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January feels like a good time to get organized, doesn’t it?

By now, you’ve put away all the festive holiday trimmings. You’re beginning to put your tax papers in order for April. And lately, you’ve been eyeing those big plastic storage tubs for sale at discount retailers.

“I might need one of those,” you think, “to organize my stuff.”

Good idea. And while you’re at it, you can purge some of the stuff you no longer use, want or even realize is still hanging around your house.

But take heed before rushing into the closet carrying a large plastic bag and your new storage tub. Decluttering and organizing require skill. There’s a fine line between purging and recklessly throwing away soon-to-be-needed-again items. It takes discernment to determine what should stay and what should go. (That record album by the Clash, for instance, should stay.)

I am a purger. If I haven’t worn it or used it in two years, out it goes. OK, so maybe some items are used differently than their intended use. It’s true I haven’t read the three-inch thick volume of “The Complete Signet Classic Shakespeare” since the days I roamed Stevenson Hall at Illinois State University. But it’s now handily propping up a broken picture frame. See? It’s still in use … and my MacGyver trick is saving me the cost of a new photo frame.

On the other hand, my husband is a keeper. (Boy, is he! #Whatacutie.) He keeps everything. While I am hauling unwanted sweaters from my closet by the armload, his contribution to the annual January declutter effort is a single pair of socks he has darned three times since 1998.

“Waste not, want not,” he says. Thinking he has the moral high ground, he adds, “Use it up, wear it out. Make it do or do without.”

Why are there no catchy little ditties about the virtues of purging? No helpful rhyme about the benefits of sorting? Here’s one: Get. Rid. Of. It.

Despite my nature to dispose of things unused, I am terribly sentimental. A conflict arises when it comes to possessions once belonging to lost loved ones. I can’t bear to part with these random items even though I would have pitched them long ago if I have purchased them in the first place.

For instance, my great-aunt Josie’s brown leather purse. It’s a small clutch bag that holds about a wallet and that’s it. I only remember her carrying it once or twice. So why is it still upstairs in a dresser drawer? Because, when we were sorting her things after her death 17 years ago, I wanted all tangible memories of her near me.

It’s much easier to send a pair of too-small black pants to Goodwill than to give up your beloved aunt’s impractical brown handbag.

I can be excused for sentimental saving (according to me, anyway). It’s hanging on to ridiculously outdated, unwanted and non-cherished items that boggles my mind.

“Why do we have a box of VCR tapes featuring the adventures of Donald and Daffy Duck when we no longer own a VCR player?” I asked my husband.

“Oh, we still have the VCR player… it’s in the basement somewhere.” (Silly me.)

But, why? Why are we cramming the storage space with obsolete electronics?

He opened a cardboard box and pulled out an antique egg beater, the kind with a hand crank.

“You would probably pitch this gem, too, but if the electric mixer is broken, how would you make pancakes?”

(Uh, with a fork?)

“Never mind, dear,” I said. “Of course, it should stay.”

Better to keep peace in the family. January may be a good time to get organized, but let’s not forget. February and Valentine’s Day aren’t too far away.

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Contact Susan Hazlett at or write to her in care of The Pantagraph, 301 W. Washington St., Bloomington, IL 61702-2907.


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