While I’m busy preparing my daughter’s 17th birthday celebration, Emily from So Damn Domestic stopped by to share this great post on purging with you.
You’re doing it wrong.
I see you over there, on one of your decluttering sprees. You’re holding up each item, asking yourself if you love it or not, if you have the space for it, or if you’ve used it in the last year. You’re dutifully depositing it in one of three boxes labeled “Keep,” “Donate,” or “Trash.” You have a smile on your face and you’re staying focused while your timer ticks down 15 minutes, because dang it, this time you’re going to win the War on Clutter!
But while you might win your 15-minute battle, you’re losing the war.
Why? Because you’re making some mistakes along the way. You’re skipping over some important questions that could cause you to slam the history book closed on this War on Clutter once and for all.
Mistake #1: Thinking that space is the only cost to keeping something.
Most people ask themselves, “Do I have the space for this?” or even, “Does this item have a home?” when they’re on these decluttering jags. But that’s the wrong question. Of course you shouldn’t keep things that will float around, homeless, randomly appearing on surfaces all over your house at the most inconvenient times.
That’s not what I mean.
Just because you live in a 3 bedroom house (with a 2-car garage) with your 2 kids (oh wait, that’s me) doesn’t mean that you need more stuff than your friend who lives in a one-bedroom apartment (no garage) with her husband and daughter. But stuff has a habit of filling available space, unless we intentionally stop it.
So instead of considering whether space exists for something, consider the costs to keeping the item. Sure, using “valuable real estate” in your home is one. But there’s also the cost of maintaining the item, cleaning it, time and energy spent moving it around, and possibly most importantly – the mental clutter it creates. Even if something is in a labeled box on the top storage shelf of a closet, not bothering anyone, if it’s something no one in your family actually needs, it’s creating mental clutter.
I won’t pretend to be a Feng Shui expert, but it’s one of those types of things. Just like having a dead houseplant or spent bouquet of flowers in your house just saps the life out of everything around it until you pitch it in the trash, those unneeded items filing the nooks and crannies of your home are just vibrating with negative energy. It’s true.
I know it’s true because I’ve purged so many of those things and the energy in the rest of my home instantly changed. But you won’t know how true it is until you ask the hard question: What will it really cost me to keep this?
Mistake #2: Forgetting the item’s life purpose.
Ok, again with the energy vibes and life force and stuff… I’m not that woowoo, but I do know that things were created to be used. If you have four sets of sheets for your bed and rotate between the two softest whitest ones with the highest thread count, the other two are wasting away in your closet, wishing they could snuggle happy sleepers.
If you have shelves upon shelves of your favorite paperback novels because you enjoyed them, but you don’t actually re-read them each year, the stories are locked inside their pages, screaming to get out, while they languish in the bookcase.
So set those things free. Let someone else have them. Maybe a woman who has just escaped an abusive relationship will accept your sheets from a shelter, and find that she sleeps better each night wrapped in fabric that holds no terrible memories. Or maybe if you write “Read me,” inside the front cover of your favorite novel and leave it on a park bench, a teenager will find it, read it, love it, and become inspired to author a bestselling series.
Those are dramatic examples. But they show just how powerful the life of an object can be, if you let it serve its purpose. Don’t forget the item’s life purpose when you’re hoarding it away in a closet or on a bookshelf, just because you can, or just because it’s “organized.”
So if you’re keeping things that never see the light of day, ask yourself: If I set this free, what good could it do in the world?
Mistake #3: Needing a reason to let go.
So many typical decluttering questions invite you to find reasons to let objects go.
• You need the space for something else.
• It doesn’t fit you, or it’s out of style.
• It doesn’t make you smile the way it used to. You haven’t touched it in 6 months.
But what about the other questions?
• What if you keep it “in case” but you never actually need it, and you die with the item still in its packaging?
• What if you move it 3,000 times over the next 10 years, just so you can dust around it?
• If your house burned down and everything were lost, would you still be thinking about that Very Special Item (a cute mug you just have to keep, a monogrammed bathrobe you got for your wedding that you don’t actually use, the decorative vase of sticks the kids are always messing with) in 15 years?
Clutter doesn’t leave enough room in your home for love, light, friendship, fun, and happy moments, even if it’s stored away. If something isn’t serving your priorities, it’s tearing them down. So instead of making those three huge mistakes above, ask yourself:
• What is the actual cost of keeping this? In terms of time and energy spent, as well as mental clutter?
• If I set this free, what good can it do in the world? Is it wasting away its “life” here in my house?
• Why not? What’s the worst thing that could happen if I let this go?
With this mental shift, you’ll be able to let go of so much more that you’ve been holding on to just because you could.