Can your stuff pass the red velvet rope test?

In last week’s post “Discover your style to keep clutter out of your closet,” I introduced the concept of thinking about your wardrobe as an exclusive club that only the best of the best can get into. Consider yourself to be the bouncer, and you get to decide what items make it past the red velvet rope, and what items don’t.

This exclusive club concept is how I think about most physical objects and obligations in my life. For something to come into my house or occupy my time, it has to pass the red velvet rope test. Your home and life aren’t places for junk, they are privileged places for the things you truly value.

If you have a difficult time thinking like a bouncer, ask yourself: “If I wouldn’t give an object to a friend or ask a friend to watch over it, do I really want it in my house?” For example, I wouldn’t give a friend my junk mail or a rusty potato peeler or a broken washing machine. My friends don’t deserve these objects in her house, and neither do I. Also, I wouldn’t ask a friend to keep track of early drafts of my book, but I would ask a friend to keep an eye on my cats if I were to go on vacation. Early drafts of my book are clutter, but my cats are prized possessions. Drafts should go, but cats can stay.

When we treat our homes and lives with respect, when we think of them as exclusive clubs instead of dumping grounds, it’s easy to determine what is clutter and what isn’t. Put a trash can, recycling bin, shredder, and donation box near the main entrance to you home to temporarily hold the things that shouldn’t be fully welcomed into your space. Then, as needed, trash, recycle, or donate to charity these collected items. You’re the gatekeeper to your life. Be a bouncer and ruthlessly decide what is exclusive enough to make it past the red velvet rope and into your life and your home.

46 Comments for “Can your stuff pass the red velvet rope test?”

  1. posted by Mama Zen on

    What a fabulous idea!

  2. posted by Sheryl on

    This reminds me…I need to start a new donation box.

  3. posted by Marie on

    A living thing is not a possession.

  4. posted by Sandy on

    Great ideas! I think I need to get a new velvet rope for my home office…

  5. posted by Erin on

    I am really enjoying and using ideas from your recent posts. I hauled nine bags of cloths to the ARC last Saturday. Now have both winter and summer cloths in one closet for the first time in 10 years.

    I can tell I will need to do another pass and clean out even more, but feels good I made it through the first pass. Thanks for all the practical ideas and encouragement you offer here.

  6. posted by Jennifer on

    Wow…I love this. What a fabulous, simple idea and great way to look at things. I am picking up Unclutter Your Life in One Week at my local bookstore today and I am READY to go 🙂

  7. posted by Java Monster on

    Marie, then what are they? Can it pay for its vet bill all by itself? Does it feed itself, groom itself? What bred it so that it is a domestic cat and not a wild cat? Could it survive out in the wild, especially if it’s an indoor animal?

    And Erin, I agree with this article-keep only what you (or your family!) loves or finds necessary to have in the house.

  8. posted by Sky on

    I agree with Marie, our pets are not possessions. They are members of our families.
    Possessions are things.

  9. posted by Jessiejack on

    I am possessed by my cats. They allow me to stay as long as the friskies keep coming

  10. posted by chacha1 on

    I dunno … I agree with Erin (and with Laurie over at Crazy Aunt Purl): cats are not clutter. However, they certainly are part of the decor!

    And while I sympathize with the “pets are family” contingent (I am extremely fond of my cats) they do fall squarely into the Things We Buy category, which kind of makes them possessions. (Unless of course you pick up all your pets on the side of the road, or generate your own supply by not spaying/neutering.) I got mine at a shelter, but I still had to pay for them.

  11. posted by ReneeO on

    Wow, I really love this red rope concept. I have been purging and purging BUT I really have to keep the stuff from coming in. This is really going to help me.

  12. posted by Karo on

    That’s a good mindset to have. I’m trying to do just that with my wardrobe now. It sounds kind of lame, but I’m hoping to move to NYC in a few years, and now when I get dressed I ask myself “would I wear this in NYC?” If it’s not up to those standards, I reevaluate whether to keep the clothing in question. And it’s nice to feel more put together.

  13. posted by The PeachPost on

    I love this idea. It should come in handy as I start to clean out my closet for the spring.

  14. posted by Dawn F. on

    The Red Rope Concept is fantastic!

    I think the part that really stuck with me was: “When we treat our homes and lives with respect, when we think of them as exclusive clubs instead of dumping grounds, it’s easy to determine what is clutter and what isn’t.”

    I have a several friends and family members that need to read this post – and then live by it!!

  15. posted by Karolina on

    Karo, I have the opposite situation: I might be moving out of NYC. I think your approach will work really well for me once I leave, though! To avoid accumulating not-so-great clothing, I’ll continue asking myself: “Would I have worn this when I lived in NYC?” If the answer is no, out it goes 🙂

  16. posted by Susan Penter on

    What a simple but useful idea. I suppose it is a simplified version of the rule of only having things that are useful or beautiful on your home.

  17. posted by Red Coyote Hunter on

    Sky’s suggestion that pets are family members is a common notion that that is intellectual clutter. It’s like the one, “my cats/dogs are my kids,” prattle. In no way should an animal be equated with a human being. It suggests to me that pet lovers missed a couple of life lessons along the way.

    I don’t believe animals don’t have value, quite the opposite. Just don’t compare them to children. Or anyone else in the true family comprised of living, breathing human beings.

    The velvet rope is a great idea. Pets as “family” is an idea that should not make it past your mental velvet ropes.

  18. posted by Zora on

    How about we say that pets are on the line between family and things? Not quite classifiable. I’m one of those “cat ladies”, with four former ferals in the house, one of whom is an elderly, frail cat who must have her thyroid pill twice a day. In some ways, I do treat the cats like family. OTOH, I’d bankrupt myself to save my daughter’s life, but I’m not going to sell my house to finance expensive medical treatments for the cats.

  19. posted by Sky on

    Red Coyote Hunter, I certainly do not put pets in the same category as people, however, they are not “things”. They have value and feelings and many people do see them as their kids. It’s a personal choice.

    Being judgmental just may be the worst form of intellectual clutter.

  20. posted by Different Marie on

    In some circumstances people can be family to pets. My cat was abandoned immediately after birth. I bottle-fed him from day 1, making me the only mother he has known. He is eleven years old.

    I love the velvet rope concept. Always good to remember, one person’s clutter can be another’s treasure. Each individual gets to decide which items get past their ropes.

  21. posted by Diana on

    This concept falls in line with my friend’s advice on buying actual clothes. Her shopping philosophy is as follows-if when you try on an item of clothing and you score it an 8, 9, or 10-you can buy it (on a scale of 1-10-ten being the highest). Otherwise, leave it in the store. I tend to buy clothes that I would score a 6 or 7 just because they’re on sale or another item to have-no longer. I’m currently crafting a wardrobe plan for work specifically so that I can buy just a few basics to mix around each week.

    This site inspired me to give my closet a makeover this past weekend. I took 4 bags of clothes to the thrift store, mailed off 8 books online at paperbackswap, donated crafty items to a local art group, and organized my papers in preparation for doing my taxes. It’s freeing!

  22. posted by Gina on


    Don’t tell me how to relate to my pets — they are truer family than a lot of blood relatives.

  23. posted by *Pol on

    I have a STRICT one-in-one out rule for my clothes. So if I want that new sweater, I have to think hard about what I am giving away to make room for it. Also if someone gives me an article of clothing, sometimes it doesn’t even make it into my room if I don’t think it will replace a loved item. The great thing is when something is worn-out, it gives me permission to throw it out (and get something new).

    (How did this go from clothes to pets?)

  24. posted by Teri on

    There are many different ways that peole view pets. However, I think the velvet rope idea works for pets… however you view them. It you have a pet, take care of it. Clean up after it. Keep you house clean for yourself AND your pet. Which means, for me and my VERY furry beast, that I must spend extra time vacuuming and dusting, etc. If I was unwilling to do these things then I should find someone who would care for my furry beast with that kind of love. Unfortunately, too many people have pets who add to their clutter…. whatever living things you have(yourself included) in your home, treat them with respect.

  25. posted by Sooz on

    @Gina, I agree with you.

    Erin, great idea about velvet ropes, but this discussion would have been more productive if pets had not been made part of it.

  26. posted by Meghan on

    I love the velvet rope concept, I think it’s a really simple way to look at all the things in your place. Also love the would I wear this in NYC thing, that is hard though, New Yorkers dress SO NICE! I would really have to step up my game.

    As for the pet issue, can we all just agree to disagree? I hate to see you guys fighting.

  27. posted by Magchunk on

    The pet argument folks may be interested in the forum discussion here:

    I think of pets similarly to how I view people. None are things, and many are loved, but some are definitely “clutter”. Clutter can be living too (a toxic friend, a mean coworker, the rabbits you just don’t have time to care for anymore…). I think Erin’s example was right on mark, as she was using her cat as an example of what she values and will get by her velvet rope.

  28. posted by Angela on

    I ask myself, “Am I going to want to pack or sell this when I move?” If the answer is no, then I don’t buy it.

  29. posted by RM on

    I like to follow this concept with gifts that I receive. If I’m just not that excited about the gift, I don’t even put it away in the house to “maybe” use later. It goes straight to the donate pile. I don’t feel guilty about giving away gifts, particularly if there obviously wasn’t much thought behind them from the giver. lol.

  30. posted by Fred E. on

    This is a great post, I especially like the idea of asking, “Would I ask a friend to take care of this for me?”

    If anyone has watched the show Hoarders, pets can be the subject of hoarding, there was that one episode where they found dried up cat corpses where they had died in all the clutter in the house. But people are getting hung up on the cat thing. In the OP it is just saying how important the cats are to her, that she does NOT consider them clutter. Regardless of how we FEEL about our little four-legged furry friends, legally they are possessions.

  31. posted by Just Breathe on

    Every time I see the recommendation someplace to put a shredder in an easily accessible area, I literally SHUDDER.

    Babies, children, and pets have been seriously injured by sticking various body parts, such as their TONGUES and fingers into shredders. The shredders just keep pulling them into the agony. ONCE STUCK IN THE MACHINE, THEY CAN BLEED TO DEATH!


  32. posted by serenknitity on

    Loved this post! I’m going upstairs now and apply the red velvet rope trick to my wardrobe.

  33. posted by Claycat on

    Since I have little interest in clothing, I will comment on the pet issue. That which has a soul cannot be considered a possession. Animals have souls, too. I know. I have seen their spirits.

  34. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Just Breathe — If you’re worried about pets and children, simply get a unit with an on/off switch at the back of the unit instead of the top. Turn the shredder off after each use. That’s it. That’s all you need to do to keep it safe. We have cats and they have not figured out how to flip the power switch at the back of the machine.

    Additionally, I don’t think most people like the look of shredders and put it in a container to look nice. We’ve written about ways to hide a shredder to make it more visually appealing:

    When you hide a shredder in a storage container it also has a place to live — and, as we always say, a place for everything and everything in its place.

  35. posted by Jill of Ark on

    Great tip! I’ve been trying to apply a similar approach (per sage advice from my cat) to making new purchases, but my red velvet rope needs to stretch a little longer with items already in my home.

  36. posted by Courtney on

    Great post! I love the whole concept, it will make me really think before bringing my stuff into my home that I don’t really need/want. It will save tons of time organizing, and money on impulse purchases!

  37. posted by Linda on

    This is probably THE best strategy I’ve ever come across, thanks!

    Greetings from the netherlands 🙂

  38. posted by Jennifer J. on

    I agree with the concept of the red velvet rope, but early drafts of novels may not be clutter. Currently, the IRS values them only for the paper they are printed on, but this has not been true in the past, and may not be true in the future. That’s why I intend to give drafts of my novels to a library on permanent loan, hoping the tax laws will change. Certainly manuscripts sell on the secondary market to collectors, and collectors can donate them and take a tax write off, even though their original creators cannot.

    In the past, friends have told me, they got appraisals and were able to donate early manuscripts (showing all the drafts) for up to $10,000.

  39. posted by Jill of Ark on

    I didn’t carefully read the previous comments before making mine (sorry), but now that I have, I want to add that I think MagChunk is right on the money. I adore and work closely with animals–but they *can* become clutter for some people.

    But even for those of us who do consider our animals part of the family (I’ll raise my hand proudly), Erin’s analogy isn’t off-base. I never thought to try this, but I’d probably have an easier time letting go of a physical object if I compare my feelings toward it against my feelings toward my cats–not because my cats equate with “possessions” but because doing so reminds me how blessed I am without it.

  40. posted by Alix on

    Just remember, some people can get into the club not because they’re rich or famous, but because they’re very good friends of the owner, ya know? In other words, I think there are gray areas — not everything is clutter that isn’t precious.

  41. posted by Laetitia in Australia on

    “Drafts should go, but cats can stay.”

  42. posted by Just Breathe on

    Posted by Erin Doland – 02/17/2010

    @Just Breathe — If you’re worried about pets and children, simply get a unit with an on/off switch at the back of the unit instead of the top. Turn the shredder off after each use. That’s it. That’s all you need to do to keep it safe. We have cats and they have not figured out how to flip the power switch at the back of the machine.

    I am not worried for any of my own loved ones, I was just trying to let people know about the dangers of shredders. I’ll bet not everyone who reads this blog owns a shredder like yours – with a cutoff button. I’ll wager that most older models didn’t have them. In fact, I have documented evidence that many horrible accidents have occurred involving shredders. I just wish people would remember to point that out each time they recommend using them.

    By the way, my dog knows how to turn lower switches off and on. My son’s dog pushes the button to make the icemaker pop out cubes for it to chew, and I once owned a horse who could let himself out of the corral and grasp the door handle in his teeth, in order to open and close the door to the house.

    When pets can do all those things, it doesn’t take a child long to “watch and learn.”

  43. posted by DebraC on

    Great take on treating your closet with some TLC. It’s also a great way of significantly reducing your possessions when you view it this way. The minimalist approach is the way to go.

  44. posted by mayajal on

    This is the BEST idea! Just thinking of how I will apply the red velvet rope test I am excited & encouraged. Wow! Thank you for helping me see the real value of my home, possessions & self as I have not seen before.

  45. posted by What you Need - Turtles-Paradise on

    […] Unclutterer, they talk about the Red Velvet Rope technique, in which only the most valuable possessions are allowed into your home. Over at Early […]

  46. posted by Andy Levy-Stevenson on

    Cats as possessions? I don’t really have an opinion.

    On the other hand, I know a lot of cats that seem to be possessed.

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