The Urge to Purge

For last year’s words belong to last year’s language and next year’s words await another voice. -T.S. Eliot

Something curious happens to me around this time of year. While stores, catalogs and tradition prepare us for the onslaught of receiving more “stuff”, I get an overwhelming urge to get rid of “stuff”. And it’s not just me, two people I spoke with this week said they too were feeling the urge to purge. They wondered if it was a natural reaction to the overindulgence that is kicked off at Thanksgiving and goes full speed ahead for six weeks. For me, I know this instinct is stirred in part by a deep seeded fear of being outnumbered by things that I’ll have to maintain, insure or clean.

But the year-end timing suggests that there may be something else at play here. With fewer days left on the calendar to procrastinate, maybe we are nudging ourselves to address all the things we didn’t have the time (or the desire) to give attention to during the year. It’s not just the junk drawer or the clothes closets that need this scrutiny. Who and what we surround ourselves with, as well as what we project to the world is also up for evaluation, purging, changing, addressing and updating.

The finishing up of one year and preparing to enter another is a lot like moving from one home to another. Every new year is an opportunity for creating something better than what you’re leaving behind. Like walking into an unfurnished house with white walls, this is ours to fill as we please. But in order to make it a smooth transition from old to new, all the bits and pieces that you’ve accumulated need to be re-accessed to see if they still have meaning to you. Do they support you as you move forward or keep you stuck? Do they stay or do they go? Not asking these questions is like shoving all your stuff into boxes, hauling them to your new place and then leaving them to pile up in the basement.

When we don’t take time to clear away the “old” the “new” cannot reveal itself.

This process of clearing the old before starting something new can’t be done without first making a bit of a mess. Before I begin a new design project, I start by straightening up my studio. This exercise is my way of whitewashing the walls of my mind, to center my thoughts and invite creativity to re-enter. Once I’ve made that energetic clearing, I can begin to form something totally new from the scores of samples, catalogs and picture files that surround me. I lay the myriad of options out on my two large worktables. Sometimes I don’t have a clear picture of where I am headed, so I look at each option and decide if it’s a direction I would like to pursue. One by one the things that don’t work are discarded to the floor until only the things that really feel right are left on my tabletop. It looks like a bomb has gone off when I look down and I start the process of putting it in order once again.

The process of ripping the “old” apart is actually the easy part. Once we’re motivated to start purging, we see results that build the momentum to keep going. But it’s what to do with those piles of discarded clothes, furnishings, relationships or ideologies that can be daunting. There are plenty of donation centers and needy friends willing to take the physical possessions off of our hands, but what about the “stuff” that’s been stored in the attics and junk drawers of our lives? The good news is that once we decide we no longer want to lug that junk from year to year to year it ceases to exist. No dumpsters or trash bags needed.

As we countdown and prepare for a brand new year, I remind myself to see the power in the seemingly mundane task of purging which leaves me with more than clean closets and a clear head. This New Years Eve I will remember to turn around and look at all the stuff I’ve discarded to the floor. It is in those piles that I see how I have changed and grown and reminded that I am able to create my own freedom from the trinkets, thoughts or ties that I no longer need in my life. I can’t get that from any gift from a mall or catalog.

Happy New Year to you all!

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