This summer my mom moved in with us.

It just made sense; she didn’t want to have to worry about snow removal in the winter and garden care in the summer, and we’re gone so much on speaking tours that our house is often empty. So we fixed up the rooms in the basement and added a bathroom, and she went from 6 large rooms down to 2 medium ones.

To get ready for her moving in Keith and I purged a ton of our own stuff. We made our daughters take all of their stuff with them when they  moved out–no storing stuff at our house! That cleared out their rooms and their closets (though, of course, we still have beds for them to stay when they visit home!). We cleared out a lot of our books in the main floor and a lot of my decorative items so that we could fit more of Mom’s. (Her stuff is usually better anyway!)

And then we had to help her get rid of most of her stuff. Between the two households, I’d say we had to get rid of half our stuff.

Here’s what we learned.

1. Keeping stuff you don’t love is exhausting.

Cleaning it is exhausting. Moving it is exhausting. Trying to find a place for it to fit is exhausting.

When we were starting The Great Purge of 2016, my cousin bought me Marie Kondo’s book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I didn’t bring it with me on our speaking trip (I’m in New Mexico right now!), so I can’t quote directly from it, unfortunately. But it made a profound impact on me.

Basically she said that our traditional methods of decluttering will never work because they don’t deal with the root of the problem. When you declutter, the question you’re asking is, “what should I get rid of?” Using the KonMarie method (as she calls it), the question you ask instead is “what should I keep?” 

That’s a profound difference. It’s hard to decide what to part with. But deciding what you love is easy!

She also says that we declutter by geographical space rather than by type of item. Instead of deciding “I’ll declutter this drawer today”, for example, she recommends getting all of your underwear and bras, from whatever drawer (or even the laundry and gym bag!) and putting them on the floor. Then choose which ones you absolutely love that give you joy. And get rid of the rest.

You can’t do this unless you can see ALL of something at once.

So that’s what we did when we were paring down my mom’s clothes. She had to go from a huge walk in closet to a traditional closet. We’d put all of her T-shirts on the bed and decide which ones she loved. All of her scarves. All of her pants. And it worked!

2. More storage isn’t the solution.

We all need good storage. But sometimes we rely on storage too much–like if we just find the right combination of drawers and cupboards we’ll be able to fit all of this stuff in. Even storage drawers can become clutter if you have too many of them! My new motto is that if you need to buy new storage, you likely have too much stuff.

3. Having a Junk Room or Junk Closet is a Waste of Space

We had an “office” for me, which I never used, where we put all the furniture we didn’t want. We never went in that room. It was a total waste.

Old Room - 8 Things We Learned Getting Rid of Half of Our Stuff

So many people have a room to throw stuff they don’t know what to do with.

This summer we got rid of all that stuff.

And we bought couches and set up an entertainment unit in there so Keith and I have a sitting room now. (I wrote about our trip to Ikea to buy it here. Pretty funny!).

New Room - 8 Things We Learned Getting Rid of Half of Our Stuff

4. It’s better to keep like with like.

We had 5 staplers when we purged our house. 8 between the two households. That’s ridiculous. No one needs 8 staplers.

And I can never find Sharpie pens when I go to send a parcel. But in going through my mom’s stuff I found about 30.

So now we have a new rule in our combined house: Everything has a place, and everything goes in that place. We don’t have staplers in three different rooms. We don’t have Sharpies and packing tape in three different drawers. I don’t have Tylenol in every bathroom and multiple drawers so that it always expires before I get a chance to use them all.

We put everything in one place.

Too often stuff doesn’t have a “place” of its own, and then when we look for something and can’t find it we buy another one. If everything has a place, you wouldn’t do that.

5. There’s a lot of money in stuff you don’t need!

My mom and I knit a lot. And I mean a lot. And between the two of us, we likely have enough yarn to keep three yarn shops open. Part of that is because yarn keeps getting donated to us to ship to the knitting project we started at an orphanage in Africa, and they can only take acrylic (so we end up with all the yummy wool people don’t want!). But it’s also because we go to knitting conferences and knitting stores and we buy stuff.

Mom Sheila Knitting - 8 Things We Learned Getting Rid of Half of Our Stuff

So when my mom moved in, I knew two things: I wanted to keep the yarn I loved, but I also wanted to be able to find it quickly. That meant it had to be well organized and easily accessible. So I decided which shelves in the storage room could hold yarn, and I said, “this means that if the yarn doesn’t fit in these shelves, it has to go!” (For all you fellow knitters, I also entered all my yarn on Ravelry so it’s easily accessible to me at a glance. If you’re on Ravelry, feel free to find me! I’m sheilagregoire). 

And thus started a HUGE purge. I kept only what I loved. And I took the rest and sold it on Kijiji. (That’s a service in Canada that’s free online where you can list stuff for sale locally. I don’t know what the equivalent is in the U.S. or elsewhere, but everyone uses it here).

And I sold some scrapbooking stamping sets I knew I’d never use. And some furniture.

And so far we’ve made $839! Mom and I are planning on taking that money and buying two glider rockers for our new “knitting room”. And even though she wasn’t totally happy with seeing all that yarn go, she was certainly happy that now we can do something with that money instead.

This can be a great way to help your kids get excited about purging, too. Have them choose what toys they love, and then sell the other video games or good quality toys on kijiji with the goal of making enough money to buy something else they really want.

6. It can be better to bless other people than to try to figure out where to store stuff.

While selling stuff is wonderful, it’s not practical to try to sell everything. But you can still bless people! We sent loads and loads to a friend who hosts a huge yard sale for her small church every year that basically keeps the church open. That’s where they get their income–this huge yearly yard sale.

We donated some bookcases to a family that could use them, and some furniture to some university students who are renting from us. Sometimes it’s not worth the work to make the $20 if you sold it, especially when you know the person who could benefit from them.

But you can even donate bigger items! Charities will take your cars and you can even donate your boats and get a tax receipt. You get rid of the hassle, you know you’re helping someone, and you get a tax deduction.

7. We don’t need half the paper stuff we save.

The biggest hassle in purging was paper. You feel like you have to look at each individual thing to make sure you don’t need it, and it takes forever.

And you know what? We tossed 90% of it.

Here are a few tips I’ve found with paper:

  1. Don’t keep instruction manuals. They’re all online. It’s likely faster to Google it when you need it than to try to find the manual in some drawer.
  2. Keeping mementoes of vacations? Ticket stubs? Itineraries? Scan them. I use the Scannable app that goes with the Evernote application. It’s free and it lets you scan any paper item and also makes it searchable (like you can search the text that’s on the paper). I even scan thank you cards!

8. One day somebody is going to have to clear out your house. Make it easier for them now!

The night after my mom moved in this is what our front room looked like, with all the extra stuff we had no idea what to do with:

Stuff we dont love - 8 Things We Learned Getting Rid of Half of Our Stuff

Pretty much all of it eventually went out the door. But the organizing was really tedious.

Do it now. It will make your life so much more fun! This whole process prompted me to organize my living space, too, and now, for the first time, I truly feel like I know what I have, I love what I have, and I know where everything is. It was an awfully hectic summer getting to this point, but it was worth it.

So figure out what you love and ditch the rest! It’s freeing. And it’s fun.

Let me know in the comments: Have you ever tried the “KonMarie” method of only keeping what you love? What’s your biggest challenge in purging?

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SheilaSidebarAboutMe - 8 Things We Learned Getting Rid of Half of Our Stuff Sheila Wray Gregoire has been married for 27 years and happily married for 22! She loves traveling around North America with her hubby in their RV, giving her signature "Girl Talk" about sex and marriage. And she's written 8 books. About sex and marriage. See a theme here? Plus she knits. Even in line at the grocery store.
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