The Season for Getting Rid of Stuff

Tis the season for suddenly wanting to get rid of stuff, and that is what I have been doing. Last night I went through our closet, not with the “Only keep what BRINGS YOU JOY” policy (please), but more with the “If there is dust visibly accumulated on the top edge of this garment, perhaps we no longer wear it.” Paul still had ’90s-era rugby shirts. I had shirts I was keeping in order to bitterly resent what disappointments they’d been. I went through my bras and got rid of the ones I never, ever wear. I got rid of a pair of pants I had been keeping just in case I ever had a need for a pair of pants I hated.

I went through my stationery. That was hard to do, but I had SO MUCH of it, I would literally not be able to use it in my lifetime. It was at the point where I no longer enjoyed choosing a note card to send, because of how difficult it was to go through the crammed boxes of them. I filled TWO plastic grocery bags with stationery to get rid of, and I STILL have lots left. I didn’t want to WASTE it by getting rid of it—but I WAS wasting it, by keeping it and not using it. Now someone on Freecycle has it, and SHE will use it.

I got rid of a shelf’s worth of books. I wanted to own each of them at the time I acquired them, and got satisfaction out of those acquisitions and the subsequent possessions—but either I haven’t re-read them or I’m done re-reading them. Time to stop keeping them just in case there is an apocalyptic situation where I would be glad of every page.

I tossed a handful of lipsticks that I never wear. They were fun to try, and educational; and they will, I hope, keep me from buying anything orangey or light pink in the future—and so they have served their purpose full-well.

In fact, that was a helpful line of thought for me: that even if I hadn’t gotten my money’s worth in the sense of using up the whole lipstick or using up all the cards, I’d gotten my money’s worth ANYWAY: the fun of considering the purchase, the fun of making the purchase and bringing it home, the fun of using several of the cards / trying the lipstick / wearing the shirt to a party. I got rid of a shirt I’d worn literally once, to a lunch date with an ex-boyfriend. I’ve had that shirt for 10-12 years, and it was exactly the right shirt for the lunch date and has not been right for anything else, and it cost $13 on clearance and it is time for Goodwill to have it. I got my FULL $13 out of that shirt the only time I wore it: it wasn’t “$13 per wearing,” it was “$13 to have the Right Shirt for that occasion and feel perfectly dressed for it and relieve some of the what-on-earth-should-I-WEAR stress leading up to such an event.” And what additional value am I getting out of an item by STORING and NOT-USING it? More value will be extracted by giving it to someone who WILL use it—or, at minimum, in the case of things that must be thrown away, by freeing up space to put something else.

It also helped to remember something I read in a book about hoarding, which is that the peak stress is felt in the moment before getting rid of an item; afterward, there is usually relief, and no regret, and in fact usually the item and accompanying stress are forgotten entirely. This is for items that actually OUGHT to be gotten rid of, of course: don’t try this with, say, all the shirts you usually wear, or the saucepans you use multiple times per week. But I have found it to be true for things such as a blush that’s too orange for me, or a book of essays about pregnancy I haven’t read in eight years and am no longer interested in reading, or the mugs that always get pushed to the back of the shelf.

37 thoughts on “The Season for Getting Rid of Stuff

  1. Jill

    YES! I am getting the itch to purge stuff again and while I haven’t done it yet (see also: everyone home all the time ohmygod I’m ready for this “vacation” to end) I think this week I’m going to start. I already have my eye on a stuffed-to-the gills kitchen cabinet full of baby dishes and the like, and my youngest kids are going to be 3 in a couple of months. Needless to say, we haven’t used them in quite awhile. See also: pack n play, cloth diapers we no longer use, etc etc etc.

  2. jen(melty)

    “…even if I hadn’t gotten my money’s worth in the sense of using up the whole lipstick or using up all the cards, I’d gotten my money’s worth ANYWAY: the fun of considering the purchase, the fun of making the purchase and bringing it home, the fun of using several of the cards / trying the lipstick / wearing the shirt to a party.”

    THIS. I wish it didn’t take me so long to realize this.

  3. Christa

    3 1/2 years ago I moved from the UK to the USA (permanently) and had to go through my large 3 bedroomed house that I bought my kids up in and had lived in for 20 years. I had two weeks to pack up and sort everything out. There is nothing like the expense of shipping stuff overseas to concentrate the mind on what was worth keeping. I had to make a quick decision on thousands of items; chuck, donate, give to friends, keep.
    It was very interesting to find out what I truly valued and what was just ‘stuff’.

  4. Mari

    YES. I am itching to do this too. I am ~6 months pregnant so it’s part of my nesting instinct too (I think?) and needing to rearrange the house anyway to make space for a sibling. Exciting and can’t wait for the sense of relief when I finally get it done (although the anticipation of doing it is oddly nice too … and overwhelming).

  5. Natalie

    I began to get anxious that you threw the stationery away until I read Freecycle and I was relieved. How silly is that? I love purging, especially when I have charities which will come pick my stuff up regularly. I just got 3 bags of hand me down kids clothes and sorted 2 to keep (consolidated into one) and another whole one to donate. Yay!

  6. velocibadgergirl

    But you kept a headband, right? I’m also feeling the new year / less stuff itch, and I think this line needs to be written on a big piece of paper taped to my bathroom mirror for me to see each day: “I didn’t want to WASTE it by getting rid of it—but I WAS wasting it, by keeping it and not using it.” It makes so much sense, and yet I never thought of it that way.

    1. Karen L

      I also planned to comment on this: QFT: “I didn’t want to WASTE it by getting rid of it—but I WAS wasting it, by keeping it and not using it.”

    2. Kate

      Yes! Headband! I was about to make my comment about keeping a bottle of self tanner but couldn’t remember what Swistle’s item was.

  7. Jessemy

    Yes yes yes! I have been purging like mad. Something about receiving lots of gifts at Christmas really triggers it for me. Way to go!

  8. Kara

    Easy Bake Oven and tons of fancy serving platters just went to Goodwill. We had far too many platters.

    1. Rah

      I’m haunting Goodwill right now for a serving platter! Another point to consider: getting rid of it may make it available to someone who wants/needs it!

  9. Teresa

    My big throwing away triumph today was dumping some of the spices I have that are at least 15 years old. (I know they’re that old because they’re a grocery store brand, and it’s been 15 years since I lived in a place with that store.) Even if I used those spices, which I obviously don’t, those particular ones probably have to flavor left, and I’d need to get new bottles of them anyway. I realized how ridiculous it was to keep shoving aside the marjoram I never use to see if I have turmeric, which I do use. (Don’t even ask how the marjoram always ends up in front anyway because I don’t know.)

    1. Jenny

      Ha ha ha! I just got a new spice rack (instead of the cardboard boxes I’d been using) and rid myself of all the ancient ones I never use. Primarily the whole spices I would have to grind in order to use them. Whole cardamom, whole cloves, whole cumin. Just did a major reorganization of the linen cupboard, too.

  10. Lindsay

    We did a toy purge recently. It felt great. I want it stealth like go through all the drawers and closets and keep purging, without getting my husband worked up…

  11. Kelly

    My husband is filling up the van right now with the three million things I just went through and we don’t need – Dishes, toys, clothes, cookbooks that I have never opened. I was even going to try and save it for a yard sale that the Junior League has in September but I can’t stand to look at it that long. We have more trash this week than we had the week of Christmas. My kids rooms are all much nicer and I feel way less

  12. Gigi

    THIS paragraph!!! “In fact, that was a helpful line of thought for me: that even if I hadn’t gotten my money’s worth in the sense of using up the whole lipstick or using up all the cards, I’d gotten my money’s worth ANYWAY: the fun of considering the purchase, the fun of making the purchase and bringing it home, the fun of using several of the cards / trying the lipstick / wearing the shirt to a party. I got rid of a shirt I’d worn literally once, to a lunch date with an ex-boyfriend. I’ve had that shirt for 10-12 years, and it was exactly the right shirt for the lunch date and has not been right for anything else, and it cost $13 on clearance and it is time for Goodwill to have it. I got my FULL $13 out of that shirt the only time I wore it: it wasn’t “$13 per wearing,” it was “$13 to have the Right Shirt for that occasion and feel perfectly dressed for it and relieve some of the what-on-earth-should-I-WEAR stress leading up to such an event.” And what additional value am I getting out of an item by STORING and NOT-USING it? More value will be extracted by giving it to someone who WILL use it—or, at minimum, in the case of things that must be thrown away, by freeing up space to put something else.” LOVE IT!

    Seeing as we may be moving by the end of the month, I’m about to go on a purging spree myself.

  13. ButtercupDC

    I desperately need to get rid of things, and the need feels more acute because I’ve been traveling, coming home from travel, dumping all luggage out on the floor, and starting over again for several weeks. I want all of this stuff gone from my house, sorted by someone who is generally ruthless but knows what I would find heartbreaking to lose (not. much.).

    For some reason, I have a lot of trouble getting rid of clothes–even those I hate–because I have created for myself a condition where I think I need to wear something different to work every day (or at least the same thing infrequently enough that it seems different). You know who barely notices what I wear? Any of the 5 people I see at work each day. And yet I can’t make myself get rid of things I don’t even like. Blurg.

  14. The Awktopus

    I just read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and while I mostly found the author to be sort of annoying (“Throw away anything you don’t LOVE WITH ALL YOUR HEART!” “Keep your socks neatly put away and folded, or you’ll hurt their feeeeeeeelings!”), I did find some bits and pieces of genuinely helpful advice. One of the main things I took away from it was similar to what you said about different ways of getting your money’s worth out of an item. It got so much easier to get rid of things once I started thinking things like, “Well, buying this shirt was some nice retail therapy, but it’s just not my style. Guess I’ll donate it!” instead of, “This shirt is BRAND NEW! Better keep it in my closet forever because who gets rid of a BRAND NEW SHIRT?”

    1. Jennifer B

      The best tidbit I got out of that book was: assemble ALL the things you have of one category of item, wherever they are in your house, and THEN sort through them. Instead of just organizing the same shelf or drawer over and over again. I did this with my closet – got out every single item of clothing I owned and sorted it out in piles. I was stunned to find I had close to 30 pairs of jeans (some new with tags! some that haven’t fit in years!) stashed in various corners and drawers. Now I have about five pairs of jeans that I wear ALL the time, and much more space in my closet. Applying this principle to the rest of my house!

    2. Jessemy

      I have to admit, I’m a Kondo fan despite her wacky tone! Can’t believe that I don’t mind folding clothes anymore! That alone worth the price of the book.

      1. The Awktopus

        Yes, that was another one of my favorite parts! I can’t believe I’d never thought of folding clothes that way! I have so much more space now!

    3. Shawna

      I totally agree with you about that book – some of it was so “out there” that I snorted and read the passages out loud to my family while we were in the car. To this day when we talk about getting rid of stuff my seven-year-old declares dramatically “thank it, and Let It Go!”

      BUT

      There really were some useful tips and thoughts. For example, I’m a bit of a pack rat and I find it particularly hard to get rid of gifts I don’t like, but the author pointed out that a gift’s purpose is to be given – once the giving happens its main purpose is fulfilled, and I don’t have to feel bad about donating it so someone else who would like it can end up with it.

      1. The Awktopus

        Yeah, I really liked that part too! Now whenever I get rid of an unopened bottle of nail polish or a pair of shoes I never wear or whatever, I try to think, “This item’s purpose was to be a gift/a fun impulse buy/an experiment to see if this style looks good on me. Now it’s served its purpose.”

        The book does have some great ideas, and the method itself actually really appeals to me. But I think I would have liked it a lot better if it had been written by someone who’s not quiiiiite as out-there. I want to have a clean house because it looks nice, not because my house is an actual sentient being.

        1. Shawna

          “I want to have a clean house because it looks nice, not because my house is an actual sentient being.” Ha! Exactly!

      2. Jessemy

        We actually read that passage aloud as we were stressing over Christmas present shopping this year!!!

  15. Matti

    “I had shirts I was keeping in order to bitterly resent what disappointments they’d been.”
    This is so sadly true that I laughed for a long time :)

    My husband goes back to work tomorrow, and I know the house will feel lighter just with that, because for whatever reason the house is always messier when he’s home. How does that math work? And then, I will begin the great getting rid of stuff while my kids are otherwise occupied. If they see me ditching it they will want to keep it, not matter that it is an absolute piece of garbage. The hall closet is first because it should be so easy to keep it clean and yet we pile all kinds of crap there. And it’s the part of the house that causes the most ire whenever I see it.

  16. KP

    You had me at your title.

    Purging is one of my all time favorite house activities. Expecting a new baby any day and we spent the weekend getting rid of SO MUCH and fine-tuning organizational strategies for the rest.

    We highly value open space in a home. Not sterility or barrenness, but room for the kids to run and play and for me to just stretch out. I don’t like tchotchkes or too many of one thing (candles, etc.) We don’t have tons to begin with (relatives always comment on how few toys/pots and pans/THINGS we have) since we live in a smaller house. But there was still room to get rid of more stuff and make our home feel bigger. It’s the best way to start the new year!

  17. Life of a Doctor's Wife

    Get rid of all the things!!! I feel it too but have only managed to get rid of the Christmas decor and the pile of laundry in the closet and the visiting family. BUT THE URGE REMAINS.

    I heard about a charity this weekend that provides homeless women with clothing and makeup for job interviews (and coaching and other not-wearable help as well) and I thought it would be PERFECT for the eight billion unused lipsticks I own and the two pairs of dress shoes I got from Zappos before I got pregnant and forgot about until well after the baby was born and so cannot return, despite the fact they don’t fit.

    The final sentence of your first paragraph deeply delights me.

  18. Shannon

    I too was worried about your headband/self-tanner v. pink/orange lipstick purge (e.g. how will you remember?). But now you have written proof and a bunch of commentators to remind you!

    Here’s some gold:
    “Not with the ‘Only keep what BRINGS YOU JOY’ policy (please), but with more with the ‘If there’s dust visibly accumulated…'” I loved that, it isn’t that I’m a joyless person but that always sounded too Eat, Pray, Love for me. That’s one of the few books I REFUSED TO FINISH! Just hearing the title irritates me.

    I’ve been re-watching episodes of “Hoarders” in between cleaning/purging while I fold laundry and then put it away! This year I really would like to go through/purge my Christmas stuff before it gets boxed up.
    I made the radical ( in my mind) decision to leave Christmas up for one more week. I feel like I spent all of this time decorating and running around that I haven’t actually really enjoyed them. Instead it felt like visual noise while I tripped over relatives and toys.

    PS: I bought 3 copies of the Chalk it Up calendar after seeing your post! Two for gifts and one for myself :) Happy New Year everyone!

  19. Nicole Boyhouse

    I LOVE this! I just got rid of a ton of lipsticks that were ill-purchased or that used to suit me and now don’t, because I’m an aged crone, apparently. Or, they make me look like an aged crone. I felt bad about the money spent but now I’m looking at it like a lesson learned! Excellent. I like!

    1. Celeste

      I get to where I have to tell myself that the money remains spent whether I clog up the house with the undesired things, or not.

  20. Feisty Harriet

    I have been in major purge mode for the last several months! After boxing up and moving EVERYTHING 700 miles away, I am *still* purging like a freaking crazy person. Shiny new house is giving me a lot more urge to get rid of anything that isn’t up to snuff. It’s both awesome and horrible, all at once. Sigh.

    xox

  21. Alison

    This sentence made me smile and nod in agreement: “I got rid of a pair of pants I had been keeping just in case I ever had a need for a pair of pants I hated.” Some items seem to make it through several purges and then I find myself wondering why I had kept THIS when I had been willing to donate other stuff.

    Although I don’t necessarily have a desire to keep a lot of things I’m not using (I’m much more of a purger than a hoarder by nature), I have to have the time and energy to go through things or it doesn’t happen. If it were just me, I’d be golden, but add in a husband and kids, and I lose the will to deal with ALL THE JUNK. Then I periodically get the urge to get organized (yes, during January, but also at other random times) and I know to ACT IMMEDIATELY and start filling bags to be donated.

    I probably have six or seven good-sized bags waiting to go to the donation center. There are more clothes and toys in the house but I won’t wait till I feel like going through those before I drop these off.

  22. M.Amanda

    Me too! I finally donate all those handbags I had been keeping for when I’m ready for a change, but that I never carry again because whenever I’m ready to carry something different, I just buy a new handbag. And I’ve decided that’s okay. I don’t buy super high-end bags and usually carry them for a while. Rather than feel wasteful for buying new instead of re-using the old, I feel relieved to clear out the clutter.

    I’ve also cleared out shoes that hurt with a resolution to buy fewer, but better quality, comfortable shoes. *deep breath* Spring came in late December for me. :)

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