5 Questions I Ask When I’m Purging

posted by Andrea | 06/18/2019

5 questions to ask when purging

Dave and I recently cleaned out our garage (I’ll be sharing more on this later in the week) AND purged our closet of anything and everything we don’t need, use, want or love.

I also did a once-over of all our toys and games in preparation for the summer months when we are outside significantly more than during the school year. We moved some of the toys outside (they will eventually be trashed next fall) and I moved a few more toys down to our “basement holding area” so they are out-of-sight for now, and can be brought out again on a rainy day! 

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I suppose it’s not a secret that I enjoy organizing and purging various spaces in my home in an ongoing effort to simplify and remove clutter from my life.

In general, I would say that purging is probably a bit easier for me because I’m not as emotionally attached to things as I know so many people are; but also because I’ve been purging on a regular basis for years and years and years. I have successfully turned purging into a habit, which makes it feel so much less overwhelming because it’s something I do very regularly.

Not only do I enjoy the end results of a neat, cleaner, more organized home, I also truly do enjoy the process of decluttering and the feeling I get when I drop my cast-offs at our local donation center!

I’m often asked if I have a “method” for purging or a pattern that I follow each time.

My initial reaction was “No, I just do it all the time!”, however, after thinking about it over the past few months, I realized that while I do constantly evaluate the “stuff” in my life, I also have a mental list of questions I ask myself whenever I’m considering whether or not I should purge something..

First off, I ask a couple “big picture questions”…

1. If I was moving, would I want to box it up and take it with me?

This is the first question I like to start off with because it is pretty general and broad — but it gives a really good perspective on the items in question.

I’ve only moved once (I don’t count college life) and it was a huge pain — even without kids and without tons of extra stuff. I honestly can’t even imagine moving now with little kids and all the extra stuff we have.

Just the thought of moving makes me want to purge half of what we have! πŸ™‚

If I don’t think I’d be willing to pack up a particular item if we moved, then I know it’s probably safe for me to purge it now.

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2. If our house burned down, would I be sad if this item were lost/ruined?

Thankfully, I have no experience with house fires. However, I know plenty of people who have completely lost their homes to fires or floods and it’s always interesting to hear them talk about the items they really miss from their old homes.

Rarely do they miss their extra slow cooker, their 57 cookbooks, or their closet full of extra towels and sheets… and if we’re honest when we answer this question, there are probably MANY things in our home we wouldn’t even notice were gone.

While I hope you and I never have to live through a house fire, this question is an eye-opening way to help evaluate what we really need, want, use, and love — and what we could purge. 

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If you can’t answer yes to either of the questions above, chances are you’re safe to purge that particular item. However, if you’re still not convinced, here are 3 more questions I like to ask myself.

3. Could I potentially make-do with another item I use more frequently?

There are so many items in our home that could be used in multiple different ways to eliminate the need for additional items.

For example, we have a toy box in our playroom upstairs that we moved in front of the stairs to serve as a baby gate every time we had new walkers or new crawlers — meaning we never needed a baby gate.

I have also drastically pared down my kitchen small appliances because I realized I could make do with similar items. I purged my counter top blender and primarily use my handheld immersion blender for small to medium tasks or our food processor for larger tasks. We use our trusty old George Foreman grill in place of a quesadilla maker and a panini maker, and I use my 2 cast iron pans for almost all my stove-top cooking needs.

One more example: due to the fact that we rarely ever need to get dressed up more than “business casual” I have an extremely limited number of dress clothes and instead, have a handful of small accessories I can add to my casual items to make them look dressier and fancier — all while drastically reducing the number of items I need to store in my closet.

If you’re “on the fence” about purging one particular item, consider if there is anything else in your home that could do basically the same thing. If so, purge purge purge!

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4. Could I repurpose the item to make it more usable?

I LOVE items that serve multiple purposes (see #3 above!), so if I’m not sure if I want to purge an item, I try to consider if there are other ways I could use the item — making it more useful for me. 

For example, I got a bunch of furniture (that no one else wanted) when my grandma passed away 12 years ago. I did end up selling most of it, but I kept a few pieces that I painted and repurposed — I’m still using these pieces in my home today! While I’m glad I purged most of the bulkier items, it is fun to know I’m using a few of her pieces on a daily basis in my own home and with my family (especially when I can share them with my kids!)

I also had a bunch of old high school and college t-shirts made into a t-shirt quilt that we now use ALLLL the time. I love that my dresser drawers are so much emptier and that my kids can see and ask about all my old t-shirts when they use my quilt to make forts or snuggle under while watching TV. 

Of course, I certainly do NOT repurpose or reuse everything… but if I CAN think of a way to repurpose an item to make it more useful, I’m more willing to hang onto the item (and then purge something else). That said, if you can’t think of any other way to use the item, I think a good purge is in order!

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5. Would I use it more often if it were stored in a more convenient place?

Sometimes I’ve found that if I simply move an item to a different (more convenient) location in my house, we use it significantly more.

For example, I recently revamped my pantry storage to accommodate all the bulk foods we’ve been buying… and I was pleasantly surprised to notice how much more efficient my time in the kitchen has been, AND that my children are now asking for dried fruit and nuts for snacks (because they are front and center) versus the goldfish and pretzels that I tucked behind for a bit. 

I also recently rearranged some of the kids’ toys, and immediately noticed they are now very interested in some of the “new” toys I put in a more convenient location. 

This is also a great time of year to rearrange your closet with the change of seasons. Our family stores all our clothing in our closet all year long, but I do often swap shorts and pants around in the kids’ closet so shorts are more easily accessible than pants. 

If you are worried you’ll miss an item after you purge it, first try moving the item in question to a more prominent place in your home. If you still find that you don’t use it, I can almost guarantee you will NOT miss it!

How We Purge: 

Purging is an on-going process that really is never finished (sorry!) so I’ve found it works best to have a permanent place to store our donated items in between trips to the thrift store. 

I keep a donation bag at the bottom of our closest, one in the laundry room, and one in an upstairs closet so I always have a place to stash our cast-offs until it’s time to drop them off.

I would highly recommend assigning a dedicated “purge pile” to a specific location in your home as well, because if you don’t have a place to put your cast-offs, you are much less likely to purge! 

A Few Related Posts: 

The Questions That Helped me Purge 75% of My Clothes

9 Questions To Help Declutter Your Home and Life

5 Questions to Ask Before You Buy Anything

7 Ideas to Sort Through Sentimental Stuff

There you have it — my kind of crazy thought process when I’m deciding if I should or should not purge something in my home. The whole thought-process really only takes me a minute or two to work through in my head as I quickly run down my list of questions.

Do you have any questions you ask yourself when you’re questioning a purge?

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45 comments

  1. Linda Bolt

    06/21/2019

    My question now is: Am I the best person to own or store this item? Is there someone else who needs this item more than I do?

    If I know someone who can use something we aren’t using, I give it to them, either permanently, or if they no longer need it, I will take it back to pass on again. I only give items that I don’t mind if they never come back.

    Our Little Tikes toy kitchen has been used by 3 different families over the years, and now is in the church nursery.

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    Andrea Reply:

    Good question to ask! My only “concern” with this is that you could end up storing and hanging onto the items for much longer than if you just purge them right away.

    I’m thinking specifically of 3 people I know very well in my own life, all of whom do exactly as you say — give the items to someone to “borrow” or use, but then get it back again to pass along to someone else, only to get it back again.
    The people I know are CONSTANTLY getting stuff back (stuff they no longer have any use for at all) and then storing it until they find another person who can use it for a while. I know someone with middle-school age girls who still has TUBS full of all their baby and toddler clothes and toys that she “lends out” to other people she knows with little girls.

    It’s insane how much space these tubs take up in her basement — not to mention the time involved in sorting through it all, remembering who has what items, and trying to pick up and drop off various bins with people she thinks could use her things.

    It certainly doesn’t sound like this is what you are doing — but I wanted to point out a potential “danger” with this concept, just in case others are reading and have fallen into this trap of lending and storing again!
    Thanks for sharing.

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  2. Becky

    06/19/2019

    My kids are grown, so now my purge question is, β€œis this something I want to keep badly enough to leave it for my kids to deal with if something happens to me?” Makes it much easier for me to purge!

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    Andrea Reply:

    yes! This is a fantastic question to ask! Not one I personally ask at this point in my life — but definitely a good question! Thanks for sharing.

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  3. Barb

    06/18/2019

    Andrea, you mentioned you β€œhave a handful of small accessories I can add to my casual items to make them look dressier and fancier” Would you consider doing a blog and what they are and how you use them?

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    Andrea Reply:

    here’s a post about my mix and match wardrobe — my method is mostly just adding a colorful scarf or nicer jewelry to a plain black dress. I can dress it down with a casual sweater or jean jacket πŸ™‚

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  4. JJ

    06/18/2019

    Your writing on your list is fantastic! You could have your own font!

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    Andrea Reply:

    haha — thanks πŸ™‚ And I’ve always complained that I have bad handwriting!

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  5. Erin

    03/23/2015

    Your method has relly helped me in getting rid of excess things that I have held onto for too long. I am now starting to see the fruits of my labor because my cabinets are thinning out and there is almost a place for everything, I still have work to do. My question is, what do I do with old year books? I have been out of high school for 25 years now and never look at them but I am not sure what to do with them…

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    Linda B. Reply:

    Erin: You might contact the school and see if they would like them. Or possibly the local library in the town where the school is. The last time we moved, I contacted my husband’s old high school and they were thrilled to have the yearbooks and his old letter sweater for their archives. As long as I didn5 have to find a spot for them, I was thrilled to UPS the items to them.

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  6. Telva

    03/23/2015

    Questions 1 and 2 really resonate with me. We recently purged roughly half of our stuff and packed up the rest to move to a different country, which involved agonising over what to let go of for days on end. Because of the logistics of an international move, our things took four weeks to arrive, and in the meantime we got used to living out of a couple of suitcases with only the bare essentials. So much so that, when we received our boxes and started unpacking, we were almost surprised to find some of the stuff in there – what had seemed so essential at the moment of packing suddenly seemed superfluous in our new life, after doing without it for weeks. Most of the things that we sold, donated or gave away, I can’t even remember, even after the emotional energy invested in deciding what to do with them. This process has definitely changed my perspective on material possessions, and I’m much more thoughtful about what I acquire and what I purge on a daily basis.

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    Andrea Reply:

    wow — that’s amazing! I’ve always wondering how much we would get rid of if we moved across the country (let alone to a new country). It’s inspiring to know that you didn’t miss much of what you packed away — I have a feeling most people would agree. Although I doubt most people would be able to actually purge as much as you did.

    Enjoy unpacking and settling into your new home!

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  7. Liane

    03/20/2015

    I just came across a link to a site buried in age bookmarks on my old retired iPad. I so love de cluttering things that can be de cluttered from a chair! Of course the rabbit hole still beckons…

    Anyway, not all of us are like Andrea, I.e. Born organized. Some homemakers are of the distracted sidetracked forgetful sort. A condition caused by kids I think. But let me tell you, from personal experiences even if the kids are in their 40s it never goes away.

    So here is a link to a great site for those who don’t kn where to start.

    http://www.aslobcomesclean.com/2012/03/how-to-de-clutter-sorting/

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    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks for sharing πŸ™‚

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  8. kim

    03/16/2015

    I ask myself, “If I didn’t already own it, would I buy it again”. That one question alone has helped me part with many, many nice things I really don’t need or use any more. It’s hardcore, but effective:)

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  9. Jenny C.

    03/16/2015

    Andrea, when you donate is it important to list each individual item out for tax records or can you just list, for example: “clothes,” “miscellaneous,” ” household items?” I never know how to handle this part of the donation process (and estimating the value of donations). Thanks for any input πŸ™‚

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    Andrea Reply:

    I honestly never take the time to list anything because our accountant said it wouldn’t make any difference for our tax returns — and because I will often bring one or two very small bags to drop off on a regular basis (so it would just be a bunch of busywork for me).

    I’m guessing you’re technically supposed to write out every item, but I’d as a tax person for sure.

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    Courtney Reply:

    You have to be very specific when it comes to recording what you donate for tax purposes. You must include type of item – woman’s blouse; condition – new/great/good (they don’t consider anything less than good to be worth anything); original cost of the item as well as fair market value (what it’s worth now). Very time consuming but sometimes it’s worth it.

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  10. Lizanne

    03/16/2015

    I am one of those for whom purging is often difficult, bringing up emotions and guilt for even the most useless bits of clutter (especially paper – articles cut out, anecdotes saved, etc.). I am getting better, though, especially because I am planning to move this summer. These questions are helpful, and similar to one general question I’ve started asking myself (even before knowing about the pending move), which is: ‘Do I love this enough to be willing to maintain this item?’ I may like something, but if the process of using, wearing, cleaning, repairing, storing, or organizing it starts to become overwhelming to me, it’s probably not worth it. Thinking about my stuff in this way has really helped make it easier for me to let go of a lot more.

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    Andrea Reply:

    wow — I love that question. I did a full post a couple years ago about the “True Cost Of Our Stuff” and talked about just that. Are you willing to clean it, to repair it, to store it, to put batteries in it, to pay for it to be maintained if necessary.

    You are exactly right!

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  11. Barrie

    03/16/2015

    This is a really great post for me- I am needing to go through each room again, and I just stare at everything and am not sure where to start! These are different than what I normally just think of: keep, give, toss. Thanks a ton for a little push in the right direction!

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    Karen Reply:

    Barrie, It IS hard to know where to begin! One of the things that has helped me is to break up the areas for de-cluttering..like, kitchen area: drawers, cabinets, pantry…then I take the drawers, I go through one drawer at a time. I take everything out and lay it on the counter and then only put what I want to keep back into the drawer. Anything that doesn’t make it back into the drawer goes into a bag for giving away. After doing this with each drawer, then I decide if the items are in the right drawers for being productive and efficient. For instance, putting my silver ware in the drawer closest to the table, my cooking utensils closest to the stove, etc. You can do this same process in each room, by breaking up the room into individual “projects”. I hope this helps! Andrea, the question I have asked myself is when is the last time I used it?

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    Andrea Reply:

    Yes, and also just setting a timer for 15-20 minutes and stopping when it’s done. That way, you don’t get burnt out πŸ™‚

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    Barb Reply:

    Yes, I find it important and helpful to completely empty out a drawer or shelf and then put back only what I want to keep. For some reason that works much better than picking each item out of the drawer and deciding I also start in one corner of the room and work my way around, either left or right, Tackling each drawer or shelf that comes up.

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    Andrea Reply:

    yep… no problem! Happy purging!

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    Liane Reply:

    In Sidetracked Home Executives book by Pam Young she says start at the front door. Work your way clockwise, going clockwise around each room. Use the four box method.
    – donate
    – trash
    – put away in proper place
    – storage

    I just did a drawer in my bedroom. I found batteries. Put in the put away box. Found a receipt. Pitched it. Found a comb. Put in bathroom. Found a handful of Christmas light bulbs. Put in a box marked storage for garage.

    The boxes kept me from getting sidetracked. I had no donations but after my timer went off I had a bunch of trash and then took the put away box and played mailman.

    FlyLady (who I find beyond annoying) says to break house into zones. Assign each one a week. Messies believes in the Mt Vernon method of starting in a room and work till done early before the museum opens versus the Vesuvius method which needs no explanation he he. Just don’t tear up more than you can put away in an hour.

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  12. susie

    03/16/2015

    What kind of bag to you use to store your purged items in? I tend to wait till I can fill up a garbage bag, but that sounds handy… I probably have a couple around already! I need to go purge but I have been feeling so lazy, 9 mths pg with #7 and have had a bad cold… where is the nesting urge? Lol! Great tips!

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    Liane Reply:

    Susie,
    We are mailed large plastic bags from several veterans support organizations. They are about the size of a kitchen trash bag. There is a date on the envelope insert stating the pick up date. I discovered they come every 4 weeks on a Wednesday in my area so I put that on my calendar. I make sure my bags go to the curb. Once I used trash sacks and my husband put them next to the trash toter and they got picked up by the garbage man! You can check for AmVets to see if they are in your area. These bright red or bright yellow bags are good visual reminder. I keep one by my washer and one in my entry closet.

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    Andrea Reply:

    I don’t have anything specific. Usually it’s a paper grocery bag, sometime a trash bag, sometimes a diaper box… just whatever I have on hand.

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    susie Reply:

    Funny I never thought of a box! I often use garbage bags but get sick of looking at them.

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    Andrea Reply:

    oh yes, the big diapers boxes work really well too because they have handles πŸ™‚

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    Liane Reply:

    Well I am not yet at the Depends stage, and the youngest gran is 8. No diapers. But….
    I saved all the Amazon boxes from Christmas and made an amazing (ha ha I punned) discovery. They have sizes on them. Actually codes, e.g. A-1. I kept all of them of the same size to pack up a ton of 40 year old princess house glasses I got as wedding gifts. I can’t just give them to a thrift store, they are really delicate. I am going to try consignment. But as for boxes, great idea. Most of my discards are clothes and linens so bags work.

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    Barb Reply:

    If the items are not breakable i usually put them in plastic grocery bags. Then when I have enough grocery bags filled, I put them all in a large trash bag and take them to Goodwill, Salvation Army etc.

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  13. Brooke

    03/16/2015

    I got this one from another blog, but it really resonated with me: if I saw this in a store today, would I still buy it?

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    Elizabeth Reply:

    Great question to ask! I will start using that as well.

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    Andrea Reply:

    yes, that’s a great question!! Another variation of that question is “would I pay full price for this item” because so many times people buy things just because they are on sale or a great deal. I’m guessing 90% of the time, the answer would be ‘no’.

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  14. lydia @ frugaldebtfreelife

    03/16/2015

    Have you read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up? In the book the author says to hold an item in your hands, if it doesn’t “spark joy” in you then you must get rid of it. It works. I got rid of 75% of my clothes that way.

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    Lisa K. Reply:

    I loved that book! It has been #1 on the best-seller list for several weeks now. The author really helps you let go of sentimental items, pointing out that you can still keep the memory and also purge the item, which I hadn’t thought of it quite that way before. And I think these five questions from Andrea will also really help the process along!

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    Liane Reply:

    I have that book also. Just started reading it on my iPad. One thing I remember from years ago is the idea that there is somewhere out there someone who will be blessed by and item that no longer brings joy. My problem is how to get rid of it. Hoping Marie will give some insight. I think donations to thrift stores like Salvation Army Is best if the item can be used. I was on a jury once and one of the witnesses was a captain in SA. She told me that donations that are sold bring money to support their mission but junk is just a burden. It’s so hard to evaluate some things. We need a modern day equivalent of rag pickets. I once cut up all my old ragged towels but they left threads and lint and shreds all over so I bought microfiber and love it. But I am so stuck about my old rags. For now they are in a pail my husband uses for paint rags and car work. It’s not the nice, useful and working order stuff that I have issues with, it’s the near garbage condition stuff that will be buried in a landfill. Like a bent lamp harp. With no lamp. Or one mixer beater since the other was bent by a spoon. These little things really get in the way. I’m hoping the book along with the 5 questions help. I have lived in this house since 1984 the year of my marriage and have stuff from even before that.

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    Katherine Reply:

    I just dropped off three bags at our SPCA store this morning, prompted by a) an upcoming move and b) that exact book. One criticism of the book is that she does not necessarily emphasize repurposing or finding a better home for your things. I think she refers to most of it as “bags of garbage”. So- you’re still kind of on your own to think of what to do with everything:)

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    lydia @ frugaldebtfreelife Reply:

    That is true, Katherine. But it is a good starting point.

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    Andrea Reply:

    no, I have not read that book (i’m not a big book reader) but I also don’t have much trouble convincing myself to purge almost anything πŸ™‚

    That said, I love the idea of asking if something “sparks joy” in our lives. I think that would work well for our time commitments as well. So often we say “yes” to activities out of guilt — and then we end up too busy and stressed. If we tried to focus on activities that sparked joy in our lives, I think we would find much more fulfillment out of the things we do each day.

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  15. Deni

    03/16/2015

    These are all great questions that I haven’t thought of. I have been de-cluttering for some time now, but I would still be left with too much stuff. I was hanging onto things for sentimental reasons, when in fact these items really were not bringing me joy or usage. I finally dug deep and got rid of those things, what a relief! One of the things I would ask myself was if I had the chance to buy this again, would I?

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    Andrea Reply:

    yes — good question Deni! And way to go for getting rid of some of that sentimental clutter — that’s the hardest type for most people!

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  16. Marie

    03/16/2015

    Anything belonging to hubby goes into an “approval pile” before donating(got in trouble before) and if I am really on the fence about getting rid of something I set it aside and wait until our next donation to make sure I want to part with it.

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