The Big Purge

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Aside from the six bicycles I have at home, I have usually thought of myself as being pretty minimalist. For example, when I moved to Fort Collins 10 years ago, I had only six boxes of various household items, some small bags of sports-specific equipment, and three bikes (one of which I left in California, where it still remains today). In fact, I was able to pack everything in small two-seat sports cars. And for years afterward, whenever friends would come into my house, they would make a comment that went along the lines of “Your place is very uncluttered. I like how do not have much stuff.”

So it was a bit of a shock to see just how many material objects I had accumulated when going around the house to take inventory of the items I have not used in over a year and/or wanted to donate, sell, or discard. I dubbed this exercise The Big Purge. During The Big Purge, I wondered, “How in the world and why did I get all these things?”

My closet is now quite a bit emptier, as shown in the featured photo of this post. I am also down to about 10 hard copy books, including some mechanical engineering reference manuals, a thick course catalog from my years at Stanford, some compilations by Peter Egan that I could not find at the library or in digital format, and Une Année en Provence by Peter Mayle (the French translation of his excellent A Year in Provence).


Being somewhat obsessive-compulsive about simplifying and living clutter-free, almost every year I have done some sort of home cleanout—only on a smaller scale. But for The Big Purge, I got inspiration from two people in particular.

One was my friend Adam Tow from Stanford. This year he adopted a minimalist uniform and discarded a ton of clothing—clothes he no longer needed because of his uniform and because many of them no longer fit since he lost over 30 pounds during the last couple years.

The second inspiration was Bea Johnson of the Zero Waste Home. Bea stated,

“It’s important to say that when you have things that you don’t need, you’re holding them from other people. You’re keeping them from being useful to other people.”

Her motto is “Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot…in that order.” I am pretty good at the last three activities, and The Big Purge helps address the second. Clearly, going forward I need to be better about the first.

Look how wonderfully clutter-free her Marin, California home is in this video!

She majored in fashion design in college and yet her closet consists of “three pairs of pants, one shorts, two skirts, one bra.” Still, I don’t think her closet is as minimalist as Adam’s.

Donated Items

I donated the following items so other people could use them and I could get a tax write-off (in the case of donating to non-profit organizations).

I gave most things to the Vietnam Veterans of America organization, since they usually can pick up donations (excluding large furniture) from your home within 24 hours. But I gave all the books to the library. Many of the books I did not read, but I noted many of them on my reading list to either check out from the library or obtain in digital format (my preference) for reading in the future.

There were also a tent and a swing that the previous owner of my house left behind 10 years ago that I gave away in the free category on Craigslist.

  • Over 50 articles of clothing, including 20 race shirts and about half a dozen caps. Most of these were given to me free at sporting events but I rarely wore them for various reasons, such as they did not fit or jive with my fashion sense.
  • Nineteen books.
  • An old handbag.
  • The aforementioned tent and swing that the previous homeowner left.
  • Other miscellaneous small items that are depicted in the photos.

Items Sold on eBay and Craigslist

I sold the following items on eBay and Craigslist for $410 after shipping costs and PayPal, listing and final value fees.

  1. Garmin Edge 500
  2. Outdoor Research Helium Bivy
  3. Good Ideas SMP-BLK 7-Cubic Foot Compost Wizard Jr. Soil Machine PRO, Black
  4. Garmin Forerunner 110
  5. Topeak MTX BeamRack Bike Rack – V-Type Seatpost Quick-Release Mount
  6. Nexcon solar charger 5000mAh
  7. Garmin HR monitor
  8. Nokia wireless Qi charging plate DT-900 white
  9. Park TP2 toilet paper holder
  10. Profile Design bottle for aerobars
  11. Texas Instruments BA II Plus
  12. Pool buoys and fins
  13. X Light solar bicycle head light
  14. Panasonic Battery Charger DE-A11B
  15. Dell R832H 4GB mSATA SSD (STEC DEL00-01870-1A1CU)
  16. FuelBelt Aero FuelBox
  17. Kirkland Mini Wooden Hammer Tool
  18. Adjustable Line Output Converter, PAC SNI-35
  19. Motorola Moto E screen protector

Tips on Purging

These are few tips on how and what to “let go” of.

  • If you have not used an item in a year, you most likely do not need it.
  • A lot of people I have talked to keep things around strictly for sentimental reasons. For example, a friend whom I helped move into a 100-square-foot bedroom had kept a large cat scratching post even though her cat passed away years ago because the post reminds her of the cat. A solution that works well for me is to take a bunch of photos. Digital photos take up no physical space, can be filed and easily found if named intelligently, and are accessible from anywhere if you store them on the cloud (such as with OneDrive).
  • My friend Tori, who also felt she had too much “stuff,” came up with a good rule: For each new item she acquires, she has to get rid of one. This could, of course, be modified to “get rid of two” or “get rid of three” depending on your situation.

A Note About Craigslist

Generally I have had pretty good luck dealing with folks through Craigslist. But I have also encountered several flaky people who are quick to claim free items, then never come and pick them up. I gave one person, for example, five chances to pick up some free wooden garden stakes the previous homeowner left behind, and ultimately she never did despite saying after the fourth time, “I promise to pick them up today.”

My advice, then, when you are listing free stuff on Craigslist: add a line at the bottom saying, “While I am giving this away for free, I ask that if you claim them, you must pick them up when you say you will.”

donated clothes, many T-shirts, hats, donationsItems for donation to the Vietnam Veterans of America to be picked up from my front porch.The closet after the Big Purge.books for donation$410 (after listing, final value and shipping fees) worth of items that were sold on eBay and and orange plastic 2-person tentpink swing, green chain

Your Voice

  • jonathan zeif says:

    I like the idea of “minimalism,” but I don’t understand the rationale behind getting rid of things like pull buoys, battery chargers, multi function knife, bivy sack, bottle for aero bars, and many other items. What if you need and/or want these items in the future (are you sure you’ll never use a pull buoy again? 🙂 In that case, you will have to purchase again the specific item… seems very wasteful, in terms of time and money, unless you are thinking of it from a benefactor point of view, in that you are providing these used items to other people, and then just buying a new item as a replacement whenever you need it…..?

    • Felix Wong says:

      “Will I need this again?” is a good question to ask whenever making a decision to get rid of something. But it is equally important to answer it truthfully. I think a lot of people think “I might need this again in the future” when they really do not, and it leads to hoarding!

      In the case of the items above, I can honestly answer “I will most likely not need them”:

      • Pull buoys: those were a gift to me; used maybe 3 times in the last 10 years. My neighborhood pool and EPIC have pull buoys so if I need them, I’d use those instead. To remember the gift and thoughtfulness of the person who gave them to me, I took photos. 🙂
      • Battery charger: that was for a specific/unique lithium battery for a Panasonic digital camera that bit the dust 6 years ago, hence never used since.
      • Multi-function knife: Won in a raffle; never used. I have plenty of tools that serve the same purpose.
      • Bivy sack: Only purchased it for the Trans Am Bike Race. Was disappointed in its lack of waterproofneess. Even if I decide to use a bivy sack in the future again, would not want to use this particular model.
      • Bottle for aerobars: Used once since 9 years ago, when I did my last Ironman triathlon.

      There might be a couple items I may need again in the future, but they can always be repurchased—often with a new and improved model. Also keep in mind that many items (especially electronics like the Garmins) depreciate rapidly, so if they are not going to be used it makes sense to sell them sooner than later.

      In the meantime I’d rather have less clutter to sift through while looking for something I really need to use. It also makes me happy to think something that otherwise would just sit around the house collecting dust and cobwebs can be used and appreciated by other people.

  • Adam says:

    Excellent progress, Felix! My first Icebreaker Anatomica t-shirt is starting to show some tiny holes in the back. This is no doubt due to (1) the fabric being so delicate and that (2) I’ve been wearing the shirt pretty much every day when I go out of the house. Fortunately, I bought at discount a few more Anatomica shirts now (a long-sleeve grey, heather gray, and black v-neck). I’m hoping to get a few more months of use from the original shirt before switching permanently to the backups.

    • Felix Wong says:

      That is great, Adam! I guess you already got well over 100 uses (days) of our first Icebreaker shirt so it is good you have some on-sale ones waiting in the cards when it is time to finally retire it.

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