Learn About Yourself By Purging

There are two types of deeply stuck people I have encountered since starting UnStuckable with Chris: 1) people who have no idea what they want to do with their lives and 2) people who do know what they want to do, but don’t know how to get started toward their goal.

More often than not, I give them both the same advice.

Start purging. Simplify your life. Get rid of stuff.

Not the kind of career or entrepreneurship advice you’ll often (if ever) get. I’m dead serious about this. If you are dying for change in your life, purging is probably one of the most transformational actions you can take. You just might learn more about yourself than any other self-help activity you’ve ever tried.

You’ve probably purged several times already in your life already without realizing it. Big life changes require purges. Think about it. If you have ever moved, had a baby, changed careers, broken up with someone or had a health crisis you removed possessions, relationships, obligations and spending habits from your life to make that change possible (whether you wanted to or not).

Want to know what purging is really all about?

Remove anything that has outlived its purpose in your life and is no longer in alignment with your current path. That’s what purging is.

You can’t have growth without elimination. It’s an unavoidable natural law. The stock market goes down, so it can go back up. Same for the real estate market. My garden dies every fall, so I can plant a new one in the spring. People get laid off to discover new and better work opportunities. The phoenix always rises from the ashes.

Too often we believe the only method of changing our lives is by adding something new into it. That is true, but at the same time you need to also subtract to create space for that addition. We forget that very important step, so we end up feeling stuck in our over-cluttered lives.

Anyone who knows me personally, knows how passionate I am about the topic of purging. There’s so much I can share with you.  My goal here is to introduce the concept and maybe even get you started on your own purge.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting you get rid of everything in your life, so you can start over (that might work for a few, but it’s not for most of you). I truly believe purging is a powerful exercise to bring clarity and focus to your life. It has the potential to show you how much you can learn about your fears, desires, dreams, values, hangups, passions and motivations.

Why You Should Do A Purge

When I left my past career path behind to start UnStuckable, I told Chris I first needed to purge. He had no idea what I was talking about or how on earth it would help get our business off the ground. In fact, our very first blog post was all about purging!

I’ve made purging as a regular habit throughout my life. Here’s why I do it and why you might consider doing it too:

  • Create a feeling of empowerment.

I don’t know about you, but when I’m feeling stuck or when my life gets turn upside down I feel a loss of control. It’s not a fun feeling. I start regaining my sense of control by purging. It reminds me how much control I have over my life because I get to choose what’s in it.

  • Carve out physical space.

If you want to make a big transformational change in your life like starting a business, working for yourself or following your passion, you need to make space for that change. When I started working from home for the first time I needed to make room in my apartment for a home office. The suits I wore to my office job were no longer of use to me, so I donated them.

  • Create an opportunity to let go and to embrace change.

Not only does purging provide physical space, but mental space as well. Each time I have lifted a heavy box of stuff to throw out, I have also simultaneously felt a huge emotional weight lifted off my shoulders. In our interview with Mary Carlomagno, author of Give It Up, she shared how removing things from her life over the course of a year, prepared her for big changes during the next year of her life.

  • Build momentum in your life.

I’ve made lots of big goals in my life. I admit, the toughest part of achieving any goal is knowing how to start. I often start by doing a purge because it creates a sense of action and momentum.  It also allows me to align my life toward that goal. The process of purging clears most of the obstacles holding me back.

  • Saves you time, energy and money.

Some of you still might be skeptical about how purging can help you change careers, start a business or redesign your life. I will tell you this, it can save you years, thousands of dollars and untold amounts of emotional suffering.

I was stuck for five years when I was laid off in 2000. I believe that if I conducted a “purge  to end all purges” (see below) I could have discovered my entrepreneurial self much sooner. Purging forces you to deal with your crap. The biggest obstacle to our dreams is ourselves. Purging clears the path toward your dreams. Take the time to do it.

Purge to End All Purges

As I have already indicated, I have conducted lots of purges in my life. You could say I have a habit of purging. (Watch our discussion about how the habit of purging can get you unstuck from this past summer.)

I recently adjusted my perspective on how to purge after reading The Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. (It’s one of the 10 books on our list about how to learn about yourself.) The author is a Japanese “tidying” expert after my own heart. Like me, she believes purging can have a transformative effect on your life.

The focus on Marie’s purge is primarily on material things. Mine is a wider definition that includes eliminating relationships, obligations, digital waste, spending habits and negative sources of energy. However, I do believe purging your possessions first will provide the most momentum for the rest of your purge because it’s the most tangible. The results are more immediate.

My habit of purging involved continually getting rid of a few things here and there (especially when I needed to feel empowered as chaos reigned in my life).  Marie has inspired me to commit to “the purge to end all purges.” Her basic rules for purging are fairly simple:

  • Don’t organize your purge by rooms, do it by type of possession.

For example, take all your clothes from every room in your home and put them into one pile. This provides you with context, so you truly understand how much you have of that particular item.

  • Handle each and every item with your hands.

I would argue this is Marie’s most important piece of advice. This will help you reduce your “I’m not sure about getting rid of this yet” pile. It forces you to focus on each individual item, so you understand why you either want to keep it or get rid of it.

  •   Only keep possessions that make you feel joy.

This was probably the most liberating piece of advice from Marie for me!  As I handled each of my items, I became aware of my feelings toward them. I kept only items that made me feel energized. Let me tell you this, you are going to end up getting rid of a lot of scenery photos you’ve taken over the years because of this one rule!

In the past I held on to things that didn’t give me joy for three reasons: a) out of guilt because it was given to me by someone else b) sentimental emotions I should have processed long ago and c) the thought that “I might use it someday”.

That last reason is convenient lie we all tell ourselves. Each item in your possession has a purpose and it deserves the opportunity to live its purpose (just like you are seeking to do). You might need a particular item someday, but there is a person somewhere in the world who could use that item right now.

Building on Marie’s tidying advice, I have made a new rule for myself. If there is anything that I can’t figure out how to incorporate into my daily life or doesn’t get used at least once a year, I owe it to that item to serve its purpose under the stewardship of someone else.

When my parents moved to Florida 10 years ago they gave me a lot of stuff. Among that stuff was a complete set of wedding china from my great-grandmother that was over 100 years old and had not been used in 60 years! Sure it was neatly bubble wrapped and secure, but that was not the best way to take care of it.

My wife and I had a decision to make. Either use the china or give it to someone who would. We are now using my great-grandmother’s prized china every day. (She would probably be horrified, but the china is a lot happier because it’s getting to do what it has always wanted to do!)

What Can You Learn About Yourself By Purging

I know many people think purging, minimalism and simplifying your life sounds like a sacrifice or even a chore. You have so much more to gain in terms of learning about yourself, than the effort you will expend to discard your stuff.

The act of purging is an awesome awareness exercise. If you aren’t into meditation, prayer or other mindfulness exercises, purging can give you the insights into your subconscious mind you’ve been missing. As you purge, be aware of your feelings and try to ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What measure did you use to get rid of what you did?
  2. What does everything you decided to keep say about you?
  3. Who are the most important people in your life that believe in what you are doing? Who isn’t?
  4. If you can’t have it all, what would you choose to spend your money on?
  5. What guilty feelings or emotions are being stirred up? Why are you holding onto these feelings and emotions?
  6. What does having “enough” mean to you?
  7. Which clothes, photos, books or other possessions energize you?
  8. Are you able to start seeing your core values and the thread of your life story? What patterns are emerging?

I’ve been doing a “purge to end all purges” since October. I’m almost done (whew!)  When I looked at the clothes, photos, journals, postcards, books, Word documents, mementos and china left behind, the thread of my story and my purpose had a clarity I’ve never experienced before.

Want to know what I learned about myself? My family is more important to me than anything else in my life. It’s not me just saying that, my possessions made it loud and clear!

The thread of my career story is also very clear. My purpose, strength and motivation all lie in my ability to gather lots of information, then purge it and finally use what’s left to make well-thought-out decisions. I want the opportunity to use this ability to help you get unstuck!

If you have any questions about purging, I’d love to hear them! Email me at stephen@unstuckable.co

The #1 thing you need to know about purging

Here’s what I want you to take away from this whole concept of purging. It’s really an exercise in letting go of the emotional junk that is holding you back from what you are destined to do and being your best self.

When you purge you are calling yourself out. It forces you to deal with your issues. It’s also an exciting opportunity to gain new perspectives on all your past experiences, so you can uncover your new path.

By the way, I mentioned in the podcast on purging I would share a photo of my newly reorganized sock drawer using Marie Kondo’s method. It gave me extra space, so now I can store more than just socks in that drawer!

Stephen Sock Drawer After Purging