We all have different motivators for why we might reorganize or purge items from our homes. My motivation for shedding the weight of unwanted, unneeded, and unnecessary belongings is driven by my love for spending quality time with family and friends. I want to be able to bring people together in our home in a way that fully supports the preparation, welcoming, and hosting of those who matter to the most to us. I’d rather not have to suffer through massive cleaning events or fight the 10,000 things I’m not looking for just to find the one thing I do.
It’s easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of life. We all throw things in drawers or in closets so they’re out of sight, and that is okay. However, there is no time like the present to revisit those spaces so our homes can evolve with a greater sense of purpose and peace. If you haven’t done a deep purge in a while and the idea of it overwhelms you, start small. If you like a challenge and have the time and energy to devote to a large-scale overhaul, dive in headfirst. To start, I’ll pose a question. Which of these following statements do you most closely identify with?
A: “If I’m working on a project, I fixate on completing it. Nothing can stop me until it’s done.”
B. “If the circumstances are right, I can plow through a project."
C. “I get distracted easily, either by the things I see, other priorities, my housemates or outside influences.”
How did you answer the above? Having some self-awareness before you set out on a project is helpful because it guides the course of action that leads to accomplishment. If you are easily distracted or don't have the time to dedicate to a large project, don't rip apart your home. (It will only bring you more grief!) Also ask yourself, “How good am I at being honest with myself?” THIS IS SO IMPORTANT. Your level of honesty will guide you and the action steps forward. Approaching the following exercise with honesty will either empower you to shed the weight or allow you to keep only the necessary belongings that enhance your daily life. Are you in? Let's go.
My absolute favorite way to start a purge project is to empty out whatever space it is that I am tackling. If you’re starting with a small space (a medicine cabinet, cutlery drawers, vanity) a great strategy for this is to clear off a nearby surface and empty the contents onto it. If you’re starting with a larger endeavor (a closet, entire room, all your kitchen cabinets) clear up space in an adjacent room or hallway that allows you to sort through all of the contents. Once the contents are out, do a thorough cleaning of the empty space and then start sorting. Some items will be trashed or recycled, and some will go on to lead another life through donation or sale.
Items for the trash – these are non-negotiable: Anything that is past its usable date must be thrown away. That includes food, medicine, beauty products, items that are broken, and documents that have piled up.
FOOD – Unopened non-refrigerated food has a shelf life of up to about two years, or as marked on the containers. Opened goods like condiments, (refrigerated or not) have a shelf life of 3 months (BBQ sauce) to 2 years (soy sauce and vinegars). Use an online search engine to determine if your inventory should be kept or trashed. Empty contents and recycle as many containers as you can.
MEDICINE – Look for expiration dates. Medicine loses its efficacy after expiration dates. If you keep them, they won’t do the job they were meant to do in the first place, and it is unsafe to determine dosing based on potential lost potency. Liquid medicine can be flushed down the toilet and the containers can be rinsed and recycled. Solid pills should be emptied into Ziploc bags and sealed completely before tossing. If you’re afraid of medication being misused after you dispose of it, you can drop them off at a police station or a pharmacy.
BEAUTY PRODUCTS – Unopened skincare products generally have a shelf life of 1-3 years. Products that you apply with your fingers or makeup applicators likely have bacteria transfer. If you aren’t using makeup consistently, don’t spring for full sized products so you cutdown on price and waste. Use an online search engine to determine if yours are ready to toss.
BROKEN GOODS- This covers a wide array of items. If you have something that no longer functions properly, they should be thrown away or recycled. If you have outdated electronics, use a search engine or contact your local recycling center to see if there are services to help dispose of these items properly. If you have old towels or linens that have damage, consider calling local animal shelters who may need these items. Otherwise, say goodbye to them.
DOCUMENTS- With all the technological advances, we don't need to hold onto all physical documents. Some of them you’ll want to hold onto for the entirety of your life, while others should be shredded and disposed of through trash or recycling. Not sure what to keep and what to toss? Check out this article. If you don’t have a shredder at home, many copy centers offer this as an inexpensive service.
Items for a cardboard box: Items placed in cardboard boxes are meant to be donated or sold. So, go grab a couple before you start and get honest with yourself some more, because you may have to make some hard decisions. Try not to hold onto items that you “might need” if a very specific or lofty scenario would serve their only purpose. Where you donate these items is up to you, but the goal is to get them out of your space and into the hands of someone else who could use them more regularly as soon as possible. (Doesn't it feel great to know someone else will find use in items you no longer need!?) If you are donating, pack them up and put them in your vehicle immediately or ask a friend to help you transport them. Use a search engine to find local donation centers. Call to find out donation hours and ask if there are items they DON’T take. Alternatively, if you could use some extra cash, give yourself a few weeks to see if you can sell these items on a free listing site like Facebook marketplace. Price items reasonably knowing that we rarely get back what we paid for them originally. If it doesn’t sell in three weeks, consider slashing the price in half. Give it an additional week and then mark it as free or bring to a donation center.
Ask yourself the questions below about each item to help determine what to keep and what to give away:
Have I used/worn this item in the past two years? If you answered no, consider donating. If you answered yes, follow up with asking, “Do I see a purpose for this in my life moving forward?” Be honest!
Do I have more than one of these items? If you answered yes, consider donating unless there is a very specific reason why you need more than one.
To use one of Marie Kondo’s questions, “Does this item spark joy?” Does this item bring you joy? Make a task easy? Make you feel like a million bucks when you wear it? If yes, hold onto it. If no, let it go. It may bring someone else greater joy than it ever could for you.
Does this item still serve purpose for my lifestyle today? This is one of the hardest questions for some of us to answer. Many people hold onto items for nostalgic purposes. Letting go of them or re-homing them accordingly can be hard emotionally. Try to rehome these pieces you feel particularly connected to by reaching out to family and friends to first. If they don’t want or need them, this is a sign you should shed the weight of this item.
After you’ve sorted through the contents, put the items you're keeping back into the space. Your results will vary, depending on how much “stuff” you started with and how much you opted to trash or giveaway. Generally, this should bring an initial sense of accomplishment through visual assessment. As you use the space in the upcoming weeks, you should appreciate the process of how you are now accessing your belongings. The fewer obstacles we have to overcome, the easier it is to get things done.
Ultimately, many of us are looking for ways to simplify our lives because so much of what we encounter in the world is complex. Making something simple can be very complicated and I hope that the questions and techniques in this article help you or someone you love take steps to bring more peace into daily life.
PS- if there are dynamics at play like roommates or partners who prefer not to partake in this exercise, start with your personal spaces and places. Perhaps the change in those places will inspire the larger household to participate.
Note: Shedding the weight of belongings can come with a wide range of emotions. If you struggle with hoarding or emotionally being able to separate yourself from your belongings in a way that affects your daily life, consider speaking with a personal organizer or a therapist who may be able to assist.