Never throw these 6 things out when decluttering – learn how to organize them instead

Though decluttering is essential for an organized home, it’s important not to act too rashly

Three rooms with sentimental items on display
(Image credit: Future / Paul Massey / James Merrell)

When it comes to decluttering and organizing our homes, the advice we often hear typically encourages us part with our possessions where possible. In fact, the professionals often make it clear that an important part of the entire process of achieving an organized home is letting go of your material items. But what about the things you should be careful to never throw away?

Don’t get us wrong; throwing items out (either by chucking them in the trash, donating them or recycling them) is obviously important, especially if your home houses a lot of clutter. However, it's also essential to ensure you aren't simply discarding items because you feel you need to get rid of something during the decluttering process. In fact, there are a few things that professional organizers insist that you shouldn't get rid of when decluttering, either because there's a chance you’ll regret it or because there’s a way for it to be helpful if it’s finally organized properly!

Professional organizer, Lauren Saltman, owner of Living. Simplified., says, 'when you get in the groove of decluttering your home, it's easy to put items in your donate or recycle pile without much thought. It can even be fun, and you can really get into the moment. But we always want to be thoughtful about the items we are decluttering, because we want to avoid any regret down the line.'

So which items should you be careful to never throw out when decluttering? This is what the experts have to say.

White office in inspiring Victorian renovation

(Image credit: R Brad Knipstein/Luis Peñak/K Interiors)

Things you should never throw out when decluttering

Decluttering and organizing your possessions is all about finding a balance that really works for your home and your lifestyle – after all, properly decluttering can really change your life! So, while the following categories of items are likely to be things you’ll want to save, what is worth keeping for some won't necessarily be the same for others.

Firstly, consider exactly what you want and need from your decluttering journey, as well as how you use and enjoy all of your possessions in your everyday life. At the very least, it's worth thinking long and hard about the items below before decluttering them or throwing them out to avoid regrets later on.

1. Important documents

Even if you feel fairly sure you may not need them in future, it’s typically wise to be wary of throwing out certain important documents when organizing a home office. In fact here, filing them away properly may be more fruitful, and could help to avoid a headache should you need something important in the months or years to come.

For example, certified professional organizer Amy Trager points out, 'Birth certificates, proof of property purchases, social security cards, etc. are items that should always be kept, and kept someplace safe.' Bailey Moran, a real estate professional and COO of Bramlett Residential agrees, saying, 'Documents like tax returns, receipts, warranties and owner's manuals and also emergency contacts are definitely worth organizing, but not discarding. You never know when information like that might come in handy.'

That's not to say that you can never get rid of paper clutter that enters your home – you simply need to think carefully before doing so. Lauren points out, 'each piece of paper needs to be reviewed before you decide to recycle, keep, shred or scan it to your computer.'

Lauren Saltman
Lauren Saltman

Lauren Saltman is a professional organizer and owner of Living. Simplified., a professional organizing company serving the greater seacoast New Hampshire, southern Maine, and Massachusetts areas. Living. Simplified. specializes in residential services and move management. 

It's important to bring order to the chaos through proper organization of your paperwork. 'When dealing with a stack of documents, my suggestion would be to start by gathering all documents from around the house and bringing them to one spot,' professional organizer Christian Pfeiffer, owner of Valley Organizing says. 'Then, categorize these documents into groups such as personal, financial, medical, legal, household, and miscellaneous.'

Then begin planning where you’ll store these important items, ensuring they’re within easy reach, should you ever need them. 'I would invest in a filing system like a filing cabinet or file box with labeled folders for each category,' Christian says. 'Finding a filing cabinet that locks is the best way to store documents securely. You can use color-coded folders to keep your items easy to see with individual folders clearly labeled with their contents.'

If you prefer to store things digitally, that is entirely possible, and can help you to save space, Christian says. 'You can even keep digital photocopies stored online or in a password-protected external hard drive.'

2. Old paint

Someone painting strips of paint samples on a wall

(Image credit: triocean via Getty Images)

An old paint pot from a recently redecorated bedroom, kitchen, bathroom or living space is likely something that you’ll instinctively feel like you can easily chuck out when decluttering, right? Surprisingly, it'll probably pay off if you hold onto it, Christian explains.

'We often overlook paint, especially if it's old or has been stored for a while, and our initial reaction may be to consider throwing it out,' he says. 'However, having matching paint for the house is necessary for many of us for touch-ups here and there – and having the pot close to hand means the exact color and brand can be easily repurchased if needed.'

But how can you neatly stow away old paint to ensure it doesn't go bad or get in the way? 'My suggestion is to store paint cans in a bin or closed cabinet, preferably in an area that is rarely used or seen,' Christian says.

It’s not advisable, however, to store paint outside, where it may be damaged by the elements throughout the year, or in an attic or basement, where the same damage risk will likely apply.

Christian Pfeiffer
Christian Pfeiffer

Christian Pfeiffer is a professional organizer and owner of Valley Organizing, based in the Phoenix area. He is a member of the National Association of Professional Organizers and endeavours to bring his expertise and creativity to every project.

3. Sentimental items

A white bedroom with a double bed and sentimental items displayed on a shelf above the bed

(Image credit: Future / James French)

All of the experts we spoke to agree that you should likely ignore any immediate impulse to declutter sentimental items, even if you're unsure about how to practically use or display them.

'Be careful decluttering anything that means something special,' Amy says. 'It could be the last card you have from Grandma before she passed, or it could be the jersey you wore for the championship game in high school. If it's something that can't be replaced and makes you warm and fuzzy to see/use it, you should probably keep it.'

Lauren explains that it’s not necessarily wrong to declutter and throw out some sentimental items (especially if said item can no longer be used for its primary purpose or is damaged beyond repair) – she simply urges caution to ensure there are no regrets later down the line.

'While decluttering your home, I always recommend to my clients that we save sentimental items for last. It's best to review these items once you've had some practice with decluttering your home,' she suggests. 'Just like learning a new sport, practice makes perfect. So once you feel comfortable making difficult decisions, then it's time to declutter your family memorabilia.'

white hallway with black and white photography

(Image credit: Future PLC / Davide Lavatti)

Photographs are a particularly important group, especially if you have lots of physical ones stored up in your home. Realtor and property manager Hannah Jones says, 'Photos are never "not needed". They are a way of reliving your past and looking back on the beautiful memories you made with your loved ones and family; whether it's your 16th birthday, your wedding, or the first birthday of your firstborn - these are all milestones to be cherished.'

Professional organizer Barbara Brock, founder and CEO of Barbara Brock Inc. agrees, saying, 'When looking into one’s ancestral records, keeping photographs (as well as papers) are a big part of tracing one’s roots and preserving your heritage.'

However, it’s important to consider whether yours are currently being fully appreciated and/or properly preserved if they aren't hung up on display. 'The overall suggestion to keeping photographs is to box items up in a careful manner and store them in a dry place, whether that be a closet, attic or basement,' Barbara says.

Photo albums are also a great way to keep your images safe, of course. 'Keep them in photo albums and put those albums in the basement or attic for safekeeping,' Hannah says. 'And whenever you would like to take a trip down memory lane, just take them out and enjoy your evening!'

Amy Trager
Amy Trager

Amy Trager is a professional organizer and runs Amy Trager LLC, which offers a variety of organizing services in Chicago and beyond. Amy and her team help their clients to create systems custom to both the physical space and the people using the items/space. She is also a member of the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals.

4. Old keys

It’s probably incredibly tempting to simply chuck old keys that you feel you have no use for straight into the garbage – but Amy insists that this is something you should only do if you’re absolutely sure they won’t be needed in the future.

'Don’t declutter keys instantly! At least, not until you've tried them on all the locks you have,' she advises. 'They may very well be for a car you no longer have or a home you no longer live in, but until you've confirmed they don't lock anything you currently own, don't toss them!'

Just imagine how irritating it would be to finally go into that locked storage box in your attic, only to find that you’ve done away with the key.

5. Certain travel mementoes

Panelling ideas for walls with grey panelled cloak room

(Image credit: Future / James Merrell)

For many of us, travel is one of the most meaningful ways in which to spend our time – in fact, it's often the avenue through which we create some of our most precious memories. As such, Melanie Summers, professional organizer and owner of I Speak Organized, advises that rather than chucking out mementos from your trips because they no longer have a use for you, it’s worth considering how you may be able to repurpose them.

'I love finding creative ways to use what we already have in our homes before introducing new clutter into our home. For example, take old maps and brochures from your travels. Why throw them out?' she says. 'They can be turned into interesting wallpaper for a small area or used as unique drawer liners.

'It’s a great way to keep memories alive and add a personal touch to your space,' Melanie says.

6. Decorative bins and baskets

Lauren points out that as you declutter your items, you may be left with empty containers that used to hold those items. But given that they're a tool most professional organizers can't do their job without, you shouldn't send empty bins and baskets to the trash; at least not immediately! 

'You might find that you start to accumulate empty decorative bins and baskets as a result of decluttering,' Lauren says. 'I always recommend to my clients that we hold onto all of these until we are completely done decluttering the entire home. That way, we can reuse bins and baskets in other areas of the home while we tackle each space if needed. It’s always best to reuse what we have in the home before buying new items.'

It’s important not to keep bins and baskets just for the sake of it, though. If you find you have nothing suitable to go in any spare bins or baskets, be sure to donate or recycle them to ensure they don’t needlessly continue taking up space in your home.

There are plenty of common misconceptions about decluttering, and feeling the pressure to part with your cherished possessions is one of them. To avoid decluttering regret, take your time during this process and consider ways to reuse your items instead of throwing them out

Contributing Editor

Amy Hunt is a freelance lifestyle writer and editor primarily covering homes and interiors, wellness, travel and careers. She was previously Lifestyle Editor at woman&home, commissioning and editing the homes, books and features sections of the website,

In 2019, she won the AOP Digital Journalist of the Year Award, for her work on Having worked in the industry for over eight years, she has contributed to a range of publications including Ideal Home, Livingetc, T3,Goodto, Woman, Woman’s Own, and Red magazine.