Decluttering, without regrets

Do you feel overwhelmed with stuff that you and your family have accumulated over the years, but at the same time very reluctant to make a start on getting rid of things?

I believe the minimalist trend can go too far. If you are too radical you can throw away possessions which connect you to the past. You may end up regretting going overboard with your choices. I’ve moved houses (and countries) a few times, and I still keep some things of no practical use just because they are so personal to me.

So here are some tips on decluttering with no regrets:

Have a vision

First up, assess your motivation and visualise the end result that you want from your decluttering process.

If you are moving house, are you aiming to minimise the amount you take with you?

Are you downsizing?

If you are staying put, are you running out of space?

Do you feel guilty about owning so much?

Have children moved out, leaving rooms that you could fruitfully re-purpose?

Plan the process

Set aside some blocks of time in your calendar. If you have a deadline to move, start the process as early as possible.

Break the job down in to more manageable chunks. For example, a single cupboard, a room, a bookcase or a drawer. Regular, smaller attention will reduce stress and fatigue and keep you focused on the task.

There are numerous decluttering ‘systems’ and you might like to research and trial different ones to find one that works for you.


If you are someone who keeps concert programmes, letters and cards, old photos and newspaper clippings you will know they can be hard to part with. Buy some proper acid-free archive boxes and organise them so you can enjoy them with your family in the future.

Consider too if there are historical associations or libraries that might be interested in what you have.


Old paper tax returns, appliance manuals, notes from your PhD – if you still need them, scan them (there are companies that will do this for you) and file digitally with a back up.

Toys and children’s clothing

Keep a few favourites from your children’s past and create an archive box. Ask your children if there is anything they would like as a memento of their childhood before proceeding to the charity shop or bin.

Your wardrobe

Many decluttering blogs advise getting rid of clothes you don’t wear in a three month period which makes me wonder if they have ever heard of seasons and special occasions!

The questions I would ask are:

– does it fit?

– is it in good condition?

– does it suit your current style? (and does it work with other items in your wardrobe?)

– does it have a specific purpose? For example you might keep a padded jacket for annual trips to the snow, and a ballgown for black tie occasions.

– is it irreplaceable? Such as your wedding dress or your first piece of ‘real’ jewellery.

If you are really not good at answering these questions, and it matters (eg because of your job or social position), I would recommend you consider the services of a professional wardrobe consultant.

As a rule, fashion tends to run in ten-year cycles so anything in your wardrobe that is older than ten years should be disposed of unless it is a a yes to the above questions and is also of a classic design.

Investment pieces such as a Chanel jacket or a Burberry trenchcoat – will outlast fashion trends. Even if they don’t fit you anymore, you can archive them as your children or grandchildren might be interested.


Art, antiques, stamps, coins – anything collectable and of value should be professionally valued before you make a decision of whether and how to part with it. If you are downsizing, consider whether or not your heirs will be really interested or whether it will just create a problem for your estate.

As noted above, you might also take advice on whether you have anything that could be donated to a gallery or museum. If you are moving, and unsure of how your art collection will work in your new home, take it with you. You’ll have a far better idea of what you want to keep once you see it in the new environment.

Decorator pieces

One approach I endorse is to empty your shelves and coffee tables, and just place back the pieces that you really love and that harmonise with your decor. Everything else is a potential candidate for the charity shop.

If there are things you really don’t want to part with (or can’t – for example a wedding gift), then sort them by colour or theme and box them up (assuming you have the space of course). Periodically review the boxes to see whether you want to rotate some objects for a different look.


Books are not really clutter in my view, but if you do need to downsize your bookshelves, paperback novels that were bestsellers in their day, text books, encylopedia sets, catalogues and other random non-fiction should be your first target.

Keep your favourite coffee table books, non-fiction of ongoing interest, classic novels, standard references, childhood favourites and cook books. If you still have shelves to fill, books with attractive spines.

Final thoughts

Decluttering is painful because there is always the ‘what if?’ question which you have to ignore to make headway. Embrace the process, but keep back some items that you can archive without taking up too much space. That way your decluttered home will still connect you to your past and you won’t regret the process.

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