I know, you guys. I know. Trying to get rid of 450 pieces of crap in 90 days can be really overwhelming. That’s why I’m here for you. That’s why we’re doing this together. That’s why I’m bringing in expert big guns and all kinds of smarter-than-me help in the coming weeks to support our efforts. [Including Andrea Rivers, an amazing reader who not only successfully purged all 450 items in last year’s challenge but is still going, having stopped counting at 900 pieces of crap purged from her life. DUDE.]
Consider this our intervention with ourselves to avoid slipping in to full-on hoarderdom.
The first step is admitting you have a problem. But the second step (this is a different program than the one you’re thinking of, in this program there are only three steps and the last one is basically just throwing shit away) but in the second step, you must identify the crap with which you are willing to part. This is often the hardest step. If you’re reading this post, then like me you have likely arrived at a place where you are looking around your home thinking “WHERE DID ALL THIS SHIT COME FROM, AND IS IT POSSIBLE TO DIE FROM THE SHEER STRESS OF HAVING TOO MUCH CRAP?” but chances are aside from the empty milk jugs and that ominous stack of mail on your entry table you have no idea where to start.
There have been two main questions that have surfaced and resurfaced this past week as our crap cutting began.
Q. What constitutes five pieces of crap? Can I throw away five pieces of paper? Five rotten bananas? Or do I have to get rid of like, five pairs of shoes.
A. You will not be receiving a grade on this exam. The idea is to declutter, not win The Biggest Purger, so while some people may carry five pieces of furniture out of a garage a day, tossing those five rags from under the sink, or finally decided that you aren’t going to save those five of your child’s masterpieces from pre-school still totally counts. And if you can only part with three of those masterpieces? That’s still three items purged that were taking up space in your life this morning. GOLD STARS ALL AROUND!
(The no grades advice also goes for the days you don’t purge. If you can, purge 10 items the next day, or just choose to do one weekly purge of 35 items — or even five items — the idea is to cut your crap, not give yourself another outlet for your anxiety.)
Q. I don’t know where to start.
A: That’s not a question. But since you kind of asked, mail is a great place to begin. When Purgday Thursday first began, I asked Professional Organizer Du Jour Beth Ziegler of BNeato how in the hell I was supposed to tackle the months upon months of mail I had left to die. Naturally, there’s only one thing you can do when you’re under piles of mail. Sit down and open it. But once you’ve done that, Beth taught me how to set up an active filing system that has kept my mail from becoming completely overwhelming. According to Beth —
“You’ll want to process the categories of paperwork that come through the door. Some examples are bills to be paid, an invitation to a party, following up on a request, correspondence, etc. These files are used frequently so they need to be visible and easily accessed. We’ll call them “active files”.
I love using wall pockets for active files. You can also use desktop organizers as well as mail cubbies (as long as they are properly labeled).”
–Open your mail daily. It’s so important to get into the habit of opening your mail on a daily basis. Even if you do nothing else with it but file it into your active filing system–it will save you tons of time and frustration in the long run.
–House a recycle bin and a shredder wherever you open the mail (preferably a desk where you’ll have supplies like stamps, envelopes and pens).
–As soon as you bring the mail indoors, open each envelope, shred what is necessary (ie; credit card offers) and toss the junk mail immediately. A fellow organizing friend of ours always says, “Junk mail should never touch a surface.” I agree!
–Once you have opened your mail, you will need a place for it to live until you’re ready to actively work on it. That’s where your active files come into play…
Categories of your new active files are broad, such as;
1. Bills to pay
2. Response needed (RSVP’s, personal correspondence)
3. To Read
4. To File
5. Pending (pending papers are for those instances when you can take no further action on a piece of paper, but you still need it for reference until it’s done.
Once your active files are no longer active, they may go into the “To File” category and filed according to your system (once/day, once/week).
Folks who do work from home should try and keep their “office related items” confined to one spot but that doesn’t mean they can’t roam around with their laptop or a particular project. I [Beth] keep work separate from personal by using color files to identify what’s stored inside. Red for Bneato and Purple for personal stuff works great for me. For my active files that sit out, they’re all white so as to blend in with my home decor (but they’re labeled).
You guys, Beth’s system works. Here’s how our Beth-instructed active filing system looks:
AND, DID I MENTION IT WORKS? (You may fall off the wagon from time to time, but you get back on and you know how to get there.)
So let’s say you already have your mail under control, and you’ve cleaned out your kitchen cabinets. You’ve thrown away the empty shampoo bottles lining your shower. You’ve even taken a bag of your clothes to good will. You’ve been purging your little butt off and now you’ve reached an impasse. You still have tons of crap, but some of it is really good/valuable crap, and some of it is sentimental crap, and some of it is crap you keep our of guilt or because you’ve just had it for so long it’s never ever occurred to you to get rid of. So you’re reading this all annoyed because you’re like “Morgan, this week I was going to focus on my garage and I should have stopped reading like 500 words ago. WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR ME?”
To answer this question I look to Feng Shui which...before you roll your eyes and click away, skeptics…is not as hippie dippy as you might think and can be applied buffet style — take what you like, and leave what reminds you of the faint smell of patchouli.
Karen Kingston author of “Clear Your Clutter With Feng Shui” wrote a passage in her book that clicked my personal purging switch to full capacity.
“Keeping things ‘just in case’ indicates a lack of trust in the future…It is often not your own future you are concerned about providing for. You may also sincerly want to be able to help others. So then you keep absolutely everything ‘just in case’ someone else needs it.”
She goes on to explain that you’ve kind of got to get rid of all that crap and trust that you’ll be able to access/aquire the crap you need when you need it. Basically, If you build it, it will come. I had a basement full of stuff for a house I down own, a band I’m not in, an instrument I can’t play, a TV I don’t need, and so on and so forth. These things are valuable items, and I was totally subconsciously afraid I’d never be able to replace them. Slowly but surely, I’ve parted with two couches, half of my carefully curated collection of mid century furniture, and definitely everything for people/activities/needs that are not in our life. And I don’t miss a single item. (I also seriously seriously recommend this book.)
Karen also offers this sage advice for how to identify purge-able items:
- Things you do not use or love
- Things that are untidy or disorganized (things that have no “place”)
- Too many things in too small a space (ALL ME, RIGHT HERE. 1100 SQ FEET.)
- Anything unfinished
I don’t want to overwhelm you guys on week one, so we’ll dig in to the conundrum of creative people and unfinished projects and OH HELL NO I’M NOT THROWING THAT AWAY BECAUSE I’M GOING TO FIX IT/IT IS MY MASTERWORK, in the rest of this post which I’m saving for tomorrow. But for what it’s worth, when Karen Kingston refers to “anything unfinished” she’s speaking to things like a ripped pair of pants you swore you’d fix, or a CD player that just needed a new set of batteries in 1996.
Okay. Virtually patting all your butts. Go team #cutyourcrap. We can do this.
So, did you purge?