Purging Will Make You Feel Great. Really!

(Note: this post was originally written as a guest post on UnStuckable but has been made available here. We also recorded a podcast which is not currently available.)

I read a book.

I really hate reading books. It’s rare that I do read so when something strikes me, it really has an impact.

Late last year, I found myself reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. I had given it as a gift to my mother but started perusing it for kicks.

A few chapters in, I realized it was so much more than just cleaning up my apartment and being more efficient.

So, what makes my take on purging a little different than Stephen Warley’s, the purging yoda from UnStuckable?

What can I add to this topic that they didn’t already cover in their recent UnStuckable podcast and blog post about this book? (Update: UnStuckable is not around anymore.)

Through my purge, it’s been a little different experience. More of the benefit has been about how it made me feel.

Below are some questions that the UnStuckable folks posed to me and my possibly over-indulgent answers.

How do you personally define purging and tidying up?

I view it simply as that. Getting rid of stuff you no longer need and putting things that are left behind in order. In the context of this book, the author suggests that you only keep things that bring you joy, which is a valuable and simple way to look at it.

Why is purging and tidying up important?

I have to admit, this is not what I was expecting when I read the book and started purging.

Here are a few examples.

  • Giving ‘gifts’ to friends. I could sell some of my stuff for pennies on the dollar or I could give them to my friends. Some liked the items; some needed them. It’s a great feeling to see someone else appreciate something you would otherwise throw out.
  • Donating. I gave a ton of stuff to Goodwill. At times it feels like you are just dumping crap on them but it’s not. It may feel like crap because you don’t need it anymore but someone does. It’s so much more satisfying that it can go to someone in need. It’s so easy to find places that will accept donations that there’s no reason not to do it.
  • Recycling. I try to be pretty sustainable. There is a local dump that I know people just junk everything into without regard of whether it can be recycled. This drives me nuts. I found out that Best Buy has a good recycling program. My friend joked that I should ask for a job since I was spending so much time there.

If you listen to Nanci Besser’s podcast, which happened to be the very first UnStuckable podcast I ever listened to (and favorite), I believe there are common themes at play, specifically the notion of looking outward.

If that were the only benefit of purging, it would be worth it. I honestly can’t stress that enough.

But there are also more practical reasons.

Over my career, I have done a lot of work that relates to improving systems and processes. In the past couple of years, I started using the GTD methodology. At least, a scaled down version of it. There’s a strong correlation between that and the Tidying Up book.

For me, we only have so much space in our heads. This is why something like GTD is so important. Get stuff down on paper and out of your head. Purge stuff that should no longer be there.

Similarly, as was mentioned in the Besser podcast, there is a big benefit of getting things out of your life. How many of you have a book that has been sitting on the shelf for years, unread? It becomes a burden. The relief you feel when you get rid of that psychological burden is immense.

I saw Arianna Huffington’s Inbound Keynote 2 years ago. She said something similar. It’s ok to let things go, especially things you want to do. In fact, it’s a good thing.

When the time is right, maybe you’ll actually do it. But until then, you are allowing yourself to focus on something else, something more important.

The other big result from tidying is that you find out what you love because that’s what’s left. Family photos have become more prominent around my apartment. Books on Scottish golf, film, and cookbooks now dominate my bookshelf.

What happens before, during and after the action of purging?

Before? Fear and apprehension, especially if you follow the author’s process. Most definitely, it’s overwhelming.

During the process, I felt addicted to it. I wanted to purge more and more. It’s very liberating.

After purging is what I have mentioned above. It’s a great feeling. Think dopamine.

I have also discovered some other things about why this purge has had such a huge impact in the month that I’ve been doing it.

I’m happier.

There are things that you may not realize bring you constant UNhappiness. I had a couch that had seen better days. Every day, it would make me feel miserable because it looked beat up. Once I got rid of it, my mindset immediately changed for the better. But until then, I kept it because it had been in our family for a long time. As it turns out, my parents couldn’t care less about me keeping it.

I’ve become more efficient.

As I mentioned, I’ve done a lot of work improving processes. However, I never thought to apply them to parts of my personal life. I use software to automate some processes but that’s much different than some of these odd examples below.

One example is that I had two huge bins of computer stuff stuffed in my closet. Whenever I needed a cable, I had to go through a bird’s nest of cables. It was insanely frustrating. After donating 90% of the cables and then storing them in an orderly fashion, I can now find anything I’m looking for quickly and painlessly.

And since Stephen took a pic of his sock drawer (I’ll spare you the sight of mine), I can’t help but add my thoughts. I can’t explain the effect that an orderly drawer of socks will have on you. It’s really odd to blog about it and I know you’re questioning why you’re reading about some stranger’s sock drawer but this is the effect this book has had on me.

Those two small snippets may get across at how I look at everything in a diff way now – ways to be more efficient. Efficiency is not new to me but this book has made me think about it in so many unexpected ways.

I have a nice new office.

I got rid of an extra desk, a spare bookcase, and a ton of dust that was on and behind them. It’s as if I’ve moved into a new office. I now see books and not a messy stack of paper. I have a place for pictures that I cherish.

The Joy Test. I have yet to bring anything new into my house. It has to pass the joy test now and nothing has to date.

Did you do any specific steps or processes?

Even though I didn’t feel like I had a ton of clutter, I did. So I went against her book a bit and just got rid of things that I didn’t even have to think about. I needed to purge before I could do a real purge. I didn’t need to hold everything in my hands like she suggests.

Who would you recommend purging to?

Everyone.

At least try going through your clothes, which the author suggests doing first. My personal experience about purging clothes is that you will immediately feel better about yourself.

If you’re like me, you’ll dump a lot of clothes that you have an attachment to that nobody needs to see you wear in public. You’ll find that your (arguably) better outward appearance will make you feel better about yourself.

What other tidbits can you share?

You have to get past the idea that you are throwing away money – that YOUR things have monetary value. There are items that don’t owe you a thing. My 25-year old home theatre system owed me nothing. Just because it worked and someone could use it, didn’t mean that I could get any money for it. Let it go.

I could’ve spent time trying to sell my Wii for $25 to some stranger or I could give it to my friend who has a young daughter. It was a no-brainer.

We fear that if we don’t have reminders of a vacation or event, we’ll forget about it. And to a point, it’s a little valid. But do I need a little packet of Vegemite to remind me I went to Napier, New Zealand? No. Don’t become trapped by memories. Make room for more.

I’m not sure if I said this on the interview but we have to make sure that we don’t confuse comfort with becoming stagnant. It’s natural to strive to be comfortable. However, you need to continue to grow and look forward. Sometimes, we don’t realize that some items that we think bring us comfort and happiness can have the opposite effect. Purging allows us to see that.

I can’t suggest strongly enough to self-reflect. Why do we have things? We all change (hopefully) and should want to change. Things that may have been important or brought us joy before may not anymore.

Many times through my decluttering, I would see negative, not positive. I would see dust instead of memories. I would see clutter, not joy.

I’ve spoken to so many friends about this book and they always ask why they should do it. I usually end it with, “trust me and just do it.” But that’s a weak and lazy answer.

Hopefully, this post enlightens you on the benefits of purging without any need to actually trust me.

* Although I have the same last name as the author, I am not related to her. At least not that I know of. She will not be sending me a gold paper shredder for Christmas due to this write-up.

 

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