An Alternative Scale for Gauging What You Should Declutter

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There are more questions to ask than whether or not something sparks joy.

Marie Kondo's phenomenal success is partly due to the fact that she makes decluttering so easy for people. She has pared down a daunting task to a single question: Does it spark joy? If not, into the trash (or donation bag) it goes!

But is it really so simple? Don't we all have those things in our homes that flicker, rather than spark, or maybe just give us occasional sparks, depending on the circumstances? Maybe we need an alternative scale by which to measure our belongings' usefulness – or at least one that's a little broader than relying on unpredictable inner sparks.

Enter Dorothy Breininger, a professional organizer who developed a 5-point scale to gauge whether or not an item belongs in your home. She describes it in an article for Zillow Porchlight.

The clutter scale:
5 — Important items whose place in your home is non-negotiable. (For me this would be musical instruments, original art, books, photos, handmade quilts, office files.)
4 — Items that are difficult to replace and items you use every day. (Kitchen tools, sporting and camping gear, fine bed linens, some furniture would be on my list.)
3 — Items you use occasionally but haven’t used within the last six months.
2 — Items you rarely use but feel hesitant to toss.
1 — Items you never use, like seasonal items, specialized tools or kitchen gadgets. (Kids' artwork, unused craft supplies, clothes that don't fit anymore...)

Breininger observes that there are surprisingly few items that fall into the 2 and 3 categories; and as soon as something is labeled thus, it becomes easier to purge.

When in doubt, she urges people to ask themselves the following questions: Do I love it? What's the special story behind it? Can I replace it or borrow/rent if I need it again? Does it support my goals and values?

Joy, as wonderful as it is, cannot be the sole way by which we determine what surrounds us in our homes. Sometimes things must be kept because they're practical, useful, valuable, historic; or maybe we keep them because we're frugal and environmentally-minded and do not want to have to replace something the next time it's needed, no matter how convenient or cheap it may be.

That's why it is good to have different ways of measuring an item's relevance in our lives. Thanks, Dorothy Breininger, for broadening the criteria somewhat.