After Christmas, when things were quiet, I decided to move some things around in my house. I bought some new shelves and storage bins for my utility room and didn’t figure it would take more than a couple of hours to set things to rights.
How naïve I was at the time.
Purging your stuff takes on a life of its own. For six solid days, I moved from one room to the next, going through boxes I didn’t remember moving, clothes I hadn’t really seen since my last corporate job, and personal effects that brought back memories (good and bad).
No cabinet, drawer, or shelf was left untouched. By the end, I donated 9 huge lawn bags of clothes and created an equal amount of actual trash.
I was fascinated because I didn’t think I had many possessions. I started over this time last year with no furniture or household goods…but clearly, I brought things I didn’t need into my new life.
There were photographs and letters and mementos of relationships over long ago. I carried planners and notebooks from every corporate job I held. I felt exhausted and emotionally drained going through possessions that represented other times in my life when I was sad, frustrated, and disrespected.
It wasn’t easy but I kept going.
I’m not a sentimental person. As I looked at the skeletal remains of marriages and jobs and attempts to keep all my plates spinning, I realized I’d held on to all of it because I thought I had to. I thought I was obligated.
If you knew me in my day-to-day life, you’d know I’m not overly attached to things. Purging stuff is something I’ve done twice a year for the last two decades.
I’ve thrown away and donated an astronomical number of items to the point that I wonder how I ended up with so much to begin with. Part of me worries I’ll end up one of those people on reality television who lives in a place with tunnels through newspapers and boxes.
Naturally, that’s not going to happen.
That doesn’t mean I didn’t hold on to things I shouldn’t have. Reminders of negative periods that weren’t healthy.
Purging Your Stuff 101
Irreplaceable vs. Obligation
Figure out what’s irreplaceable because it brings you joy and what you’ve held onto that drags you back to a negative past because you feel guilty getting rid of it.
For instance, I kept photos of my ex-husbands that included my children but didn’t keep “date night” photos or those that reminded me how awful I felt inside (no matter the smile I wore) when the picture was taken.
I threw away letters talking about the problems in our marriage (they’re over, after all) but kept other correspondence that reminded me things weren’t always terrible.
Relationships come and go. I used to feel crushing guilt about quitting the ones that didn’t work. As a woman, that guilt was compounded because we’re supposed to “stand by our man.”
There are times that simply isn’t an option and when you walk away, you might be plagued with second guesses. Looking back, I made the right choices and it felt amazing to let go of the random flotsam that could make me wonder.
Motivation vs. Negative Self-Talk
Determine when you’re trying to build yourself up and make yourself better or if you’re just being mean. Purging your stuff also includes purging attitudes you might have held at one time.Purging your stuff also includes purging attitudes you might have held at one time. Click To Tweet
I found an old journal filled with my weight loss diary. It was about a year after my daughter was born and I was infuriated that I wasn’t dropping any of the weight despite changes to my diet and exercise routine.
On the first page was my weight at the time and my measurements. At the top, I wrote, “No more excuses, fat ass.” Yes. I wrote that to myself.
Needless to say, after three months, I showed clear signs of depression about my body image as I continued to berate the flab, stretch marks, and saggy breasts that occur to so many women after giving birth.
That negative approach (and the many which followed) didn’t work. Around my 40th birthday, I looked in the mirror and thought, “Haven’t you agonized over this enough? Just…accept yourself already.”
I stopped obsessing. I ate right but I didn’t spend an hour every day tracking my food and calories. I stopped feeling like crap when I bought clothes that weren’t my goal size 10 and found clothes that accentuated the positives at the size 16 I was.
When I ran across that old journal complete with hideous before photos (that also reminded me of an unfortunate hairstyle choice), I leafed through it and immediately felt sad. I felt an unbelievable sense of freedom when I threw it in the trash.
Past vs Future
We all carry things with us into each new year. Memories of family and friends, souvenirs of the lives we’ve led, and feelings about where we were and where we are now.
A lot of those pieces from our pasts are painful. We keep them, come across them now and again, and poke at the scab until it bleeds.
Not one of us makes it to 40 and beyond without regrets and mistakes. If you haven’t made a mistake in your life, that means you haven’t taken a single risk. While it’s “safe” to remain risk-free, that limits the rewards possible.If you haven’t made a mistake in your life, that means you haven’t taken a single risk. Click To Tweet
Purging your stuff isn’t just physical or emotional or mental. It encompasses every area or your life. From your belongings to the paths you’ve chosen to how your desires have changed over time. We grow up.
It’s likely you’re a very different person today than you were 10, 20, or 30 years ago. That’s okay. It’s part of our human experience.
With more knowledge because more information used in making decisions. Change is terrifying but it’s necessary to become the person you truly want to be.
Personally, I don’t want to be a woman defined by old relationships that left me broken on the inside, by old journals where I said crappy things to myself in the hopes of losing 5 pounds a month, or by painful memories of circumstances from years in my past.
I made a choice to focus on my now. The woman I am today, the business I run today, and the body I live in that makes all things possible for me.Change is terrifying but it’s necessary to become the person you truly want to be.Click To Tweet
With every bag of purged stuff removed from my house, I felt lighter. Unshackled from garbage I’d dragged from place to place, year after year, that didn’t even matter in my life today.
Purge your stuff. I’m serious. Start in one room, one box, and take your time. A box a week, a closet a month. Whatever works for you…just do it.
I know it’s easier for me now that my children are adults as well. It’s easier to look at past photos and memorabilia with them and for all of us to say, “Yeah, that wasn’t a good memory. We don’t need to keep that.”
I could talk about the massive space I freed up doing this. I could tell you how much more organized my house is now. I could tell you that my shelves and bins look amazing.
It’s the lack of inner clutter that amazes me. The space I freed up in my own head that lit me up going into the new year. That got all the creative juices flowing and helped me take control of my days in a way I don’t believe has been possible before now.
The future looks amazing once you shed the negative pieces of your past. You can do it.
Shayne McClendon is an author and positivity practitioner. Shayne believes love crosses all boundaries, social castes, races, genders, and belief systems. If you are lucky enough to find soul-deep love, you should fight for it. Life-certified, reader approved.