Having a clear out – how to decide what stays and what goes

Is there anything more therapeutic than a big clear out? As someone who is such an aggressive culler that I once made my mother cry while trying help her sort through her stuff, I guess I might be a little biased, but there’s not much that makes me feel more alive or de-stressed than getting rid of a whole bunch of stuff I really don’t need anymore.

Having recently moved from a good-sized two-bedroom unit with a garage to a smaller two-bedroom apartment with limited storage, clearing out unwanted items is fresh on my mind. It can be really overwhelming and hard to know where to start, but it’s such a great feeling to say goodbye to unwanted items and look at a clearer and more organised cupboard.

Before you start

Decide how much you can achieve in one session – Often when I get a burst of organisational energy I get very enthusiastic and decide I’m going to reorganise my entire house in one Saturday afternoon. Everything gets pulled out of cupboards and a couple of hours later I’m exhausted, over the whole thing, and surrounded by piles of clothes, books and stationery. Start small – choose one cupboard or room and if you still have energy after that move on to the next one.

Get yourself in the right frame of mind – The right frame of mind is ruthless, but not too ruthless. If you haven’t used something for over a year it probably needs to go, even if it hurts a little to say goodbye. But if you get a nagging feeling in your gut that you just can’t get rid of something right now, listen to yourself. It may well be illogical, but you need to be kind to yourself. That’s the lesson I learnt after making my mum cry when I called her old lamp from childhood ‘rubbish that no one is ever going to use or even look at again’.

Learn the three questions of clearing out – If you’re not sure whether a particular item should be kept or ditched, ask these three questions:

  • Does it serve a purpose that I need or want served?
  • Does it bring me joy?
  • Do I want to haul this around with me every time I move for the rest of my life?

If you can’t answer ‘yes’ to at least two of these questions, it’s time to say thnks fr th mmrs and goodbye.

Clearing out your wardrobe

First, pull everything out of your wardrobe and put things into three piles:

  • Definitely keeping – items you wear regularly and favourite pieces
  • Definitely going – items you haven’t worn in ages, are the wrong size or just not your style anymore
  • Maybe keeping – items that you like but they’re not your favourite in their category or something you regularly reach for

Now put all the ‘definitely keeping’ items back in your wardrobe, and as you do note down how many items you have in each category. If you’re like me, you’ll realise that even just your definitely keeping pile leaves you with plenty of options in every category and you can leave it there.

If you’ve had a more sensible approach to clothes shopping over the last few years, you might find that you’re a little short on tops or dresses for example. This is the time to go through the maybe pile and pull out a few items to fill any gaps in your wardrobe.

Struggling to decide if something stays or goes? I’ve found these questions to be really helpful:

  • When did I last wear this? – If it was recently it’s worth hanging on to for a bit longer to see if you’ll wear it more, but if it’s been a while you need to work out why.
  • Why don’t I wear this? – Maybe it doesn’t quite fit, doesn’t go with other things in your wardrobe or it’s just not your favourite dress/top/skirt. If that’s the case, keeping it will just keep your wardrobe cluttered and it’s time to say goodbye. If it needs mending (or just ironing – no judgement), a few minutes of work will have it ready to wear again!
  • Why have I held on to this? – Bad reasons to hang on to clothes you don’t wear include ‘it was expensive’ (I know it hurts, but you never wear it), ‘I could be the kind of person who wears sequin tops…’ (I know it hurts, but you never wear it), and it ‘I bought it in New York’ (I know it hurts, but you never wear it).

Clearing out your kitchen

As long as your kitchen is relatively organised (plates all in the same cupboard, wine glasses with other wine glasses), I find the best approach to clearing out kitchenware is to do it one cupboard at a time.

Think about how many of each item you actually need. Do you need two full dinner sets if you can’t fit more than 4 people around your kitchen table? When was the last time you ate a boiled egg so could you maybe get rid of a few of your 15 egg cups? Do you have too much Tupperware? That last one was a trick question: you can never have too much Tupperware.

I find that the hardest category to sort is low use items (I’m looking at you fancy serving plates and bowls). I have so many lovely platters and salad bowls, and many of them were wedding gifts so I found it really hard to know what to do with them. Something I’ve been trying to do is just actually use them more. Yes, it’s just me and my husband having dinner on a Tuesday night but why can’t we use a fancy salad bowl?

Kitchenware is also something that you’ll get more use of the older you get. Once you have kids you’ll need more of everything, and when you’re set up as a real adult in your own place you’ll have more friends over for dinner parties. Even if you don’t really have space for all your kitchen bits right now, is there somewhere you can store them until you do? If you can pack it all up into just one or two tubs you might find a kind parent or friend will give you some room in their cupboards or attic.

Clearing out your beauty bits

You really shouldn’t listen to me on this one, as clearing out my makeup and skincare is one area where I fail miserably. I did manage to consolidate my collection a little though, so you might pick up a few tips (or maybe just some tips on what not to do).

In clearing through my stash I put things into a few broad categories:

  • Samples and minis – just use them up now and free up valuable bathroom storage
  • Back ups of products you use regularly – find a spot at the back of the cupboard
  • 1000 eyeshadow palettes – the sensible thing is to keep your favourites and get rid of the rest, but you could also do what I did and keep them all as they as so so pretty
  • Anything past its expiry or looking/smelling funny – put that in the bin this instant

Clearing out your books

I love books and reading, but those things are heavy and a pain to move house. I try not to buy books for that reason and borrow from the library or get them on my Kobo instead, but I do have quite a few books, including a sizeable cookbook collection.

Getting rid of books can be hard for a book lover like me, but I did manage to say goodbye to a few. Anything I didn’t really enjoy or don’t think I’ll read again I gave away, and I gave away a few cookbooks that I just don’t use. Remember: God made libraries so that you don’t need to own every book ever published.

A note on sentimental items

Sentimental items are the hardest to get rid of (as I learnt from my mum’s childhood lamp). Sometimes it helps to take a photo of the item before putting it in the ‘to go’ pile. It’s also really helpful to remember that your memories aren’t attached to your things – you’ll always have them with you, long after your childhood lamp is gone. That said, there are always going to be things you keep because they’re special to you or belonged to someone important, and that’s totally fine (it’s great, in fact!). If they’re not things you use regularly or have on display, pack them up carefully and put them somewhere out of the way. If you don’t have lots of storage yourself, ask if a friend or family member might have room to store them for you for a little while.

What to do with your unwanted things

You’ve cleared out a cupboard and got some things you no longer need. Hooray – well done! The final step is to decide what happens to them now.

Anything that is broken, old, or you know no one will want it can be thrown away. Try to do this mindfully and put as much as possible into recycling or e-waste rather than landfill. You can also put broken things on Freecycle and someone who needs a part from it or wants to fix or restore it might come and pick it up.

Things that are in good condition can have a long and happy life after they leave your house. There are a few options for passing these on:

  • Sell them online – I tried to sell some of my clothes online and didn’t have much luck (although I did shift a couple of pieces), but if you’re willing to put in the time and effort you might be able to make back a bit of money
  • Give them to a friend – Don’t wear that skirt anymore but know a friend who will love it? Pass it along!
  • Donate them to an op shop – This is what I did with the bulk of my stuff. You can drop off boxes or bags of things, and they will even come and pick up bigger items like furniture.

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