ability to appreciate what I value most?
When I first decluttered my room in Portland I used Marie Kondo’s method of removing all like items and displaying them out on the floor before I selected what I wanted to keep. This gave a better idea of how much I actually owned. When I started to put stuff back I viewed the spaces where I stored and displayed my belongings differently. Through this experience I came to appreciate it when the top of my dresser was clear except for a wooden carved box and a vase of dried flowers. By only displaying these two things, I was able to appreciate them all the more.
My compiled Questions to Help Me Declutter List:
- Does this item contribute to my masterpiece/life/style?
- Does this item have a life?
- Could someone else use this item more than me?
- If I were shopping right now, would I buy (reinvest in) this item?
- Am I hesitating because this item is an attachment to the past?
- Do I hesitate because I fear for the future?
- Does this item promote the person I am becoming?
- Do I use the item? Or does the item use me?
- Does this item diminish my ability to appreciate what I value most?
As you can tell from my commentary about the quotes I selected, they are related to the resources about minimalism I have interacted with and my own experiences decluttering. Our relationships to our belongings and way we associate value to material items is dynamic. For these reasons, the most helpful list of questions to help you declutter will likely change over time. Putting in the time to create a list of questions that you can answer and that reflect your values and interests will make the decluttering process faster and less stressful. Best of luck!