I believe strongly in organizing and decluttering and (to a certain extent) purging… but I also believe that not all clutter is material possessions or “stuff.” Clutter in your emotional life… bad habits, too many commitments, or a job you hate, to name just a few… can sap your energy and cause more stress than a disorganized house with overflowing closets ever will. That is why I believe that any purging or decluttering effort should always target emotional baggage as well as material possessions.

So where to begin? The answer will be different for everyone, which is why I am not a fan of the “one size fits all” purging guidelines. I think a better idea is to try to determine what you would like your life to be… and how that ideal differs from the life you have now. The easy answer then is to purge everything that doesn’t fit that ideal. The hard answer is that the easy answer isn’t enough… just getting rid of “stuff” isn’t going to solve the underlying problems.

Most people think purging should be their first step, but if purging is a new concept for you, I would advise starting very slowly and cautiously.

  • Work on only one area of your home or your life at a time.
  • Organize and declutter that one area to be the best it can be.
  • Then decide what to do with whatever is left.

For material possessions…

  • If an item is something you really need or feel strongly about keeping, it isn’t clutter… find or make a place for it.
  • If the item is something you don’t use very often, store it in a more out-of-the-way space that is still accessible for those times when you will use it. Although you may use an item only rarely, it makes no sense to get rid of it if you know you will be using it again.

You are the only person who can decide what should stay and what should go. Don’t let anyone else’s purging guidelines determine how you organize your life. Purge only the material things that you don’t need or want… reorder your emotional life to be as stress-free as possible… and work towards achieving the balance that suits YOU. The peace, contentment, and happiness will naturally follow.

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Comments

Light Heart

Whenever I declutter physically, it is almost like a spiritual exercise or ritual. Much of the “physical stuff” we can’t seem to let go of relates to times or situations which no longer serve our life. So for me the “feng shui” or metaphysics of decluttering physical space also often acts as a mirror for what’s going on in the Inner Life – all the stuff which may be holding us back from moving foward in life. As I de-clutter I connect with things I may have “buried” long ago.

Living my rich life

I’ll be spending some quality time de-cluttering and purging in the new year. Not just stuff, but like you said the bad habits and unwanted commitments have to go. If only it were easier!

Bob

Well said. Mindless purging is just as bad as mindless acquisition. No matter what you do you need to think about it. Thank you for your post. And by the way — I really enjoy your blog.

Rachael

Finally someone sees purging the way I do. I live a simple life but I still like to have treasured “things” around me and purging them wouldn’t simplify my life, it would diminish it. I agree that emotional purging is as important if not more important than purging clutter. Wonderful post.

Rich

I said this on the thread you link to about other people’s guidelines: Some people advocate purging everything, since they know some people won’t dispose of ANYTHING.

I have gone through the purging phase about three times in my life. Each time, it seems that I purge bad habits time-money wasters only AFTER I have purged physical clutter. I’m hoping that my most recent purge is the final one in my lifetime — from today forward, I intend to keep clutter under control, rather than letting it build up again.

Sarah

The hardest thing that I have ever purged was my job. It’s been six months, and I was beginning to run out of money. I had loved it when I began, but the more into it I got, the more the politics came back to bite me. I am happy to say that I have found another position doing something that I love (which I was before, but…) and that will definitely have less office politics as I work for one family with their twins. Leaving my steady income was difficult, but I felt instantly relieved when I did it, and it gave me the added benefit of extra time to go through all my “stuff” in the crafting room…projects are slowly getting done, whereas before I had absolutely no desire to even set foot in that overwhelming room, much less sew/craft…something I have always done to de-stress myself. It’s been wonderful. I have a steady job that, although it is only part-time and not full-time, manages to meet my budget and time to goof off in my craft room or with family without worrying about how the next day at work is going to go. I look forward to Mondays now…as opposed to dreading Saturday and Sunday because then I have to go back to work. It’s a wonderful feeling to enjoy every day of the week!

Cheri

Creativity requires stuff and a sense of surplus so things can be tried and potentially wasted. Some “junk” is a good thing. When we decided to get chickens we only had to buy the wire. My daughter made a 3 dog doghouse out of scrape wood on a whim. Austerity and simplicity are valuable disciplines on a journey, but not much as a destinations….

Joe S

For me decluttering/purging simply means that my possessions will not inform my lifestyle,my lifestyle will inform my possessions.Great website! Thank you.

Gillie

I think it takes practice to get the decluttering/purging right for you. I am a hyper orgainsed and neat person and so I thought when I decluttered regularly and reorganised my cupboards I was doing well. Recently we had a flood and I had a chance to rethink everything and I realised that what I had been doing before was organising and tidying not decluttering. It is a long process and it will take years before we have pared down our home to what we want. However, although that lightbulb moment was transformational I had to go through the previous phase of tidying to be in a position to realise that what I was doing before was not purging. Does that make sense? Anyway, I love your blog and have bookmarked it. Thank you

Amy

Good commentary on de-cluttering. I’ll add something that is helping me decide what needs to stay and what should be thrown out that others might find helpful in deciding. I just retired from my job, and, as both of our children and families live several hours away, there is always the possibility that we’ll move closer at some point. But even if we never move, I have started going through every area of the house and asking myself, “If I were moving, would I take this with me?” It’s amazing how much stuff has become junk and been thrown out – very liberating!

another amy

I read Julia Morgenstern’s books on organizing time and organizing things, and they are great. I also read Make Time for your Life by Cheryl Richardson which I think everyone on earth should read! These books helped me go from being disorganized, late, and in constant disarray to getting my act together. One point that is made (in one of those books, but I can’t remember which) is to make a time schedule of your life for a week. You split each day up, and then each hour. Include EVERYTHING in there. Here’s a quick example of a Monday morning: Wake up. Hit snooze button twice. Get up and eat breakfast. Iron clothes, do hair and drive to work.
Ok, so right there, I see that if I got up on time and had my clothes already ironed the night before, I could save myself the trouble in the morning when I’m pressed for time.
Now, if you make the time calendar for the whole week, you may see that some tasks are getting no time allotted for them, yet you frantically try to squeeze them in every week. Do you allot time for laundry? Time for grocery shopping? Time to chat on the phone when a friend calls? Now here is the cool part: build in time for emergencies. Add 45 minutes or more of “padding” time, a buffer zone so that you will not be running late even IF something pushes your schedule back because you planned for this. Like, one of you kids forgot that he needs poster board and glue for a project due tomorrow. Now that you have a weekly schedule, you can plan to rearrange things to get the poster board and still not be running behind your other plans because the emergency is built in to the overall plan.

It sounds easy on paper, but it has helped me immensely in real life. You will start to notice where you could make changes so that you are more efficient with getting things done.

Krista

Well I’m kind of a combination of the other commenters because I’m not caught up with the laundry or the dishes and I feel very disorganized all the time! One of my biggest problems is something unplanned always happens. I have my tasks for the day all laid out but then something I didn’t plan for comes along and I don’t know how to adapt to it. Any advice you could give on THAT subject would be greatly appreciated.

Hope

My biggest problems are laundry and dishes. I never am finished with either one. I wake up in the morning with the best of intentions but the day never works out the way I think it will.