Discarding, Meet Carding: A New Way to Declutter

I think a lot about ways to make Minimalism as approachable as possible to everyone, and sometimes inspiration for new things to try comes when I least expect it. I was rereading The Art of Discarding when this particular revelation hit me. In game terms, discarding is to remove a card from your hand--why don't we treat items like cards before we discard them? Deciding to discard in a game means you've analyzed its value and decided you're better off without it in your hand. We can treat any item this way with a little bit of effort and creativity.

"Carding" items will not only make you think critically about the effort each item is worth, but it can also help to gamify your efforts to discard and declutter.

What is Carding?

Carding is the exercise of writing about items, essentially writing down what the items are, what the justification was for buying them or bringing them into the home, and justification (if any) for keeping them. Think of all of the cards you have at the end of the exercise as your "hand", and you can discard anything that doesn't strike you as valuable. I developed this idea as a way to physically interact with thoughts and ideas about possessions with the goal of making it easier to identify trends in what kinds of items are worth keeping and what kinds of items are better off being discarded.

The key benefit of carding is that it makes you think critically about the mental, emotional, and physical real estate you're willing to give to your possessions. Do you really want to write out a card for every last item or category of items? Probably not. But that's the point. If something isn't worth the energy of writing about, it's probably worth it to discard.

How does Carding work?

The process of carding items is fairly straight-forward and requires pretty minimal materials to do. All that's necessary is a pen or pencil and some paper--anything that can be made to resemble index cards will work. Starting with obvious keeper items, write out the following details on their cards:

  1. A short description of the item
  2. Why it was purchased or otherwise brought in, and when
  3. A few solid reasons to keep it

Common clutter categories are books and clothing, and each of these categories will be rife with keeper items worthy of the energy it takes to write out a card. Once you have ten or twenty cards written out for your favorite items in a particular category, shuffle them and read through all of them. Do you notice any trends across the items you can enthusiastically keep? Noticing trends in your favorite items will help you more easily discard items that aren't your favorite. 

Think about the effort it would require to write out a card and the justifications to keep an item you aren't enthused about--like a book you bought 3 years ago and still haven't had energy or time to read, or a t-shirt you got as a promotional/SWAG (Shit We All Get) handout at a conference or event.

To really gamify discarding with this method, think about how many items you really need in any given category. Review the cards you've written out, and discard the items whose descriptions read very similarly to others.

Other Ways to Approach Carding

If the card game analogy doesn't work for you, it might help to think about carding a little differently.

You could treat carding as though you're creating a card catalog like at a library so you can easily search all of the items you've chosen to keep. Card catalogs themselves can also take a great deal of space when a library has a lot of books, so when your stack of cards gets too deep, you can review them and see if any are no longer necessary. 

Or, you could change the structure of the details and write more like you're sending greeting cards to items letting them know why you're bringing them with you into the future. Any items or groups of items that don't deserve the energy of a greeting card can probably be discarded.


There are limitless ways to go about analyzing items and picking which to keep and which not to keep. I've said before that there's almost no wrong way to go about decluttering--and carding is a new way that I hope will prove enlightening or interesting at the very least. If the approach sounds attractive, give it a go and let me know what you think of it! How many cards in your hand will you discard?