How to Start Purging

Most people I talk to would love to thin out all the stuff in their house, but just can’t bear to let go of the cherished memories captured in a knickknack, or a box of their daughter’s preschool drawings. I could offer my ideas about how holding onto all of those things might sap their enthusiasm for creating new memories.  How their life is not over yet, so not to create a museum to their life thus far.  Leaping forward in time, what a gift to their children to not leave behind room after room of clutter when they leave this earth.  Or even the current joy of having cupboards that have empty space available.

Below I offer some suggestions for adding a structure to the cleansing process.  But first, here are some guiding principles to start.

Guiding principles on purging

The One-Year Rule – Start with a tried and true rule; if you haven’t worn a piece of clothing in a year, it goes. Then apply similar rules to everything else in your house. For instance, if you don’t plan to read that book again in the next year, out it goes.  If you have been meaning to read that book for the last ten years, but have never actually started, give yourself a break and give it away.  If you have more champagne flutes that you could possibly use at a single party, pick out your favorites and let the rest go.

The Unpacking Test – If you were to unpack boxes in a new house, would you wonder why you bothered to pack it?  Worse, would you moan when you took it out of the box and regret its very presence in your new space?  When moving to a new house, it is often easier to pack an item than to get rid of it.  But how irritating to have to find a place for it in a new, clean house.  Holding onto an item in a cupboard is just a passive form of the same dilemma.  Holding onto an item that no longer serves a purpose is just avoiding the tougher call of letting it go.

Sharing the Joy – If you can imagine someone in need, excited to find your donation at a thrift store, pass it along. Don’t hold onto things because you might need it someday or because it is worth money.  Picture the joy that thing might bring into the life of someone who really needs it, and let it go.

Honor Your Memories – Forget the yard sale. It hurts to let personal items go for a dollar.  It demeans the importance of that memory.  Better to give it away in bulk to a thrift store or other charity that can do good work with it.  We have chosen Salvation Army because we know someone whose life was saved as a result of their free drug rehab program.


Adding Structure to the  Purging Process

Make an Inventory – We created a Purge List which listed every nook and cranny in our house. Room by room, it listed each area of shelves or cupboards in manageable chunks.  Most rooms were broken down into about five to eight different sections.  Then we tackled the project one area at a time, loading the liberated items into the car and driving them away that afternoon.  Then to celebrate, I got to cross the area off of the list.  Often followed by my telling Frank, “Look, look what I did here.”

Set a Deadline – We created a target date because we were going to pack up the house before we left on our vagabond year.   That was helpful.  You could pick a random date as your deadline.  Or, plan to host a gathering at your house in two months and use that as a target.  Or, think about listing your house for sale in three months.  Get it cleared out in preparation.  By the time you reach the goal, you might like the new cleaner space so much better that you are happy to stay.


How We Approached Some of our Specific Areas

Game cupboard – Full of board games we played with the kids.  Lots of memories there.  Now there are new young families, shopping at the thrift store, that can discover the bonding joy of playing Aggravation or Mickey Mouse Yahtzee.

Linen Closet – Oy, how easy it has been to shove things into the linen closet.  For that one, I found the sheets, pillow cases and towels I like the best.  Those got folded neatly and stacked on the floor, sorted by size.   Then marginal items went into the Prius for donation. Out went more than half the stuff.  The other half, when properly folded, left empty shelves in the linen closet. And better yet, the stuff that remained I actually like.  And, I got to cross the linen closet off my list.  One more down.

Books – It can be comforting to have a library of books on the shelves.  But I also enjoy the lightness of my Kindle.  And frankly, it has been a long time since I pulled a book down to reread it.  So for this one, I went extreme.  I pulled out about ten books which I absolutely love, and then everything else went into the six boxes that went away.

File Cabinet – We had tax returns going back about twenty years.   The Paid Bills folder was about four inches thick.   So, found a place in town that shreds documents for ten bucks per box.  We filled four boxes of sensitive documents and away it went.  The other stuff, several boxes of it, went into boxes and then into our paper recycling can that goes to the curb every week.  The boxes got staged in the garage and it only took a few weeks before it was all gone.

Before long, you may start feeling lighter in your home.  There is more room to live your life.  It really is addictive.


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