Individuals with Lived Experience

Questions To Help Sort

Deciding what to keep or what to let go of, can be challenging. Ask yourself these questions when you are sorting. They can help you to set limits on the Keep pile.


Have you used this in the last year?

Seriously consider discarding shoes, clothing, accessories, housewares, electronics, linens, appliances and any other items that have not been used in the last year [Steketee & Frost, 2007]. Think about it this way: Did you realize you still had the item? Were you really struggling without it while it sat at the bottom of that pile? Maybe it’s not as useful as your mind is leading you to believe.

Do you have a plan to use this? How often? Soon?

[Steketee & Frost, 2007]. Consider discarding items you rarely use, or that you’re storing just in case. Saving items for possible use in the future can interfere with your life right now. Avoid keeping things because you could use them.

Could you get this some other way if you really needed it?

[Steketee & Frost, 2007]. If you let go of this item to make room for the important things in your life right now, could you get it another way? Could you borrow, rent or purchase it again if really needed? Or could you get what you need done by being creative and improvising instead, should the occasion for this need arise?

How many of these do you already have? How much is enough?

[Steketee & Frost, 2007]. People with excess clutter tend to categorize possessions into many small categories, e.g. light black cardigans with zippers for casual occasions, light black cardigans with zippers for formal occasions, medium black cardigans… This tendency of the mind to over-categorize might lead you to think you need more versions of something than you actually do.

Are you keeping this to avoid feeling distressed about letting it go?

Decisions to keep items based on anxiety, fear, guilt, loss or other discouraging feelings rarely bring lasting joy or fulfillment. Consider if it’s worth the cost to your overall well­ being to keep it. As best you can, discard items that are kept out of fear or distress. (See Tips for Sentimental Items.)

Does this fit with your vision, your values or your key needs?

[Steketee & Frost, 2007]. Sorting your possessions is an opportunity to redefine what you want to have in your life and home. What’s important to you – peace, health, family? Could you live your dreams without this? Does it enhance your quality of life? Select items to keep that really express who you are, how you want to live and that will help you fulfill your dreams and passions.

Is this really valuable or important, or does it just seem that way because you’re looking at it now?

[Steketee & Frost, 2007]. How does this compare with the things you value highly? If you’re keeping something because you believe it’s worth money- such as collectibles or antiques – consider having it appraised to determine the actual market value. Go to your local pawn/consignment shop or compare your possession with similar items on eBay or other Internet sites.

Do you really need this?

[Steketee & Frost, 2007]. If you let go of this item, what impact would it have on your life? Could you get by without it? What is the worst thing that could happen if you let it go and then needed it later? Would you die without it? Would your safety be impaired without it? Would your health be jeopardized? Is it critical for your work or essential for your records? Would you buy it again if you didn’t already own it?

Is it in good condition?

[Dinning, 2006]. Depending on the object, different questions may apply: E.g., Is it current? Is it of good quality? Is it accurate and/or reliable? Is it easy to understand? Is it damaged and in need of repair? If it does need fixing, for how long have you been planning to fix it? Will you do it any time soon? Items that are damaged or need to be repaired can take a lot of time and energy to fix. Decide if you really have the time and interest to deal with it.

Will you review or read it?

Books, magazines, flyers and papers contain a lot of information. Is keeping them the best way to remember? Does keeping them really protect you? Does keeping them really offer you opportunities and if so, how real and important are they? Do you really have the time, interest or need to review it all? With libraries and the Internet, it’s easy to locate information on just about any topic. Keep newspapers for a week and magazines for a month: discard the rest.

Would letting go of this help you with your clutter problem?

[Dinning, 2006]. Do you really have the space for this? Or, if you think again about the vision you have for your life, home and future, is this item a key part of that vision? If not, letting it go may be difficult, but also a wonderful way to embrace your clutter-free future.
Tips: Make up your own sorting questions (e.g., “If I moved to Paris, would I bring this with me?”). Or make a set of rules (e.g., “I will keep two black cardigans .”). Write these down and post them in the area you are sorting for easy reference.