As professionals, we’re taught the basics on how to do a job top to bottom. We get to know our clients, we assess their situation, and then we put together a plan of action to meet their needs. It’s “easy” for us to swoop in and clean up someone else’s mess because we don’t have the emotional ties to the things or to the space that our clients may have. The answer always seems simpler looking in when you’re on the outside vs. when you’re right in the thick of things.
So how can we help our clients know when it’s time to say goodbye, and what makes something “worthy” of keeping?
Our top 5 tips for how to decide what to keep + what to toss when decluttering
1. Accept Your Client’s Fears
One of the best starting points is to help your clients discover their cluttering personality. According to the NEAT Method, most people fall into one of three clutter personalities:
Too Busy = Too Many Extras: You have too much that you can’t find what you need so you end up buying more of what you already have.
Constant Worrier = Must Save Everything: You think that just because you’re not using something now doesn’t mean you won’t need it in the future, so you keep everything just in case.
Overwhelmed in Life = Overwhelmed at Home: You’re not sure how to even begin, so you just deal with the mess.
The biggest thing is understanding—or helping your clients understand—why it is they’re keeping all the things. Do they have an emotional attachment to it? Are they worried the minute they get rid of something they’re going to need it? Or is it simply that they’re just too overwhelmed and not sure how to begin? Figuring out that first step will help you both put together a customized action plan for how to move forward.
2. Use Boundaries, Not Emotions
We are all guilty of emotional hoarding in one sense or another. Almost everyone has something that they’ve held on to because it evokes an emotion or memory from another time: an old t-shirt from a college flame, a trophy from youth sports, or all those artistic masterpieces our kiddos bring home every day from school and we feel too guilty to throw them away. Whatever the items are, it’s time to learn what truly holds emotional value and is worth keeping and what is just taking up unnecessary room in your client’s mind, heart, and space. Helping your clients sift through the emotional and physical baggage will be helpful in clearing out things that no longer serve a purpose.
How do you create these boundaries for your clients and remove them from the emotional connection they feel? Start by creating boundaries. Outline, with your client, how the process works and how the evaluation works. Utilize the knowledge you gained from Tip #1 to help frame and explain these new boundaries. For instance, if someone is overwhelmed in life and home, explain how letting go of a youth sports trophy will allow them to remove that sense of overwhelm and create new memories.
3. Define the Purpose for the Space/Room
To create boundaries and before you evaluate the purpose of the item, it’s important to evaluate the purpose of the space by simply asking, “What is the purpose of the space?” Will your client be using it as their workspace? Are they using it for entertainment purposes? Figuring out what the space should and will be used for will help them see things more clearly. If the space is going to be used as an office or area for work, then overflow storage shouldn’t be in there.
When figuring out a purpose when it comes to closet space or clothes, ask the client if the item fits their style. Have they worn it within the last 12 months? If the answer is no to both of those questions, it’s time to say goodbye. Better yet, maybe they are storing their kids’ old arts and crafts projects in their bedroom closet. If you can’t wear it, it doesn’t belong.
4. Acknowledge Recency: Toss Anything They Haven’t Used in 12 Months
Anything that hasn’t been used within the past 12 months probably isn’t going to be used. Depending on what the item is—like cleaning, skin care, or makeup products, it may even be expired. This is huge for anyone who has the constant worrier clutter personality because they’re holding on to so many things on the off chance they might need them someday. But what ends up happening is that someday rarely comes. Learning to say goodbye to things that aren’t being utilized will be a huge game changer during the decluttering process.
If your client struggles with letting go of something, have them also evaluate how difficult it would be to get a new one if that time ever comes, reminding them that it probably won’t because they haven’t used it in 1+ years. A tube of mascara that clutters the cabinet will cost them less than $20, in most cases, to replenish.
5. Rule of Thumb: If It Serves No Purpose, Toss It
If you hear your client say “what’s this?” or if they’re making a face like they’re trying to remember what something might be, immediately throw it in the “toss” pile. If something doesn’t serve a purpose, then it’s time to let it go. This can be mystery items like we mentioned in the first sentence or decorations that are really just taking up space and not adding any value. Marie Kondo said it best, “if it doesn’t bring you joy, then it’s time to say goodbye.” This should be a life lesson for so many things. Helping your client figure out what’s important for everyday use vs. what’s not being used at all will help narrow down the keep/toss debate.
One of the most important things to keep in mind is that no two clients will be the same, and neither will their needs. Figuring out their clutter personality and what makes them so attached to the items within their space will help give you a starting point to tackle the bigger project and help them learn to let go of the things that don’t serve them.
To start getting connected with more clients in your area, learn more about joining the Betternest community here.