How Many Should I Keep?

Man counting numbers. How many should I keep?
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

One of the most common questions I get is “How many should I keep?” For example, how many boxes should I keep for wrapping gifts? Or how many baseball caps are normal? The truth is, there is no single answer. Each of us live different lives, and therefore have differing needs for our physical belongings. For instance, a woman who spends most of her time working in an office, and in her spare time enjoys reading and crafts, may need only a couple of baseball caps. In contrast, a man who works outside every day may and is active in sports may need a plethora of caps.

Therefore, figuring out how many of any given item to keep ultimately comes down to priorities. The goal is to keep multiples of the items we use the most, while minimizing backups of everything else.

At the same time, even for those belongings we use the most, most of us will need to establish some limits. We all need to live within our space, and this will vary from one individual to the next. Therefore, even though two women might both love shoes, the woman with a giant closet may be able to keep 40 pairs of shoes, whereas the woman who has a tiny one will need to be more selective, perhaps keeping only 10 or 20 pairs.  Having an ordered space requires that we be honest about the space we have, and then keep only what fits comfortably inside.

So how do we establish “healthy boundaries” for storing what matters most? Here are a few techniques.

Use one to hold the others

One of the great tricks that works well for storing containers (e.g. bags, boxes, bins, etc.) is to use the largest one to hold the rest. For example, if you keep large shopping bags on hand, designate the largest as the “container” and fill it with the smaller bags. Once this bag is full, any additional bags that come into the house can be recycled. Or take a large cardboard box and use it as the container for all of the other boxes you save. Again, when this box is full, stop collecting.

Designate a physical boundary for items you keep in multiples

Another great strategy is to select a specific (and limited) location that will be the spot for one type of object. For instance, allocate a shelf in the closet to hold all your purses. Once that space is full, any new purse can only be added if a bag from that shelf is removed. Or, install a shelving rack in a garage/basement to hold bulk purchase items, and then resist the urge to purchase items (no matter how great the bargain) until there is enough room one these shelves to hold them. Taking this approach is very effective because the storage space itself, when it becomes difficult to use, tells you that it is time to declutter.

Limit back-ups for seldom-used items

Having an extra can be helpful, but keeping too many multiples rapidly clogs up a space.  Only keep seconds of items you:

  • regularly use (e.g. sports bottles for the soccer player)
  • frequently lose (e.g. mittens, phone chargers, pens)
  • repeatedly break

While there is always a chance you may need something that you’ve given away, there is a certainty that keeping it will cost you. Always be sure to count the cost of keeping an item (cost of storing, moving, cleaning, maintaining, stepping over, etc.) and then weigh the cost against the benefit of having it “just in case.”

*     *     *     *     *

Variety is the spice of life, but there is such a thing as too spicy.  By setting some limits, you can have what you need most of the time in a space that functions all of the time.

What techniques do you use to help figure out how many of an item to keep?

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17 thoughts on “How Many Should I Keep?”

  1. These are great tips and should be easy to follow, although I still find myself with too many multiples sometimes. You should see how many water bottles we have, and still we find ourselves out on occasion!!

    1. When we lack those boundaries, we just spill our belongings into new areas. Then items get co-mingled, and it is hard to know if we are keeping too many, right? Sometimes it is the simplest tips that help the most. 🙂

  2. These are great ideas, and I refer to the container concept often with my clients. We also talk about just because you could fit 40 pairs of shoes in that giant closet, you don’t have to. Do you still love, want and need all those shoes or could you keep fewer and use the space for something else? Or could you leave the space half-full, and wait to see what will come fill it?

    1. Yes, can you leave some “room to grow” in your closet? That is actually a beautiful concept. When we leave space in our lives, we welcome new things in! Just because we can keep something isn’t as good enough reason to keep it!

  3. Great ideas to share! In my house I have designated spaces to store things. If that space is full, then something has to go before something new comes in.
    I tell my clients that they can keep as much as they want of anything as long as it can fit into its container. The container can be a bin, a box, a shelf, a drawer, or a closet but when it is too full to shut, it’s time to purge.
    Jonda Beattie recently posted…7 Tips To Declutter Your Outdoor Storage AreaMy Profile

  4. Thanks for sharing your how many to keep responses.

    I use the most oversized bag/box and then add smaller bags/boxes into them. In my home, you will find traveling bags in one large travel bag or luggage, recycling trash grocery bags in one grocery bag, and a large shipping box with small boxes inside. When the bags/box is full, I usually recycle other bags or boxes.
    Sabrina Quairoli recently posted…What To Do with Old YearbooksMy Profile

  5. Boundaries are life essentials- for people, stuff, and time. I love the many ways you describe how to tease those out. And your idea that you can “have what you need most of the time, in a space that functions ALL of the time” is brilliant! So well said.

  6. I agree. Setting physical limits is a great idea. It doesn’t mean you can’t get one (whatever) thing. It just means that you can only keep so many. You do get to choose the size of the container you are going to store those items in, so you get to set the limit.
    Janet Schiesl recently posted…10 Time-Saving Food TipsMy Profile

    1. That’s right, Janet. I love that you used the word “choose.” We have the power to make choices about how much we keep. Let’s make them mindfully and in context of our larger living situation, rather than on the fly by just shoving more stuff in a crowded space!

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