cluttered closet

I would never describe myself as a “pack rat”, but when I took on a roommate, I had to smush everything that filled two bedrooms into one.  At that point I realized I had way too much stuff.  I could barely walk around in my room because it was so full of stuff, much of which I hardly used anymore.

In this article, I’ll talk about why you should de-clutter, what you should get rid of, and how to get rid of it.  You might even make some money in the process!

Why you should de-clutter

If you already know that you need to de-clutter (like if you are moving for example), you can skip to the next section. If you still need motivation, here are some great reasons to get rid of stuff:

  • You’ll have more living space
  • Your living space will be easier to keep tidy, and it will look nicer
  • While sorting through your stuff to decide what to get rid of, you’ll find things you’ve been looking for (this totally happened to me!)
  • After you’ve de-cluttered, you can organize your remaining stuff better and it will be easier to find things.
  • You can make some money if you can sell your stuff (I made thousands of dollars).  If you donate it, you can get a tax write-off.
  • By selling or donating your stuff, you will be helping someone in need who won’t have to buy it at full price, which should make you feel good.
  • If you are able to sell or donate your stuff, you will be helping the environment, because that item won’t need to be manufactured from scratch (which takes a lot more resources).
  • You will save in moving costs if you ever have to move.
  • You’ll be happier and feel liberated, believe me!!

What to get rid of

Are you excited about de-cluttering yet?  If so, the next step is to decide what to get rid of. Maybe you already have things in mind.  Here are a few more suggestions on what you should consider getting rid of:

  • Anything you wouldn’t buy at a garage sale
    When going through your stuff, ask yourself, “If I didn’t have this item, but I found it at a garage sale, would I buy it?”  If the answer is “no”, get rid of it.
  • Old Media
    IMG_7147_smallMany people have collections of types of media including vinyl records, VHS tapes, CDs, DVDs, cassette tapes, and so forth.  For me, it was CDs.  I went ahead and ripped them to my computer and sold or donated all of them.  In the process, I re-discovered my music collection, because I was only listening to music on my phone and computer, never on CDs.  Many of these media types can be ripped to your computer or re-purchased in much more convenient digital form.  Check out this article on ripping tapes to your computer.
  • Old hobby stuff
    electronic keyboardEvaluate your old hobbies to see which ones you’ll really take up again.  For me, it was electronic music equipment.  I had so much of it, yet rarely used it anymore.  I sold it and made over a thousand dollars!
  • Old sports / camping equipment
    Punching BagHow likely is it that you’ll use those snow shoes now that you’re living in Miami?  How often do you use that kayak, or skis, or scuba gear?  Would it be easier or even more economical to rent these in the future? For me, it was the punching bag that I never used.
  • Items that your kids have outgrown or don’t use anymore
    This means clothes, toys, books, old bikes, etc.
  • Collections/artwork
    sculptureDo you have a collection of anything taking up a lot of space?  Your shot glass collection was great in college, but are you really going to display them now?  Consider selling/donating stuff questionable collections and artwork that you don’t want anymore.  Think of more useful things that you could buy with the money.
  • Clothing/shoes/towels/blankets/sheets
    I am embarrassed to say that when I did my de-cluttering, I found two of the exact same shirt.  I had so many clothes that I didn’t know what I had and bought the same shirt twice.  I also had a lot of clothing that I hadn’t worn in years.  Donate items that you no longer wear or no longer fit.
  • Books
    I love books, but they take up a lot of space and are really heavy if you have to move.  I even had some books from college.  I donated most of them to a library.
  • Paper documents
    I was storing boxes and boxes of old pay stubs, bank statements, and receipts.  In many cases, the IRS only recommends saving records from the last three years.  It turns out that most of my recent records were online, so I was able to shred most of my paper records.  You could scan it, but that takes a ton of time unless you have an automatic feeder.
  • Obsolete or broken equipment
    If you’re hanging on to something that isn’t working with the thought that you’ll get it fixed later, consider getting rid of it.  I mean, if you really needed it, you would have fixed it by now, right?  Also, get rid of any obsolete equipment, no matter how much you paid for it originally.  I had a kickass video camera that used those small video tapes.  It was expensive in its time, but virtually worthless now, so I gave it away. Get rid of those old computers, but be sure to dispose of them properly and destroy the hard drives first.
  • Furniture
    If you’ve downsized at some point, like I did, then you might need to get rid of furniture.  I have one thing to say about that: Craigslist (more on that later).
  • Tools
  • Anything that you haven’t used in the last two years – consider!

Overall, my advice when deciding what to get rid of is to think big.  Leave no item exempt from consideration.  There are so many things that glossed over when I made my first pass at de-cluttering because I thought “I might use that someday”.  Only later did I realize that was probably a fantasy.

Going through your stuff

Depending on how much stuff you have, you might want to block out a whole afternoon, or even a whole day to go through your stuff.  Separate it into stuff to sell, donate, or trash.

A trick to get motivated if you’re unsure

Something I do to help me feel good about getting rid of stuff is to gather the items under consideration and move them into a “staging area”.  For example, move the stuff out of your bedroom and into the garage.  If you don’t have a garage, move it into your living room (temporarily).

Next, re-arrange your room given all of the new space you have.  For me, I usually like the new less-cluttered room so much better that I can’t wait to get rid of the stuff that I’ve moved out!!

If you’re still unsure, let the items sit for a week and see if you miss them.  Hopefully after that, you can feel good about getting rid of them.

Parting with sentimental items

It can be hard to part with sentimental items.  What do you do if you have boxes of Christmas and birthday cards, your kids’ drawings, old letters, etc?

In my case, I had kind of a silly situation.  I had some moving boxes which an ex-girlfriend had written really sweet, silly things about me on.  I treasured those boxes and saved them for years!  I loved what she wrote, but it was silly to keep the empty boxes.  My solution was to take digital photos of them.  I was then able to get rid of them.

So, if possible, photograph or scan sentimental items that you want to remember.  This might be enough to let you part with the items.  A digital photo or scan will never fade!

Making money from your stuff

moneyIf you have the time, or if you need the money, and your stuff has value, you might be able to make a few bucks by selling it!  Beware though, most people have a tendency to think that their stuff is worth more than it really is, because they are thinking of the price they paid for it when it was new.  If you can let go of that, and price your items at the real market resale value, there is the opportunity to make some quick cash.  But don’t just think about the money; think about the benefit you will get of not tripping over these items in your garage, basement, or closet anymore.

Okay, here are some ways to make money from your items:

  • Garage (yard) sale or “swap party”
    The key to a successful yard sale is to make sure you can get sufficient foot traffic and to price low.  Don’t think of a garage sale as a way to make money.  Instead, think of it as a donation of stuff to your community, and a way to de-clutter your life, with a small amount of monetary earnings as a perk. If you don’t have a yard, host a “swap party” at your place and invite friends.
  • Online garage sale
    If you don’t have access to a garage or yard, you can have a virtual garage sale through Facebook.  This will take a bit more work, as you will probably want to take photos of your stuff.  I have some friends who were moving and did this with good results.  Again, I recommend pricing low (or just giving the stuff away), because, hey, they are your friends and you don’t want to appear too greedy..
  • Craigslist
    If you have a little more time, you can try selling your stuff on Craigslist.  Search to see if similar items are on sale there to see if it viable.  I usually price a bit below what I see so that it moves fast.  Note that you’ll have to take good photos of your gear and take time dealing with interested buyers.  I personally have sold thousands of dollars worth of stuff on Craigslist, most of which I was able to move within a week with aggressive pricing.  If you have more time, you can price higher and wait.
  • ebay
    OK, if you have more time still, then you can try to sell your items on ebay.  In addition to photography, you’ll have to carefully pack and ship the items, so I only use this for things that will bring in a significant amount of money to make it worth my trouble.  Big things like furniture are best sold on Craigslist.  But ebay is great for smaller more valuable items like collectibles, valuable artwork, good electronic equipment, and so forth, and you’ll probably get more for them on ebay than on Craigslist, since ebay is nationwide.
  • Specialty stores
    I mentioned that I had a ton of CD’s.  I was able to sell about half of them to Second Spin and I donated the rest.  I got anywhere from fifty cents to a few dollars for each CD (or double-CD).  I had hundreds of CDs, so it added up to the cost of a few really good meals at a nice restaurant! If you have books, you can try selling them to a used bookstore.  If you have really valuable clothing, you can try selling it at a consignment store.
  • Donating
    If you have stuff that won’t sell, or you just want to be rid of it quickly (like right now), you can simply donate it at a local thrift shop or Goodwill.  You won’t get any cash, but you can take a tax deduction, and hopefully you’ll feel good knowing that you’re helping someone in need!  Make sure your items are clean and are indeed usable (and not trash).

Disposing of your remaining stuff

OK, let’s talk about the remaining stuff, the stuff not good enough to donate or give away.  There is still value in getting it out of your home and out of your life to free up space for things that you do need.  Obviously, you can throw a lot of this stuff in the trash, but there are a few exceptions:

  • Recycling
    Help the environment and recycle whatever you can.
  • Hazardous waste
    You need to make special arrangements when disposing of hazardous waste like household chemicals, paint, batteries, fluorescent tubes, automotive fluids, and electronic equipment (which contain lead solder and other toxic substances).  It is illegal in many places to throw hazardous waste in the trash.  Some cities have hazardous waste dropoff locations for residents.  Santa Monica (where I live), will pick up the stuff at your door if you schedule it.  I used this service to get rid of an old computer and other electronic items.  Check with your local city or county.
  • Bulky items
    Most city garbage services won’t pick up items that are too big to fit in a trash can.  You might need to schedule a pickup.  Some cities, like Providence, RI, have a service where you can schedule a pickup of an old mattress, for example.  They also have a drop off location specifically for mattresses, if you have a way to get it there (I strapped it on top of my sedan!)

After all of my selling, donating, and de-cluttering, I am thrilled!  I work from home, so my workspace is now tidy.  I can find things I need.  I feel like a weight has been lifted.  I’m happier!

I hope this article has given you the motivation and means to de-clutter your life!!  Please tell me about your experiences and tips for de-cluttering!

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