The first time I found a need to purge my belongings was the day I tried to shove my latest t-shirt acquisition into the drawer where all my previous acquired t-shirts resided. Years of concerts, races, clean-ups, and celebrations were all enshrined in cotton-blend shirts crammed into a drawer that was also supposed to hold my pajamas. I only had two pair of jammie’s in the drawer so that wasn’t the problem. Too many t-shirts and one more in my hand…that seemed like a problem. I had to do something.
These are generally the kinds of choices (things we just do) that don’t even register. I think the general reaction to coming across a full drawer (In fact what I’d been doing leading up to this moment) would be to just put the shirt in another drawer or just do something with the shirt quickly and move on. No thought. But on this day I was standing there thinking about what the eff was I supposed to do with this shirt, and why did I have so many shirts in the first place.
I was thinking maybe I should do something. Maybe box up some shirts that were past their prime and put them in the basement to make room in the drawer? Or maybe buy something bigger to house them? Or…maybe just take a moment to think about my stuff and my relationship with it?
Yes. That. My t-shirt “crisis” wasn’t a serious dilemma, of course, but it was something “off” that would happen again and again every time I did laundry and every time I got another shirt simply because I wasn’t paying attention. It was time to stop not seeing my stuff, and start seeing it. At least my t-shirts…baby-steps.
With no physical space left in the drawer, I decided to try my hand a a purge. My shirts, one look in the drawer told me, had great sentimental value. Deciding to purge was one thing, actually pitching stuff was going to take more effort.
I took all the shirts out of the drawer and put them in piles on my bed. The how-to books on de-cluttering that came out years after my t-shirt moment all recommend this technique. I’m pretty cutting edge in purging unneeded items, apparently. On the bed, my t-shirts looked different. Suddenly, they didn’t look like a homogeneous grouping of “my beloved t-shirts” but rather a rag-tag collection of hits and misses. I could totally get rid of some of these things.
In a simple “top-level” purge, I set aside shirts that didn’t fit (there were quite a few), and the ones that were given to me and not earned. Meaning, something like the “spirit day t-shirt” from an old job went on the Goodwill pile, but the t-shirt from the 15K I actually participated in got to stay.
I knew I had to get rid of more. There were shirts I liked, but I knew I wouldn’t wear for any number of reasons. Some were over-worn, pilled and stretched. All gone. After those removals, I was close, but the remaining shirts still didn’t fit comfortably in the drawer space I had. This time, I set aside for the keep-pile the “greatest” t-shirts of the collection and if a shirt wasn’t the greatest, even it was good, or mildly meaningful, it had to go. The last couple that hit the go-pile were tough, but years later I can honestly say, I don’t miss a shirt.
And one step further, if I bring a t-shirt in, I take one out. That is way tougher, but important to me. It’s not having things, it’s mindlessly having things. Looking at how much stuff I have, versus how much stuff I need or want is an ongoing lesson, one I try to use on everything I own, not just the stuff that forces itself into my consciousness.