Love Your Stuff? Here’s How to Decide What to Keep When Organizing

I’d been lazy about putting things back where they belonged for a while, but my walk-in closet didn’t exactly have walk-in access anymore. It was time for a closet purge. I geared myself up for the task, setting a timer to help me stay focused, and for a while, I was rolling along at a pretty good pace. Then, I spotted it: an innocuous, brown shoebox.  

I knew what was inside that brown box immediately.  

A Quest for Perfection 

Years before, I’d made the practical decision years before to stop wearing high heels. They were wreaking havoc on my feet, and I couldn’t justify them any longer. I’d cleaned out the closet and hoped someone shopping at Goodwill would be as excited about my shoes as I once was. And I’d moved on, knowing my feet would be far happier in sneakers and flats. 

But even though I’d sworn off heels, there was one pair I couldn’t bring myself to let go of: the pair in the brown shoebox. For years, I’d looked for a pair of heels I not only loved but which were actually comfortable. Slowly, I pulled the box off the shelf and opened the lid. With their patent leather toes, red suede heels, extra padding at the ball of the foot for comfort, and my favorite kind of wrap-around ankle strap, they were still as perfect as when I’d bought them. 

The Power of Love 

There was no way I was going back to wearing heels. It was highly improbable these shoes would ever make it back on my feet. So why did I still have them in my closet? Why did they keep making the cut, ending up back on my shelf over and over again?  

The answer was quite simple: Even if I never wore them, I loved those shoes. They made me happy, and looking at them reminded me that it is possible for beauty and comfort to coexist.  

I stared at them for several more long moments. Then, smiling to myself, I closed the lid and carefully returned the box to the shelf, knowing they’d live to see another day… and, eventually, another closet purge. 

Love, Need, and Use 

Is loving something a good enough reason to keep it? This is a question we’re often asked as organizers. As my shoe story illustrates, the short answer is yes: If you love it, it may be worth keeping. But be careful. Keeping things only because you love them, not because you’ll actually use them, can be a slippery slope. 

Generally speaking, there are three types of things worth keeping when organizing:  

  1. Things you love (stuff that brings you joy even if you don’t use it, like my shoes) 
  1. Things you need (once-in-a-blue moon necessities, like a little black dress, or practical stuff like Band-Aids, light bulbs, or batteries that you don’t use all the time but need to have on hand) 
  1. Things you use (items you might not love but which you use all the time: laundry detergent, paper towels, your garage door opener, reusable grocery bags, etc.) 

Of these three, love is by far the trickiest category because loving what you own is a beautiful way to fill your life with joy. But if you keep filling your life and spaces with things you love, you’ll eventually run out of room. It’s the same as filling your life with things that don’t bring you joy, except it gets harder to pare down because you love it all. Too much stuff, even if you love it, can prevent you from actually living your life.  

The Bottom Line 

So, how do you know when to keep something you love and when it’s time to let it go? The answer is surprisingly simple: Keep it as long as it continues to add real value to your life. 

To be clear, this does not mean “keep it as long as you can find a place to store it.” Everything needs a home, but stuff that is stored away and never revisited cannot add value to your life. The value of those shoes in the shoebox in my closet is not in having them sit there week after week, month after month, unworn. The value they bring occurs during my closet purges, in the moments when I pause to look, touch, and appreciate them. They are valuable not because of what they are but because of the way they remind me, each time I rediscover them, of an important concept that holds great meaning for me. 

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, like your spaces are overly full, or you’re just over having so much stuff, it may be time to let go. Give yourself the time, space, and permission to keep only what you love, need, and use. Make a point to enjoy what you have. You’ll soon find you need far less than you thought. 

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