set of allen wrenches

How to decide what to declutter

Loyalty’s a fine thing, but taken to extremes it can create problems. If you feel the sort of allegiance to your stuff that usually comes with a marriage license, it can be hard to even think about letting something go.

But just because you’ve had something for a while, it doesn’t automatically get grandfathered in. You can reevaluate your stuff at any time, and although you may not feel like doing that on a routine basis, there’s going to come a time when you must.

You’ll move or you’ll be moved.

Wouldn’t you rather get to choose what you have with you when that happens?

I get it, decisions are agonizing. What if you make the wrong one? It’s enough to keep you living a way you don’t love just because another way might be worse.

What if everything went right?

Boulder therapist Sonja Hellman has a neat question to consider when the fear of making the wrong decision hits: What if everything went right?

Instead of considering the worst, planning in case the worst happens and acting as if the worst is surely going to happen, try that one on for for size.

READ MORE >>> Therapy can be the missing piece

Of course, we’re here because our cautious ancestors looked ahead and tried to plan for the worst. But holding onto everything because you might need it, because someone else might need it, because the worst is going to happen, is no way to live your life. A scarcity mindset is the cause of many a clutter-filled home.

How easily could these be replaced?

Before you hesitate to let something go, ask yourself how easily it could be replaced if, God forbid, you donated it and then found you needed it after all.

Jason spent fifteen minutes, arguing the pros and cons of keeping a set of allen wrenches. They were perhaps too small for every day use but there would surely come a time when they could be useful.

Yes, they could. But to be useful, they had to be somewhere other than buried in a box deep in the heart of his garage.

Trying to shake himself free of the desire to add this set to his collection, Jason asked himself two crucial questions.

#1: How easily could these be replaced?

Allen wrenches are easy to come by. Every hardware store has them, they’re easy to get online, the world is full of allen wrenches.

#2: How much would it cost to replace these beauties?

Allen wrenches are an inexpensive tool.

If it costs hundreds of dollars to replace something, you might give it more thought but if it’s a few dollars, trust the universe that you’ll be able to replace this thing if needed.

What about hidden costs?

To save $11 on a set of allen wrenches seems frugal and smart, but Jason was paying me to help him work through decisions about his things. Spending fifteen minutes deciding about the wrenches had already cost him more than replacing them would.

How to decide: The Joyful Method

Step 1

We’d prepared the space by making sure we had trash bags and sorting boxes where we were working.

Step 2

We’d calmed down Jason’s brain by reminding him decluttering is a process, not an event. He didn’t have to clear out his whole garage in one afternoon. He was just deciding about one thing, these allen wrenches.

Step 3

Now it was time for step three, sorting into broad categories. We gathered all the sets of allen wrenches together and spread them out on the bench in his garage. Seeing what he had all in one place reassured him. He could see for himself that he was rich in allen wrench sets.

Step 4

Step 4 meant looking at his collection and seeing what was what. Incomplete sets or rusted sets were easy for Jason to let go of, and we set those aside. We sorted the rest of the wrenches by size and then assessed how many of each size he was comfortable having.

He selected two from each size and then let the rest go.

“Someone else might need these,” he said.

He didn’t have to know the name, rank and serial number of the person they would help, and neither do you. Trust that the right person will find them and move on to the next decision.

READ MORE >>> Best places to donate

Step 5

After whittling it down, step 5, organize, was easy. Jason thought about where he would most naturally look for allen wrenches and realized they didn’t belong in the garage after all. The only time he would use them would be to tighten a bolt or screw on a chair leg or put together something from IKEA.

He moved them to the drawer in his kitchen where he kept every day tools like a mini screwdriver to tighten the handle on his frying pan, and the allen wrenches were easy to find the next time he had to assemble a piece of furniture.

READ MORE >>> The Joyful Method: How to declutter and organize

by Lucy Kelly


  1. I love the process you created here, Lucy. I also really liked the way you helped your client think through the letting go as well as where to keep the Allen wrenches so they were easy to find when he needed them. The other thing that struck me about this post is the question: what if everything went right. We so often think about all the ways something can go wrong. I really like the idea of considering how we will react when it goes right.

  2. Trusting one’s decisions can be hard for clients, so I love that you gave them an easy rubric: how easily could it be replaced and how inexpensively? I’ve seen clients debate themselves over letting go of a cheap plastic kitchen spatula, but if you’ve gathered together all of the spatulas (or allen wrenches, or empty margarine tubs) so that you are aware of all that you have, deciding from a position of abundance becomes a great way to fight off the scarcity mindset.

  3. It’s so hard for most of us to decide where to start and even how to go about decluttering. These suggestions are extremely helpful!

  4. We recently went through our tool closet, reorganized, got rid of lots of mismatched things and kept only what we use or need right now. It was a big project and I had to do it with my husband so there was a lot of talking about what the item was and if we would need it again. It was tiring but so worth the trouble. Since we bought new shelving, it gave us incentive to only keep what we wanted to use and make room for new things.

  5. This is so funny. I visited Sara’s post right before yours and also noticed the allen wrench connection. Love that! It would be interesting to see if as organizers there were themes to the types of things we regularly find (in volume) in our clients’ homes.

    I love how you describe the decision-tree and editing process with Jason. And the question from Sonja Hellman is awesome…”What if everything went right?” Sure. There is value for preparing for the worst, but sometimes flipping things in the other direction is valuable too, especially when it comes to letting go and decision-making.

  6. Looks like we both had allen wrenches on the brain this week :-). So many great points in this post, and your Step 1 caught my attention – it’s so often neglected. If we don’t have the stuff we need close by, we’ll end up running around wasting time every time we need a box or bag. I like to have sticky notes and a pen close by as well.

    Also, “name, rank, and serial number” cracks me up!


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