How to know when to stop decluttering –this is how organizers figure out what to keep and what to throw

Decluttering can feel nice once you get the hang of it, but you don’t need to get rid of all your stuff. Here’s how you can tell what’s clutter and what’s not

living room with white walls, white sofa, desk , wood round coffee table and two stools
(Image credit: Ryan Garvin. Design: Brandon Architects and Brooke Wagner Design)

With the rise of minimalism came the underlying understanding that we must get rid of stuff (a lot of stuff) if we want to achieve the aesthetic. Many TV shows and books about decluttering encourage us to look at our belongings and decide if we actually need them in our lives. More often than not we decide we don’t, and so we find ourselves embarking on a decluttering frenzy in pursuit of a calming, minimalist space that will better our lives and bring us peace of mind. 

There are a million and one benefits to decluttering. As a modern society, we are surrounded by stuff that clutter our homes and our minds. Decluttering feels good. It’s not just getting rid of physical objects, but also getting rid of mental baggage. However, like with anything that is good for us, overdo it and it becomes the opposite. 

When it comes to how to declutter your home, there’s an art to being a balanced minimalist and achieving a clean, clutter-free aesthetic, without throwing away most of your belongings. Here’s how to look at minimalism through a more human-friendly lens, and how to decide what actually needs throwing. 

A balanced approach to decluttering for a minimalist aesthetic 

two white boucle chairs with a black coffee table in front of windows

(Image credit: Molly Culver. Design: Britt Design Group)

I have to admit I am guilty of going all in on decluttering. I have been known to give half the belongings of my wardrobe to charity, only to go in the shop the next day and buy some back because I thought I went too far (I then re-donated it so I think I basically did a double good deed there). The point is that decluttering with the aim of achieving that minimalist modern home aesthetic can feel a bit overwhelming.  

I spoke to professional organizing expert and minimalist Shira Gill, whose latest book Organized Living is out now, to get her thoughts on what minimalism really is, or should be, about. Her approach was much more balanced and human than what I had in mind. ‘Most people think of minimalism as scarcity and taking things away. For me, minimalism is about leaning into the things that you value most and letting go of the things that are just providing clutter and distractions. Creating more time, space, and freedom for the things that you care about, and value,’ she explains, and I find this to be a more palatable approach. 

However, when you find yourself in the middle of a big pile of things on your bedroom floor, how can you actually tell if an item is worth keeping or letting go of?

How do you decide if something is clutter or not?  

minimalist bedroom with light pink walls and light wood bedside tables, white lamps

(Image credit: Christian Torres. Design: Miranda & Co.)

Before you do like me, panic, and give everything away, Shira advises you to start by clarifying your values around what is important to you, in your life, separate from the things you own. Think about the support you want and need in your life. ‘An example would be: I value community and creativity and travel, and so I want to set up a home and a space that makes these things easy to implement in my life. So when I’m going through a big box of stuff and I get stuck, I ask myself or my client is this item getting you closer to the life that you want or is it getting you further away from the life that you want?,’ she explains. 

I learned from Shira that decluttering and minimalism are about so much more than just things, it’s about the life you want to lead. ‘It’s far beyond the stuff, and more about clarifying what you value and what you want to make space for and I think frequently people just don’t spend enough time to think about these questions or even question what they are surrounded with in their homes and if it’s providing value or if it’s there just because it randomly is there,’ Shira adds.  

How do you know if you’ve gone too far?

cupboard with glass doors and folded towels

(Image credit: Raquel Langworthy. Design: Christina Kim Interior Design)

As great as decluttering is, with its many benefits for our space and our minds, too much of a good thing can turn into the opposite. Right? Shira’s approach is balanced here too. ‘Minimalism can go too far if you go overtly ruthless, although I have almost never seen that in my 15-year career. It’s typically the other way, of holding on to too much and adopting more of a scarcity mentality and thinking that you have to cling to everything because of identity or guilt or lack of clarity. I’ve almost never had someone say I regret getting rid of too much, it’s more the focus of I can’t believe how free I feel and my life is so much easier.’

However, if you don’t want to feel that you're decluttering more than necessary and get overwhelmed, approach it with the acceptance that you can just take baby steps, it's okay if it takes time, and it shouldn’t feel like a chore. Professional organizer Melissa Gugni thinks of decluttering as more of a marathon than a sprint. Having this approach will keep you grounded and intentional, and stop you from overdoing it. 

‘Marie Kondo introduced the idea of a "big declutter" done over a finite period of time and this can be great for some people. For most folks, it is just too tiring/overwhelming. I think a big sign that it's time to stop decluttering is when a client has hit this overwhelm. There is nothing wrong with tackling a room, organizing a closet, or even a box and stopping for a while. It can be good to see how it feels once one area is tackled - if it feels great, it might inspire more decluttering! But if it doesn't I say don't force it. Bringing in someone from the outside, be it a friend or a professional can help if you are feeling stuck and need to keep moving forward despite it, for an upcoming move for instance,’ she explains.  

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Raluca Racasan
News writer

Raluca is Digital News Writer for and passionate about all things interior and living beautifully. Coming from a background writing and styling shoots for fashion magazines such as Marie Claire Raluca’s love for design started at a very young age when her family’s favourite weekend activity was moving the furniture around the house ‘for fun’. Always happiest in creative environments in her spare time she loves designing mindful spaces and doing colour consultations. She finds the best inspiration in art, nature, and the way we live, and thinks that a home should serve our mental and emotional wellbeing as well as our lifestyle.