Originally from Matt Baier’s Organizing Works Newsletter, April 2008
THE ANNUAL PURGE
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. CIRCULATION PREVENTS ACCUMULATION. What better time of year than spring for a fresh start? Open the windows and let the musty winter out and the clean spring air in. Open the storage room and let the old junk out and the new potential in. Here are seven tips to survive and thrive through spring clearing.
1. Start with the Garage. This may sound counter-priority, but it’s not. Before you dive into the junk in your closets, clear out your garage. Consider this analogy. You may get to the airport in plenty of time for your flight to Rome, but without a passport you’re not going anywhere. An empty garage is your passport that will get you where you need to go. Why? Because it is the logical place to establish an exit zone. For smelly dirty garbage it is almost outside, but protected from the elements. For items to donate, it is as close to the vehicle (and as visible to the driver that will take it away) as possible. Don’t have a garage? Start by clearing an area as close to the exit as possible.
2. Fast and general first. If you have a lot of stuff to sort and purge, speed IS endurance. To hesitate is to get discouraged, sidetracked, and eventually quit before the job is done. Rather than get hung up on individual items, think CATEGORIES. Here are some examples: To Donate, To Sell, To Do, Upstairs/Downstairs (to save steps), To Review (in detail when you have more time), and Trial Purge (see #6). Once everything is sorted into categories it becomes much easier to make decisions, because you are seeing things in context.
3. Circulate your files. A great reason to purge your old files in the Spring is because it is right after tax season. Check with your accountant, but it is generally safe to toss all your tax supporting material after Seven years. Once this year’s taxes are settled, any 2007 or older files can be stored in a more remote location than your home office, to free up space in your file cabinet. To automatically assign circulative files, see last year’s newsletter on user-friendly filing
4. One Area at a Time. You may be reading this and saying “sounds great, I’m going to set aside a day this weekend and just do it!” If you ARE saying that, excellent, I applaud your attitude! However, odds are you won’t find a whole day and even if you did, you probably couldn’t finish the job. The answer: DIVIDE AND CONQUER. Break up the annual purge into manageable chunks. Perhaps this weekend’s goal could be clearing out as much garbage as possible from the garage on a Saturday morning before 11:30. Assuming your local dump closes at noon, this would impose a helpful deadline so that you not only get the garbage out of your garage, but off your property on the same day. Now THAT’S a real feeling of accomplishment, which will encourage you to take on the next challenge. Another example would be spending just 90 minutes on emptying your file cabinet of Dead or Sleeping files. Set a timer for 90 minutes. It really helps! When you are strictly in a file mode you will accomplish much more in that chunk of time than if you are all over the place.
5. Cell Phone on Vibrate. Your phone is programmed to ring, but you are not programmed to answer it. You can get more accomplished in a focused hour than you can in an unfocused day. In addition to the divide-and-conquer approach, it makes a huge difference to truly FOCUS for a block of time. With your phone on vibrate there is less of a knee jerk reaction to pick it up. Check to see if it is an emergency (i.e. family member), otherwise let your phone take a message and get back to it when you are done. Remember, you are only going to be focused on the purging for another hour or two, not the whole day. There is very little that cannot wait an hour or two.
6. Value Over Cost. One of the big reasons people hang on to something they don’t use is because of its cost. This is typical with exercise equipment. Now, I don’t want to discourage anyone from exercising, but if you are using your Bowflex for hanging your laundry instead of for exercising, then it is time to consider cost versus value. Yes, the COST of the Bowflex was great, but what is it’s VALUE to you now? To start with, it is a daily reminder of a failed initiative. Who needs that? Secondly, it takes up a lot of valuable space, perhaps even enough for a more efficient clothes hanger AND that craft table you’ve been wanting. Of course you won’t fully recover your cost of the Bowflex, but consider this. You will NEVER recover the cost of your purchase, no matter how long you hold on to it, so why not start VALUING your space NOW.
7. Trial Purge. When the choice is between “keep” or “toss” we tend to keep, Why? “Hey, you never know when you might need that!” It gets easier when you have other options, like donating an item to the needy or other incentives like the value-over-cost question, but sometimes that’s just not enough for certain unused items. This is when I suggest a Trial Purge. You may go through a lot of items you’ve forgotten about and wondered if you might have used them if only you had known where they were. If you are wondering if you can live without these items, put them on trial. Place them in a box clearly labeled “Trial Purge” and put today’s date on it. During next year’s annual purge you will see this box and because you have gone a full year without needing its contents, it will be much easier to say ‘they had their chance. I don’t need them. Time to go.” Alternatively, if after a few months you DO find yourself needing one those items, you will know to go to the Trial Purge box.
If everything is important then nothing is important. By focusing on clearing out the less important things at least once a year, you can make a fresh start on your most important priorities for the year. By letting go of the old, a purge gives you the freedom to embrace the new.