Family Magazine

The Practiced Art of Purging

By Sherwoods
Brandon and I are quickly coming up on our fourth major move.  I've found moving to be somewhat similar to childbirth - it doesn't last that long and when you're not actually in the middle of it, it doesn't seem like such a horrible thing.  But when you're going through it, it seems like you're stuck in the eternal now of a horrible slog that had no beginning and will have no end.  Traveling is also like this.
When it comes to the moving of our actual stuff, we don't have much to do.  The embassy has contracted movers that come, and over the course of two or three days, turn all of your possessions into an amazingly large mound of boxes.  That part is actually pretty boring.  We don't have much to do except watch the packers to make sure everything is handled appropriately and answer questions like "Do you want us to pack this half-eaten jar of peanut butter?"
But the downside of having a whole team of movers descend on your house en masse is that when they come you'd better be ready.  There is no careful filling of boxes and deciding what to keep and what to toss.  No consult with each other on how things should be organized.  No careful packing of things to make sure they won't be broken.  I have heard stories of trash bags being packed, all of the hardware for all of the furniture being thrown into a random box, and even a sleeping baby packed up - with a 'fragile' sticker on the side of the carton.
So it takes weeks to get ready for a move, and one of the most important parts of those preparations is The Purge.  I actually like having to purge our house every few years.  It's funny how virtuous it feels to discard things that you spent time and money acquiring.  You'd think it would be the other way, but it isn't.  Haven't worn that skirt the whole time you've been here?  Give it away!  Got a load of junky toys that you always secretly loathed?  Toss them!  Hate reading that stupid story that your three year-old brings to you every night?  Donate it!
Purging is something that takes a very specific emotional state to tackle.  It's a very exhausting job, so you have to be just itching to dive in and make at least 10,000 decisions about everything you own, including and not limited to: toy soldiers, CD cases, dress-ups, half-used bottles of medicine, your college graduation dress, hand-made books that you've never used in fifteen years, children's books, shoes, school books, shower curtains, expired but still potentially useful medications, ratty but also potentially useful sheets, stuffed animals (so many stuffed animals), random pictures from the days when they were printed on paper, laundry baskets with broken handles, unopened boxes of Ziploc bags, children's drawings, and glasses that nobody wears but could still be useful.
You always start the day out in the height of cheerful productivity, ruthlessly filling trash bags and donate boxes while tossing cheerful quips back and forth.  Brandon adores purging, so he drives the frenzy and I get caught up in it.  We are on such a roll that stopping for lunch seems like a waste of time and the children are just sound and motion on the periphery of our purging frenzy.  Every time a bag fills up, the new one gets opened with a satisfying snap and you toss with new power.
But the crash always comes, usually around five to six hours in, and then you just want to die.  The thought of making one more decision brings physical pain and you drag yourself to the trash bag and dribble in the items one by one, dropping in each stubby pencil carefully as if it was the most important thing you'd ever done.  You wonder why you ever thought it was a good idea and start to mentally calculate how many hundreds or thousands of dollars you would be willing to pay just to not have to make these decisions and ship the whole house complete with half-eaten jars of peanut butter.  The children's presence on the same floor are a justifiable reason for incandescent rage and screen time is the best invention in the whole history of mankind.  Dinner is ice cream.  Or cold cereal.  Or even better, both.
But eventually the pain ends and every dark, stinking, infested nook, cranny, junk drawer, and toy bin in your house has been exposed to the trash bag and cleansed of all superfluity.  You walk through your house and wonder how you had let so much junk infest your life and drag you down with its oppressive materiality.  Every closet, shelf, and drawer is beautifully organized and barely filled.  The mound of bags at the trash can is offering on the altar to the art of living simply.  All is right with the world.
The movers come, the boxes are packed up with bare minimum of things required to sustain life and keep the family running.  You marvel at how you thought you needed all those things that have now found new homes that aren't yours.  You vow to never buy anything else again that isn't strictly, absolutely necessary.
Then, a few months later, you open the boxes.  And while pulling out the mounds and mounds of stuff and finding somewhere anywhere to cram it all, you look at it and think, "Why did I pack all of this garbage?  What was I thinking?!?  Time to purge!"

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