Organizing Process | Qualifications for Keeping Things

by | Mar 9, 2021 | All Things Home, Organizing | 47 comments

As I’ve been going through my house, purging and organizing, I’ve had several people ask about my thought process for what I get rid of, what I keep, as well as how I organize it.  I feel like I’ve shared it sprinkled throughout my posts about organizing, but I thought it would be helpful to put it in one post in a more concise, organized way.  So, here we go…

organizing process | antique dresser | miss mustard seed

Do I love it?

I usually start with this question because it weeds out obvious things.  If I don’t really love it, why have it in my home?   But, I have found this question alone can be problematic because it’s such a subjective judgment call.  It can easily turn into a lengthy internal debate about all of the different types of love and varying degrees.  And it’s a question that just doesn’t apply to certain things without sounding crazy…  Do I really love this printer paper?  Do I really love this slotted serving spoon?  I think this question is better when it comes to deciding the obvious things to keep.  It’s something I clearly love.  No hesitation, no debate.  I just love it and it’s not going anywhere and I don’t even need to think about it.

This question helps narrow things down so you can focus on the clutter, the stuff that is really the problem.

For those who have difficulty getting rid of things, I would throw out one word of caution when using this question as a tool…  sometimes loving something isn’t a good enough reason to keep it.  You might have an entire home packed to the brim with things you love and it’s easy to do if you don’t also have some other qualifications and rules for yourself.  In my case, I pair my love for an item with the question, “Do I have the perfect place for it?” If the answer is no, I need to sell it, donate it, etc.  I’m not truly enjoying the piece if I don’t have the perfect spot for it.

organizing process | battery drawer | miss mustard seed

Do I need it?

There are a lot of things that are in my home out of need.  I don’t love them and I would get rid of them if I could, but we need them – the litter box, the toaster oven, computer cables, a snowblower…  you get the idea.  Again, this is a great way to make quick decisions about the obvious keepers, so you can get to the clutter.

organizing process | watercolor paint tubes | miss mustard seed

Do I/will I use it?

This is question is the one that is most enlightening and where I have to force myself to be honest.  Has it been in a cabinet or drawer for a year or more?  Do I use it at all?  Have I ever used it?  Will I use it ever?  

This is where I get stuck in the gap between who I am and what I do vs. who I want to be and what I actually do.  Keeping things can show a kind of intent and hopefulness.  I will wear that when I lose weight.  I will use that when I have time.  I will make that next Christmas.  I will use those art supplies more once I take a class.  

I am generally a hopeful, optimistic person who believes people, including me, are capable of amazing change and growth.  When organizing, or any time really, I don’t want to repeat and reinforce a narrative that says I won’t ever do something I intended.  I won’t ever take that class or read that book or wear those pants again.  I am going to be as I am now forever, so all is futile.  Instead of turning it into a berate-fest, I try to balance what’s realistic vs. what’s optimistic.  I’ll also look at things from a more positive light…

When I lose weight, I’ll want the fun of trying on and buying new clothes.  I don’t need to store a bin of clothes that are a size I might never wear again.  

I haven’t made this, yet, because there are things I enjoy doing more.  Since my time is limited, I’m going to focus on the things I enjoy the most and donate or sell things that can be enjoyed by others. 

I don’t need to keep 30 tubes of paint because I might need to use one in the future.  If I end up needing a color or two, I can buy it when that need arises.  

If I think I might need/use/wear something, then I’ll put in “on hold.”  This typically involves putting it in a bin or bag in the garage.  If I decide I need it, I’ll fish it back out.  9/10 times, though, I forget about it and end up donating it.  This hold time, though, allows me to live without it to see if I miss it without any feelings of regret.

organizing process | yarn storage | art studio | miss mustard seed

Do I already own something else that I will always favor?

I’m guessing this is true of you and it’s certainly true of me.  I will always, always favor the thing I like most.  It could be my favorite pair of socks or the paper I like to paint on the best.  If I’m always going to go for the favorite, I don’t need to keep the things that I don’t like.  I will fish the socks out of the dryer instead of wearing ones that are neatly folded in my wardrobe.  I will buy a new pad of paper instead of pulling a sheet out of one I don’t like.  If that’s the case, the rest are superfluous and just taking up space.

This really helped me out as I was cleaning out the studio.  I was intentional about only keeping the things that are my favorites and getting rid of the rest.  Isn’t that the goal?  To have a house or workspace that’s full of your favorites?

organizing process | ironstone collection | antiques | blue and white built ins | miss mustard seed

I hope that sharing my thought process here encourages you as you’re cleaning out and organizing your spaces.  Organizing is one thing.  It’s pretty easy to tidy things up so they look neat.  Working through each drawer and cabinet and purging/selling/donating is quite another.  It truly is a process and one that can be challenging, especially when dealing with stuff that is sentimental, a collection that has been curated over time, or things that are tied to your work and hobbies.

But, it’s all worth it!  As I said above, imagine your home filled with your favorites.  That would be a pretty special place.  And I think most of us have that already, but we just need to do a little more editing and a little less shopping.

47 Comments

  1. Kathleen

    Marian, this was a wonderful post and I’m going to save it for reference for sure! Let me ask: Have you ever regretted getting rid of something? I ask, because of certain life’s circumstances, I had to sell a lot of things due to being without a permanent residence and couldn’t afford storage. Now, I’m seeing things I already owned and had to get rid of and wish I’d been able to keep. I absolutely refuse to buy something now that I had to get rid of. I suppose the “operative” word here is “had” to get rid of. I don’t live with any real regrets but it made me curious about some of the beautiful things I’ve admired that you no longer own. I know it’s really just “stuff” in the big picture!

    Reply
    • Marian Parsons

      I think regret is too strong of a word. There are some things that I’ll think about sometimes, especially if I see a good place for them in my current house. But, I don’t regret selling or donating anything.

      Reply
  2. Cristie

    Your explanations are very good and especially like the “Hold” idea.. put in a box with date and Hold for awhile … great idea!

    Reply
  3. jenny main

    Hi Marian, I love your little calf. He or she is not too hairy. Adorable. I couldn’t find any of your paintings on society 6? I loved this guy with mamma cow when you painted them. an you tell me how to find them ? Thank you.

    Reply
    • Bea

      Marian, I took notes for future reference because I have much decluttering and purging to do in my house. I’ve let things go because I’ve been busy with my business and I don’t have the energy I had when I was younger. I need to make this decluttering a priority. Thanks so much for your well thought out article.

      Reply
  4. Teddee Grace

    This was really helpful, especially your last two points. Thanks for the inspiration!

    Reply
  5. MaryLisa

    I’ve been a clean out person all my life. I love when things have a place. My friends always thought I was not very sentimental but actually I am because I love when things I enjoy can be seen and used. Ive changed directions with collectibles over the years as my interests change so it’s ok to let go. Welcoming a fresh look is always fun…

    Reply
    • Marian Parsons

      Yes, that’s such a good point. Nothing is important when everything is. Editing what you own helps you enjoy what you have more.

      Reply
    • Miep

      I am reorganising the house for a good five weeks now. Sold many things and other went to second hand stores. I sold purses, shoes, a table, a floor lamp, even some of my dear plants who became too big for our house and many other stuff. It feels great and liberating and it feels like I can breathe again. The only thing I did not enjoy was going trough my big collection of teddy bears. But I did it anyway, just keeping the really old ones ( still 16 🙄, I ‘ll need to sell some of them too) and some I received from my daughter on a special occasion and my own big bear from when I was little. All the other ones I did put on sale. And the big antique chest who did keep them all free of dust is for sale too. No way back now 😉

      Reply
  6. Roberta Cordell

    I have no trouble letting things go, when we sold our house and moved into independent senior living I got rid of about a third of our things. I had been ill or recovering from a broken hip and pelvis and at the time I just wanted stuff gone. I can honestly say the only thing I keep thinking about and wishing I had kept is my collection of antique string balls in a basket I wove in college. I only kept the spool of linen string and really wish I had thought about that more. I had been an antique dealer for a few years and had so many beautiful primitive things. Thank goodness our four kids loved most of it so I can still go to their house to visit my “stuff”. You helped me make a good decision the other day. I have been thinking about buying one of those rolling carts to keep my craft supplies on, then I read where you said you did not really need to keep your supplies visible all the time. I am really bothered about stuff being everywhere. We moved from a big house to a small apartment. Now instead of having my own craft/sewing room my husband and I share one room for his office and place for his incline bench , it also is my sewing, crafting everything space. I was not thinking about where I would put the cart just that I wanted it. So thank you…I will be purging and storing things where I can get them but don’t have to look at them.

    Reply
    • mimi

      Roberta, I’m glad to read that you had an “a-ha moment” about the rolling cart for your supplies. Might I suggest another way to store your crafting/sewing supplies? Please forgive me if you are already aware of this method as it is new to me and thus, I’m excited about it. Me, I love Lego minifigures & look forward to the day of grandkids playing with them. My recent new to me method was: What is the size of my current container? A storage bin? A bookshelf? A shoe box? Whatever I deem to be the container for the Lego minifigures, that’s the container & the limit of me buying them & filling that container…. can’t go giving it another bookshelf or shoe box unless, I make room for it by getting rid of another “container’s” contents. This was my a-ha moment. In the past, I just bought anotther container without making room for it– then a stack of boxes would be sitting in a corner holding stuff. Not a pretty sight. (sigh) Just sharing. Again my apologies if you’re already aware of this.

      Reply
  7. Susan Guynes

    This is why I started following you years ago. The hope you find in the things around you. I’m a sentimental mess when it comes to my things. As I have grown older things I love have changed although my true favorites still remain the same. Currently I started purging, but continued to keep too much stuff. I was at an impasse with my self. This post today has given me hope to re-evaluate if I truly love something or am just seeing the hope in the item. Thank you just for being you and sharing yourself with us.

    Reply
    • Marian Parsons

      Oh, I’m so glad! I think that learning to let go of things is a process and it’s very normal to have to make several passes over the same things. As time goes by, it becomes easier to see what we don’t use or need and we can pass things along with less angst. It’s a process, so be patient with yourself. 🙂

      Reply
  8. Rosalina Garcia

    This post was so helpful. I’m going n the process of downsizing stuff. I have so much it’s overwhelming. The guidelines you gave make so much sense. Thanks for putting it all in one post.

    Reply
  9. monique odman

    You said it well, all of it makes perfect sense, now it is for me to meditate and try my best to follow your good principals. It won’t be easy, but I’ll try. When it comes to selling things, I do not know how to begin. You are a business woman and know all the ropes. The only way I knew how was to organize our neighborhood spring stoop sale, now I do not think that it will be as popular, the neighborhood has become too snobbish.

    Reply
    • mimi

      I think it depends on where you live. I lived in WA state & Craigslist was a great place to sell. When I lived in TX, Craigslist was ok but Facebook marketplace was preferred. If you are not wanting any money for it, but would like to know it’s wanted by a particular person/family, you could look into buynothingproject.org and see if your area has a group, then you post the item & somebody will inquire then you can meet at the grocery store parking lot or wherever you feel most comfortable meet.

      Reply
    • Marian Parsons

      For nicer things, listing them on craigslist or Facebook Marketplace or taking them to sell at a local consignment shop are good places to start. Sometimes farmer’s markets have a little yard sale section you can sign up for if you can’t sell out of your garage. You could also look into selling at a church yardsale or even pair up with a friend who has a neighborhood better suited for yard sales. I know some of this is tricky with Covid, but it won’t be like this forever.

      Reply
  10. Kim

    I do have one thing to say about keeping “extra” paint on hand. For the entire past pandemic year, I have been completely unable to buy ANY paint or varnish here in Canada. The stores have been out of stock ENTIRELY. I have so many paintings that are stuck in my head because they cannot be put on canvas thanks to the inability to get any supplies. How I wish I had extras of everything on hand! It is a good thing that I don’t make a living doing my paintings, or I would be out of work. All inquiries into the paint stores say that they have no idea whatsoever if or when they will be getting anything in stock. I have tried ordering from American stores but they will no longer ship to Canada. It is beyond depressing, when painting is your forte. It is good that I have other hobbies as well, but how I long for the day when I can paint again. If I am ever able to buy paint and varnish again, I will be buying at least 2 of everything I need.

    Reply
    • Marian Parsons

      What mediums do you use? I’m getting rid of some used art supplies and would be happy to send you some if you’re willing to pay shipping. Just send me an e-mail about it – marian@missmustardseed.com

      Reply
      • Kim

        Marian, that is such a kind and generous offer, and I greatly appreciate it. I will have to pass on this, though, thanks to various allergy issues here in our household. My latest communique with the paint company is that they are STILL working on gearing up their production lines thanks to all the lockdown shutdowns. I see now that you are going to have a “garage sale” of your extras, which is a great idea!

        Reply
  11. Elizabeth

    Hi Marian: I know that this is a retro question, but can you please identify the fabric you used for your living room drapes? I have spent hours looking for it or something similar to no avail. Thanks in advance.

    Reply
    • Marian Parsons

      It’s Canterbury Indigo by Covington.

      Reply
  12. Jeannie

    I am wondering if anybody else struggles with this issue. And that is, what do we do with sentimental things left to us by those who are no longer here? I have things from my grandparents, my parents and a sister and I hold on to them because it’s a tie to them. Some of them I love, some of them not so much, but I feel maybe like I’m betraying a trust if I get rid of them. Maybe this makes no sense. Any ideas? And it probably doesn’t help that the losses are relatively new.

    Reply
    • mimi

      Jeannie, I’m sorry for your loss. It can be heartbreaking. Please allow me to share that I’m the youngest grandchild of my grandparents. I’m in my 50s. Recently, after asking my two young adult children if they want the bone china, that’s all white, and I received a loud “no,” I reached out to my cousins via text & asked if they wanted our grandma’s china. They replied in a matter of 24 hours and said, thanks for including us about family belongings, but no, thank you. So I’ve inventoried it all, took pictures, and loaded up the pictures on my computer and now, I’m doing research on how much to sell the extensive set for on eBay. I’ll take a picture of 1 place setting & keep that picture & tell the story of the place setting & what it meant to me. Then I’ll happily sell it to someone who will appreciate it. I always ask cousins about our grandparents’ previously owned stuff. I always ask my siblings about our parents’ previously owned stuff. That’s how I choose to do it. I know our relatives want to live happy lives & we can begin by having a home that “hugs” us with the items we want in it. And if what we want is space & cleared off surfaces & no boxes stacked in a corner, then so be it. We get to define what makes our home a happy home for us. I hope this was helpful.

      Reply
    • Marian Parsons

      I wrote this response below, but it applies to your question as well…

      I agree that sometimes you need to keep things as a part of the grief process and that’s okay. We need to show grace to ourselves and purging belongings left to us doesn’t need to be done when you just need time to process the loss. I ended up “saving” boxes and boxes of things from my Oma and Opa’s house. I really loved them both and wanted to keep their things to remember them. Over the years, though, I let a lot of it go. The things that ultimately helped me were…

      1.) It feels sad having their things in boxes. What if I could give it to someone who would really enjoy it? That would make me much happier. In the instance of my Oma’s wedding china, I gave it to a friend’s daughter who would be getting married soon and she loved the classic wheat pattern and the idea of having wedding china. I gave her my Oma’s full set and I’m so happy that it’s with her instead of just in a box at my house.

      2.) I don’t need 50 or 100 things to remember them. I can keep the things that are most special to me.

      Stuff is there to serve us, not the other way around. 🙂

      Reply
  13. Angie

    Yes! I think I hold on to things out of growing up in a scarcity mindset, where we kept everything because it was considered wasteful to throw i things away “because we might need it one day.”
    I’ve realized, like you mentioned in the post, if the need arises is the few dollars I might have to spend to replace it worth storing it for who knows how long?
    A clean house starts with throwing things away, donating, selling valuable items, etc! I have to remind myself of this all the time!

    Reply
  14. Judy

    I was forced to purge because of moving to a smaller home. Maybe folks could pretend that they are downsizing/ or that those items are going to have to be dealt with by their children in the future!

    Reply
  15. Jeannie

    Thank you so much for your kind message. I re-read your article and I think maybe, for now, until there is less pain associated with the losses we’ve had, that I will put the things that I can’t decide what to do with on hold in storage boxes. I like the idea of setting a time limit on having them in storage.
    I will display or usethe items I truly love, including using my mothers Duncan Phyfe table and buffet and my grandmother’s mirror. I also am taking scads of pictures and sending to my boys. Being boys, they’re not interested in a lot of things, although I’ve been a little bit surprised from time to time. They, in turn, ask their wives if there’s anything they would like and I’ve had a few responses, but not many. I think they are much more minimalist than I was raised to be. I love your ideas of taking pictures. That makes a lot of sense to me. Thank you, again. I have way too many things, and way too much on my mind right now. This truly helps me.

    Reply
    • Marian Parsons

      I agree that sometimes you need to keep things as a part of the grief process and that’s okay. We need to show grace to ourselves and purging belongings left to us doesn’t need to be done when you just need time to process the loss. I ended up “saving” boxes and boxes of things from my Oma and Opa’s house. I really loved them both and wanted to keep their things to remember them. Over the years, though, I let a lot of it go. The things that ultimately helped me were…

      1.) It feels sad having their things in boxes. What if I could give it to someone who would really enjoy it? That would make me much happier. In the instance of my Oma’s wedding china, I gave it to a friend’s daughter who would be getting married soon and she loved the classic wheat pattern and the idea of having wedding china. I gave her my Oma’s full set and I’m so happy that it’s with her instead of just in a box at my house.

      2.) I don’t need 50 or 100 things to remember them. I can keep the things that are most special to me.

      Stuff is there to serve us, not the other way around. 🙂

      Reply
  16. Anita

    I planned a garage sale for last summer, and had gone through the house selecting things to take to the garage in preparation for it… then Covid struck, and I decided to wait. After following your recent posts, I began some really deep organization of my own, and have found lots of overlooked items I am more than happy to part with. ( I really don’t need two spring-form pans for instance). The upcoming sale will be even better now, and it’s such a good feeling to be so much better organized. (Makes me even feel slimmer—LOL!) At the same time, I’m saving my kids a lot of trouble one day.

    Reply
    • Marian Parsons

      Good for you!!

      Reply
  17. Michele M.

    Great post and EXCELLENT advice.

    Reply
  18. Wendy

    Hi Marian,
    Thank you for this! The points of do I/will I use it? And Do I favor something else ? were very helpful to a sentimental person. You can’t keep it all or it all overwhelms you. I like that you are good at recognizing that and making what you do have very special and appealing.
    Do you organize within a timeframe or based on the job? I find that I start and it seems to grow before it gets smaller and then I’m out of time before I have to be on to another task. Any suggestions ?

    Reply
    • Marian Parsons

      I try to work in small sections or zones, so that one big job doesn’t get overwhelming. I’ve learned that one job tends to trickle into another as you find things that belong together. I do end up flitting from one thing to the next, but I try my best to stay on task and finish an area before I start on another one.

      Reply
  19. leila

    When it comes to keeping things do you make a distinction between something that is being used versus something that just looks pretty sitting on a shelf?

    Reply
    • Marian Parsons

      I try to find things that can be both…functional and beautiful. Of course, I have lots of things that are just decorative and that’s okay. If I’m just storing a bunch of decorative stuff in a cabinet, though, I need to clean that out and sell/donate the majority of those things, because I don’t have a perfect spot for them and I’m not enjoying them. Ironstone is a good example. I have a few pieces that are stored, but everything else is visible and serving a purpose. I’m to the point where I have to be very particular about what I buy.

      Reply
  20. Kimberly Westby

    Ah but, getting rid of our grown children’s things. The ones they reaaallly want, but, of course, don’t have room for in their own new and tiny abodes?
    I remember my mom bringing a box each and every time they visited, to my new city of residence. The first visit was my cat, my parents deemed we were settled and dropped the cat off. Funny they didn’t do that with my sisters cat. I have come to realize my cat was a one person cat-lol.

    Kim

    Reply
    • Marian Parsons

      Yep, my parents dropped off a couple of bins of things when they visited me a couple of years ago… my dollhouse furniture, the dollhouse (it breaks down into a box), and a box of school papers, etc. I actually wrote a blog post about the fact that our homes are not storage units for other people. 🙂

      Reply
  21. Doris D

    Marian, you once wrote “Your home should not be a storage unit or a museum” and I have kept this saying posted at my work desk for years. It has helped tremendously! When purging, it also helps to ask myself if I’d buy the item in the store if I saw it. If my answer is no, it is time to move it on. I don’t apply this rule to heirlooms though.

    Reply
    • Marian Parsons

      Yes! Asking if you’d buy it again is a great question and I ask that, too. And you’re right, it doesn’t apply to heirlooms, but it’s a great filter for clothes and everyday items.

      Reply
  22. Judy

    Marian……I agree with several of your readers that cleansing/purging/re-organizing is a gift to my children! That guide is foremost in my clearing out process. When I’m gone, I don’t want to have my clutter be their burden as they grieve. Next for me is that ‘I have enough’ and I want to share, by donating, with those folks who do not have enough. I’m a great supporter of non-profit thrift stores! My soul is warmed knowing that someone might find joy in something I have donated.

    Reply
  23. mary m

    In the past i took a painting class every week. How did i get there from here. This was my solution. I got a used suitcase on wheels with pockets. I found plastic bins that fit perfectly into the base. The lowest level bin stored my acrylic paint. Another bin over that and the top bin was one of those wooden silverware bins with sections. I stuffed styrofoam in each base and stuck my paint brushes in each section. The pockets stored paper and flat stuff. I still use it and just wheel it out of the way when i am not using it. My solution and it still works for me. You could apply this to other crafts as well.

    Reply
  24. Jeannie

    I can’t thank you enough for your kind response. Truly, before we went through so much loss, we already had too much stuff in our house. But you are right. Now is not a time to necessarily do much besides process feelings. Thank you so much.

    Reply
  25. Marilyn

    I really love this post! If you could possibly expand on this a bit to include family items that have been inherited, that are valuable but not loved. I have a house full of antiques and collectibles that are not my collectibles, but I can’t just donate them. There are some things I would never part with, and others that I want out. Help!

    Reply
    • Marian Parsons

      Sure thing! The first thing I would do with unwanted family items is to see if anyone else in the family wants it. If you don’t have any takers, then sell it on eBay, Etsy, at a consignment shop, or contact a local auction house or estate sale management company. Both of those outfits can help you with getting rid of more valuable/collectible items if you don’t want to deal with listing and shipping. Even if you don’t have a ton of stuff, they will usually roll your items into a larger sale.

      Reply
  26. Debbie

    Omg you are soooo RIGHT! perfect way to put it especially the only use the favorite anyway part! That’s the answer thank you!!!

    Reply

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Marian Parsons - Miss Mustard Seed

I’m Marian, aka Miss Mustard Seed, a wife, mother, paint enthusiast, lover of all things home and an entrepreneur, author, artist, designer, freelance writer & photographer.  READ MORE to learn more about me, my blog and my business…

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