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The Purge: Getting rid of your things

Household items separated by category

The Purge: Getting rid of your things

Knowing it’s time to pare down and actually doing it are two very different things, so we asked our friends on Facebook for some advice on how to approach what can be an overwhelming task. 

  • Our friend Alison conducts a Financial Sankalpa every January. Her goals are to not spend any money in that month (with the exception of bills), so nothing new comes into her home. She also releases something every day, either through donating, regifting, trashing or selling.
  • Start Small: Unless you’re moving, you don’t have to do this all at once. Set aside an hour or two a weekend to decide what to keep and what to send on its way. Diane Z. allocates ten minutes at a time and focuses on one item: water bottles, scarves, mismatched gloves, etc. 
  • Categorize: As you go through your things, put them into four different categories: Keep, Sell, Donate or Pitch. “It was a great system and immensely helpful when decluttering in preparation for our big move,” says Patsy E.
  • Make piles: In addition to those categories, Liz M. recommends organizing your things into piles. That helps you see just how many you have, but it also helps you figure out where to donate it. “When my husband and I moved in together we discovered that we had about a dozen spatulas and a million spices,” Liz shares. “ We lined them up and selected our favorites and passed on the rest. This is also helpful to me with black shirts and jeans. If I have them all in one place I am more likely to give some away.”

    I already knew I had way too many extension cords and picture frames, but bringing them all together into individual piles was downright embarrassing. Our kids and the neighbors all received a free extension cord out of our move, but we could not give the picture frames away. Using Facebook, I was able to donate all of them to the local Honor Guard, who will use them to frame photos and certificates for our nation’s heroes. That is way more gratifying than having them collect dust in various cabinets around our house. 
  • Gift Early: There are probably things your kids, friends and other family members need that you don’t. Ask them and let them know they’re doing you a favor by taking them, to lessen any awkwardness. We lucked out that my son was moving into a new house as we were going through our process, so he and his roommates got a slightly used living room furniture set, as well as all kinds of kitchen supplies.
  • Repurpose: If you have drawers full of concert or racing t-shirts, consider turning them into a quilt.You don’t even have to know how, as Project Repat will do it for you!
  • Garage Sale It: We have had varying degrees of success with garage sales as they can be a lot of work for very little return. The key is to truly understand your goal. Is it to make money or to get rid of the stuff, which is much easier to accomplish. For our big garage sale, we organized everything by category to make it easier for people to find what they were looking for. While we had an idea of what things should cost, we mostly told people to pay what they wanted. And then we helped them find more to go with what they selected. For example, we gave a box of ornaments to the family that bought our 10’ artificial Christmas tree. They sent us a photo of it decorated a few months later, which made getting rid of it that much easier.
    Garage salers love visiting multiple homes at the same time. Does your HOA have an annual sale? If not, talk to your neighbors about hosting a neighborhood sale between you. Just try to avoid visiting their sales and bringing home the stuff they don’t want. 


  • Pay It Forward: You know that casserole dish you haven’t used in five years? There are many families that would put it to good use. We gathered up all of our cookbooks (you don’t want to know how many) and unused cooking dishes and donated them all to Women & Children’s Center of the Sierra for underprivileged moms and their kids. We took the excess tools and leftover remodeling materials to Habitat for Humanity’s Restore, which raises money for them, while giving others discounted building materials. We took all the business books to Black Wall Street. You get the picture. Go on Google or Facebook to find out which non-profit organizations are looking for what. Then load the various boxes in your car and deliver as you’re out and about. And there are many organizations, like the MS Society, that will come pick up whatever is left at your home. 
  • Know the Difference Between Trash & Treasure: Don’t make these overworked non-profit administrators deal with your trash though. If it’s dirty or doesn’t work, go ahead and throw it away. 
  • Use Social Media: Does your community have a Mutual Aid, Buy Nothing or Free Facebook page where you can give things away? Though this can be frustrating as many people don’t show up when they say they will, it is gratifying knowing you’re helping someone out, while keeping your things out of the landfill. “There are so many ways to donate, gift or share your items and It’s overall better for the environment to repurpose and preserve,” shares Katherine Loudon.
  • Know How to Trash: There are things that can’t go into your household garbage can and it’s important to know what they are. Take your old electronics (tvs, old phones, monitors, cords and game consoles) to your local e-waste recycling center, but check ahead to find out exactly what they take. Most places won’t take old tvs and you’ll probably have to pay the local dump to take that console off your hands. Your local municipality will let you know how to get rid of household hazardous waste like fertilizer and motor oil. This can be time-consuming, but it’s totally worth it when you get that shelf space back from all those half empty paint cans. 

After doing all this work to declutter, it should be easier to acquire fewer items so you don’t have to do it all again in the near future. And when you do bring new things into your home, consider letting something go. Christel H. shares, “Since we are both now over 70, our rule for any clothes item purchased: if one comes in, two go out.”

Clay did this with his t-shirts, letting go of two for every one he purchased. That consideration comes in handy at every concert we attend as the man needs new concert t-shirts!

Jackie Shelton, APR, is a strategic communications veteran who, after 30 years still has a hard time focusing on one particular aspect, so she has stopped trying.

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