Earlier this week, Dillon asked me if we had any 3-ring binders. He presented the request at the exact moment when he was ready to leave for school.

“Actually,” I said, walking from the kitchen to the living room, “I think we do.”

I opened the IKEA cabinet and handed my son a black binder, like a magician who pulls random items out of her hat on demand. I threw in some notebook paper for good measure.

I was proud of myself. I’ve been known to toss something out because no one wants it, needs it, or uses it, and then suddenly someone is searching for that very same thing—like the Christmas Monopoly game and the two-year-old oatmeal in the pantry.

Over the years I’ve blogged about my decluttering journey, the ways I’ve gotten my family involved, and the bittersweet task of dealing with sentimental things. My desire to declutter and curate my home isn’t a moral position about how much stuff one should have. For me, it comes down to whether the things I own add value to my life or get in the way.

Last week I told you that I’m reading the book Happier at Home, which is about how author Gretchen Rubin spent nine months exploring ways to make home feel more like home. In the first chapter, Rubin tackles her possessions. She concluded that it wasn’t a matter of how many things she owned. It was a matter of how engaged she was with those things.

The engagement made all the difference.

A few months ago, I realized Blake wasn’t putting his clean clothes away because his drawers were already overflowing. So I took everything out, Marie Kondo style, separated the clothes by category, and told him to only put back what he wanted to keep.

It took him less than 15 minutes. I’ve noticed that even though my kids act like they don’t know how to use a trash can and stockpile their belongings on any available flat surface, when pressed, they have a good sense of what’s meaningful to them and what isn’t.

Recently, Cate made a vision board for a school assignment. She brought it home and told me all about it, and then she said that I could recycle it. It felt like a generous offer, absolving me of mom guilt. But this time I said, “I think I’m going to keep it.” I felt grateful for some past version of Angie who went online and bought a few art portfolios and storage boxes to save such things.

This brings me to Rubin’s other discovery about decluttering:

I noticed that when I consciously permitted myself to save a particular thing, I was able to get rid of more stuff. Carefully preserving a few pieces of artwork meant that I didn’t have to keep every drawing.

As much as I love to declutter and can get carried away sometimes, I’ve also gone to the other extreme. I’ve spent the better part of many days buried in a sea of memories and decision fatigue.

I’ve come to the conclusion that decluttering is a massive project that can take days, months, or even years to complete. And also, decluttering doesn’t have to be a big deal. It can be a simple task that I weave into my regular routines. Sometimes a quick pass through a drawer or closet can make all the difference.

So now, when a decluttering decision feels too difficult I ask myself:

  • Do I have to get rid of this?
  • Do I have a place for it?
  • If I went looking for it would I know where to find it?

If the answer yes to all three, I’ve decided that it can stay for now. That’s why I was able to honor my son’s last minute request for a 3-ring binder. Which made me feel magical and supports the argument that saving a few things “just in case” is absolutely worth it.

Some other stories I’ve written about decluttering:

Peter Walsh is right. It’s all too much.

Decluttering: Getting the family involved

Tackling the attic (a minefield of mementos)

I’m following along with Gretchen Rubin’s nine-month Happier at Home project. If you decide to join me, please let me know in the comments!

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