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Is it Okay to Declutter Someone Else’s Stuff?

The short answer here is “no.” When you are in the process of decluttering, it can be tempting to clear everything in your path, including your household members’ excess. However, this strategy is never a good idea, unless they have specifically asked you to help them and you are both clear on what’s going and staying. In fact, purging someone else’s stuff without their knowledge can result in anger, frustration and increased resistance to your decluttering efforts.

The best solution is to stay focused on your own stuff. You can also make it easy for others to donate by letting them know where you keep a donation box and when you plan to take the next round of donations. They may follow your lead, but pushing the subject usually doesn’t help. On the flip side of decluttering, you can also make sure you’re helping control what comes into the house by focusing on what you buy and bring home. If you’re the main “buyer” of supplies for the house, you can make a huge impact here.

The few exceptions to the question I can think of are:

  • Young kids – if your kids are really little, for the most part, their stuff is up to you and it’s ok to let go of what’s not adding value. As they get older, I recommend involving them in routine decluttering. Decluttering before birthdays and other gift-giving occasions can be an easy way to start getting them used to the ideas of not holding on to things forever, making space for new items, and helping others by passing along things that can be used/enjoyed by someone else. You can also set limits for storage space – when the space is full, some things have to be purged before anything new can come in.
  • Stuff that’s been given to you – if somebody has legitimately given you something, then it’s up to you to decide whether you keep it or let it go. If you borrowed something, let them know you’re all done and would be happy to give it back to them or donate it if they no longer want it back.

You may feel like other people’s excess is holding you back, but the truth is, you can always make more progress on what’s yours. Lead by example but let others decide what’s right for them.