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?


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.


Manage Your Email So It Doesn’t Manage You

Your email inbox is out of control.

If it’s not, congratulate yourself. You are one of a true minority that can say that.

For most people, we are inundated with emails that come from or are related to:

  • work
  • friends
  • family
  • newsletters
  • ads
  • news
  • invoices and bills
  • deals
  • services you use
  • renewals
  • google alerts
  • tips and insights
  • general notifications
  • spam
  • other

That’s quite a lot, right there.

So what’s a girl (or boy) to do?

Why Should I Minimize Emails?

The main reason is because emails are a huge distraction. It causes us to lose focus on our immediate tasks at hand – the tasks we’ve determined will get us towards our goals.

Somewhere in time, we became addicted to email. It was/is an easy way to communicate.

Then, people (mostly companies) realized it was a great way to market to others. In fact, an email list it’s still promoted as the best way to market to people. Companies give away stuff for free (i.e. guides, newsletters, tips) in exchange for your email. That’s Inbound Marketing, folks.

But I digressed there. Sorry.

The main goal here is to take back some control of your email.

It stands to reason that the less email you receive, the less you feel you have to be constantly checking your emails, thereby putting all the focus in the right place.

Ask a Few Questions to Help Eliminate Email Overload

Some emails you can’t necessarily control easily. I would argue that everything can be minimized or deleted altogether but let’s focus with the emails that aren’t from people you know, be it personal or work.

While I believe that multitasking is mostly a myth, in this case, you can definitely do it.

The next time you find yourself watching a sporting event (especially golf) or The Voice or anything that doesn’t require you to concentrate on every little thing that happens, grab your computer or mobile device and look at all those emails that aren’t from work, friends, and family.

Go back through your emails for the last week. Ask yourself the following questions for each email.

  • Do I really still read this? Sure, 3 years ago, that newsletter may have provided a lot of value. But things change. Does it still bring you value? If not, get rid of it.
  • Did I leave it there to read later? If you left it for later, did you ever go back to it? The problem with later is that it rarely comes. For most people, ‘later’ emails just pile up until you just delete them anyway.
  • Is this a notification for a bill that’s due? If it’s a recurring reminder, stop sending them to yourself. Create a repeating task on your task list like paying bills every xth day of the month. Your email is NOT your task list.
  • Do I get this same information from a different place (i.e. social networks, phone apps)? Cut out redundancies.
  • Do I need to get this at the same frequency as I’m now getting it? Sometimes, you can control how often you receive an alert, deal, tip etc. Back it off and see if that has any effect on your life. After a month or two, you may realize you can delete it completely.

On top of those questions, are there any emails that you tend to delete as soon as they come in? Newsletters are a good example of this.

I had someone suggest that I sign up for a newsletter because they thought it had so much great info. After getting them for over 2 years, I realized I deleted it more often than not. Worse, I felt guilty not reading it. So not only was it clogging up my inbox, it was making me feel bad. Lose-lose.

The Big Finish

As you may know by now, I’m a big believer in purging. I don’t try to live a minimalist lifestyle but I feel everyone can learn a lot by purging.

I’m not saying that emails don’t have value. But you want to make sure they continuously bring you so much value that it’s worth filling up your inbox.

After you do this email purge once, everytime you get one of these types of emails, ask yourself the questions above and if they don’t add value, unsubscribe (or change the frequency) immediately.


Purging to Increase Focus and Efficiency

Cluttered Desk Drawer

Have you ever watched Hoarders on the A&E network?

Do some of those houses make you nauseous?

How messy is your house or your office? Have you ever thought about decluttering your space?

Decluttering and tidying up seems to have become a huge trend recently. Marie Kondo wrote a book called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing that apparently a zillion other people have read beside myself.  She’s everywhere, including The Wall Street Journal.

For me, this was life-altering. It’s all I could talk about and think about for about a month straight.

I purged. I donated. I did it all. (Ok, maybe not all since I’m still not finished.)

Recently I was asked to be interviewed by the great folks at UnStuckable and also to write a guest post about my experience with purging. Granted, I was nowhere near the level of these tv examples.

In the podcast and the article (links coming soon), you’ll get a pretty good picture of the benefits I found in doing a huge purge.

I can’t recommend it enough.

Decluttering and purging brings great focus

What I don’t elaborate in those pieces much is that purging brings great focus.

Here are some random office examples and the benefits they brought me:

  • My desk is now clear, which allows me not to be distracted
  • Computer cables and adapters have been severely minimized and stored, decreasing the time and hassle of finding what I need
  • Getting rid of office supplies frees up drawer space that can be utilized more efficiently. No need for finding other ways to store things (i.e. another cabinet)
  • Books have been donated allowing only those that I truly value to take up space. One large bookcase has been removed (out of two)

My new office space is a place where I can now focus, increasing my efficiency and productivity. Not only that, I love being in there now!

Tidy Up Your Task List

Don’t stop at your physical space. Bring this concept to everything you do, including your task lists.

I recently met a client who uses task management software. When I glanced at it, I saw a list about 30 items long. And that was just what I could see on the screen. That list went on for a few screens.

I get it. We all have a lot of stuff to do.

My list is long too. One main reason is because I write everything down.

If it’s not written down, it doesn’t exist.

However, with a little bit of organizing, my list looks a lot more manageable and not so overwhelming.

I can focus on the most important things. The MITs. The Frogs.

Every month, I also reflect on my list to see what truly needs to stay on it. Nobody wants a long laundry list of tasks so do some purging.

Circumstances change in your life. It’s ok to purge things that you once thought were important to do.