How to purge (i.e. clean out your attic, closet, garage, etc.)

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I had this necklace and earrings made from an old necklace of my mom’s. I love the update!

I have recently finished my autumn purge. By that I mean, I go through the house hunting for things to get rid of. I really do. Kitchen, bedrooms, attic, basement, closets. I do a seasonal purge at least twice per year and small purges every time I begin feeling claustrophobic in my own house. Somehow, purging helps me breathe better. If I open a closet door, and things fall out, that closet is getting purged.

IMG_4588This brings up 2 important questions for you to consider, whether you are a pack-rat or a minimalist. They are: What should you purge? and Where should your purged stuff go?

Okay, let’s answer those questions quickly so you can get started on your closets.

What should you purge?

Here are 10 PURGING RULES, all having the ultimate purpose of lessening the clutter in your house and sending items to their new destination–donation, re-sale, trash, or re-purpose:

  1. Clothes that haven’t been worn more than once or twice during the year (even then, I might toss it; you know we all wear our new clothes, almost exclusively). I eliminate clothes my kids said they would wear that they never wear and re-sell these immediately.
  2. Toys and games no one has played with this year; if I want to keep it for future use (i.e. guests and grandchildren), I ask the question: Would I rather keep this or replace this with a newer version? Will the age and make of this item warrant storing it over replacing it later? Will this grow in monetary value, and if so, will I actually sell it some day?
  3. Every garment and shoe that doesn’t fit someone, is out of style, or is uncomfortable (I don’t often know about the out-of-style category because I don’t have any teenage girls in my house to tell me what not to wear, and my men don’t notice if I’m wearing something new or not.) I try to keep only one “bad” pair of tennis shoes per person. Otherwise, the amount of old tennis shoes for doing yard work, etc. will take over the closets. And the dirt in their soles goes everywhere.
  4. The books I’ve read (or not read) that I will not pick up to read in the future (this excludes a very large and important category called “the classics” and books I might need for teaching, etc.) We all have our caveat.  Mine is books.
  5. Food that is expired or staples that are unlikely to be cooked (that whole wheat pasta I thought I could get everyone to eat). I should do this more than twice per year; I’ve found cans from 2012 in my pantry, so I probably don’t do this often enough. It’s also a good reason to clean the refrigerator with a soapy sponge, which I also don’t do often enough.
  6. Duplicate clothing items (I’m always amazed that when I shop, I get home to find similar items in my closet. At one point, I had 5 red sweaters and 3 black flouncy tank tops). I guess I’m drawn to certain items in the store and I forget that I have something almost identical at home. Since I have a small closet, my goal is to reduce redundancy in my clothing.
  7. Linens I don’t use, are getting tattered, or aren’t comfortable. Some thread counts just don’t get softer with age. Some blankets are just too heavy. Towels wear out and get crispy. Why keep something I won’t use?
  8. Old medications. Read the expiration dates and dump them down the toilet.
  9. Replacement. Whenever I buy something new, I get rid of something. That goes for clothes, shoes, decor, furniture. If I didn’t, I’d be on that hoarders show.
  10. If an item can be salvaged (i.e. made into something I will use, wear, etc.), I throw out what’s ruined and keep what’s usable. The key here is to contact the person who will re-furbish or re-make this item immediately. If you put the pieces of this thing back in the attic, they will stay there and never be re-purposed. They will wait patiently until the next time your purge, and you will find them and say, “Oh, yeah! I was going to do something with this.” Save yourself some time. Re-furbish it now or throw it out.

If you’ve been to my house, you are wondering how I can be a purger, because I am not a minimalist by any stretch. No one would ever mistake my house for a model home or one staged for sale. Oh, no, I have too much stuff for that. But I am organized about my stuff, and I make a fair amount of money re-selling things. And I get rid of things without feeling terrible. So on to the next question.

How do you decide where purged things should go?

You may want to purge, but actually moving something out of your house to be picked up by strangers is another thing. Maybe it helps if you know where that ceramic cat from Aunt Helen is headed. Here are some simple PURGING STANDARDS for where to put the things you need to eliminate:

  • Sell. This is my first consideration. (Some people’s first consideration is gifting or donating. Mine is selling. Go ahead, judge me.) If I can sell it, I sell it. I use Craigslist, online yard sales, consignment stores, and even the old yard sale venue (use eBay and Amazon, if you don’t mind the time and energy it takes to mail things to people). If something seems highly valuable but I don’t want to keep it, i research its value and the location for sale. I use Google and ebay to determine worth for most things. For rare books, antiques, and collectibles, I consult local expert shops or museums. Re-selling valuables is extremely time-consuming, but it’s worth the effort if you’re going to stress over giving up something that could bring in hundreds or thousands of dollars. Not to mention, more space in your house. If it’s not worth the effort, choose one of the following options instead.
  • Re-purpose. Paint furniture. Re-make dated jewelry into something you’ll wear.
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    The charm on this necklace is from a friendship bracelet my mom had as a child. I took the picture of her from the bracelet and threw away the rest of the girls’ faces. I had my jewelry-maker friend make the necklace and add the pearl drop to the pendant. I can take the pendant off and wear it on something else and wear the necklace without it. I love this!

    Preserve memories by re-purposing sentimental items. I have had jewelry and furniture re-purposed into beautiful, usable items. To me, investing money to preserve a sentimental item that I will use is money well-spent. Why keep an ugly necklace in a drawer just because it belonged to my mom or grandma when I could re-purpose it and wear it? One of my next projects is making a mosaic mirror frame from broken antique dishes; I have collected the pieces over the years of moving, just in case I could used them later.

  • Gift. When I sort through memorabilia, I look for special items to give to family members or friends who will appreciate them. It helps to part with something if you know someone else will cherish it. I think aging adults should start giving away their cherished items to children and grandchildren while they are still living. That way, you know it’s going to someone who wants it. And go through memorabilia with the person who still remembers the stories and the characters.
  • Donate. If it’s not valuable enough to entice a sale or not important enough to gift, I donate it to Goodwill or a charitable thrift store. For anyone who hates to re-sell or re-purpose, this is a great option for everything, valuable or not. Sort it, haul it, feel good about it.
  • Throw away. There is no point in keeping ratty, broken items that used to be special. If you can’t fix it, sell it, or re-purpose it, throw it out. No one is going to use it in a state of disrepair. If an item is truly sentimental and can’t be repurposed, take a picture of it; then throw it out. Although it was special to me, I just threw out a tiered shelf that my dad had made years ago. It had been broken and re-glued many times; for the past few years, it’s been in my attic because I felt guilty about dumping it. But I can’t sell it, and it’s hard to move it without it falling apart. So this week, I threw it in the trash can. (I did, however, keep the spindles in case I can re-purpose them.) In about 3 years, when I re-clean the attic, I’ll probably toss them. But for now, they’re safe.
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This newspaper contains an article about my father (as an 18-year-old Eagle Scout), when he was awarded the honor of being Illinois’ Attorney General for one day. Articles on either side of him highlight President Eisenhower and VP Nixon. My dad’s senior picture overlays in the corner. This frame hangs in my son’s room, who is a history buff and named after my dad. Pretty cool!

The purging process can be fun. It’s a trip down memory lane, and it’s a chance to be creative. Purging helps you breathe again. If you’re terrible at it, recruit a friend who loves it, but just be prepared to throw things out. The non-sentimentalist will have no difficulty paring down your excess. The question is, will you actually do it?

2 thoughts on “How to purge (i.e. clean out your attic, closet, garage, etc.)

  1. Maggie Ingram

    Sue, I loved this post!!! I have been purging since early spring and being very aggressive about it! My biggest problem is that my men literally hate helping in this area! My energy level because of my health and chronic back pain has and is making this a long process but it is worth it! I haven’t even started on my attic!! Yikes…but my closets are looking pretty good! I have things in my attic that have been there 25 years! Yes, I said 25 years! Madame Alexander Dolls, doll houses, a castle with two sets of knights and their armies! Doll beds, silver running out my ears, China from my mother in law, grandmother and great aunt!!! And who knows what else! I know it’s going to be exhausting so that will have to wait till after my transplant when my energy returns!
    Thank you for this inspiration and for the ideas!!
    Maggie

    1. Sue Schlesman Post author

      Awesome! And yes, I don’t know any men that have a good sense for purging. It seems to be an all-or-nothing approach. Anything that’s not theirs, keep. Everything else, goes. 🙂

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