Wednesday, March 28, 2007


Ah, spring!

Sunshine, warmer weather, and the first sightings of the season: yard and rummage sales! I am a bargain fiend, and I love the eclectic look of flea market chic, so my acquisitive blood begins to flow faster when I know that sale season is just around the corner.

This is also a great time of year to begin unloading items you no longer want or need, by hosting your own sale or donating to charitable organizations' sales. If you don't belong to a religious community, find out when groups in your neighbourhood are accepting goods, and plan your purges to coincide with those dates.

How do you tackle a purge?

The biggest mistake most people make is to try and sift through absolutely everything in their house in one fell swoop. This is an example of how organizing shows (which I generally like) have done a great disservice to TV audiences. Never forget that each one-hour show took TWO WHOLE DAYS to film, with dozens of people working behind the scenes to make sure everything got finished on time. And they only organize two rooms - not an entire house.

It is absolutely unrealistic to think that you can accomplish something similar in one weekend by yourself, even with the help of a friend or a professional organizer.

I suggest you give yourself time to make several "passes" over your possessions. Don't feel like you have to make final decisions on everything in one great purge. Break it down into multiple stages, and allow yourself to reflect and make decisions that you can live with in the long term.

The first pass deals with the unequivocables. Some things you just KNOW you have to get rid of. They've probably been staring you in the face, literally or figuratively, for several months. You can't wait to see the last of them. Gather them up and get them out of the house ASAP.

If you feel emboldened, prepare for a second pass. Work on one room at a time, for three or four hours per session, maximum. Any longer, and the body and mind become overwhelmed by the decision-making process.

The "one touch" rule employed by some organizing shows is a great way to start. Take each item one at a time and immediately decide: pitch, keep, or maybe. Throw out or donate the pitches.

The maybes are your third (and fourth and fifth and sixth) pass. If you can, give yourself a few days in between passes to let the unconscious mind weigh in on the whole process. If you feel little tugs telling you you really need to get rid of something, pay attention. By the same token, if some part of you is resisting a "no-brainer" purge, give yourself time to understand why. In the end you may indeed decide it's time to let the item go, but on the other hand procrastination may be the universe's way of telling you that the timing isn't right.

My least-favorite part of the purging process is the emotional turmoil that results from trying to make too many decisions in too short a time. I've talked a bit about this in a previous post, where I quoted Sarah Suzanka, architect and bestselling author of The Not So Big House: A Blueprint for the Way We Really Live (Taunton, 2001).

Suzanka says: "An awful lot of the stuff we have - and I'm not talking about one or two things, I'm talking about 50 percent - we literally never use and are never planning to use again, but can't let go of. They are basically objects in which we've invested dreams that didn't happen. It's very difficult to let go of the dreams, even though we know that they didn't actually bring us the satisfaction we were hoping for."

I've been gearing up for my own purge lately, and it's those dreams and expectations I had for my objects that are making the choices difficult. But I know it's time, because I feel a little itch in my solar plexus that tells me I'm ready to move on.

Do we ever regret purges?

Sometimes. There have been many things I've purged that I later wished I could have back. But I also believe that what goes around, comes around. If I can give freely of something at a certain point in my life, then perhaps later, when I need it, I will receive it again. I would rather live with very little and be surprised by serendipitous finds than hang onto everything and never need any of it. I admire people who can whittle the important things in their life down to one suitcase, and travel lightly.

How much to we really need, anyhow?

copyright 2007, Michelle Lynne Goodfellow

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