Purge Mode

Real clutter from a recent purge.

The past few weeks, our home has been in purge mode.

It happens every six months or a year. Katharine or I may begin to rummage through a hall closet, or the corner of the garage, or a file cabinet stuffed with papers and trinkets. Before long, the other joins in, sorting clothes into piles, filling a cardboard box with random memorabilia we barely remember or don’t need anymore.

We set aside things to throw in the garbage. We determine which things are decent enough to donate. We may try to sell a few things like furniture or martini glasses we never use. (I’m still not used to olives in my drinks.)

When an hour or three passes and the piles are dispersed to their rightful places, we have more room in the closet, less junk we don’t care about.

Decluttering is energizing.

Downsizing feels good.

Simplifying is freeing.

You’ve probably heard about the magical power of tidying up, the trendiness and perks of minimalism, and the glory of mythological tiny house living. Well, that’s not what we’re aiming for—but good for those who do it.

There’s a sort of freedom in not possessing too many material goods, in the lack of ties to physical objects. (I wrote about that in chapter 14 of The Variable Life.)

One aspect of minimalism that really burrows in my brain is that the more possessions we own, the more our possessions tend to own us. Even subconsciously, we all make decisions that will be best for us and whatever’s important to us. And if we have a lot of things, we tend to protect those things, even if they don’t matter to us in the long run.

Our attachment to things changes the way we live.

The question is whether that change becomes more or less like the lifestyle we really want (or need).

Your Surroundings Affect Your Psyche

Purge mode in our home made me think about what I own and what owns me.

Decluttering isn’t just for our material possessions. Decluttering is also for our emotional and mental space.

I read this in a book the other day, the last time I drank coffee at our dining room table before we sold it:

“Our external environments mirror our internal lives.

If your desk is cluttered,
don’t be surprised if you find it hard to focus.

If your closet and garage are piled with stuff you don’t use,
don’t be shocked when you are easily distracted.

If things are lying around your living and working space that don’t serve a clear purpose, don’t be amazed that you aren’t very calm and centered.

How much of that stuff that surrounds you every single day is actually vital to your path, and how much of it is in the way?

We are integrated beings, everything in our lives connecting with everything else. When we feel like life is passing us by, like we’re skimming the surface of our own existence, often the best place to start is with our material possessions. Clean out the closets and the bookshelves and garage, sort out what goes and what stays. Be ruthless. If you don’t use it, toss it.”

What You Have and Where You’re Going

Do I really need those trinkets and old birthday cards and movie ticket stubs from a decade ago?

Do those clothes belong in my wardrobe if I only wear them four times a year, but I don’t like the way they look or feel?

Will I even remember or miss these things in a year if I get rid of them?

Maybe you’re not downsizing, or you’re not concerned about having a tidy home. OK. Could you use a little more mental clarity? A more grounded emotional center? A little less time arranging or thinking about things so you can do more things you like or spend more time with people you care about?

You don’t need those trinkets because you have digital photos and more meaningful memories of that time of your life.

You don’t need those clothes because that’s not your size or style anymore.

You don’t need that clutter because it’s keeping you from moving forward on your path.

Those extra, unnecessary things only slow you down.

Those things and that lifestyle don’t fit you anymore.

That’s who you were, but not who you are.

You’re on a trajectory in your work, efforts, internal life, and relationships that means more than your material possessions. So you only keep what’s in line with that trajectory, and you get rid of the rest.

Want to join me and give it a try?

Happy decluttering, friends.


  • Have a decluttering/downsizing/simplifying tip? Share with the rest of us.

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