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How much is enough?

The answer to this simple question can motivate and guide you as you reduce clutter.

By Karen Datko Mar 29, 2010 5:25PM

This guest post comes from Erin Doland at Unclutterer.


As part of my second set of 2010 resolutions, I started going through my entire home and office playing the “I’m moving overseas!” uncluttering game.


However, I ran into a problem because I know I’m not actually moving overseas. It’s like setting your alarm clock 10 minutes ahead -- you always know it’s 10 minutes ahead. I can’t seem to trick myself into behaving in a way that makes the game beneficial. And, since I already own much less stuff than the average American, I’m using that as some strange justification for my decision-making process.


I’ve come to realize that this game isn’t for me and that I need a new approach. Taking the place of “I’m moving overseas!” is my new “how much is enough?” evaluation procedure.


The premise of “how much is enough?” is simple:

  • Sort objects into groups by product type. All hammers in one pile, and all free mini-tubes of toothpaste from the dentist in another.
  • Evaluate product types and decide what we need and what inspires us. Is it necessary that I have three hammers? Is one hammer enough to meet my family’s needs? Is more than one hammer a distraction (clutter)? Is having one pair of scissors in the sewing supplies, another pair in my office desk, and another pair in the kitchen the best solution for our family? Do I have more yarn than I could possibly knit in a year or in a lifetime?
  • Sort remaining objects into groups by purpose. All home maintenance and repair tools in one pile, and all toiletries in another.
  • Evaluate purpose groups and decide what we need and what inspires us. Is it necessary that I have a cream rinse, conditioner, and a leave-in conditioner for my hair? Do we need earthenware when our china is more durable and can go in the dishwasher and microwave? Do I need 40 photographs of family and friends on display, or will five really great pictures inspire me more because I’ll actually look at them instead of seeing a mess of frames?
  • When returning objects to their official storage spaces, ask again if what I have is more than I need or effective at inspiring me. Am I owning this object just to own it, or is it an object that my family or I really need and/or find truly inspiring?

What I’m learning is that I have more than I need to achieve the remarkable life I desire, and I don’t need to be surrounded by so much stuff. It is ridiculous for me to own 10 sweaters when I only wore one this past winter (and this was the worst winter we’ve had in Washington, D.C., in my lifetime). One sweater is enough for me. I’m simply not a sweater-wearing person. And, if I need another, I thankfully have the resources to easily acquire another sweater. All nine of my other sweaters can be donated to a charitable group for people who really need sweaters during the winter to stay warm.


My answer to the question “how much is enough?” is turning out to be: much less than I imagined. My family and I don’t require too many physical objects to be healthy, happy, and comfortable in the modern world. And, in a couple rare cases, I’m also finding that there are objects we need but that we don’t own. In these situations, I’m making room in our home for these items and I’ve started saving money to buy them.

If you choose to use the “how much is enough?” evaluation procedure to help you sort through your clutter, remember that your answers will be very personal. The decisions that you make will likely be different from mine -- you may need more than one sweater in your wardrobe -- and that is OK. What I’m learning is that my answer to the question is much different from it was even just two years ago. Don’t be surprised if your answers have changed over time, too. Happy uncluttering.


Related reading at Unclutterer:

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