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Simplifize Your Life: Organizing Basics Part 4/Step 3 – Purge
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Simplifize Your Life: Organizing Basics Part 4/Step 3 – Purge

by Vanessa Hayes

in Around the House,Organize Anything Series,Organizing

Wow! We made it to step 3…Purge! This is probably the most challenging step for many people. I personally find it to be the most rewarding. It’s tough giving up all that stuff you either bought, earned or were given, but it’s also a wake up call. It makes you realize you really don’t need a bunch of “stuff” to make you happy. You are in control of your happiness…not physical objects. When you start to purge you feel lighter…literally and figuratively speaking. You feel energized!

It’s actually perfect timing for me to talk about purging. My family and I are in the middle of a move and although we’ve purged quite a bit over the past six months there was still much more to get rid of.

I went through many of the same emotions most people go through when they purge: guilt, frustration, happiness, sadness and relief. I felt guilty about getting rid of things that at one time seemed really special. I felt frustration with the things we’ve kept for so many years and rarely used…it felt like a waste of money and space. I felt sadness and happiness as I was reminded of both good and bad times. But in the end, I felt relief…a sense of accomplishment. And that’s what I hope you’ll feel as you go through this process. So without any further delay….let’s start purging!!!

Before you get started, remember the first two steps: identify your Needs and Assess the space. You want to remind yourself why you are doing this and how you want your space to look and feel.  You may need to visualize throughout the purging process, especially when you hit a bump in the road.

Schedule a time to purge and mark it on your calendar. For small spaces like a linen closet, a few drawers or a cupboard you may only need an hour or so.  For bigger spaces, like a kitchen, pantry, office, or bedroom you may need to schedule an entire day or weekend.

Tip: Always start with a small space first before you try to tackle a big organizing project.  You’ll get the feel for the process without getting discouraged!

Prepare. Do not schedule appointments during your organizing project.  Turn phones and cell phones to voicemail.  Do not check email.  Turn off the televisions.  Schedule a sitter to watch the kids or explain to older kids not to interrupt (unless of course you are working on an area that they use and should help you with). Get plenty of sleep!

Gather your supplies. Below is a list of things I recommend for pretty much any organizing project:

Set up your sorting bins or bags. You can use your sorting bins or clear trash bags to sort your items.  Use a sheet of paper and marker to label each sorting bin or bag.  Use the following labels:

(At a minimum have a keep, trash, donate and don’t know bin/bags).

Tip: Using clear plastic bags will help you recognize the items that are in them plus helps you distinguish them from ordinary black or white trash bags.  You don’t want to accidentally throw away stuff you intend to keep or donate!

Start sorting. Pull everything out of the space one item at a time and decide which bin to put it in.  Keep only items that you need, use or love.

Trash items that are broken, soiled, ripped or beyond repair.

Recycle items such as paper, glass, plastic or metal (be sure to check with your local recycling center or garbage collector to see what type of recyclable material they will take).

Donate items that are in good condition; clothes, furniture, trinkets, jewelry, electronics, etc.  Please do not donate anything that is in poor condition…things that you wouldn’t give away to friends or family.

Don’t Know items are things you are having a hard time letting go of.  We’ll address those later.  Don’t spend too much time on these so you can push through the rest of your purging efforts.

Return items that belong somewhere else.  These may be items that belong in another room, items that belong to someone else, or items that need to be returned to the store, library, etc.

Ask yourself the following questions if you are having a hard time with the “Don’t Know” items:

Do I love it? If you truly love an item, if it brings you joy every time you see it and it’s part of that “vision” you have for your space, then by all means keep it.

Do I need it? This is a no-brainer but be sure to get rid of duplicate items.  A coffee-maker is a definite need in my household…but not two or three.  Try not to have duplicates unless you know you need them.

Have I used it? Items that you’ve never used you should seriously consider getting rid of.

When was the last time I used it? Anything that hasn’t been used in over a year… again, you should seriously consider getting rid of them too.

Does it make my life better? I’m all about quality and making my life more simplified.  If that’s important to you too, keep those items.

Can I borrow or rent it? Instead of taking up space with items you rarely use, consider renting it borrowing.

Is it out of date or out of style? Seriously.  Are you really going to wear that stone-washed jeans jacket from the 80’s?  Yes? Maybe you could go to a vintage clothing store for a pair of parachute pants and a mood ring to match, too.  Just saying…

Am I keeping it out of a sense of obligation or guilt? Sentimental items are especially tricky.  I highly recommend checking out my post dealing with kids’ artwork because it gives some good examples on how to deal with sentimental items.

What’s the worst that can happen if I get rid of it? When all else fails and you’re still having trouble deciding, just ask what’s the worst that can happen? Practically everything can be replaced these days, especially with today’s technology.  All too often people hold on to things for that “just in case I need it someday” scenario.  I can’t stand “Justin Case.”  If organizers were super heros their nemesis would be “Justin Case!” Well, chances are that “just in case” scenario will never come and there you are holding on to things you’ll never use.

Now, remove all your bins and bags from the area immediately! Don’t give yourself the opportunity to change your mind.  Get those trash bags and recycle bins out of the way and into the garage or garbage can.  Put the donate and return items in your car and deliver them as soon as you can.

Keep your vision and goal in sight. I know I sound like a broken record but this really does help.  Reminding yourself of how you want your space puts you in control of your space…not your clutter.

And there you have it.  That’s how you purge a space.  It may seem like a lot but like I said before, start small then tackle bigger projects as you get the hang of it.  Soon you’ll be able to purge more “stuff” in less time.

If you are actually going through this process right now or plan on doing it in the future, I would love to hear how it’s going.  If you have any questions don’t hesitate to ask.  I’m here to support you all the way!  We’re almost done with the series.  Next up…Organize!

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Stacey May 2, 2013 at 1:33 PM

Greetings! I’ve been reading your weblog for some time now and finally got the courage to go ahead and give you a shout out from Porter Texas! Just wanted to tell you keep up the good job!

Julia August 20, 2013 at 2:50 PM

Hi there,

I’m not a hoarder but I seem to have a lot of Just In Case because I am in a rental and it’s much smaller than I”ve ever lived in. I feel crowded and definitely struggle with getting rid of so much stuff.
But your bit here is giving me the little extra push I need to carry on — thanks!

Vanessa Hayes August 26, 2013 at 12:08 PM


I’m glad this post might be of a little motivation/inpiration for you. Just remember to think about what your end state is (how do you want your space to look, feel and function?), then work from there using this basic 4-step process of organizing. Purging can be difficult. Take your time but be honest with why you are keeping something. If you don’t love it, need it or use it…then consider letting it go. If you’re stuck…just leave an item be and come back to it later. The last thing you want is to have regret. I think the underlying theme when it comes to letting go and the reason why you should let things go…is if and when your clutter becomes a quality of life issue. You may really like all of your stuff, but if it’s getting in the way of your sanity, causing too much stress…then perhaps it’t time to get a little tough and make the decision to let some things go!

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