Purging Clutter

The hardest part of any clean: the purging of clutter.

So many things turn into clutter, even things that you wouldn’t normally consider: sentimental items, books, or stuffed animals. It’s like the gardener’s philosophy surrounding weeds: it’s only a weed if you consider it one or it chokes out other plants. It’s only cluttered if it gets in the way and you don’t want it.

The Difficulty with Purging Items

Why purge items? Besides the obvious answer: purging items helps clear out mental clutter as well. I find that I am so much happier when I have a cleaner space, free of unnecessary papers and items.

The issue is deciding what to get rid of and what to keep/store.

I have a slight attachment to items that have a perceived sentimental value. I have three bottles of wine I still haven’t opened that I bought just after I moved South 10 years ago. I have two bottles of wine I bought 6 years ago when I visited my hometown in New England. I just can’t bring myself to open these bottles because of what they represent: the beginning of a new journey and goodbye to an old one.

But they are taking up space and at this point, if they aren’t vinegar, I can’t imagine they will taste good. We aren’t talking about quality bottles of wine.

I am not ready to make a decision about these bottles because they aren’t taking up enough space to be troublesome. Should I need to make space, then I will have to consider drinking them or dumping the contents and repurposing the bottles if I need that sentimental reminder.

But I have plenty of other items in the house that needs to be purged: clothing, toys, books, memorabilia to name a few.

Before Jai was born I went through a massive purge throughout the house in order to make room for his stuff. I knew it would be the first of several, so it felt good to watch the trash bags pile up on the curb for collection and Ash leaving with a car filled with donation boxes. I hoped to do my second purge in the spring after Jai was born, but I wasn’t able to get to it.

Now that he’s almost two, it’s time to consider making another massive purge, which should be easier to do because I already did one round. This time I will have to get rid of Jai’s old clothing, toys, and utility items that he no longer needs. I have everything mostly organized so that part should be easy, but deciding which toys should go will be difficult. That’s where having a system helps me make the more difficult decisions.

Creating a Simple System

When I am setting out to do a mini-purge I unceremoniously create three different vessels to hold my items: a garbage bag for items to be tossed, a random box for items to be donated, and a catch-all area for items to be stored or put away. When I am more organized, like when I was pregnant, I create bins to put each of these items so Ash can pick through them to see if I correctly categorized his stuff that might be mixed in.

I find big, clear, plastic totes work best. Their size helps hold more stuff, but easy to pick through and move from room-to-room if need be. Additionally, they are great to be repurposed as storage containers for the items being stored. I label each bin:

  1. To Keep and Store/put away
  2. To Donate
  3. To Trash/Recycle

Scheduling purges in small doses help keep me focused, just like my massive cleaning sessions.  I try not to spend more than 10 seconds on each item. If I am not sure in that moment I will set it aside and move on. If I find another item that is similar and I am able to make a quick decision about it (usually toss/donate) then I will return to that previous item set aside and make a similar decision. The goal is to have less “unsure” items at the end of each session than before I started.

My Favorite Tips

These are some of my favorite tips for working through a successful clutter purge:

  • I spend no more than 10 seconds on each item to decide whether I want to keep, donate or trash it. Some stuff is easy, for the more difficult items I will set aside to decide later.
  • If I am struggling to decide on a sentimental item at the end of my session, I will put it in a fourth box: this box is meant to be placed in an unobtrusive spot for 6 months. If I don’t reach in the box for the item in those 6 months, nor do I think about it, then I can seriously consider getting rid of it. I take a picture if it’s really important so I can have that instead of the physical object.
  • If an item has utility value, I ask if I will need it within the next 3 months. If no, then I donate/toss the item, otherwise, I store the item until I need it.
  • If I have multiples of an item and I only need one, I will keep the “nicer” version which is usually the newer version or I organize the items so I use the old stuff first. If an item is unopened, but I know Ash or my parents can use it, I give them the option to take it otherwise it gets donated.
  • Getting rid of important paperwork: I purchase a “year” box from a popular store that sells containers and organizing helpers. This box has the current year marked all over it, so I know what year the items were put into it. I write this note on top of it: “important paperwork to be destroyed December 31, (year).” The year is always 3 years from the current year (i.e. if the box says 2018, I am going to destroy the box contents in 2021).
  • I try to remember that we have the internet, so if I do get rid of something and I regret it, I have the means to find it again from someone. This is particularly helpful with books, especially cookbooks. My next purge will probably include all my cookbooks because I rarely crack those open anymore (though I will save my novelty cookbooks). I find that I search online for all my recipes because it’s more convenient for me.

What are some of the ways you purge your unwanted items, especially when you have something it’s hard to get rid of? Comment with your tips and stories regarding how your item purge sessions go below.


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Featured photo credit: Michelle Melton Photography

6 thoughts on “Purging Clutter

  1. Daisy

    I really love your tips because I keep putting off organizing and purging what we don’t need… we will be moving in a few months and I really don’t want to pack things we really don’t use or need…

  2. Yeah Lifestyle

    To be honest, this is my weakness! I am so bad at purging clutter and often keep things ‘just in case’. I need to sort out my house soon and start doing these that you have suggested.

  3. We just did a thorough clean, perhaps a summer cleaning instead of spring cleaning. Felt good to donate so much of our stuff, because that’s always what it ends up being, just stuff. It can pile up quickly so getting in a purge is definitely helpful, and therapeutic lol!

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