more culling

billy balls in closet vase

I've never been the kind of person who forgets I own something. That's not (quite) bragging; it's simply a personality trait—how I've been since childhood. I've never had clothes hanging in the closet with the tags still attached or held onto ticket stubs or dried roses (why would a person want to keep dead flowers?) or childhood toys or unwanted gifts. Events and people were either worth remembering or they weren't. I either liked something or I didn't want it anywhere near. So I've always known exactly what I own and where it all is because of regular culling (and frequent moving, which, if done right, is like culling on steroids). People like me are often called unsentimental, if not downright cold. If true, so be it. To me, that's better than the alternative: hoarding or otherwise feeling hemmed in by one's possessions.

Even so, I still end up with stuff I no longer want, just like everyone else. The difference is I can usually let things go by donating or selling unwanted stuff without much internal wrangling—and for that, I'm grateful to my cold, cold heart.

True, culling isn't nearly as fun as thrifting with its thrill of the hunt, though getting rid of unwanted, extra things and making more space has its own pleasures and rewards. Plus, objects a person already owns often have emotional strings attached that must be cut in the winnowing process. So the person might find herself facing a gift she never wanted in the first place, an object linked to memories of a former lover, or a purchase now regretted. But that's life, imperfect.

walk-in closet

A secondhand reuse mindset is not only about thrifting baskets and hooks and such for efficient storage or scoring like-new designer clothes and mid-century furniture, vintage lamps, and decorative objects on the cheap. Maintaining a serene, organized, tidy home is equally about regularly culling one's possessions, meaning getting rid of the things that don't work for their owner. In other words, what may be the exact item someone else is seeking to simplify or beautify or otherwise better her life may be the very thing sitting in the back of one's own closet, collecting real or metaphorical dust. Out of sight isn't entirely out of mind. That object not being used regularly is instead taking up valuable square footage, both physical and mental.

For many people, opening cupboards and drawers and closets and taking a close look at their belongings can be like walking into their own private thrift store: Huh, I forgot I had that. Where did this come from? I don't remember this at all. Why do I have three toasters and 200 pens? Wow, I haven't seen this in 15 years! 

The best advice when culling is to be ruthless. Focus on the objects themselves and deal with the emotional strings after. Do you like the thing? (Did you ever?) Do you use it regularly? (Have you ever?) Will you again? (Are you sure or are you, deep down, over it?) Is it attractive, well made, and functional? Would it cost a lot to replace that thing or could you instead borrow someone else's, if that item, for example, a tool, were ever needed again? Do you own unnecessary duplicates? (Why?)

For the unwanted objects with emotional strings, well, take pictures instead, give the thing to a family member, or put the item in a dedicated memento box to handle later—whatever. (I'm not exactly the go-to person for things-with-emotional ties.) Cut the cords. Feel lighter.

shelved towels and baskets

Though I'm perpetually culling, lately I've even gotten rid of some secondhand clothing items purchased within the last several months. These pieces simply didn't work for different reasons: for example, a pair of black Ralph Lauren cords in like-new condition but too traditional and a tad too short (I'd only paid $3.50, though); an unlined, brown cotton velvet boutique-label coat that always made me feel frumpy; a black silk velvet Ralph Lauren dress shirt worn as a nightshirt that developed a large weird hole near the cuff. (Silk sadly isn't too durable.)

When giving away or even selling unwanted possessions, it's hard not feeling like I've wasted money. And yet—even when I was paying near-retail sale prices for clothing, I wasted much more money than now because the same percentage (or more) of those clothing pieces also never quite worked. So better they're out of my life than daily reminders of errors in judgment. It happens. Let it go, the objects and the self-reproach.

closet bags, hats

I've currently dedicated my largest basket as a get-rid-of pile. My instinct is to keep such things by the front door as a perpetual reminder, but that ends up looking messy. So now my castoffs are waiting in the walk-in closet. At the bottom of the tall basket lie things to sell on Craigslist. At the top is a paper bag for Goodwill. I do let a little time pass from first culling decision to donation, just in case. But things end up in the outbox for good reason. Releasing such objects into the stream of reuse makes kept possessions feel that much more useful, lovely, or precious—including all that newly freed space.


  1. Great post. I should hire you to help me cull. I need to cut some cords, big time.

  2. Anytime, Carol. (You'd get the friends-and-family rate—free.)


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