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My method to decluttering isn’t exactly as inspiring as deciding what “sparks joy” and gently discarding the items that don’t. I tend to go with a tough love approach.

“Yeah, you loved that dress, but at this point it’s just taking up space.”

“Man, I wish people would quit loading me up with a bunch of junk ‘gifts’ that I’m just going to keep out of guilt for six months and then toss in the trash.”

“Stop pretending you’re cool enough to get invited to a party that would allow you to wear those sparkly pants. Get rid of them already!”

I’m a little bit ruthless, but it definitely helps me pare down all the stuff I own to items that I truly appreciate and am happy to have taking up valuable space in my home.

How can you channel this energy into your spring cleaning? Let’s take a look at some of the questions you should ask yourself anytime you’re trying to overhaul your large collection of “stuff.”

Figure Out Your Plan of Attack

First, you want to figure out how you’re going to sort through it all. Don’t resolve to do it all in one day – you don’t want to get burned out.

In fact, you might want to spread out your cleaning over several weeks, especially if you lead a busy life. Even doing a little bit each day helps. If you’re really limited on time, make it an ongoing, long-term project where you declutter as you go through your everyday actions.

For example, if you prepare your outfits the night before, take some of that time to do a quick once-over of your closet, looking for anything you haven’t worn in a while that can be put aside for donation.

You might also want to have a couple bins or boxes set aside so you can easily sort what’s going in the trash from what’s to be donated.

How do you decide what to donate and what to throw away? Basically, if it’s in good condition, you should consider donating it. Otherwise, it’s probably best to toss (or recycle) it.

Once you’ve decided on your strategy and are ready to get started, here are the questions you need to ask yourself when deciding to keep, donate or toss.

Would I Miss It?

One of the main questions you should be asking yourself when spring cleaning is, “If this item disappeared tomorrow, would I miss it?”

This won’t apply to everything (you might not miss your archive of tax documents, but you should still hold onto it), but it’s a good measure for things like clothes, books and other personal items. It helps you determine your emotional connection to an item.

If you have an old, beloved copy of a book you haven’t read in a while but are glad to have on your shelf, keep it. On the other hand, if you have a book that you’ve been promising yourself you’ll “get to” for several years now, it’s probably time to donate.

If you aren’t sure about something, give it a deadline. Stick it in the back of your closet for a month or so, and if you haven’t thought of it by the deadline, get rid of it.

Have I Used It Recently?

Even if an item has been really useful or important to you in the past, it doesn’t do any good to have a bunch of “Ghosts of Blue Jeans Pasts” cluttering up your space and limiting the room you have for newer, more useful items.

This can be especially helpful for sorting through clothing items. A lot of us have a tendency to hold onto things just in case we end up needing them – the beautiful but impractical pair of shoes that don’t go with anything in our closet, the shirt that fit us two sizes ago, the worn jeans we swear we’re going to turn into cutoffs one of these days.

Just because you haven’t used or worn an item recently doesn’t mean it automatically goes in the toss/donate pile. It just means that you need to evaluate why you haven’t used it in a while and if it’s really worth hanging onto.

Do I Need It?

Now, about those old tax documents.

You probably have a small stockpile of items that you either might need one day, or aren’t sure if it’s OK to throw out. While it’s generally a good idea to hold onto important documents you aren’t sure you’ll need, these records can start to pile up over the years, creating a big mess of paper that’s hard to navigate.

When it comes to important records and financial documents, here’s a basic rundown of how long you should keep them, according to finra.org:

  • Tax-related documents: 7 years
  • Property records: 6 years after sale of the home
  • Loan-related documents: Until the loan is paid off (you may want to keep proof that the loan was paid off indefinitely)
  • Paystubs: Until you receive your W-2
  • Bank and credit card statements: 1 month
  • Bills: Until payment clears

Keep any documentation of items that you plan to deduct/have previously deducted on your taxes. Additionally, if you make any large purchases, you should hold onto any related bills or receipts in case you ever need to substantiate an insurance claim.

What about the menagerie of junk drawer-type items you’ve got cluttering your home? Things like old remotes, cords that you aren’t sure what they belong to, old phone chargers and the like? That stuff is usually pretty safe to throw out. So are any instruction manuals you’ve kept for your belongings, since these are all online now. If you’re ever in need of instructions on how to use something, just type the item’s name and “manual” into your search engine.

Is It Taking Up More Space Than It’s Worth?

Sometimes, it’s nice to have some items on hand that you don’t necessarily use all the time but, when the occasion does arise, you’re glad you kept. A good example of this is a waffle iron.

Waffle irons are fun to have – especially if you have a kid who loves waffles. But realistically, how often are you making waffles? Once a month? Twice a year? For the other 300-plus days you aren’t using it, that waffle iron is just sitting there, taking up valuable cabinet space.

The key to these types of items is to ask yourself if they’re worth the space they take up when they aren’t in use. Maybe you consider whether to toss the waffle iron but decide that those Saturday mornings making waffles are more important than having the extra space.

Or you may decide that it’s not the end of the world if you have to make pancakes instead. There’s no right or wrong answer, as long as you’re being honest with yourself about an item’s usefulness.

Is There a Better Alternative?

The digital age offers many opportunities to minimize the amount of physical space things take up in your home. You can load photos onto a disc or flash drive, put your books onto an E-reader or get your music from a streaming service. If you have a giant DVD collection, save a few of your favorites, donate the rest and subscribe to a video streaming service to satisfy your entertainment needs.

Additionally, any physical resources and manuals you have can be given away and replaced with a simple internet connection. You don’t need multiple cookbooks or a set of encyclopedias when you have the World Wide Web at your fingertips.

If you have a bunch of files and documents that are taking up a lot of space, it might be worth it to spend a day scanning them onto your computer. Just be sure to back them up onto some sort of external drive.

While you’re doing this, go into all your important accounts and see which ones you can get paperless statements for. This will prevent a future build-up of document clutter and cut down on the amount of paper you have to shred.

While not everything in your life can (or should) be digitized, don’t be afraid to use technology to your advantage when it comes to decluttering and making the most of your space.

Get to a Comfortable (For You) Level of Clutter

This cleaning strategy requires you to be brutally honest with yourself. Asking yourself these questions will only get you so far if your answer to each one has you holding on to every single item.

We all have different tolerance levels for clutter, and while not everyone is going to end their spring cleaning as a minimalist with nothing but the bare essentials in their home, you should have at least a few bags of trash or donations to show for your hard work.

How do you know if you’re doing it right? If you end up with a house that’s got slightly less stuff in it and is easier to tidy, you’ve probably done a good job.

What are your top spring cleaning tips? Share them with us in the comments below!

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