It always starts the same way. You can’t open your drawers because they’re so stuffed with unopened mail and odds and ends that have no other place. Your baking cabinet is full of pans and cookie sheets and cupcake tins, and each has a double, and yet you use the single version maybe once a year. The cabinet under the bathroom sink is so packed with bottles and lotions and sprays that if you knock one over, they all tumble out like dominos.
As everything clatters onto the ground, you snap and declare that today is the day! Everything must go! It’s time to purge and organize!
So you start sorting through the guest closet and toss a few things that clearly have no place in your house. A glove that’s lost its mate, a box with a few random pieces of ribbon and some tape. But soon you start to lose momentum as everything becomes “I might need this one day, and I don’t want to have to buy another one” or “I can’t donate this sweater because I might want it if I lose a couple pounds or if turtlenecks ever become trendy again.” (Hint: They won’t.)
When you’re done, you’re left with a small bag to toss, a small bag to donate, and lots of things to rearrange back into piles because it feels better than calling it “clutter.”
Is this how your purging days usually go? Mine used to be this way too. I started with the best of intentions, but then somehow I ended up with so much stuff left over that I started putting it all in places where it didn’t belong. I would place each item into the closet/drawer/cabinet “neatly” and vow to keep it that way. And a few weeks later, it was disorganized and chaotic, and I could swear some of the stuff I got rid of had clawed its way back in.
I have become much less attached to things now that I purge more regularly. I think a good purging session requires a strong filter — a manifesto — for what stays and what goes. It’s going to look different for everyone, but here are some tips to get you started:
All these tips center around one core idea:
Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful. —William Morris
1. Define what beautiful means for you. The thing about beauty is that not everything gets to be beautiful. Pick one or two categories that are meaningful for you. Another person may consider them to be clutter, but if they’re you’re beauties, they can stay. This could be family heirlooms and antiques, china, photos, throw pillows, or a collection of games. The goal of purging (and the goal of minimalism in general) is not to create a blank, spartan house or get rid of a certain number of things. It’s to cultivate what truly makes your home a home. Joshua Becker of Becoming Minimalist refers to this as “rational minimalism,” and Myquillin Smith of The Nesting Place calls this “cozy minimalism.”
2. If you have not used it in 6 months, get rid of it. At first, this rule was in the last 2 years, which then became in the last year. I was still justifying the hoarding of too many things, so now 6 months it is. This still accounts for changing seasons, because if I’m considering winter items in the summer, I probably used the important ones within the last 6 months. If not, into the donation bag it goes.
3. When in doubt, toss it. I used to play by the opposite rule (when in doubt, keep it), or by a grayer rule (when in doubt, keep it for six months, and if you still don’t use it, get rid of it). But here’s the thing: I never got rid of it. I’d extend the deadline over and over until two years had gone by and those darn pants still didn’t fit and had gone hopelessly out of fashion. The last few times I’ve purged, I’ve thrown away or donated everything that I was in doubt about, and truthfully, not even once have I thought about the items again. I can’t even remember the things that I was on the fence about. I’ve never had a moment where I’ve realized I needed the thing I got rid of and then had to go out and spend money on a new one. It’s not that it couldn’t happen, it’s just that it never has. The first time I tried this out, I got rid of more than triple what I normally do in a purging session (6 garbage bags instead of two, plus two big boxes).
4. Set strong boundaries for what will come back into the house. It’s so easy to get stuck in a cycle of purging, accumulating, snapping, purging, over and over again. The only real place where you can break the cycle is the “accumulation” phase. Also, it’s the only thing that will actually save you money. Otherwise, you may be keeping a simple life and minimal house, but you’re throwing money out the window every few months. Next week’s simplicity post will be all about the self-check questions I use when I’m contemplating a purchase. Here’s a sneak peek at one of my favorite questions: Will I use this item at least once a week?
5. Get someone else in on the fun. Dan can often talk me out of keeping things I swear I’ll need someday, and I can talk him into ditching his favorite shirt from college that is so ugly and large on him that I can’t even look at it. I purge so much more when I give him some veto power over my decisions about what to keep.
6. Change your mindset. Admittedly, I haven’t tried this one yet, but it’s the thinking behind the capsule wardrobe and kitchen movements, and I plan to try it out as we pack for the move. Instead of trying to find things to get rid of, flip your thinking. Choose only your very favorite things to keep, and get rid of everything else. Scary? Yes. Worth it? Probably. I’ll let you know.
I hope these tips help you to be bold and confident during your next decluttering session. Remember that the point of purging is not to toss out as much as possible; it’s to become more grateful for what you have and to showcase the things you really cherish. (Although, I will admit that the idea of eliminating all my clutter is reward enough in itself.)
In the coming weeks, I’ll share more about how I stop the clutter from coming in via impulse purchases, how I’m making good on these intentions as I’m packing, and how I’m organizing the storage space in our new home.