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.”
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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?