potato peeler

How To Decide

One of the most difficult things about decluttering is making decisions about your possessions. What stays and what goes? Here’s how I’d help you learn how to decide if we were working together and we realized you had five potato peelers. They’re small. No big deal if you keep them all, right? But the mountain of clutter is made up of thousands of tiny things that don’t take up much space individually. If everything’s too small to bother sorting, then the house stays full. So we pick something and assess.

Gather all five potato peelers and set them down next to each other. What’s running in your mind as you look? Are you saying anything to yourself you’d never dream of saying out loud to a friend? Why on earth do I have five potato peelers? Ugh, I’m such an idiot, who else keeps five potato peelers?!

Notice that the more you shame yourself, the more your mind comes up with increasingly strong arguments for keeping everything. Not only will you not let go of any of the ones you have, the next time you’re at the kitchen store, you’ll pick up a few more for your collection.

Deciding is much easier when you’re kind to yourself. Oh, look, I have five potato peelers. That’s just factual, no judgment needed.

How Often Do You Use It?

How often you use a potato peeler? Do you peel vegetables multiple times each day or do you in fact rarely if ever peel a vegetable? If everything you might once have peeled now comes to you prepared and ready-to-cook, is it possible that a potato peeler has become like a butter churn for you? A charming curiosity but not something you need to have in your own kitchen.

Picture five butter churns lined up in your kitchen, ready for you to need them after all. Would you keep even one? You probably could learn to use a butter churn one day and they are awfully picturesque but they take up a ton of space and in your heart you know the odds of you churning butter in this lifetime are slim to none.

Which is Your Favorite?

If you do still peel things, look at each peeler and remind yourself what you like about it. Does it fit neatly and comfortably in your hand? Is it free of rust and nicks? As you find the good in all these peelers, you’ll be naturally discovering the flaws too – this one gives me a blister if I use it for more than two minutes, this one is rusty and the blade’s wobbly.

Who Else Could Use This?

It might be that you still want to keep all five. Don’t get mad with yourself but before you shove them back in the drawer, ask yourself if there’s anyone you know who might want or need a peeler. Has anyone you know just moved out on their own? If not, remember that people you don’t know are in that situation right now. If someone buys it from a thrift store, they have need of it. Donate three and keep two – you’ll still have a backup and you’ll help three people.

Just the fact that you’ve looked at all the peelers is going to bring them to the front of your mind. You’ll notice them the next time you’re in the drawer. It may begin to irritate you that you can never find the one you like and use with all these other peelers in the way. Maybe you’ll pull them out and deal with them then. Just by gathering those peelers together and seeing what you have, you’ve set the stage for future decluttering.

How Do You Decide?

Now it’s your turn – I’d love to hear what ways you’ve found ways to decide. What strategies work for you when you’re faced with a tough decision about what to keep and what to let go?


  1. If I had five butter churns in my kitchen, I’d wonder how somehow schlepping so many butter churns managed to break into my home without me hearing them! I’m better at making decisions now because, when I catch myself saying the same things I’ve heard my clients say, “But it was expensive” or “I might use it someday” or “It was a gift,” I immediately repeat the sections from my speaking engagements that cover these topics, OUT LOUD and TO MYSELF. And then I laugh at myself.

    I’m better at giving up, throwing out, or donating useful items. It’s “information” and memorabilia that’s still tough. But I’ve learned that every difficult decision means asking myself the same hard questions I ask my clients. “Seriously, you’ve never used it in the 35 years you’ve had it, but you’re going to? When? Let’s get it set up. No?” By the time I weary of the conversation, the decision is made.

  2. A couple of years ago, both my kids gave me tea mugs with a strainer for Christmas (I think they need to talk more!). I already had one, so I donated it and kept both of the new ones because that seemed like the “right” thing to do. My old tea strainer was better quality, so I wish now that I’d kept it. I had the option of exchanging one of the gifts, but I declined, because I was happy to receive them, but now I find I use one almost exclusively, so I wish I’d exchanged the other one.

    My short answer is that I do not have a good strategy for making these decisions.

  3. The art of decision-making! And it is an art, or at least it takes practice. To make a good decision, we need a certain amount of information. So the idea that you gather like with like and THEN decide makes so much sense. I appreciate how you encourage the matter of fact decision-making strategy too. Leave shame out of it. That’s not helpful when choosing. I engaged in a small edit the other day. I have a cup of special pens that sit on the return of my desk. I bought a few new ones. So before adding them to the cup, I reviewed the older pens, tested to make sure they were inky and working, editing several “out,” and added the new ones. Maybe I had a moment of, “Why do you have non-working pens in that cup, Linda?” but I let that thought go, tossed the old ones out, and turned the cup into a group of working-only pens.

  4. I am a true believer in getting them all together. Not only does that help us see when we have too many (which we often are blind to!), but it helps us make a quick decision on which one is the best shape and worth keeping. This works with children’s artwork as well. Maybe your child drew rainbows all year long… just keep the best one!


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