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You must have heard to only keep the things you love and/or need and declutter the rest. But what does that really mean?
Use the 4T decluttering method used by Professional Organizers to identify which items you love and use, and keep your home clutter-free by knowing whether the things you own are treasures, tools, toys or trash.
And most importantly what to do with that information.
What is the 4T decluttering method
4T decluttering method classifies everything you own into 4 categories: toys, tools, treasures, and trash.
Depending on whether you love and/or use an item, it’ll have a different meaning to you and needs to be approached certain way when you declutter and organize your home.
If we declutter with just one question in mind – like Konmari’s “does it bring me joy?” – how many of us would keep a vacuum cleaner?
The four categories of the 4T decluttering method
The four categories of the 4T decluttering method are toys, tools, treasures, and trash. And they’re defined with two functions: usability and love.
– love it and use it, it’s a toy
– don’t love it, but do use it, it’s a tool
– love it, but don’t use it, it’s a treasure
– don’t love it, nor use it, it’s trash
Let’s look at a couple of examples:
Example 1: a car
If you use your car all the time, but you don’t love it – it’s just ok, then your car is a tool.
But if you absolutely love your car, it’s a joy to drive it, and you use it all the time, then it’s a toy.
If you have a car in your garage that you never drive, but you love to fix it, and it makes you happy, then that car is a treasure.
But if you have a car in your garage that you don’t maintain nor drive (it might even be broken), and you hide it under a cover, then it’s trash.
Example 2: a pair of shoes
If you use your shoes a lot, they’re comfortable, but they don’t make you go wow, then that pair of shoes is a tool. A tool to protect your feet. To take you places.
But if you have a pair of shoes that you love, and they fit your feet perfectly, they’re gorgeous, they’re your favorites, and you would want to wear them everywhere, and you choose to wear them over other shoes anytime, then those shoes are a toy.
If your shoes are one of those gorgeous to-die-for shoes that you absolutely love, but they hurt your feet, and you can’t use them that much (or ever), then those shoes are a treasure.
And if you have a pair of shoes that you never use and you think they’re ugly, or not your style, or they’re broken, then they’re trash.
Example are great, but let’s dig deeper
Examples are great to understand a concept, but let’s dig deeper into each category, so you’ll know what do you do with this information and how the 4T decluttering method is going to help you have a clutter-free home.
You don’t love it, but you do use it = A tool.
What are the tools?
Our homes are filled with tools. To have a functional home and do the cooking, cleaning, fixing, maintaining and other adulting things easier you need tools. Do you use the tools? Yes! Do the tools make living simpler? Yes! Do you absolutely love the tools? Most likely no.
Tools are the things you use but don’t love. A vacuum cleaner, a hammer, a spatula. Pots and pans. A computer.
I can’t tell you which items in your home are tools to you because you are the one who knows what you use or don’t use, love or don’t love.
When I got a new computer, it wasn’t any more a tool for me. My new computer became a toy. I absolutely love it and use it all the time. My old computer was annoying me because it started to freeze and didn’t have enough power to do the things I wanted to do, so it was just a tool I needed to use, but the new computer took working to another level of joy and productivity. Pure happiness. Definitely a toy.
Which things in your home you would consider to be a tool?
What to do with the tools?
1. If you use the tools, keep them
Everyone needs a vacuum cleaner, a hammer, and a spatula. But do you need 3 vacuum cleaners, 7 hammers, and 14 spatulas? Not so much.
2. Declutter the duplicates
If you need a vacuum cleaner in each floor of your house, then keep two (or even three, if you live in a mansion!). If you cook a lot, then have two or three spatulas. But only keep one of those things you use only once in a while. There’s no need to own more than one hammer if you’re not Bob the Builder.
3. Have a designated place for your tools
So after you’ve decluttered the duplicates, keep the tools in their designated places. Spatulas in the kitchen and hammers in the toolbox – not the other way around.
EXCEPTION: Rarely used tools
If you never use some tool, you could get rid of it.
Tools are there to help you, not to make you organize and maintain them. The job of a tool is to make your life easier, not harder. Don’t keep something just-in-case.
Remember that tools are there to serve you, not for you to serve them by cleaning, organizing, maintaining and storing. If some tool is high-maintenance or takes a lot of room when stored (like a second extra guest-mattress or a popcorn machine you use once a year), then consider letting go of it.
For some, a screwdriver is a tool for others it’s a toy.
If you don’t like to build things, but that’s one of the passions of your significant other, a tool to you might be a toy for another. Before you declutter something that is insignificant to you, take a moment and ask if you’re getting rid of your loved one’s favorite toys.
You love it, and you use it = A toy
What are the toys?
Toys are the best kind of things we can have in our lives. These are the creme-de-la-creme of your stuff. Toys are the things you would take with you on a deserted island. They are the ones that make your life easier while making you also happy.
Toys are something you use, and you absolutely love. Your favorite jacket. A comfy couch you can’t wait to sit on. Netflix.
Again you know what you love and use, so you’re the judge when you separate tools from toys.
I’ve been using one of my handbags for years now. I take it everywhere with me. It’s big enough to hold my whole portable office. It’s fun looking, and it reminds me of my trip to Rome with my sister. And it goes with all of my clothes. It’s not just a tool. No-no-no. It’s definitely a toy.
Which of your things would you consider to be a toy?
What to do with the toys?
1. Be the gatekeeper
Be the gatekeeper and don’t let wrong items crawl their way into this category. This category is sacred!
2. Be honest
Remember to be honest with yourself when you categorize something as a toy.
Do you really use it? Or do you wish that you would use it? Is it something you use all the time? Or is it something you’ll use one day?
Do you really love it? Or do you like it because you’re supposed to like it?
Not everything can be used all the time. There are not enough hours in your days to use all the things all of the time. This is the moment to pick favorites and treat them accordingly.
3. Keep the toys
After you’ve been honest with yourself and kept the wrong things out of this category comes the best part. This is the one (and only) category that there’s no need to declutter anything.
Keep the toys.
These are the real gems. You love them. You use them. Keeping them is a no-brainer.
4. Have a designated place for your toys somewhere easy-to-reach
Keep these things in their designated places and enjoy using them. The best place for your toys is somewhere accessible and easy to reach.
Reserve the best spots in your home and closet to these things. And make sure that these are also easy to put back into their designated place. That way you’re more likely to have a clutter-free organized home in the future too.
BONUS: Upgrade when possible.
This is the best category and if you’re buying some new tool, think if it could become a toy if you’d upgrade it a bit.
Don’t go overboard. You don’t need scissors made of gold, but choose quality over a sale. Stay always in your budget, but don’t mindlessly select something only because it’s the cheapest one.
You love it, but you don’t use it = A treasure
What are the treasures?
The treasures you absolutely love but don’t use are usually something that give you the warm fuzzy feeling but don’t have a purpose.
Treasures are the things you love but don’t use. Photographs. Stuff you’ve inherited, but don’t go with your style or the decoration in your home. Your wedding dress.
My grandmother had this gorgeous dressing table and mirror. The table was a little awkward, and I couldn’t make it work with our decoration, so I combined the beautiful mirror with my own dressing table and voilá! It was perfect. And every morning I’m getting ready for the day my grandmother is there with me.
What are the treasures in your home? Could you think of a way to find a use for those beautiful and meaningful gems?
What to do with the treasures?
1. Be a super-critical when it comes to treasures
You can’t love everything. Everything can’t have a meaning to you. If every single candlestick, pot, and a broken necklace is the one that you absolutely love, then you might have an unhealthy relationship with the things you own. There might be something much deeper you need to address to.
2. Create a function for the things you love
The first thing you can do is to try to create a function for your favorite treasures. Don’t bury the treasures in some boxes in the garage, but celebrate them. Make something pretty out of them – make a collage of some photos, add things to your decoration, put your treasures on the walls and use the jewelry you inherited from your grandmother.
3. Have a memory box – not a memory garage!
If your treasures are not suitable to be used and you still want to keep them then have a memory box.
When we talk about a memory box, the emphasis is on the box. It has to be a box – not a memory garage, a memory room or a memory closet. A box. Something that only holds the dearest of dearest.
Make the box pretty and go through it every once in a while to see if the things in it still have a meaning to you, make you happy or bring back some important memories.
The people from our past are not in those items that we own. It’s understandable that the memory of them might be easier to keep alive with owning something that reminds us of them, but you don’t need hundreds or even tens of items to remember someone. One or two will do the trick. Respect those memories and make that memory box the prettiest box you can have.
4. Declutter the rest by donating or giving to another family member
If some of your treasures won’t fit into your memory box, and they can’t be used for whatever reason as decoration, then it might be time to let go of them.
Your great-aunt might have left you a beautiful antique couch that just doesn’t go with your style. Try to find a new home for it. Ask your family members if one of them would like to have it.
But be careful not to move clutter from your home to someone else’s. That’s not cool.
If the other person is looking for a new painting or a vase you might be able to create a win-win situation by letting go of one of your treasures and making it a toy for someone dear to you.
BONUS: take a picture and create a digital memory box
Take a picture of the treasures you’re willing to let go of. Create a digital memory box on your computer. You can always go back to your treasures without owning them and having them taking up room in your home.
If most of the things in your home are treasures, I would suggest for you to re-evaluate what you love. You might be only a few steps away from turning your castle full of treasures into a hoarder’s house.
You don’t love, and you don’t use it = Trash
What is trash?
Trash is something you don’t use nor love.
Trash as a category doesn’t mean it’s trash in the form of “just toss it – it’s trash for goodness sake.” But if it’s not a toy, tool or a treasure, it’s trash.
Trash is the second pair of sunglasses that don’t look good on you anymore and are hidden in the back of the drawer. Trash is the broken handbag that you’re never going to fix and refuse to use because it’s broken. A carpet stored in the garage that will never find it’s way on the floor ever again.
Can you think of something in your home that would be considered trash?
What to do with trash?
1. Get rid of trash immediately
Don’t keep trash.
Your home is not a warehouse of unloved and unused things. Get rid of everything in this category.
But don’t just fill the overflowing landfills with these things. You can sell or donate these, but only if they’re in good condition. Don’t sell or donate real trash. That’s just crazy.
2. Sell only the valuable things
If you want, you can try to sell the items you categorize as trash, but I don’t recommend it, because it is so time-consuming. Only if your trash is valuable and you want to get some money back from it, and it makes sense to put some effort into spending your precious time trying to sell it, then do that.
But the more straightforward way is to categories your trash into two categories: donations and waste.
If you can donate something, then do it.
One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. And hopefully, in this case, your trash is another one’s tool or a toy, so that your non-wanted things will be loved and used by someone else.
Donate only things that are in good condition and clean. Respect the people who would be getting these donations. Donating broken and dirty things is not cool. Don’t do it.
4. Trash it – but remember to recycle
One man’s trash is sometimes just trash.
If your trash-items are in poor condition, broken or for some reason, not something you can donate, then trash it.
Recycle what you can and trash the rest.
And whatever you do, don’t keep it in your home. You want to cherish your toys, tools and a few treasures and don’t waste your time on maintaining, storing and dealing with trash.
The 4T decluttering method helps you separate your toys, tools, and treasures from trash.
Enjoy the toys.
Keep a smart amount of the tools.
Create a function for your treasures or make a digital memory box.
And donate or toss the trash.
And have a clutter-free home in no time by using the 4T decluttering method.
What do you think? Did some of your things change the meaning to you when using the 4T decluttering method? Share in the comments.
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