Saturday, February 24, 2018

The Purge Project

One of our goals for this year is to get serious about purging -- to clean and declutter, to make our home full of the things we love and devoid of the things we don't need or have sat unused for a long time.

I've read bits and pieces of Marie Kondo's The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and I've seen things in Pinterest for scaling back that I can do, and I recently bought the super morbid sounding The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning by Margareta Magnusson. I don't think I'm going to die anytime soon (at least I hope not) but the idea of "freeing yourself from a lifetime of clutter" sounds amazing. I also enjoy that her first chapter is called "Death Cleaning Is Not Sad."

Bryce has always been all about the decluttering, and it has always stressed me out. He laughs at me and asks if maybe I was raised during the Depression and don't know it. Ha, ha. It is very, very hard for me to throw things out, and I am always thinking, "but what if I need that..." but for some things, that never happens.

I remember throwing out a giant stack of Real Simple magazines from years ago, after insisting that I could razor out stuff and I would get to it all, and then realizing that there was NOTHING simple about that and that recycling them would feel like a giant weight, lifted. And it was.

Ditto my giant stack of Parents magazines. That one was weighted a little differently, but putting them in the recycling bin was an oddly healing act.

We go through our stuff on a fairly regular basis, but we decided to sort of create our own method, The Purge (not to be confused with the scary movies somehow ALL OF MY 13-YEAR OLD STUDENTS have seen), and it has been lovely to see space open up, stress get alleviated, and the things we love actually get used and appreciated as they deserve.

Principles of The Purge
For this, we go room by room and attack it. We sort of do the whole "Spark Joy" thing, and try to get over guilt that coats items like a glue trap, making it so that we keep things that we honestly don't want or need simply because we feel stuck out of obligation. That's deeply ingrained, and it's hard to loose ourselves from the glue trap of guilt. But we're getting better with it.

We touch everything and decide what's important. For us, a lot of what's important is books. I TOTALLY DISAGREE with Marie Kondo and her assertion that books are clutter and if you haven't read a book because you say you'll get to it "sometime," that actually means "never." LIES. I have actually done a fair job purging some of my books -- ones that are beach reads, or that didn't stick with me, or that I feel I enjoyed and can pass on to others and have them keep passing it on like a lovely literary regifting spree, or donated to a library so that lots of other people I have no connection to can read them -- but at the same time I have books I will NEVER get rid of. And I have books that I received years ago, and just picked up now, and I sure as shit finished them. I like to think of it as my library for the end of the world or more personal apocalypse -- if I have a disaster and can't leave the house for a while, I will have PLENTY of reading material that is new to me. So, no. (But also sort of yes, for the books that were Target impulse buys and were devoured quickly and can be passed on.)

Our goal isn't to get rid of everything, it's just to carefully curate and keep what we love, in a way where we can actually enjoy it and it's not surrounded by a whole lot of other things we don't love, suffocating in a pile of clutter.

Where I Have Trouble
I am super proud of myself, because like I've said, I HATE throwing things out. And I have managed to throw things out over the past month or so and keep them in the trash (or recycling or donation bin) and not rush over in a panic to rescue them. Some things that I keep are just plain weird. This morning I threw out four spent votive candles that had no wick anymore but there was still a chunk of wax, and they smelled really good, so I was like "I can MELT these and enjoy the smell!" But I know I won't actually do that, despite having a wax melter thing. They will just languish in a drawer with the zillion jar candle lids that I collected (and finally threw out). I won't use them as coasters (too unstable), I won't need them once the candle is spent, they should really just be tossed.

I have a tremendous amount of guilt from the tossing, though. There are some things you just can't donate, or that truly have no other purpose, and when I throw them out I feel the weight of the landfill and see the bulging eyes of a sea creature caught in that plastic island out in the ocean. I wish that there were more things that just didn't come with extra trash in their packaging -- I want to make a better effort to buy candles that don't have extraneous lids and are totally recyclable. So there's a plus, too -- more careful selection of items we buy to make sure they don't produce as much trash.

I also have "but maybe I will use this someday"-itis. Although, to be fair, I save a lot of money by smoothing out tissue paper and saving gift bags (I draw the line at wrapping paper) and beautiful ribbons, and I do reuse boxes for gifting or craft organization. But things like pants I don't have a prayer of ever fitting into again (and even if I could, will they still be in style then?), or a hideous (to me) trapeze-style swing tank top in orange and navy that's never been worn but I kept in a Stitch Fix because it was cheaper for the other 4 items... I'm never going to wear them. I should just donate. And make a lot of dusting cloths from t-shirts with stains. If there's another option for clothing that's damaged or stained other than the trash bin (because I don't think you should donate stuff you won't wear because of those reasons), please let me know.

Today's Progress
This break was largely about writing IEPs and doing schoolwork, but today I did NONE of that and instead attacked my drawers. I've been slowly redoing my drawers in my closet, which is necessary because I kept the nursery dresser and those drawers are SMALL (but perfect for bras, and pajamas, and exercise wear). Something I love about the whole Kondo philosophy is the folding things so that they stand up. It really, really makes a huge difference. I can see everything and get to it and I can put a ton more stuff in my drawers as a result. I suspect they'll be less wrinkly, too.

So I went and did that to my dresser(s), and it looks so pretty now:

The drawer that started it all -- my PJ drawer. Still not perfect, but pants on the left and shirts on the right and tank tops sideways at the back. 

Ooooooh, shirt drawer! The left are t-shirts with graphics or words on them. The middle are mostly short-sleeve plain t-shirts, with the bottom starting the long-sleeve party that continues on to the right. I can see EVERYTHING!

Pants! Jeans are a lot harder to fold so they stand up. It drove me crazy. But I have jeans on the left, my favorite jeans in the middle (I'm wearing the missing pair), and colorful/soft pants on the right with leggings at the back. Ahhh. 

This is a magical underwear drawer! On the left side are my camisoles. I got rid of ones that I haven't worn in forever. And then, the underwear. I got rid of anything with holes or stains I don't have to worry about anymore thanks to my surgery, AND I got rid of a bunch of fertility-related orange underwear. That felt good.  
I put all my tank tops in this bin in the door section of my dresser. So easy, and now I can use some of them more easily for layering with sweaters. 

It feels so good to get things in their place. It feels wonderful to take our house, which felt so crowded and overwhelming before, and make it a just-right space, clearing out what we don't need and keeping/adding what is joyful and useful and beautiful. I'm in love with this ongoing project!


  1. With the pending move, we’re getting ready to do another death purge. Grey’s goal is to get down to only 2 pods. Cue shuddering from me as I also have attached to things because I have it in my head that I’ll reuse them. But I loathe moving more, so death purge.

    Your drawers look great! Thanks for the inspiration.

    1. Ack, 2 pods! I guess the nice thing about the death purge is whittling down to what you truly love and must have, and having some freedom in starting over elsewhere. Those drawers are life-changing! So far they are sustainable, all several days in... :) Good luck with your purge!

  2. All this time I've wanted to come visit your house. But with this post, I want you to come to my house and work some of this magic on me.

    1. COME VISIT MY HOUSE! :) Also, I would totally come to your house and fold things weirdly. I'm strange that way. If we ever find ourselves in your neck of the woods (which I suspect we might within 2 years), I will be sure to let you know and we can have a visit! And if you're ever in Rochester/Niagara Falls/Buffalo/Syracuse/Finger Lakes, I beg you to take a detour and come see me!

  3. If you still like your shirts that are damaged or stained but you know you will never wear them again, you can save them to make a t-shirt quilt. That's what I'm doing with all of my too-small-but-I-love-them t-shirts. It doesn't help with the clutter situation in the short-term because you're still storing shirts you don't wear, but I am pretty excited about my future t-shirt quilt where I can relive all the concerts, plays, jobs, and sports teams that I loved.

    1. Ahhh, I have a boatload of university t-shirts and Dave Matthews Band t-shirts that I could make a t-shirt quilt with! :) I have a bin in a storage eave (we live in a cape cod, so there's odd storage upstairs since we basically live in the attic). I'm thinking more unsentimental shirts with pit stains, or unfortunate bacon-spatter stains, or pretty much any stain because I ought to wear a bib at all times. Ha. There's only so many dusting cloths I need... :)

  4. When we moved I purged SO MUCH STUFF, because I didn’t want to pack it. But now, just under 3 years later, it’s all back and more. I try and keep a running trash bag in a side room for goodwill and will quickly put stuff in there if I can see no real immediate need to keep it. It helps, especially during change of seasons and around the holidays. I can’t be tied to so much clutter. I love your idea with the bins for shirts...I know I never wear anything on the bottom of my drawers because I can’t see it, so it’s always whatever is on top. Yours is a much better way.
    I used to read Real Simple, too. But then I would get Real sad, because I wouldn’t have time or money (why are the suggestions always so damn pricey?! They need a Target version lol) so implement any of the ideas, so the pages I would pull out just ended up Real Cluttered. And, it always made me feel like I was doing life wrong with all their ingenious ideas. Like, why couldn’t I get my ish together?! Haha.

    1. It's amazing, isn't it, how things just re-accumulate? How you can order things and then how quickly things revert to chaos. Amazing. I love the Goodwill Bag idea, I had all intentions of bringing stuff LITERALLY RIGHT DOWN THE HILL FROM ME to a Goodwill donation center over break, but then...didn't.

      The drawer folding vertically thing is AMAZING! I can see everything and nothing gets lost in the depths of my (not so deep) dresser drawers! I am a huge fan. Try it.

      HAHAHAHA, Real Simple commiseration! I loved it for a while, and then I realized that there was a pattern... every January was similar, every November was similar, etc. Same reason I quit getting Living. Loved it for a time, but then it got a bit repetitive. And not simple at all. "Real Cluttered," ha! Love it. Kindred spirit, you are!

  5. Good for you! I have trouble getting rid of stuff too. Maybe it would help if I thought of it as "death clutter." ;)

    How does the clothing on its side thing work once you've removed a few items to wear? Do shirts etc. stay upright?

    1. Ha, this whole "Death" thing does work for sure, makes it feel a little more urgent, when you think "what if I popped off right now and left all this crap behind? BETTER PURGE so I don't end up on the news!"

      So far so good with the drawers and the vertical folding. I sort of really stuffed things in there so there's extra space to expand when a few things are removed, but in my "workout" t-shirt drawer and my pj drawer, which have been this way for longer, it seems to stay upright just fine with holes. And it's amazingly more organized and visible. Try!

  6. I think Marie Kondo's opinion on books (& photos) is the main reason I've never been able to abide by her philosophy. That said, the folding method does look interesting... although I prefer to hang up my jeans & T-shirts vs keeping them in drawers. Downsizing to fit our condo was quite traumatic, but we got rid of a TON of stuff... and I find I have to keep at it & not let stuff accumulate, because we only have so much room & so much storage space. And what I thought I really, really needed six months ago might not seem so important now. It's a never-ending battle sometimes, isn't it??

  7. Your drawers look nice! The vertical folding is something I've never tried but may have to now.

    Purging is not fun (like you, I would prefer to hang onto pretty much everything and hate decluttering - feel better when it's done, but struggle with the process). I'm reading Eve Schaub's "Year of No Clutter" and while she's admittedly more extreme than I am (holding onto a dead mouse - yes, for real), there have been more than a few moments where I've chuckled with wry acknowledgement.

    Good luck with the rest of the purging! Looks like you've made a real start!

    1. Having finished the "Year of No Clutter", I wanted to put an asterisk/addendum: she does talk fairly extensively in a chapter toward the end of the book about purging kids' clothes, etc. Also, I tried the vertical folding and it is amazing! Thanks for the tip!