I realize that the word ‘purge’ has a connotation, and not necessarily a positive one. Honestly, it gets a bad rap.
Dictionary.com defines the verb this way:
purge:verb, 1. to rid of whatever is impure or undesirable; cleanse; purify. 2. to rid, clear or free (from). 3. to clear of imputed guilt or ritual uncleanliness. 4. to clear away or wipe out legally (an offense, etc.) by atonement or other suitable action. 5. to remove by cleansing or purifying (often followed by away, off or out).
When you read the definition, purging doesn’t sound half bad. In fact, it sounds almost essential. How many rituals do we have in our society to help us cleanse, purify, clear or remove things from our lives? From our homes, our schedules, our closets, our bodies, our minds? The occasional purge, or regularly scheduled one if you’re so inclined, isn’t just healthy, but necessary, I think.
As of this spring, I have been out of college for 10 years. (Wow, the acknowledgement that I’m old is for another post.) In that time, I’ve lived in 4 cities, in 3 apartments & 2 houses. I’ve been married, divorced and remarried and I’ve changed careers from my original college (and grad school) major area of study to a completely new field. Needless to say, this has been quite a decade. The best thing about moving about every two years (one of those moves was just across town, and done in whirlwind time, so it doesn’t completely count) is that every time I have to pack, I have the opportunity to purge.
I didn’t get that at first. I filled my first two-bedroom townhouse with everything my parents insisted could no longer live at their house. Things from college, from childhood, gifts, acquisitions & splurges from my first ‘real’ job with a salary. I amassed quite a collection of CDs, DVDs, scrapbooking supplies, books and clothes. Oh my, the clothes. I don’t think I threw out/donated a single piece of clothing from freshman year of high school through the end of college. From time to time, my college girlfriends & I would shop in each other’s closets, but that was rare. I had all kinds of clothes. Fat clothes. Skinny clothes. Comfy clothes. Dressy casual for work clothes. Dressy clothes for concerts. Formal dresses for recitals. And I needed them all, don’t you know? I would fit back into those jeans - they were so comfy sophomore year. I love that t shirt - I bought it with my girls on tour. I will totally never have a good place to wear that little black top again, but wow, I looked awesome in it when we went out in Cali… Rationalization ad nauseum.
When it came time to move my ex-husband’s things into my, er, our apartment, I had to make room. I did so begrudgingly, but somewhat cheerfully found that my things could just be compacted and more effectively stored than they had been previously. It wasn’t until our marriage had deteriorated, I had been laid off from my job, and not being able to maintain our first house on my own, I realized that my two cats, our puppy & I were going to have to move into a much smaller apartment and I had to make it livable.
Despite my love of having things, I hated feeling crowded. All of my things were organized & efficiently packed & stored away for future use. But then I realized that there were things that I hadn’t used, worn or even seen in the two years since my last move. In that raw emotional place of losing all my normalcy & panicking that I would never be able to keep all these things, I realized that I didn’t need them.
I ruthlessly went through my closets & drawers, all my carefully contrived organization systems, and I purged. I purged things that I didn’t/couldn’t/wouldn’t use, gifts kept out of obligation, things I wasn’t totally in love with and didn’t feel compelled to move several hours away. I offered up household things & clothes to friends, gave bags of stuffed animals to their kids, and donated anything people didn’t have interest in.
That’s when it hit me: I shouldn’t mourn losing all my things; I should be grateful that I was blessed enough to acquire them in the first place. And now that I no longer need these items, for whatever the reason, I can pass that blessing on to someone who needs them. Because no matter how much I felt I was losing, there is always someone who has less.
Since that realization, I have grown to love purging. I find a good book (on the rare occasions that I buy a hard copy in the era of the nook - usually during moments of weakness at Half-Price Books) and I happily give it to someone when I recommend it. When the seasons change, I look at the items in my closet & do an honest evaluation of which items don’t fit to my liking or haven’t been worn during that season. Unless it’s something hand-made or something very difficult to replace, it’s gone.
I am a serious proponent of the What Not To Wear mentality: If an item doesn’t make you feel good when you wear it, you shouldn’t take up space in your closet with it. It goes in the ‘trash’ or ‘rags’ pile or it goes in a bag to go to the Salvation Army, Kidney Foundations, or the donation bins at our church that go to one of Columbus’s homeless shelters. Not only does this give me more room to effectively use and find the things I still have, but I’m finding myself wearing things out/using things up for the first time. And it feels good.
You know what else feels good? Giving yourself permission to let go. Clothes that are far too small, that remind you what you used to look like, and, instead of inspiring you to go for a hike or hit a yoga class, it makes you shameful - I have no room for that, emotionally or spatially. Boxes of files from that first career that brought you lots of joy & wonderful relationships, but also years of struggle, hurt & paranoia - those pages only tie you to the pain you have already endured. Time to sift through the files, pull the truly positive things that you choose to keep (I found a small mountain of cards, pictures & hand-written notes in there that I won’t part with), and send the rest to a shred bin somewhere. Piles of textbooks and binders of class notes: Half-Price Books or bust. Materials that are still perfectly good, but no longer of any use to me: gifted to friends who are still in the trenches. Completely contrived, political, CYA documentation from an arena I will never choose to re-enter: gone.
It’s like losing 20 pounds in 2 hours & SO worth it. It feels SO good to purge.
It’s not about what you’re losing - it’s about the space you are leaving open for God to fill with someone, something, some experience that will make you better, stronger, happier or healthier than you could be while you’re clinging to all that /stuff/.