Senses of Living® Décor

February 2005
© 2005 by Bret S. Beall


I've written about getting organized before (Sensational Living® April 2003; June 2003; July 2003; plus a few others).

I've written about purging possessions before (under the guise of "unshopping") at Senses of Living® June 2004.

But to date I have not really addressed HOW to prioritize what you purge so that you can get on with organizing. I'm going to review a number of concepts and philosophies, and then I'm going to finish up with my own suggestion that will help you not only purge and organize, but live a better life in general (and isn't that really why you're here?).

1. Discard it if you haven't used it in a [1year/2 years/5 years/fill in the blank]. This is perhaps the most common advice I have seen with regard to purging. While this approach does have "some" obvious merit, it really is too simplistic. For instance, when I went through my period of extensive research to finalize the firm theoretical, evidence-based foundation of the services I offer through Global Organic Designs Lifestyle Services, I stopped wearing my abundant business wardrobe (suits, jackets, slacks, ties, dress shoes, etc.). Because I invested 2.5 dedicated years to this enhancement of my already considerable skills, I "should" have divested myself of my business wardrobe using this philosophy. Of course, that would have been foolish, since I knew I would soon be re-entering the corporate world in a variety of contexts, and I would have had to replace everything if I had purged my considerable clothing. Admittedly, I did take the opportunity to dispose of suits and jackets that I never really liked (ie, unflattering), but my Giorgio Armanis, Bill Blasses, Nino Cerruttis and other classic, tailored clothes are still available to me. Consider this purging philosophy, but don't be dogmatic.

2. If it is out of fashion, send it away. I have previously pontificated on why we shouldn't care if something is in fashion or not. If you wear what is comfortable and attractive with confidence and force of personality, hang onto those "classic" clothes for as long as you need them. If we are talking about fashion and furnishings, fuhgeddaboudit! "Furnishings" and "fashionable" should not be used in the same sentence. I've said it once, and I'll say it many more times (see below), but décor is about relationships! And fashion is about personal comfort and style. Just remember that "retro" is a synonym for "out of fashion."

3. Do you need it, or do you want it? This is a very common approach to consider when buying something, but when it comes to organizing and purging, it loses some of its "oomph" because it is perfectly OK to want something you don't need. "Need" refers to absolutely required items, while "want" is usually reserved for luxuries. However, "want" can also be used to describe items that are important to our esoteric aspects, like music, art, decorative items, specialized cooking utensils, etc. I've admittedly fallen victim to the "need" issue when dealing with my research files; I combine the "need" question with the "have I used it yet" (usually after five years) to help me purge research files. Also, needs can change over the years, so something I needed a decade ago may not longer be relevant in my life. Another pertinent anecdote involves a set of tiny tools (screwdriver, and others) that I had purchased from a gentleman in the San Francisco airport many years earlier when he presented me with a placard reading (paraphrased) "I am deaf and mute. Please help me by purchasing this item" I "never" buy such things, but for some reason I was compelled to purchase this set of tiny tools. I got them home, put them in my desk drawer, and forgot about them … until one morning when I was getting ready for work, dashing around, and my eyeglasses fell apart! Yikes! By some miracle, I found the screw that had come loose, and remembered this set of tiny tools which I then extracted from my desk drawer. Imagine my joy when I was able to repair my eyeglasses and get to the office on time! Did I want the tiny tools when I bought them? Maybe, maybe not. Did I need them? Not when I bought them, but I was sure glad I had them. Ask yourself the "need/want" question, certainly, but again, don't be dogmatic.

4. Duplicate items: Well, I suppose everyone has "some" duplicate items, and getting rid of such redundancy is usually a logical and easy place to start purging. But, I'll temper that by saying that when my coffee maker short-circuited one morning, I was glad to have a backup that I had picked up at a thrift store for $5. I had the storage space, and the eventual need, so I got it and kept it, and it paid off. This rationale can become obsessive, so monitor yourself.

5. Duplicated effort: Almost everything I say about decorating involves discussion of relationships. Relationships are also key to helping us decide what to purge, especially in the area of papers. As I have said repeatedly, I offer consultations on so many different subjects, and since my consultations are based on evidence and facts, I have vast research resources. Since I have these, my close friends don't need to keep their own research resources in my areas of expertise. A friend who is going through a kitchen remodel took advantage of my kitchen design files. Another friend needed information on the history of viniculture; she knew I could help her. Yet another friend wanted to read about the lighting requirements of certain plants; yep, I overwhelmed her with information. Try to identify whether someone with whom you have a relationship has resources (literature, appliances, maybe even clothing) that you can use, so that you don't have to duplicate efforts!

6. Handle it once: This is classic advice for handling your inbox in business. Theoretically, it applies to your home, as well. When something comes in, deal with it immediately! Do not create piles (confession: I'm as guilty of piling as anyone; we all have our faults! And I'm OK with that!). The point of this tip is to consider each item mindfully, considering its current and future uses, and either keep it, or purge it.

7. In with an item, out with an item: I include this concept for the sake of completeness, and by doing so, I have an opportunity to comment on this dogma. Some professional organizers use this tip to suggest that when you buy a new item, consider it a replacement for an already existing item, and dispose of that item. Other professional organizers, however, are less specific, and suggest that you can just purge any item to create a net zero increase in possessions when you acquire something new. This is a neat little tip, but I personally don't think it is particularly useful in a "home." A home is about its inhabitants, and their comfort and happiness. The intrinsic value of each item is what needs to be considered, outside of the context of net gain or net loss.

8. Is your life better? Yes, this is my little contribution to finding purpose in purging. This question, "Is my life better?" is usually reserved for political repartee. But it is also applicable when considering whether to purge something. "Is my life better because I possess this object?" is the question. The answer is less straightforward. Does the item bring you joy? Is it beautiful? Is it valuable? (if so, consider selling it immediately if it doesn't bring you joy or beauty). "Will it make my life better in the future" is a useful auxiliary, and here I am projecting, because I have had so many transitions in my life that I can see uses for items in the future. Recently, though, I have seen that hanging onto items from my past is NOT making my life better, so I am working (in my spare time … hah!) to organizing these materials and sell them. I now my life is going to be much better when this particular chapter of my life is purged, and it has taken me many years to get to this point. Now that my current life is so golden, I don't need any old, cumbersome "baggage" to hold me back. Do you have a similar situation in your own home/life? Just think about it.

I recently read a website that recommends getting the opinions of your friends or a professional (what kind of professional?) to determine what to purge. I ask you, "How can anyone but me know what to purge?" Maybe that's a bit too defensive, as I do know that sometimes we retain items because of a misplaced sense of commitment, or loyalty, or sentiment, and a friendly nudge can be useful.

If you recognize those qualities (different aspects of clinging to the past) in yourself, then this is part of your life lesson to outgrow them. It's a chance for you to purge old qualities, and bring in new ones (you might want to check out this month's column on making life changes slowly). Thus, we have started with a collection of tips for purging our homes of unnecessary items, and transitioned to a more noble discussion of improving your life! Isn't that exactly what I promised at the outset? Would I lead you astray? Never!

Returning from our noble tangent, let me remind you (again!): Décor is about relationships, including the relationship you have with yourself. Once you've accomplished the necessary purging, it will be easier to maintain. Maintaining a pared down, streamlined, efficient, organized home will make you, your family, and your friends happier and more relaxed (= less stressed). Who would want to pass up a chance for everyone to be happier? Not me; I think I'm going to go purge and organize something!

If you want to report your success with prioritizing, or need some assistance, call me at 773.508.9208 or email me. I'd love to hear from you! We can laugh together as we plan for the future!