How to Make Decluttering Decisions With Ease and Confidence

Lying on the floor in front of me were three pairs of black summer sandals.

Each pair had its good and bad features.  There were the extremely comfortable but rather clunky-looking ones, the super-cute but quite uncomfortable strappy ones, and the ones that were rather cute and adequately comfortable, but took a bit more effort to wear since each shoe had three adjustment points. 

I knew I really only needed one pair of black sandals, but which one?

Maybe I should just keep them all....

black sandals

Maybe you've been in this situation.

You know your life will be better with less stuff, but you're struggling to decide what to keep and what to remove.  Paring down becomes slow and difficult, and sometimes (like I did in this situation), you get frustrated and wind up keeping everything.

Decluttering requires a lot of choices.  So how do you decide?

3 tips for making decluttering decisions

1.  Acknowledge your feelings.

Stop and pay attention.  What feelings do you have about this decision?

  • I feel guilty about spending $100 on these shoes I've barely worn.
  • I worry I'll be less attractive without my shoe collection, or less admirable if I own a smaller wardrobe, house, etc.
  • I feel obligated to volunteer for that job I've "always" done in the past.  I don't want to let people down.
  • I can't imagine getting rid of the dress I was wearing when he proposed.  And those were my very first toe shoes!

These feelings can cloud our thinking and make decisions very difficult, even though clearing out a closet, getting rid of the contents of a junk drawer, or paring one or two commitments from a schedule should be fairly easy... in theory.

Pausing and acknowledging your feelings is the first step toward dealing with them.

2.  Imagine the worst.

When we struggle with a decision, it's often because we fear making the wrong one.  But when we dig a bit deeper we can usually get more specific about the outcome we dread.

  • I'm afraid to get rid of the extra-comfortable clunky sandals because I might go on a long walk. 
  • I'm afraid I might go somewhere dressy that requires the cute but uncomfortable sandals.
  • I'm afraid to get rid of my extra dishes because I might throw a big dinner party someday.
  • I'm afraid to donate the lamps my aunt gave me because she might be offended.
  • I'm afraid to declutter my collection of souvenir teaspoons because I might forget where I've been.
  • I'm afraid to give away my long-unused hobby tools because I might want to return to that hobby someday.
  • I'm afraid to give up this volunteer position because it's what I'm known for.  And what if someone does it better? 

From the trivial to the important, specifically defining your fear will lead you to a better decision.  Once you know what's holding you back, you can work on doing something about it.

So state the worst-case scenario you've been imagining.  Is it really likely to happen, or are you letting your imagination run away with you?  And if the worst happened, how could you deal with it?

Armed with this information, you might find it easier to face your fears and make a decision.  After all, once you admit that the worst-case scenario might be donning a pair of athletic shoes, borrowing some dinner plates, renting a sewing machine, or learning that your aunt gave her old housewares with many expectations and strings attached, you may be ready to move forward with your decluttering.

As I thought about decluttering extraneous black sandals, it was true that I couldn't predict all of my future footwear needs.  But I could figure out the most likely ones, and decide that a few extra buckles wouldn't keep me from regularly wearing attractive, well-fitting sandals.

3.  Define your ideals.

Create a vision that makes decisions clearer.  For example, instead of haphazardly reducing your wardrobe, look at the items you love and wear the most, and consider the colors, patterns, cuts, and silhouettes they share.

Say that you notice your preferences for rich colors, subtly-patterned fabrics, a skinny silhouette, and comfort plus easy care.  Using this information, you can decide ahead of time that you'll remove anything white or pastel, anything with a large or contrasting pattern, anything baggy or bulky (such as heavy sweaters, flared pant legs, and full skirts), and anything that has to be dry-cleaned or washed by hand.

By defining your ideal wardrobe, you remove the angst from decision-making and also combat what psychologists call decision fatigue, that feeling of overwhelm we have when faced with too many choices.

You can use this strategy in other areas too:

  • To declutter a room, decide the purpose of the space and then remove what doesn't belong, such as the extra computer and the kids' toys in your bedroom, or the gym bags and piles of paper that hang around the kitchen.
  • To declutter your schedule, ask what you need to get done or want to achieve.  Then stick with those priorities.

With any decision, defining your ideal helps you discover what matters to you.  In many cases, choices become obvious.  Now you can declutter with more ease and confidence.

Updated June 2023


  1. I retired in 2019 and knew decluttering was necessary in my condo. I have lost 50 pounds during the pandemic and rejoice daily that I had ready to wear polos, jeans, and a variety of sweaters and jackets that are in good shape to wear and didn’t have to purchase a single item during our lockdown. I have donated as many things as Dress For Success mentioned they needed on their website. I have a niece who will return to teaching who could use dressier tops and other items. I have donated about 15 skirts to another charity. I am a functional messy person who knows I need to declutter and love to give my daughter as much as she wants in all areas of lamps, platters, her toys, etc. My point is that I am continuing to be so grateful that I saved these items that broke the “was it used in the last year rule”. In trying to walk an hour per day, I have tossed about 4 pairs of sneakers I was so glad I had. I have read the slob blogs. I used to be a minimalist before it had a label. 25 years ago I worked 3 jobs and needed professional attire that I no longer need, but I don’t beat myself up because when I needed smaller sizes during a global pandemic, I already had everything I needed.

    1. It sounds like you had a lot of classic items that are still in style, since they are still useful after so many years. I'm glad that worked out so well for you (and for your niece and others)! Now that you are gifting, donating, and using up items that sat for so long, the end result will be a streamlined closet.


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