5 Questions I Ask When I’m Purging

posted by Andrea | 03/16/2015

questions when I'm purging

It’s no big 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 probably say that purging comes a bit easier to me than it might to some of you — partially 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 me and for past organizing clients)  for years and years and years. So I guess you could say that I’ve successfully turned purging into a habit.

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 to make it a more routine process — and my answer is “not really”. I’m just constantly in a state of evaluating all my stuff every day that I don’t even notice it anymore.

If I realize that a certain article of clothing does fit right anymore or has a hole, stain, rip, etc. in a place that can’t be easily fixed, I put it in a donate pile or in the trash. If I notice that there are certain things around my home we don’t use, need, want, or love, they get purged.

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 — and yes, purging is an on-going process that we can never be fully finished with (sorry!)

That said, as I thought more about how exactly I motivate and encourage myself (and others) to purge, I realized that there are certain questions I came back to time and time again…

First off, I ask a couple “big picture questions” to really start my mind.

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

I have 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 because of it.

Just the thought of moving makes me want to purge half of what we have 🙂

So this is the first questions 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. If I know for a fact I would never be willing to pack up an item to move it, it’s probably safe for me to purge it now.

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.

.

If you can’t answer yes to either of the questions above, chances are you will probably be just fine if you purge that particular item. However, if you’re still not convinced, here are a couple more questions I like to ask myself.

3. If I did ever need to use it ‘someday’ 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 move in front of the stairs to serve as a baby gate while we’re up there — meaning we don’t need a baby gate.

I have also drastically pared down my kitchen small appliances because I realized I could make do with similar items. I sold my Kitchen Aid mixer on craigslist and just use a small hand mixer instead. I sold 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.

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 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, try to think if there is anything else in your home that could do basically the same thing. If so, purge purge purge!

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

If you’re still on-the-fence about purging something, stop and think about any other way you could use the item.

I got a bunch of furniture (that no one else wanted) when my grandma passed away. I did end up selling most of it, but I kept a few pieces that I painted and repurposed — and am still using in various rooms today. While I’m glad I purged most of the bulkier items, it is fun to know I’m using a few of her items on a regular basis.

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, while I’m enjoying all the extra space in my drawers. And I cut Dave’s old white undershirts into pieces and get 4 cleaning rags per shirt!

If you CAN think of a way to repurpose an item to make it more usable, you might want to hold off on a purge. However, if you don’t need or use the item in question and you can’t think of any other way to use it, I think a good purge is in order!

5. If it were stored in a more convenient place, would I use it more often?

Sometimes I’ve found that if I simply move an item to a different (more convenient) location in my house, I will end up using the item more.

For example, I had a few kitchen gadgets that were way in the back of a bottom corner cabinet so I never bothered to get them out and use them. However, when I recently rearranged a few things in the kitchen, I moved those items to a top cabinet that is much more easily accessible… and I have already used the items several times.

I also recently rearranged my closet a bit to bring in my small stash of maternity items (that were previously stored on the very top shelf which I can’t reach easily). I moved some “too small right now” pants and shirts up to the top shelf instead to make my maternity clothing more easily accessible on a daily basis.

Even something as simple as rearranging how you organize your refrigerator and/or freezer could help you utilize your food more efficiently and waste less.

Of course, this might be the case for you, and I certainly don’t want to encourage you NOT to purge 🙂 So if changing the item’s location doesn’t encourage you to use the item more regularly, I can almost guarantee you will NOT miss it if you purge!

.

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?

328Shares

Filed under: OrganizingHomePurging

Leave a comment

34 comments

  1. 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…

    [Reply]

  2. 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.

    [Reply]

    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!

    [Reply]

  3. 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/

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks for sharing 🙂

    [Reply]

  4. 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:)

    [Reply]

  5. 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 🙂

    [Reply]

    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.

    [Reply]

    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.

    [Reply]

  6. 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.

    [Reply]

    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!

    [Reply]

  7. 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!

    [Reply]

    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?

    [Reply]

    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 🙂

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    yep… no problem! Happy purging!

    [Reply]

    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.

    [Reply]

  8. 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!

    [Reply]

    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.

    [Reply]

    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.

    [Reply]

    susie Reply:

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

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    oh yes, the big diapers boxes work really well too because they have handles 🙂

    [Reply]

    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.

    [Reply]

  9. 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?

    [Reply]

    Elizabeth Reply:

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

    [Reply]

    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’.

    [Reply]

  10. 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.

    [Reply]

    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!

    [Reply]

    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.

    [Reply]

    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:)

    [Reply]

    lydia @ frugaldebtfreelife Reply:

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

    [Reply]

    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 🙂

    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.

    [Reply]

  11. 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?

    [Reply]

    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!

    [Reply]

  12. 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.

    [Reply]