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How to decide what to throw out and what to donate

You love your things, but you don’t love the clutter. Whatever is prompting you to clean out your home, it’s always nice to get a fresh start on decorating, revamp your wardrobe choices, and let go of things that no longer serve you.

Decluttering can get overwhelming sometimes, but luckily, there are a few great methods for deciding what to throw out, what to donate, and what to keep for yourself. Here’s what you need to know to make decluttering and downsizing a joy rather than an exercise in frustration.

Woman placing clothes in donation boxes
New Africa/Shutterstock

Decluttering quick tips — Should I give this away or toss it?

Before you make your piles and start dragging things out of closets, there are a few things you need to keep in mind. Not everything is donate-worthy, and trying to give everything to your local thrift store or shelter can make their job a lot harder. Go Green Drop discusses the various items that are accepted at several donation spots.

Ask yourself these questions before donating:

  • Would I use this? — More than just the style or need, take a close look at the thing you’re donating. Does it have holes? All its pieces? Is it still usable without a significant investment of time or money? Is it collectible? If the answer is yes, donate it. If no, toss or recycle it. No one wants your broken things
  • Can donation centers take this? — Some things aren’t acceptable to donate from a legal standpoint. Expired car seats and cribs can be a safety hazard. Safety Convertible Car Seats asks to check if the seat’s been recalled. Breast pumps or other gadgets that come in contact with bodily fluids are a potential safety hazard. If you aren’t sure, do a quick internet search or call your local donation center. Then, find ways to recycle safely.
  • Is this appropriate? — If you’re donating to your local school’s clothing closet, for example, your child’s old clothing may not be school-appropriate. Furniture that your pet has ruined may not be a good fit for your domestic-violence shelter. Consider whether you’re creating more work for your donation center before you donate.

Decluttering methods

Now that we’re clear on a few ground rules, let’s take a look at some different methods you can use to clean out your closet and refresh your home.

  • KonMariMarie Kondo believes you should keep things that bring you joy. How many of your things to keep is up to you, however. Hold each book in your hand, for example, and ask yourself, “Does this bring me joy?” If your answer is “I feel obligated to keep this textbook because it was expensive,” you can donate it. Repeat for all your things by category, going in the order she suggests.
  • Swedish Death Cleaning — If you knew you would die next week, how would you prepare your home for your family to go through it? Swedish Death Cleaning takes the approach of sparing your loved ones having to go through your six months of unsorted mail and your piles of winter clothing you keep in the attic. Clean out like you don’t have tomorrow coming, like NBC News explained.
  • The 90/90 Rule — A minimalist way of looking at the things you use daily, this method asks you to look back three months in time. Have you worn/used/read/watched this item? Now look ahead three months.

Will you wear/use/read/watch this item in those months? If the answer to both is “no,” donate, recycle, or toss the item.

If the item is seasonal, alter the question just a bit. Last season, did you wear/use/read/watch this item, and will you next season? The recommendations are the same.

  • The 20/20 Rule — A companion to the 90/90 rule, this option can cover those things you think you might need one day, but don’t necessarily want to store. If you can replace the item within 20 minutes for less than $20, get rid of it, as Early Bird Mom says. You can also alter this rule to fit your timeline and budget.
  • Drawer/hanger rotation — Sometimes, we don’t realize how little of our wardrobe we wear. For hanging clothes, use your closet organization to help. Place your entire closet on hangers facing one way and turn the hanger around when you wear the item. Donate or toss items that haven’t turned around within three to six months (aside from seasonal clothing). For drawers, put freshly laundered clothing in the back of the drawer to bring unworn items to the front. Donate what you skip over.
Person placing clothes in donation boxes

The power of decluttering

Clutter causes us stress, so finding methods that make it easier to decide what to get rid of is a big part of reclaiming your space. When you aren’t sure what to keep and what to give away, these methods can make the decision more clear.

Once you get started decluttering, you may find the process gets easier. You get more practice determining the things you love, so you can make decluttering a regular part of your life. Those little refreshes can bring you a lot of joy.

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Deb Goncalves
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Deb's work has appeared on Moms, Babygaga, and WorldAtlas. When she's not working (that's hard to say about a Capricorn), she…
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