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To Keep or to Purge, That is the Question

I will fondly remember the summer of 2014 as a season of purging. Just off three moves in three years and finally settled into a more permanent home, I’m finally ready to sell, donate, and gift many of the possessions I’ve carefully stored.

I am almost ashamed to admit that I have packed up 26 boxes of items and set aside a few pieces of furniture that no longer had a place in our house. It’s unbelievable that I had that much stuff that I did not need to use or want to own.

Certainly my purging included frivolous items like karate belts from childhood and the popcorn bin from Disneyland (do your children save everything, too?) but I was so determined to simplify that I literally went through every item that came through the door. Each one was evaluated with a few mental questions to decide whether or not it would stay.

1. Do I have something else that could serve the same purpose? In my case, I decided that a cooler makes just as good of a drink holder for outdoor entertaining as a fancy drink holder and so the fancy drink holder is no more.

2. Would I ever use all of these at once? In our house, three pie plates are rarely needed at the same time so we downsized to an amount we will truly use. The same goes for 16 drinking glasses or two soup pots of the same size.

3. Do I expect to have an immediate need for this? It’s been nice storing dozens of gift bags to reuse for baby showers and birthday parties, but I do not foresee using 48 of them in the next few months or the next year, for that matter.  I will rely on my free storage unit for these items.

4. Do I love this item more than the clutter it might create?  “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful” is often quoted when simplifying the items in one’s home but in our case, we had too many useful or beautiful items.

I honestly agonized over parting with some pieces of furniture and home decor, but prioritized less clutter over more beauty. I have not regretted the decision.

5. Can I use this keepsake or preserve the memory in another way? I have toted around boxes of our family’s keepsakes for years avoiding the time consuming and emotional task of sorting through it.

Now determined to live well with less, I examined whether or not I would use the item or truly needed it to remember a time in my family’s life. So the cards that my mom received upon my birth and the ratty blanket I had as a child were tossed.

My late grandma’s tea cups that were lovingly transported across the Atlantic from England were put in a kitchen cupboard to use daily. I realized that there is no sense in saving items in a box because it’s just as if I never had them to begin with.

Several weeks into the great purge of 2014, I already feel lighter.

I like to imagine more boxes exiting the house over the next couple months and I feel just giddy about it.

Reading Time:

2 minutes





  1. Maggie

    Oh how I love this post/discussion/philosophy. I feel like my life has become so much easier to manage now that I’ve downsized my belongings.

  2. Jlynn

    Some other ways of preserving the memory without holding on to the item are:

    1. Take a photograph of the item and put it into an album with a description of the item and the meaning it has for you.

    2. Take old t-shirts, etc. and cut out quilt piece from them. Sew all the pieces together and you have a quilt of memories without all the actual old t-shirts you never wear.

    3. Make reusable shopping bags out of old t-shirts – another way to repurpose something into something useful you would use.

    Also, a few good questions to ask yourself about any item.

    1. If there was a fire and this item was lost, would I replace it or mourn its loss? If the answer is no – get rid of it.

    2. If I decide a year from now that I need xyz (crock pot, toaster oven,etc.) would I be able to replace it? If the answer is yes, it can be replaced relatively economically, get rid of it. Most times you don’t really need to replace the item. I’ve found that if I do, I can usually find it at a thrift store for cheaper than new.

  3. Marla Taviano

    I love this. I’ve been on a simplifying/purging journey the past few years. We (me, husband, 3 daughters) moved into a 797 sq ft apartment in December, and I thought we had it down to the bare necessities. Nope. Still stuff to purge. Now we’re moving to Cambodia, and it’s crazy how much of what I still have I’m not sad to sell/give away. Less is more. Lighter is sweeter. My favorite thing these days is watching my friends catch on and find FREEDOM.

  4. Rachel @ Efficient Momma

    Love this! We’re packing up to move into a small house right now. I’m purging as I pack and I will probably end up purging more as I unpack. Moving has a tendency to shed light on the things we really don’t need 🙂

  5. Katelyn

    Love it! We have two international moves coming in the next 13 months. We leave in 3.5 weeks for the first one. I’ve been purging like crazy. It’s amazing what you can eliminate when you only have a set amount of weight you can take with you. I feel so much lighter emotionally and I’m enjoying the space in our home.

  6. Sharon

    This post is so timely. After my father passed away this Spring, I have been in charge of cleaning and packing up over 70 years of stuff. My parents kept everything, every card, and my mother kept everything from her parents. It has been time consuming and overwhelming. I have reached the point that I want to purge it all. But how do you throw away a person’s lifetime?

    • Lana

      Have professionals come in and do an estate sale. Then donate all or part of the proceeds to a charity your parents would have loved.

    • Mitzi

      It is very overwhelming. We moved into my childhood home after my mother died, basically combining 2 households as we had a family ready to move in to rent the house we had lived in for almost 20 years. We have lots of vintage or antique items that wouldn’t mean anything to a stranger and I can’t just toss. Plus it’s very time consuming when you work 40 hours a week outside the home. At 53 years old I don’t know if I’ll ever get it all sorted out.

      • Lisa

        My dad passed away this year and my mom passed away 10 years ago. I’ve recently jumped on the minimalist bandwagon and I understand how you feel. I had to deal with all the stuff in my parent’s house. They were both packrats in their own way and had a ton of stuff. I do have a few things that I’d like to keep as reminders, but the things aren’t your mom. If you’re not using them, allow someone else to. My mom collected elephants. I’ve decided to keep two. Of my dad’s stuff-a zippo engraved with his initials. A hard one was a set of sewing books. My mom had those forever. But they were stuck away in a closet. I would never use them. Off to charity to find a good home.

        I also have a full time job. And a kid and a house and two dogs…. You don’t have to do it all at once. Last weekend I took 7 bags/boxes of clothes to charity. I don’t even really have that many clothes compared to other people. I took a bag of old towels to the vet’s office because they all need towels.

        The other day I went through two bookshelves and filled a box with books. I’ll take them somewhere this weekend.

        Try for a bag/box per week and actually get it out of your house. You’ll get there. Baby steps.

    • Sally

      I just did this with my Mom’s stuff. It was hard to throw away what was obviously a memory for her. But she had never shown me most of it, so I had no concept of the emotional attachment she had. I kept what would help me remember her, and know her better. Everything else went, in the trash, give away, or to family. Just remember, there’s not a right or wrong way to do what you’re doing. Do your best. And rest in the knowledge of your memories. And then, what you do keep, share with your family, so that they understand why it’s important to you. I will be going through all of my stuff too (and husband’s and kids) because of the process of going through my mom’s. I don’t want to leave so much stuff for my own kids, that I don’t really need or want anyway.

  7. Diana

    These are great ground rules for decluttering. Thanks for sharing! I am curious, is there anything you’ve regretted purging that you would choose to keep if you were given another chance to keep it?

    • Michelle

      We are in the exact same situation! Unpacking boxes if things that I haven’t seen in two years. What I am finding difficult to part with are the really nice items from my wedding (2010) that I don’t really need. Like the extra serving bowl or the 16 water glasses. So, I have made a third pile of things that I don’t need but am not ready to part with yet. It’s a journey and cannot be done all at once! I have three enormous boxes in the donate pile so far. Anyone want an acacia wood chip and dip platter?? 😉

    • Tiffany Larson

      Diana, I haven’t regretted anything so far!

  8. Steph

    I love purging! It’s such an ongoing process around here. Tomorrow we’re actually setting aside some time (while grandparents watch our kids) to purge further. We live in a two bedroom apartment with two kids so purging is a necessity if we want to stay sane.

  9. Laura

    Awesome purging – but I’m so glad you chose to keep and USE the pretty teacups from your Gramma. I love using things in my home that remind me of loved ones. 🙂

  10. Laura

    Awesome purging – but I’m so glad you chose to keep and USE the pretty teacups from your Gramma. I love using things in my home that remind me of loved ones. 🙂

  11. Sue

    I just spent two months decrapifying the house, so I can totally relate! First level stuff went to recycling. Second level went into the garage, and when we were ready had three yard sales! When we’d sold all that was possible, junk items went to the curb and I put out a free items curb alert on FB and craigs list so it hopefully didn’t hit a landfill but a new home. Third level we sorted the better leftovers and donated them. Fourth level we brought back in the best of the junk, but at least the purge was massive and we now we have space for it. The proceeds from the sale will go to pay for a tradesman to come in and lay our tile floor.

  12. Heather @ My Overflowing Cup

    Clutter stresses me out! I feel at peace when I am surrounded with less stuff. I also love the idea that someone else may benefit by what I give away. Thanks for the reminder.

  13. Dee

    OK–I get that de-cluttering if freeing for people who are able to do it but I have tried before, made little headway and gave up , I know the questions to ask but I find it so so difficult. I think I need an intervention. About the only thing that motivates me is the thought of me dying and my kids and husband having to sort through all this stuff once I am gone. I read a book on hoarding a few years ago and thought it was interesting and made sense–maybe I need to memorize the book! Do you have any other books or advice for someone like me. Intellectually I know it will be freeing but I am so overwhelmed as I think it is the biggest ongoing challenge I have ever faced next to raising my kids. I am a cancer survivor and have been through hard things but I can’t seem to overcome this area or even get myself to start with one area/drawer/room again as I have failed repeatedly to conquer the clutter. Any extra advice or help for those like me?

    • Glenna

      Dee, I feel the same way. I have stuff from my mom, and my sister who both passed away, and my mother in-law because she moved in with us and gave away some of her stuff. but we put some in storage because the family members didn’t want it, but it was too good to throw away. I need to have a sale and then give away a lot, but it is overwhelming. Also I sew for charity -hospital , CPS, etc – and have material coming out my ears. I am ging to give some away this week, maybe that will inspire me to continue purging.

    • Amanda

      I’m naturally more of a “keeper”, and something that helped me was asking a friend to help me organize one room. She was able to help me go through the questions and push back if I was being irrational about letting go of an item. That experience helped me to be more okay with purging things on my own. It can also help to start with a room that has less emotional attachment — the bathroom or kitchen pantry, maybe? Then you can focus on things that are actually expired or not used. If all else fails, hire a professional organizer. 🙂

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