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The 3 Essential Decluttering Questions You Need to be Asking

You started out super motivated and inspired to declutter. You began the process by asking yourself the only question you thought you would need… “Does this spark joy?” But unfortunately, your house is still full of clutter. Keep reading to learn the 3 decluttering questions you need to ask to make serious progress.

The Best Decluttering Questions To Ask

I remember “that” day like it was yesterday.

I was on maternity leave after giving birth to my second child

I had just two weeks left before I was scheduled to go back to work and I knew something needed to change.

With my husband gone at work, by toddler at pre-school and my infant asleep for hours, as they do in those first few weeks I got to work.

Inspired by two books I had read during my pregnancy:

Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

The authors’ words had struck me deeply as they promised a life of less stress, more happiness and a sense of calm in our home that had been lacking for years.

So with those few remaining days I had, the process of purging, decluttering and donating began.

I quickly realized that the Kon-Mari Method did not work for me.

It was just too overwhelming and complicated.

Still inspired, I began creating my own strategies for decluttering and minimizing and started to make amazing progress.

Soon my home felt open, cozy and clutter-free.

Within a few months the real differences were profound:

  • No more weekends spent slaving away doing laundry and housework.
  • The insomnia I had suffered from for years faded into nights of deep sleep.
  • My toddler had fewer tantrums and was content playing independently with the few toys we kept.

Was it life-changing magic?

I would say so.

However, it took more than asking “Does this spark joy?” to truly put a dent in the clutter that was filling my home.

My guess is that the same will be true for you…

How to decide what to keep when decluttering

Here’s the deal with decluttering:

No one can decide what to keep (or let go of) except for you.

As much as I love going into client’s homes and assisting, supporting and guiding them through the process – I can’t make those decisions for them.

Ultimately, simplifying is a personal choice and is dependent on your family’s priorities, wants and needs.

I share the tips and strategies on my site that have worked best for my family.

I do this because the method that I started with, didn’t work well for us and I figure there have to be others in the same situation.

That being said, we are a middle-class, family of four who live in a rural town.

If you are a frugal-living, large family living in a city you may not be able to apply the exact same strategies in your home.

However, I do think that there are some guiding questions that can benefit anyone who is on  a mission to live with less that will help to clarify what to keep and what needs to go.

3 Decluttering Questions to ask when Purging your Home

Recently, I had a viral post on my experience with the KonMari Method.

Spoiler alert:

As much as I love Marie Kondo’s philosophies and good intentions – my opinion is that her strategies are not practical for most families.

One of the biggest downfalls of her method is the single decluttering question she relies on:

Does this spark joy?

Here’s the deal-io folks:

For many of us, especially beginners, this question will not help you get rid of enough stuff to help you reap the benefits of minimalism.

If you watched her Netflix special you see this play out a few times, but especially with the family that has the Christmas collection. Even after they “decluttered” they still had hundreds of items to store and organize.

In all honesty, I think any progress is helpful – but to really feel the impact of “living with less” you need to be a little ruthless with your purging.

If you stop decluttering after only asking yourself that one question you are selling yourself short.

I fully support the idea of only keeping things you love or improve your life, but as a beginner you need to start developing your “decluttering ninja skills”.

These are the skills that are going to help you when you get to those difficult items.

They will allow you to make decluttering decisions from a meaningful and practical perspective and will ensure that you still don’t have too much crap in your house when you’re done.

Because nothing is worse than spending days or weeks decluttering your home, only to realize you’re gonna need to do it again.

That’s where these clarifying decluttering questions come in:

Question #1 – Does this item improve or make my life easier on a frequent (daily/weekly/monthly) basis?

Why you need this question:

This is an important question, because some items do not spark joy but still need to be kept.

For example, I HATE ironing. In fact, I avoid purchasing clothes that need to be ironed. However, I still need to iron clothes for myself or a family member periodically. For that reason, I keep the iron – even though I wish I didn’t have to.

You will come across similar items during your journey, and when you do this question will save you from the dangers of decluttering regret; that awful feeling when you realize you donated something you actually needed to keep.

Question #2 – If I lost everything…would I replace this item?

Why you need this question:

I live in Northern California less than an hour from two of the most devastating wildfires in our state’s history – the Carr Fire in Shasta County and the Camp Fire in Butte County.

It was absolutely heart-wrenching to watch and hear stories of close friends and neighbors who lost absolutely everything.

An experience like this teaches you what is truly valuable.

Many victims of the fires had no time to evacuate, and only minutes to grab any items to save.

As you go through your home and evaluate your items consider whether or not you would replace this item of it was lost, stolen or damaged.

If you had to re-build your entire life from the ground up – what would you choose to include the second time around?

If your home is filled with items that you wouldn’t even consider saving or replacing in an emergency, what’s the point of keeping them around now?

On a side note:

I truly feel that minimalism is a great method to begin preparing for an emergency. It helps you to know exactly what you have and where the most important items and documents are at all times. Heaven forbid, that you ever have to evacuate your home – it would be much easier if it’s organized and clutter-free.

Question #3 – Does this item have sentimental value strong enough for me to pass down?

Wait….there’s more:

This is actually a two part question, and you really should answer yes to each part in order to decide to keep the item.

So the first part is as stated above:

Is this an item that means enough to me to pass down to my children?

If no, then why are you keeping it?

Does it bring you joy?


Well, then make sure it’s displayed or used so that it has a purpose and place in your home. There’s no sense in storing it away just for someone else to toss it or donate it later.

However, If you do plan to pass it down to your children, then you need to move on to part #2

Do/Will my children even want this item?

Why you need this question:

My parents have a garage full of pictures, papers from my childhood and other family heirlooms. There is SO much packed in there, it’s completely overwhelming and even if we started today there is no way for me to know:

  • What each item is
  • Who it belonged to
  • Why we have it

There are some items that I am aware of like the blankets crocheted by my grandmother that I plan to keep, because they are also meaningful to me.

But the pictures?

There are thousands and many of them have no name on the back. We have no idea who is in the picture. They are not organized or labeled and as sad as it may be, the truth is that they will probably be tossed when my parents pass.

That is why it is important to find out if your children plan to keep the items you are holding on to.

Obviously, If you have semi-adult or grown children you can go ahead and ask them.

If they say yes, then you create a system like a Trust to ensure it goes to them when the time comes. You could also choose to give it to them now.

However, maybe your kids say they don’t want the item(s).

In that case, you have to decide if you want to keep them knowing that eventually they will be donated or thrown away.

If you decide to keep them, I highly recommend displaying the item(s) so that you see  and can enjoy them as much as possible now.

If your children don’t want the item(s), and you are just going to keep them stored away you should consider donating or disposing of them now in a way that you feel comfortable with and have control over.

But what if you have young children?

Then keep the item(s) for now, but as I said above, be sure to display them and pass on any stories or history with your children frequently as they grow up so they are aware of its significance to you and your family. This step is truly what transforms your belongings into  cherished family heirlooms

There you have it mama! Three decluttering questions to help you make serious progress as you create a calm and clutter-free home.

The 3 Best Decluttering Questions To Ask Yourself

One Comment

  1. I love these questions. I might add a #4. Would I be angry if this item was damaged or broken? This has helped me when buying new items, and helped me realized that my loved ones matter more than my decorations.

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