I would love to tell you that I have this simple living thing figured out but that would be a very big lie. I have only been on this journey for two years. Notice that I say the word "journey"? I am still trying to reach my destination. When people declutter, they usually have three piles; the "yes", "no", and the "maybe". However, I have four. The "yes", "no", "maybe", and "shouldn’t". There are some things that don’t fit into the three categories. For example, when I am minimizing my clothing the "shouldn’t" pile would be clothing that no longer fits but that I can't feel comfortable or happy about getting rid of it. This is when I introduced the "Purgatory Box".
So what is the purgatory box?
The Purgatory Box is a place where you put things that you are not sure you want to get rid of. As I said in the blog post called The Number One Rule of Minimalism, I started this journey with Patrick, my husband, worried that either this simple living was just a phase that would only last for a little while and when I got over the phase we would have to re-purchase everything that I had gotten rid of, or that I would get rid of something that I would regret. Since voicing his concerns, I came up with a way that safeguarded me from these issues and hence the "Purgatory Box" was born. ("Purgatory" coming from the Catholic belief that there is an in-between place on the way to Heaven where you have your soul cleansed so you can enter Heaven perfect.) Since "purgatory" means "half way", the item is neither staying nor leaving the house just yet.
The Breakup Concept
Another way that I think about it is "The Need to Break Up Concept". There are some things that I find very meaningful but I don't exactly want to keep them long term. However, i'm not exactly ready to part with it just yet. That's when the Purgatory Box comes in. It's the box where I put things that I know I don't want to keep long term but i'm not ready to let go of. I go through the box about once a month and get rid of items I feel I am ready to let go. It's only for the very important items and its one step closer to leaving, and it also keeps it "out of" my home. It helps me see what life would be like without it. It's okay if it takes time to break up with things. Additionally, I remember how hard it was for me to get rid of certain things. This encourages me to not bring more things into my home so I don't end up at square one again and have to start this process all over again.
When I explained this concept to someone that I was helping simplify, she said, "Oh, I LOVE this 'need to break up' idea...this way of thinking, could shed some new light...like when you're in an unhealthy relationship with someone, but there is so much you like, and it will be hard. With a relationship breakup, even though it's right, still sometimes it's hard and there will be tears..maybe there is some stuff that you need to grieve (after all...you're saying good-bye to some dreams)." We are human and we get attached to our things sometimes. That is ok but we need to examine those feelings to see if we can find the root to break the cycle so it is easier for us to move on.
I have a rule with the Purgatory Box. It is that I must remember what I put in there. If I don't remember, then it probably wasn't that important. However, I do make exceptions to the rule every now and then. If you give yourself a time limit, it will help you make a decision. I usually do one to three months depending on how much I have been decluttering. This is just enough time to "forget" about what is in the box but it's not so long that you are holding on to things in the Purgatory Box forever. That would be just as bad as keeping everything.
Let me know what you think about the Purgatory Box. I find that it is a very nice safety net that allows you to experiment and see what your life would be like without the objects, yet you can reaming regret-free because you are not hastily tossing sentimental things that you might not be ready to get rid of just yet. Happy decluttering!