Love It, Use It, or Lose It – My Own Guidelines for Purging

posted by Andrea | 05/24/2013

love it or lose it

Anyone who has read more than a handful of my posts should know that I’m a big fan of purging. Even if I have the space to store something, I personally feel there is no reason to hang onto anything I don’t need, use, want, or love.

I’ve been this way for as long as I can remember and if I’m really honest, there have only been one or two times I’ve ever regretted a purge (pretty good odds if you ask me!)

No, I’m not a total Scrooge… if we have a use for it, if we need it, or if it’s just something we love, I’ll make the space for it. But if not, it’s gone. Period! 

I’m always up for a good opportunity to purge — and I’ve noticed that every Spring, I have an extra “urge to purge”. So for the past few weeks, I’ve been slowly weeding through our closets, cabinets, garages, basement storage bins, etc. We sold a bunch of stuff on Craigslist, gave some stuff to friends/family, and brought the rest to a local donation center.

It sure felt good to create a little more space in our home — the extra cash was nice too.

to purge

Due to the nature of my blog and my business, I’m often asked how I consciously decide what to purge, what to keep, how long to keep it, etc. — and unfortunately, there are no hard-and-fast rules for exactly what you should and should not purge (wouldn’t that be nice though!)

So the general guidelines I use are these 2 simple questions:

1. Is this something we LOVE?

2. Is this something we USE? (or have a plan to use in the very near future)

If I can’t answer yes to one or both of those questions, that’s a pretty good indication that I can purge a particular item.

There are also a few other variables I use to make my purging decisions:

1. I assess how easy the item would be to replace. If it’s relatively inexpensive and readily available, my decision will be a bit easier than if it’s a pricey heirloom or irreplaceable antique. However, I’m still completely fine with purging those “irreplaceable” items if I honestly don’t need, want, use, or love them.

2. I try to come up with any other ways I could use an item. I’m frugal, so I don’t like getting rid of something I could re-purpose for another use. Sometimes just a fresh coat of paint or a little creativity will save me a trip to the donation drop-off and a trip to the store. However (and this is a BIG HOWEVER) I absolutely refuse to keep something because I “might be able to come up with a use later on”. If I don’t have a use for it in the near future, and if I can’t think of any creative way to use it, I’m going to “lose it”!

3. I realistically evaluate how much space the item consumes. Large bulky items have less chance to survive around the Dekker house because I’m not willing to “waste” so much storage space. However, I’ll sometimes hold onto smaller items if I have a convenient storage space for them AND if I can honestly see myself using the items.

4. I ask Dave’s opinion. Usually he’s also in favor of purging, but there have been times when he wants to hold onto an item for a specific purpose I didn’t realize. So before I make any major purges, I usually let him peruse through my piles. This system has worked well for us, however if your spouse or other family members tend to keep everything, I might not be as eager to let them look through my piles :)

That’s it — pretty simple, but unfortunately not very “black and white”.

Yes, there’s a small chance I might regret purging a specific item, and I might have a twinge of guilt as I sell or give the items away… but I always try to remind myself that someone else will be thrilled to find my cast-offs and I will enjoy all my extra space. Win win!

As we embark on a long holiday weekend (great for tackling one of those projects on your to-do list), I hope this “Love It, Use It, or Lose It” approach will help you to simplify the decision-making process for your next purge.

In my opinion (take it for what it’s worth) If you don’t LOVE it, and you don’t USE it, you should LOSE it! 

Oh, and if you’re the type to make excuses NOT to purge — please read this post first.

What will you purge first?

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22 comments

  1. Organize 365

    05/24/2013

    I SO want to be purging and organizing my house this weekend, but we will be out of town. I think I am going to have to block off 5 hours and “hire myself” so I can get my own organizing done!

    Have a great long weekend with Dave and Nora!

    :)
    Lisa

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  2. Lea Stormhammer

    05/24/2013

    Can I suggest making sure you ask your extended family if they want a family heirloom before throwing it out?

    My MIL almost threw out a cabinet that belonged to her grandmother (it needed repair) because she didn’t like it and didn’t want to repair it. Fortunately my SIL saw her drag it down to the trash and took it home – it’s lovely and my SIL actually uses it. We found out afterward my MIL had actually thrown away irreplaceable family items that other family members wanted because she didn’t want them anymore and “didn’t have the energy” to ask around. It’s a small family so it would have taken 2, maybe 3 phone calls at most to ask. It caused some really badly hurt feelings – bad situation.

    A brighter example: My cousin took up oil panting later in her 50s. My grandmother had been an oil painter and had given me her painting kit when her arthritis became too much for her to paint. She gave it to me because I was the “artistic” one in the family. I have never painted as a hobby – ever! I offered the kit to my cousin, who was thrilled to have it and share a hobby with Grandma. The kit and the portable easel have been very useful for my cousin and I feel blessed to be able to share with her.

    I guess the one condition would be making arrangements for someone to come and pick things that can’t be shipped up or to share shipping expenses.

    Hope that’s helpful!
    Lea

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  3. LIbby

    05/24/2013

    My husband seems to have more sentimental clutter than me…college T-shirts…mugs/steins from his travels…artwork from his students etc. After we got married and combined households, we slowly went through his totes and totes of memories using a system similar to yours. Now he’s to the point where he quickly goes through one tote and keeps hardly anything…few things that are sentimental still, and that’s OK. We find a place for it. He even made a comment a few months ago about how he feels so good to get rid of so much “junk.”

    Now I keep an empty diaper box in our mud-room and fill it slowly but sure with stuff to donate as I find it randomly around the house. Once the box is full, we just take it to Salvation Army and start on a whole new box. It works out to about once every month or two, which is perfect for our rate of going through diapers. Get rid of junk, recycle diaper box.

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    Andrea Reply:

    Sounds like you have a pretty good system going Libby! And congrats on getting your husband to purge. It often seems like there is one sentimental person in every relationship doesn’t it!

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  4. Kendra Burns

    05/24/2013

    I am a HUGE proponent of purging, as well. People call me crazy, but I am constantly listing things on our facebook yard sale page, making trips to donation centers, offering people free stuff. I am definitely not one to keep anything that I don’t use or love. My daughter, on the other hand, has to keep every single thing she draws, colors, makes, etc. Her room is my nemesis, but it’s her room so I let her do what she wants in there. I have a few set toys that our kids own and I like it that way (books are probably the biggest toy collection we own)! My garage is the worst, but everything is in at least bins and organized, but I would still like to have time to go through those bins and purge decorations we never put up, lights that are probably not working, etc., etc. It’s always a work in progress, right? Love your blog!

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    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks Kendra! Sounds like you’re a girl after my my own heart! I’m sure it’s tough for your to see your daughter keeping so much — but it’s honestly good that you let her have “her space”. If you purged all of her things, it would probably cause her to want to keep more and more, and she would be more likely to “hoard” things later on in life (I’ve seen this happen with many of my clients).
    As for the garage — there are just not enough hours in the day! That’s why I always have my mater list available for those ‘some day’ projects I hope to get to.

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  5. Jennifer

    05/24/2013

    I do purge pretty regularly (moving once a year for years has helped!), but the category of item I’m most likely to hang on to is the ‘it looks useful and crafty and could be transformed one day into a wonderful thing!’ category! I like to do crafts and projects, and also like to be thrifty, so I’ve been known to hoard things like scraps of fabric, paper, old containers, etc. The problem with those things is that I often don’t have a specific project in mind, so the thing hangs around indefinitely, without any guarantee of being useful.

    The thing I now force myself to do to purge those collections is to ask myself: Do I have at least one specific use for the item and a realistic plan of putting it into use in the next 6 months to a year? If yes, I’m allowed to keep it; but if no, then it has to go! Planned crafts and projects are happily allowed; nebulous one-day-maybe projects aren’t.

    This has been a hard thing to teach myself, but it’s gotten easier with time!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    I can totally relate Jennifer. Even still, I have a tendency to hang onto old wood that we tear out of our house thinking “I could make something with that”. But I know I’m not a real crafty person, so instead, I give it to a friend of mine who is REALLY crafty. In exchange, she makes me cute crafty things — it’s a perfect situation :)

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  6. Tracie

    05/24/2013

    Andrea -

    I have found one thing to be especially helpful in my pursuit to purge. I keep a storage tote in my garage that is our “Donation” tote. As I am doing the laundry and come accross an item that I know is too small, a bit worn, or just not needed, I pull it aside and in the tote it goes. Weekly as my children (5) clean their rooms, they contribute items to the tote, when it is full (varies from weekt o week), it goes in the back of my van and off to a local donation center. It has made the purging process EASY and accessible! My kids all kow what that particular tote is for and aren’t afraid to use it. I think this is teaching them the value of sharing with others as well.

    As my family is approaching the end of our current lease, I have a real “urge to purge” we have been fortunate to live in the same location for several years, which of course means several years of accumulation. One aspect of moving I love is the great “Clean Out”. As I am packing and organizing, I purge! No need to pack what I don’t want or need to unpack!

    I have also consolidated each childs memory box to one tote…this will be passed to them with their school picutres from each year and a few pieces of art or special items from each school year. I have found it is another great use for a tote!

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  7. Marsha

    05/24/2013

    Do you have any suggestions for a husband that is a hoarder.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Well Marsha, if he truly is a hoarder, he’ll probably need professional (phycological) help. However, if he’s just messier than you’d like, here’s a post I wrote on that topic several months ago :)

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  8. Melissa

    05/24/2013

    I actually have a box of items in my car right now that is going to the second hand book store with me after work tonight to see if they are interesting in purchasing any of it. Anything they don’t want will be going to Goodwill. The extra cash is nice, but really getting rid of more stuff we aren’t using is fantastic!

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  9. Five4FiveMeals

    05/24/2013

    I am pretty heartless when it comes to purging. I don’t really have emotional attachments to things so I just throw them out. Why hoard things another person could benefit from? And I refused to feel guilted into keeping something because it had sentimental attachments for someone else.

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    Andrea Reply:

    Amen and Amen! I could not agree more :)

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  10. Stacy

    05/24/2013

    I’m right there with you, I hate to have things around that are not in use. I do the same thing I give to charity or friends and family. I hate to waste anything. I have reminders on my calendar to purge certain rooms and closets throughout the year. As you daughter grows so will your stuff, and you will appreciate the purge all that much more :)

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  11. Buffy Quinn

    05/24/2013

    I purge, a lot! Nothing is safe in our house (unless its vintage glass). I don’t even save kid projects unless they are framed and on a wall:)

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  12. Victoria

    05/25/2013

    Love this post, read it twice! I had to become a purging fan, we felt we were running out of space in our “starter home” we’ve been in for 8 years! Due to the housing crash in our area we can’t move on, so we found after purging each year, we love our home more and are much happier here! Had 3 major purges earlier this month, felt so much better after. But I’m ready for more so re-reading the post for more inspiration! In addition to goodwill trips, We Took half of our kitchen and household items to the local homeless shelter that helps people attain and stock housing. As for husband memories, mine is learning to purge but would not get rid of old fraternity shirts/sweatshirts stored with out of season clothes. So, we bought 11×7 canvas cheap at hobby lobby, cut out the logo parts, covered the canvas by stapling them on. He loves them and has them up in his tool/work area in he basement now.

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  13. Jen

    05/26/2013

    I’ve been in half-hearted purge-mode for a few weeks but this post helped motivate me to move into full-blown purge-mode this weekend.

    I’m a packrat at heart, so this isn’t easy for me but I’m really trying to change my ways.

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  14. Alison

    05/27/2013

    I am going to be purging the game cabinet today. My best tip for purging is looking at an item and asking yourself, “if I had to PAY to move this tomorrow, would I keep it?” Most people are ruthless when purging before a move, but less so when they aren’t moving…

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  15. Barb A.

    06/13/2013

    I love your blog Andrea. It is my absolute favorite blog site in the world. Easy to read and to navigate and pure Midwestern common sense!
    I am wondering what you do with beautiful family/friend Christmas photos which come every year-usually from the same set of people.
    Currently they are posted on my triple front hall closet.
    We live in an open concept ranch with little wall space.
    Thanks if you can help me out.
    Barb

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks Barb! I appreciate your loyal readership!
    As for those holiday cards, we hang them up on the big post in our kitchen until the end of January, then we toss them. I know that might be harsh, but we know we’ll get another one next year and I don’t like keeping cards or photos :)
    I do know of people who scan them in and make them part of their digital photo books so that’s another good idea.

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  16. Barb A.

    06/13/2013

    thank you Andrea. and for the fast response.

    [Reply]

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