I started with the least "meaningful" stuff, stuff I was tired of, stuff I hadn't used or really liked all that much to begin with, stuff that was broken or torn.
And I started small. With items that I knew I wouldn't notice being gone. Scratch that. It was really things I wouldn't obsess over being gone, because I knew everything I owned. Every last item. Even if I didn't love it or look at it or use it. I knew my stuff.
Because I was moving so slowly I didn't immediately notice a change in my environment. And because I was still accumulating things it didn't really feel like much had changed at all.
I didn't force myself to purge. I didn't set a schedule. I didn't make a commitment to do anything. I did it in my own time, when I felt like it, when I was frustrated with my things or fed up with having to clean and care for them. When I wanted something new and had no space to put it. Or couldn't justify buying something because I already had something.
In the years since then I've read many books and seen many shows talking about how this should be done. While I'd already done much of it my way, I didn't feel like my way was a success. Perhaps I was looking for validation. Or maybe it was just for a boost. But one conclusion I reached after all my reading and watching is that there's no one right way to do it.
Most of the experts say you should start small. With this I wholeheartedly agree. Ripping off the bandage only works well for ripping off bandages. If you purge too quickly you will almost definitely look to fill those empty spaces with more stuff.
Unless you're making a radical life change that doesn't allow you to start small - like moving abroad, going on a years-long adventure, et cetera - starting small is probably the best way to start. And while my version of small meant small things, it doesn't have to. If you have a ginormous, ugly, stinky sofa you've been wanting to get rid of for years but haven't, that could be the one "small" thing you start with.
For me, the small had to do with the impact it had on my life.
Some experts say you shouldn't handle anything you want to get rid of as it will continue the bond you have with the item. Some say you should handle everything you get rid of so you can properly release yourself from that item. I'm not an expert. But I do know that if I just discarded things willy-nilly I would always wonder what I threw out and if I actually meant to do so.
So I touched every single item. I thought about every item. I allowed myself to remember the whens and hows and whats of every item before I got rid of it.
And I took pictures. Lots and lots of pictures. Because that allowed me to get rid of the item without actually getting rid of it. At first those pictures were on standard film - as I didn't have a digital camera in those earlier years - and then I changed to digital photography when I did have one. Now I just snap a picture on my phone whenever I feel the need to have a reminder about what I'm getting rid of - though I don't take pictures of everything anymore.
Most books I read nowadays do suggest snapping a photo. I wish I was brave enough not to, though. In ye olden days people were able to move on with their lives and live in the moment because they didn't have thousands of photos reminding them of their pasts. And I do believe that some things shouldn't be remembered with as much clarity as technology is allowing us to have.
I also made lists. I'd write down everything I threw out in a journal. It felt less painful to let go if I wrote down what I was letting go. But a few years back I got tired of doing it and trusted the technology to be enough of a reminder.
And I'd try to give things away or donate them versus toss them. Because if they had a new "home" then they'd still be loved, have a purpose, have value. Then my money wouldn't have been wasted on buying them, or my time spent keeping them in good order wouldn't have been for naught.
I also secretly (or not so secretly) thought my things would be sad if I didn't want them anymore and they were discarded or destroyed.
[No. Objects don't have feelings. They don't. Or so I'm told again and again. But, wow, Ikea got it right with these two ads which I still remember, years after first watching them.]
So it made me feel better if they went to someone else who wanted them, needed them, appreciated them. It made me feel good, too, for doing something for someone. So it was a win-win.
The harder stuff I didn't tackle for a long time. At the outset I didn't even have it on my radar to get rid of my keepsakes and mementos. It was all those candle holders, vases, shoes, purses, clothes, collectibles that I'd amassed that were in my line of sight for removal.
Had I started to purge for the first time now, I definitely would have used some of those online resources that are plentiful these days. I would have watched YouTube videos, read blogs, visited websites, pinned inspiration boards, you name it. I think if I had those resources at my disposal I would have gotten to where I am now in weeks or months rather than years.
But back when I began I didn't even think of the internet as a resource - I only had dial-up at home. I didn't think to go looking in the "self-help" section of the bookstore because I didn't think I needed help. I didn't know feeling burdened by ones possessions was a thing.
Aside from books and art, neither of my parents seemed particularly beholden to possessions. And no one I knew ever discussed a fondness for belongings. My guy had a few things back then, but only a few. Of course, his childhood belongings were safe and secure in his childhood home. What remained of mine were solely my burden. And he didn't care about the style of a place, only the comfort of it. He didn't need to minimize, he already lived pretty minimal.
So my journey back then was me, alone, getting rid of my things one item at a time, attempting to clear up some space faster than I could fill it, and hoping to be happier and less stressed with less.
And while I may have started slow, I feel like I've continued even more slowly.
To be continued...