January Interior Design Tip: Purge!

Dear Shelly: Help! My home is just “blah.” I’ve spent years accumulating all sorts of things; furniture, art and accessories, most of which I liked, but now I’m not so sure. The more I get, the worse it looks, and it seems to be a hodgepodge of different styles. I’m tempted to get rid of everything and just start over. What do you recommend?  –  Elizabeth G.

Dear Elizabeth,

I truly feel your pain and frustration. It’s not as though you intentionally set out to make your home a source of frustrastion and dissatisfaction. You have spent time, effort and money in a quest for creating your idea of the perfect home, only to be left feeling discouraged and unhappy with your personal surroundings. What you lack is a comfortable and pleasing sanctuary to enjoy with family and friends.

The first step to achieve this haven of cozy tranquility? The dumpster and/or donation box(es!). Purge, big time, or “edit.” Be merciless, as long as you grasp the concept that this goes beyond typical “spring cleaning.”

For now, put away the cute feather duster, and arm yourself with gallon-sized trash bags and cartons. We need to start with a clean slate, and give your household treasures an opportunity to be set apart from the “junk” that has been granted equal status, yet doesn’t pull its own weight.

Like what, you might ask? In my home this year, I am on a mission to “be real,” inspired by my late son Matt’s life philosophy. This month I began going through my house with a box, working my way around the room, and asked myself the question, “Do I really love this object?”

The standards of “love” could be sentimental, something of dollar value, or beauty. Another value test for this question would be the “what would you rescue from the house if you had to evacuate in 30 minutes?” question. Obviously, those belongings earn immediate “stay” status. “Whew!” sighs the circa 1989 candy dish made by your now-grown child.

Items that passed the “love it” test still have to pass a second question: “Is this item negative?” I”m not getting groovy on you, but, as complex, sensitive human beings, we have subconscious awareness that constantly processes our environment. Think about the history of the object, and be aware of whether memory ties are good, bad or indifferent.

Bad? Get rid of it, out of your house and out of your life, for good. In print, this sounds slow and tedious, but you can move along fairly rapidly, and you will soon realize a gradual lightening of an emotional burden. All this clutter has, in effect, been demanding your attention, and robbing you of the opportunity to relish your surroundings and habitat. Rooms like kitchens are notorious for accumulating multiples upon multiples.

Case in point, how many measuring cups does a household need? I was shocked, in purging my kitchen, to find that I possessed (rather, they possessed me) four different oddball sets of measuring cups, yet none – except one – was a complete set.


Would you believe, I actually paused, thinking of various uses for incomplete measuring cup sets? Here’s a common thread in those who are buried in too much: We have creative imaginations.

Empty jars, mismatched cups, a plate with a chip, dozens of knives, utensils, wine glasses, ancient cookie sheets, etc. I could cite half dozen “creative possibilities” for these things, but in reality they merely serve as excuses for possessive gluttony. In my household purging exercise, I did my best to recycle castoffs to thrift shops. The rest was junk only fit for the dumpster.

Another liberating and unexpected level of this purging is giving away that which is perfectly good, even very nice, but something you have rarely used, or something that you have in duplicate, or multiples, such as nice dishes and vases. The goodness that comes from giving away that which you know has value, or would serve to enhance another’s life, is a gift that serves full circle.

Soon, as you methodically account for every “thing” in your household, you will be reintroduced to the objects truly deserving of imparting visual, functional and emotional importance in your home. Enjoy the satisfaction of a job well done, for yourself, your family and for others.

Now, how to begin reappointing all your reunited treasures? That’s another column for another day.

Editor’s note: This is a best-of column that first appeared on anewscafe.com on Jan. 28, 2008, back when this site had just a few thousand readers, unlike the nearly 60,000 unique visitors who read anewscafe.com today.

Shelly Shively is formally trained in the art of re-design, and is IRDN (Interior -Re-design Network) certified. Shelly is a freelance artist, illustrator and muralist.  She can be reached at leinanishively@gmail.com

Shelly Shively
Shelly Shively lives in Redding. She is Interior re-design network certified. Among her specialties are real estate staging, furnishing vacation and new homes, and the art of interior re-design where she transforms and refreshes clients living spaces using their existing belongings. Shelly is also a freelance artist, illustrator, muralist, Whiskeytown kayak volunteer and curator at O Street Gallery. To inquire about a consultation, she may be reached at 530-276-4656 or leinanishively@gmail.com
Comment Policy: We welcome your comments, with some caveats: Please keep your comments positive and civilized. If your comment is critical, please make it constructive. If your comment is rude, we will delete it. If you are constantly negative or a general pest, troll, or hater, we will ban you from the site forever. The definition of terms is left solely up to us. Comments are disabled on articles older than 90 days. Thank you. Carry on.

6 Responses

  1. Avatar Canda says:

    I love this column, Shelly. I just took a huge bag of various cups, nick-knacks, and napkins to the Discovery Shop yesterday. Of course I didn't leave empty-handed (never do). But, hey, money spent there goes to a good cause, so I'm just doing my part.

    As far as a comfortable pleasing sanctuary , since you did our redesign, Shelly, our home has become just that. It's so inviting and relaxing now. We can't thank you enough for the beautiful job you did. You're one talented lady! Happy New Year to you!

  2. Avatar Matt Grigsby says:

    This really is a great article. "Excuses for possessive gluttony" is just about the best phrase ever.

    Of course I'm not ready to part with all of my amazing treasures, but when I am I'm going to keep this notion in mind. Just as soon as I get back from the thrift store to see what you got rid of!

  3. Avatar Terry says:

    Thank you, Shelly. This really hit home.

    As an example, I love baking pans and cookie sheets made in America, and received a whole new set for Christmas. But I was keeping those ancient cookie sheets, though, since – you nailed it! – my creative imagination. "What if one day I'm painting with my granddaughter, and …."

    But, as you also said, those are just excuses to keep too much "stuff". They are now headed out of my house, as are several other things. Thank you!

  4. Avatar Joanne Lobeski Snyde says:

    I don't believe there's a piece of furniture in my home that isn't second-hand. I'm writing this at my husband's great-grandfather's desk. Bob sits in his grandfather's chair and I sit in a chair that we bought from his great aunt. We did not set out to accumulate anyTHING but accumulated treasured items from father's and mother's and aunts who are all gone. Would that we all had attics in which to store venerable pieces of furniture, art or clothing or jewels. I love the notion of a great-grandchild discovering furniture or clothing that is out of style and putting it to use because it is once again in style.

  5. Avatar CATTLE GIRL says:


  6. I was recommended this web site by my cousin.

    I am not sure whether this post is written by him as no one else know such detailed

    about my problem. You're incredible! Thanks!