We are nearing the end of Purging Month, but just like doing laundry, mowing the grass and grocery shopping, purging your excess stuff never really ends. The good news is that it doesn’t require a lot of time or effort to keep up with it once you’ve completed your initial purge. This week, I’m gonna share a few easy peasy habits that will make divesting yourself of your overage an automatic routine. The more of these habits you embrace, the easier it will become to maintain your equilibrium of "stuff".
First, set yourself up for success with a solid plan for what you will do with each item you decide to let go. (For more ideas on this, go back and read last week’s blog post.) Establish a holding spot/s for items to donate and items to sell (if you decide that’s really worth your time). Make it an easily accessible and consistent location or locations in your home.
Next, create a regular schedule for getting your castoffs out of your home. Whether it is scheduling regular donation pickups (or just getting in the habit of always saying YES! whenever you receive a notification that a truck will be in your area), or finding a consistent time each month to drop things off at a local charity, put it on your calendar and set up a reminder to follow through. Likewise, if you are selling items, set deadlines on your to-do list for pricing, posting, or otherwise preparing your items for upcoming sales events or dropping them off at a consignment shop. Schedule one weekend out of every month (more if needed) for dropping off any recyclables or trash that can’t be included in your regular household pickup, or create reminders to take them whenever you are out running errands nearby.
Then simply collect as you go. Opportunities abound to identify items you no longer need/want/use. As they come up, decide right away if they are 1) Sell; 2) Donate; 3) Recycle; or 4) Trash and place them into the proper receptacle immediately. Don’t procrastinate! Take action at moments like the ones below:
Eliminating belongings you don’t need is just like discarding your food wrappers and containers when you’re done with them. You already know you can’t/won’t use them, so it’s just a matter of putting them in the correct receptacle and following through with your predetermined plan for getting them out of the house. Decisions will become quicker and easier each time you make them. Before you know it, it will become as second nature as throwing away your candy bar wrapper or recycling your empty soda bottle. If there’s an item you’re on the fence about, treat it just like something from your freezer you aren’t sure if you’ll eat or not and add an expiration date to it. If you don’t use it by then, let it go.
Finally, just like you occasionally still have to deep clean the rooms you clean regularly, make a point of “deep cleaning” your cabinets, shelves and drawers at least once per year to catch any expired or excess stuff you may have overlooked. You don’t have to set aside days or hours of time to do this unless that’s your preference to get it all done at once. Instead, just work on one room in your home each month and spend five to ten minutes per day performing the three Rs (remove, review, replace) on a single drawer, shelf, or cabinet at a time until the entire house is done. Then start again. The less stuff you have, the easier and quicker this ongoing process will be.
If you took my advice and joined an online give-away group like Freecycle or Buy Nothing, you’ll find that there are often people requesting one of your "someday/maybe" items. Knowing that someone else is looking for that exact thing may be enough to convince you to part with items you aren't sure you'll ever need again. These groups also offer assurance that you’ll be able to easily get whatever you need when you need it...for FREE, eliminating your need to hold onto things “just in case”. For this reason alone, I strongly urge you to consider joining one of these groups if you haven’t already done so.
I’ll be taking a week off from the EPL Blog next week. Enjoy your Memorial Day!
Coming Soon: June is Bed and Bath Organizing month! I’ll be sharing tips all month on organizing your clothes, accessories, toiletries and makeup both here and on my Facebook page.
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ICYMI: Each month I issue a new 1-day EasyPeasy Challenge that can be completed in less than a day (usually in less than an hour) and keep you on the path toward orderly living. You have all month to take the challenge and then add a comment, photo or GIF to the challenge post that's pinned to the top of my Facebook page to be entered into a prize drawing at the end of the month. This month’s challenge is to join an online group like Nextdoor, Buy Nothing or Freecycle and give away just one item. It must be given away...with no expectation of receiving anything in return. Give it a try! I look forward to seeing your photos and comments on my Facebook page!
All month, I’ve been encouraging you to reclaim space in your home by purging items you no longer need or want (big emphasis on “need’). While deciding to part with your cherished stuff can be challenging, doing so makes it easier to access the belongings you do use regularly and just makes it easy peasier to navigate your home. So now that I’ve hopefully convinced you to rid your home of your excess, you need to figure out exactly what to do with it all. Having a solid plan for where it goes next is crucial to your success, because simply piling up bags and boxes full of items you’ve decided to let go won’t help you until it’s actually gone!
You have only four basic choices on what to do next:
1. Sell or 2. Donate (for things that are still usable)
3. Recycle or 4. Trash (for things that are not still usable).
Obviously, there are pros and cons attached to each of these and the decision for which to choose depends, in part, on the item in question but also on your priorities. Picking the best option will make you feel better about letting it go. Consider each of these questions carefully to help you narrow down your choices:
If you need to get rid of a perfectly usable article of clothing quickly and don’t really care if you recoup some of your initial financial investment or who ends up wearing it next, dropping it off at a local charity like Salvation Army or Goodwill is probably your best bet. But if you need to make some money and don’t mind investing a bit more time and effort, trying to sell it at your local Tot Swap or consignment shop may be a better option. Or if you really want it to go to someone you know, try joining a neighborhood group like Freecycle or Buy Nothing or passing it on to a friend or family member who needs it.
Use your determined priorities to help you identify one or two go-to choices in each of the four categories.
Connect Online for each item:
Visit our Donating/Recycling page (it also provides info on Trashing and Selling) for more detailed information on many of the various options mentioned above.
There are as many ways to get rid of your excess items as there are items to get rid of. If you are stumped on what to do with a specific item, ask members of your network (friends, family, co-workers, neighbors) or Ask the Organizer. Chances you aren’t the only one who wants to know!
One final note of caution: Each of us has a responsibility to learn what is and isn’t safe to discard in the trash and what can and cannot be recycled. Discarding just one wrong item can contaminate an entire truck of recycling or create a serious hazard. Even if you aren’t particularly concerned about the environment, you can do a lot of damage to our planet, yourself and your community if you are reckless or too lazy to educate yourself on the basics. Always follow package directions on how to safely dispose of anything that contains chemicals or toxic ingredients or Google it if you aren’t sure how to handle it.
Stay tuned next week to learn a few easy peasy tricks for maintaining your newfound space and accessibility forever with minimal effort!
ICYMI: Each month I issue a new 1-day EasyPeasy Challenge that can be completed in less than a day (usually less than an hour). You have all month to take the challenge and then add a comment, photo or GIF to the challenge post on my Facebook page to be entered into a prize drawing at the end of the month. This month’s challenge is to join an online group like Nextdoor, Buy Nothing or Freecycle and give away just one item. It must be given away...no selling or swapping. Give it a try! I look forward to seeing your photos and comments on my page!
Last week, I talked about the central role purging your excess stuff plays in staying organized, reducing stress and frustration and saving you time and money. Getting rid of the stuff you no longer need that’s clogging up the closets, drawers, cabinets and surfaces in your home is the first step to taking back control of your domain! Technically speaking, you can organize your belongings without eliminating anything, but it will be more work and won’t stay orderly for very long. You’ll most likely end up like my mom with her muffin tins, constantly moving things from one spot to another as they continue to just get in your way. But, the more you divest, the easier organizing and maintaining your home becomes. There will be less stuff to find homes for and fewer items to put away every day. A leaner home is simply easier to navigate, relax in and keep up.
Almost everybody has items they need to evict from their homes. Any time someone finds out I’m a professional home organizing consultant, their immediate response is always, “Oh, I could really use you! I have way too much stuff!” And while I can (and do) help clients reduce their clutter and get organized, all they really need to succeed on their own is to clear the common hurdles that prevent them from getting started or from continuing to make progress once they do. But first, it’s important to understand that streamlining your stuff is an ongoing task, just like mowing the grass, cleaning the kitchen, or doing the laundry. It isn’t a “one and done” project...it requires a lifestyle change and embracing a different mindset about your belongings. Please don’t stop reading! The good news is that with the right system in place, maintaining a leaner household is easy peasy once you get through the initial purge. I’ll share more about maintenance in this blog later this month. For now, let’s focus on clearing the most common obstacles many people face when they try to part with their precious belongings.
The most common obstructions to streamlining your stuff fall into two main categories: 1) Process hurdles; 2) Item hurdles. Process hurdles prevent you from getting started or slow down your momentum. Item hurdles are roadblocks you encounter along the way that are related to a specific object or category of belongings. They trip up your progress, often causing you to stop the process entirely. Keep reading for a description and a solution for overcoming each one.
It feels overwhelming. Whether the amount of clutter is too great or you just aren’t sure where/how to begin, you keep putting it off until later, and later never comes. In fact, the longer you wait, the worse the problem gets as your piles of clutter continue to grow.
Solution: Start small. Where you start is not nearly as important as that you start. Tackle one drawer, one shelf, one box. There’s no right or wrong place to start...it all needs to get done eventually. However, many people find kitchens and bathrooms contain fewer item hurdles, so beginning there may enable you to build up some momentum to propel you forward.
It might hurt/take too long. It’s only natural to feel a little apprehensive at the prospect of parting with things that were once helpful, hold fond memories, or seem like they may still be of some use/value. It makes sense that you would see it as a cumbersome chore, and no one looks forward to that, especially if it’s a big job that seems like it might take a long time to complete.
Solution: Instead of focusing on the costs (time, energy, stuff you once loved), look forward to all the benefits you'll be gaining. Your life will be easier with more space and accessibility. You’ll feel more free and no longer suffocated by all your stuff. Once you've completed the initial purge, you'll enjoy spending your time on other things without your big pile of excess hogging up space in your home and your head. Best of all, you’ll be creating space to live in the present and create new memories for your future when you let go of things from your past that aren’t as useful as they once were. Write down your benefits list and post it somewhere you're likely to see it to keep you motivated. Even if you have a big pile to go through and it requires a significant investment of time, remember that you don’t have to do it all at once. You can break it into small, manageable pieces. One thing's for sure: the job won’t get any smaller by procrastinating any further.
There’s no clear plan for what to do with the stuff you decide to eliminate. This one actually falls into both categories. When you don’t know what you will do with things in general, it can keep you from getting started; when you don’t know what to do with a specific item, it can threaten your progress.
Solution: There are many ways to eliminate your castoffs and each method depends on the specific item, the amount of time/effort you want to invest in finding a new home for it, where you live, and your personal priorities. I’ll cover some of the options in greater detail in next week’s blog. In the meantime, selecting a charitable organization that accepts most household and clothing items is a good first step. You can google “where to donate household items” or “donation pickup” to identify some or ask friends and neighbors where they donate. Then, visit their website or call to see what they will and will not accept and whether or not you can schedule a donation pickup or where/when you can drop items off. Organizations like Greendrop and DonationTown operate all over the country and partner with multiple charities, so these are a great place to start. You can also join a group like Freecycle, NextDoor, or Buy Nothing to find people near you who need what you have to give away. You’ll find links to all of these organizations and many more at www.easypeasyliving.com/donatingrecycling.
You suffer from “Decision Deferral Syndrome." Frankly, this is the crux of the issue for most people, and it is also why you now have more stuff than you can conveniently accommodate. Making decisions with permanent consequences is often intimidating, so we tend to put it off and end up keeping merely by default. Understand that decision deferral is a decision...a poor one made without intention..
Solution: First, acknowledge that this is a problem and accept that you will likely find forcing yourself to make a real decision uncomfortable at first. However, the more you do it, the easier it will become. Remember that not making a clear decision is how you wound up in this situation in the first place. It’s time to try something new. Take assurance from the fact that, in my experience, long-term regret at getting rid of something is extremely rare. Even when it does happen, it is almost always just mild regret. You will learn to trust your ability to make wise decisions with practice. The sooner you get started, the sooner you'll begin to feel more confident.
There’s no room to work in. This is mostly an issue in homes with extreme clutter or when working in an especially small area.
Solution: The first step is to create a staging area. Even if it requires you to pile things up really high at first, or move some of your clutter outdoors during the initial session, make enough space for a donate bin/box, a trash bag, and a recycle bin. That's all you need to get started. It won’t take very long to clear enough room to make the process a lot easier. Be sure to remove any trash and recycling immediately at the end of each session. If possible, get rid of your donations right away too. Some suggestions: 1) store them in your car until you can pass them on; or 2) plan your purging sessions to coincide with a donation pickup/drop-off to ensure they get taken away immediately.
Gift Guilt/Obligation to keep. Someone gave it to you (or even worse, made it for you) or you inherited it. You don’t like it/can’t use it but feel obliged to keep it because it was a gift or family relic. This can paralyze your purging endeavor if you let it.
Solution: Remember that no one ever intended to give you a burden as a gift. If it is consuming room in your home, getting in your way, or causing you guilt, that is what it has become. The giver may have selected or made that item for you as a tangible expression of the true gift...their love, gratitude, friendship, or congratulations, but it is merely a representation, not the gift itself. It's important to understand that giving away an item that was given to you is neither a rejection of the sentiment behind it nor of the person who gave it to you. Find a way to preserve the memory of it if that makes it easier to say goodbye to it (a photo, journal entry, etc.). Consider honoring the person it came from by giving it to someone else who can use/appreciate it. Chances are, the giver will never even realize, remember or care that you no longer have it. If you still really just can’t part with it, choose another item you were planning to keep and eliminate that in its place.
Someday/Maybe items. If you think long enough and hard enough, everything in your clutter stash could fall into this category. These are things that might be useful at some point in the future but you have only a vague (or no) idea how.
Solution: Remind yourself that just because you might be able to use it again doesn’t mean you will. You don’t have room for “might”. If you did, you wouldn’t be feeling the need to purge. The fact is that you will use the space this item currently occupies, either for storing something else you need or for making the things you do use more accessible and easier to find. Sure, there’s a chance you might end up having to buy it again, but that is easier to do than living in cramped quarters all the time. Only keep someday/maybe items if you have both a specific plan and a timeline for using them in the near future.
Broken stuff. Everybody has broken stuff they are keeping because they plan to fix it...someday.
Solution: Fix it now. Decide who will fix it, when they will fix it, what else they require in order to fix it, and how much it will cost to fix it. Decide all of that now, or get rid of it now. If it is worth fixing, it is worth doing now. Don’t let it consume space in your drawer, cabinet, or closet for another minute without a solid plan. Add it to your to-do list with a deadline and get it done. If you miss the deadline, toss it. No excuses!
Things you “spent good money on”. You paid a lot for it but never really used it or no longer use it for whatever reason.
Solution: Decide why you don’t/haven’t used it. Is it because you forgot about it or couldn’t find it until now? If so, then store it somewhere visible so that you are more likely to start using it. If there's another reason, acknowledge that it was a poor buying decision and let it go. The money is already spent either way, and you aren’t going to get it back unless you try to sell it to recoup a portion of the loss. So either do that (if you can recoup enough to make it worth the time and effort of selling it), or give it away to someone who will use it. Keeping it will not correct your error in buying it to begin with. It’s okay to admit that! We all make bad purchases from time to time. Learn from it and move forward. Don’t continue paying the price by denying yourself the space, accessibility and freedom you deserve.
Invisible Memory Triggers. These are items whose sole purpose is to trigger a fond memory but that you rarely ever see because they have been shoved into a box or bin in the dark recesses of your closets, attic or basement. The problem is that they can’t serve their primary function of triggering memories if they are always out of sight.
Solution: The best way to handle these is to assign them a secondary purpose that places them out in the open where you can use and see them. An example would be using your grandmother’s old silver sugar bowl to hold paper clips in your home office. Every time you reach for a paper clip, you’ll think of Grandma. Then you can eliminate the boring paper clip holder you were using before instead. But sometimes this solution isn't possible. Instead of just keeping everything in your keepsake stash, whittle it down to a small, specific, representative collection of artifacts that best tells your story. Make it small enough that you can store it in a way that makes it easier to pull out and enjoy from time to time or share with others.
Playing curator of your personal museum requires a lot of thought. I recommend saving this category of items for last so that you can take time to enjoy sifting through it, reminiscing over the memories it evokes, and then properly saying goodbye to the items that don’t make the cut. Once you have already eliminated your other excess belongings, you’ll have more time and energy to relish this process in a relaxed and spacious atmosphere. It will be a more positive experience than feeling rushed to just get through it.
If you’ve encountered a hurdle I didn’t mention and need some suggestions for how to clear it, just Ask the Organizer! Chances are good that someone else may be struggling with the very same challenge.
Stay tuned next week for ideas on where to send your discarded belongings next and how to make the process as smooth and positive as possible. Until then, keep it easy peasy!
For more tips and advice on purging and organizing in general, follow @EasyPeasyLiving on Facebook. May is Purging Month, and I’ll be sharing strategies all month on how to rid your home of excess stuff and keep it that way. Plus, you’ll find out how to participate in the May 1-Day EasyPeasy Challenge. Hint: it will help you get your purge on!
My mother was an amazing woman loved by all who knew her. She was spontaneous, fun, compassionate to a fault, caring (a nurse!), gentle, kind, and able to laugh at herself...which was a good thing because she was also pretty klutzy and quite often found herself in some pretty - er - “unique” situations. (Someday I’ll share with you the Mom-in-a-manhole story.) She’s been gone for over 20 years now and I still miss her every single day. Although I didn’t embark on my organizing career until after she died, she continues to be the inspiration for a lot of the tips and advice I share with my clients and followers to this day. That’s because “organized” is not a word often associated with her. Let's just say, I didn't learn most of these tips and tricks from her, but I would have loved to have shared them with her. Many times, my blogs are written with her in mind as my audience.
Now don’t get me wrong...she maintained a pretty clean and tidy home and insisted my sisters and I do our part, including keeping our rooms picked up and our beds made. But I'd be lying if I told you that I was an organized kid or that everything was in its place in our home. Far from it! There is a big difference between a house that’s tidy and one that’s organized, as I will explain.
A tidy home, like the one I grew up in, is where everything looks neat at first glance. There is minimal surface clutter, laundry (both clean and dirty) is kept out of sight, coats and purses are hung up, and common areas look respectable enough to host guests on the spur of the moment. You are unlikely to find dirty towels littering the bathroom floor or toys strewn everywhere in a tidy house. However, many tidy homes harbor a secret stash of clutter and disorganization behind those closet doors. Growing up, my bedroom was tidy enough to pass Mom’s inspection...as long as she didn’t look under the bed, where all manner of chaos reigned. Or in the jumbled up drawers. Or risk the hazard of opening the closet doors. And you know what? She almost never did! I think she knew she wouldn't like what she'd find, so surface tidy was good enough. It isn’t really a mystery why I and other members of my family frequently misplaced items, as is often the case in many a tidy home.
Even in tidy homes, it can be difficult to find specific items quickly. That's because, just like untidy homes, they often contain way too much stuff for its occupants to navigate smoothly on a daily basis, leading to frustration. Too much stuff means it takes more work to put things away where they belong. That, in turn, leads to putting them away somewhere they don’t belong simply because it’s easier to access and thus quicker in our rush to get them out of sight, out of our way, and to keep things looking tidier. But this makes it harder to find later...which, my friends, is a main symptom of disorganization. If left untreated, disorganization will ultimately turn your tidy home into an untidy home when the time and effort to tidy up just becomes too great. Perhaps some of you have already discovered this.
My mother owned no less than twelve (12) muffin tins. Let me say that again. She had a dozen pans that made a dozen muffins all at once. A dozen dozens. (And no, she was not a commercial baker.) When asked why she needed to keep that many muffin tins in the teensy kitchen of her tiny mobile home, she responded that she liked to have some ready to go in the oven, some in the oven already baking, and some cooling on her (overly-crowded) counter...all at once. Because they took up a substantial percentage of her limited cabinet space, she was constantly having to move things around to make space for other kitchen items. This frustrated and annoyed her, yet it never seemed to dawn on her that the little bit of time all those muffin tins saved her on those rare occasions that she needed to make 144 muffins at once (which was probably never) was squandered many times over on her daily quest for more room in her cabinets for the things she used each and every day. If you find yourself regularly having to “reorganize” a shelf, drawer, or cabinet just to create enough room to put things away, you - like my mother - have TOO. MUCH. STUFF!
Fortunately, the remedy for too much stuff is simple...purge it! Purging is always the first step in getting organized and probably the one most people dread until they do it. That’s because they focus on what they lose by the process instead of on what they gain by it. Here’s what’s in it for you to purge your excess stuff:
In next week’s blog post, I’ll tackle why many people find it so difficult to get started letting go of their belongings and how to get over the most common hurdles people face along the way. The week after that I’ll give you suggestions for what to do with all the items you decide to eliminate from your home. But for now, let’s just focus on how to get started without feeling overwhelmed by the prospect.
First of all, there’s great news: Purging does not require you to set aside a huge chunk of time. You can accomplish a great deal in as little as 15-20 minutes per day. The key is consistency. If you don’t have a stretch of two hours to devote to purging this week (who does?), do 20 minutes each day and take a day off on Sunday. Or just decide to tackle one drawer or one shelf or one cabinet each day if that’s all the time you have. Either way, put it on your to-do list until it becomes a habit.
Here’s what you do:
Now I have even better news: Even if you don’t have any time to devote to the process described above, you can still begin purging right away! All you have to do is set up a box or bag in a designated spot in your home. Every time you encounter an object that:
And that's it! Like I said, I'll be sharing strategies for what comes next right here in this blog over the rest of this month. Be sure to sign up to get each new blog post emailed directly to you if you aren't already a subscriber so that you don't miss out.
So what makes a home organized? Having a designated spot for each item you own that’s easy to access and with a bit of extra breathing room. As I said, you can have a tidy home that’s disorganized, but can you have an organized home that’s untidy? Yes, you can. The difference between an untidy, organized home and a tidy, organized home is about 15 minutes!
For more tips and advice on purging and on organizing in general, follow @EasyPeasyLiving on Facebook. May is Purging Month, and I’ll be sharing strategies all month on how to rid your home of excess stuff and keep it that way. Plus, you’ll find out how to participate in the May 1-Day EasyPeasy Challenge. Hint: it will help you get your purge on!
Until next week, keep it easy peasy!
*If you’re on a purging roll and don’t want to wait until my future posts to get stuff out of your way, the quickest, easiest way to get rid of it is to schedule a donation pickup or drop your items off at a local charity that accepts what you are eliminating. Visit www.easypeasyliving.com/donatingrecycling for more information and some suggested recipients for your castoffs.
Valerie Sheridan is a professional organizer, wife, mother of two, and Founder/Owner of EasyPeasy Living.