Schroedinger's Junk Drawer
February 10, 2010 6:52 AM   Subscribe

Decluttering Filter: Imagine you're emigrating, or moving with only a van or so. What items are the ones to keep, and which are best to replace?

I'm having trouble trying to pare down my possessions to a small space and, in order to stick to the 'have less of better' idea, am trying to imagine which of this stuff I'd be willing to pack up were I to move next week. But then I think about the wooden coathangers I threw out, or the plates I tossed only to need more later...not to mention all the money I spent tossing and replacing. What is the stuff to keep?
posted by mippy to Home & Garden (18 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
I've made these exact decisions several times over the last 8 years, having moved 7 times in that time.

It helps if you don't throw anything in the garbage, but donate it to charity. That way, any "waste guilt" is off-set by "donation warm-feeling". If it isn't actually worn out, someone can use it.

If it's sentimental, keep it. If it's sentimental and you really don't have room (and it's not THAT sentimental), take a photo of it, and then donate it.

Keep what you use at least once per year. If you haven't used it in the last year, you don't really need it. Christmas tree? check. Fancy dress for the one-off occassion? If you don't have one wedding a year to go to, then wear it at Christmas.

Keep what you use all the time handy -- put the rest away in storage. If there are only one or two of you, keep 2-4 plates in the main cupboard, and the other 8 tucked up on a high shelf for a party. Or use paper/plastic plates for the party.

And have a place for everything. I've lived in tiny spaces with good storage (wardrobes, bookshelves) that were far less cluttered than big places with no storage. Portable cupboards/wardrobes are your friends, as is shelving as high as you can get it.
posted by jb at 7:08 AM on February 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Also, wooden coathangers are just commodities. You can rebuy them for so cheap. Just think of lack of frustration as being worth paying $10 for. Sure, I regret giving away my British £5 laundry hamper or £3 european style rolling pin that turned out to be more difficult to replace in the US than I thought they would be. But these things don't keep me up at night, and I have really no money.

The Salvation Army Thift Stores/Goodwill really do rock. I donate, I buy -- it's a lovely revolving door for little stuff you need, and you're giving money to charity to help people who are worse off. It's win-win.
posted by jb at 7:13 AM on February 10, 2010

The minimal set is the things you literally can't replace: specific mementos, photos, etc. Next things that are costly or difficult to replace, then the rest is just everyday stuff. If you're worrying about plates and coathangers, I'd think about using cheaper ones. "Less of better" is only worth it for things where spending more actually gets you something more durable or desirable.
posted by crocomancer at 7:13 AM on February 10, 2010

Seconding Goodwill/Thrift stores to replace unsentimental, inexpensive and washable household items. Thrift stores do rock! I've been happy buying my glassware, barware, bowls, kitchen gear, etc. at thrift stores even years after I could afford not to.

Space saving tip: Instead of bulky newspaper or packing materials, use your own clothing and linens to wrap fragile items like dishes.
posted by applemeat at 7:28 AM on February 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

As much of your media as possible should be digital with online back up. Music, movies and books are heavy, easily damaged, and in most cases unnessary to have on hand at all times.
posted by 2bucksplus at 7:43 AM on February 10, 2010

What would you still want around in 50 years (sentimental stuff)? What will still function, or be better, in 50 years (i.e. cast iron cookware)?

Then with any left over room, what is going to be most costly to replace when you get to your new destination, excluding exceptionally large, bulky stuff.

Also, filling a large rubbermaid tub and mailing it to yourself often works well (at least it did for me in canada.) The tubs are about $10. It costs $50 bucks to mail them regular mail (which is slow, but will get there eventually). So if you can fit $60 worth of items in the tub, it's paid for. Duct tape that sucker shut and slap it in the mail.

But be careful with the tubs, because after 5 moves in 5 years, I can say that less is definitely more. The only thing I miss is a wooden trinket my late grandfather carved for me.
posted by Brodiggitty at 8:00 AM on February 10, 2010

Take a cardboard (or whatever) box, between 1.5 and 2.5 cubic feet. That is the box for your sentimental stuff. Decide what goes in it, and anything that doesn't go in it should be given away (of course, if you have a large sentimental object like a lamp or sculpture or something, that doesn't count, as long as you want to put it in your new place). Indeed, if you can give away these sentimental objects to your friends, that's best.

Take the clothes you wear most, excepting the ones that are nearing the end of their life. You're gonna have to replace them soon anyways.

Take as many books as you can. Because they're books.
posted by Jon_Evil at 8:13 AM on February 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Apart from the advice to keep what you can't replace (which I agree with), you should also keep what you'll need on Day 1 at your new place. Soap, paper towels, and dumb sundries like that are easy to overlook, but make a big difference in the speed and ease with which you can get settled at your new place. In the last few moves I've made, I've had a box of stuff like this that is the last to get loaded and first to get unloaded.

Keep at least provisionally any stuff that will be a PITA if you need to replace it immediately or do without. A kitchen table and a couple of chairs, that sort of thing. Even if you don't like what you've got, bring it so you don't eat dinner on the floor for your first week,. This should give you time to get the lay of the land in your new place, troll Craigslist for something better, that sort of thing, rather than rushing into buying the first thing that comes along. Of course, if it's prohibitively expensive to bring these things, you might need to reconsider.
posted by adamrice at 8:28 AM on February 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Moving costs $x per cubic foot and $y per pound, depending on the length and type of move. Then you can figure out how much it costs to move each item. If you would not buy that item for that amount right now, don't move it.

This really helped me. Would I pay $20 to buy some crappy but huge speakers or $3 for a ratty old towel, etc? Hell no. Then why should I pay that much to move them?
posted by cjemmott at 9:04 AM on February 10, 2010 [3 favorites]

Remember that the us has an overabundance of stores willing to store a huge amount of stuff for you in limitless amounts and readily available almost any time, and buying new stuff is almost always cheaper than the cost of storing it. So if it is just a commodity-ditch it. you can buy it new/used cheaper than moving it across the country (across town is different). who cares if your sofa doesn't match your table (or if you have a sofa). Like tyler durden says you are not your khakis, and it doesn't matter what your coffee table says about you.

Goodwill/st vincent de paul/restore all have a huge amount of stuff really cheap. Craigslist is a pain between the flakes and bleeding heart stories, but has some great deals. I have been able to get really good used furniture from office supply stores. Sometimes it looks like i am running a doctors office but once again who cares? The only thing i can't bring myself to part with is a really good, extensive set of tools (mac, snap-on and such) as the cost of moving even heavy items like this is way less than the cost of replacements, so sometimes moving makes sense (i do use the tools to keep various cars running and build my own furniture as the need arises). Remember the stuff you own can end up owning you.
posted by bartonlong at 9:17 AM on February 10, 2010

Prob obv, but don't take anything that's bent, warped, stained, rusted, cracked, broken, chipped, too small or too big. All that aside, try to garage-sale or donate stuff that's heavy to move, or that you can replace with more efficient newer models: air conditioners, de- and regular humidifiers, stuff like that. One piece of great advice I once got is: If you can't decide whether to take it, imagine how you'll feel at the other end, when you're unpacking, and you discover you packed the scratched-up aluminum baking dish that has dried cornbread grease in the corners. (For instance.)
posted by scratch at 9:17 AM on February 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've made 3 transatlantic moves and have become particularly ruthless over the years. Any object without sentimental value can be purchased again. I kept art, photos, letters, music and to be honest, now I would scan the photos (probably only those that are less than 10 yrs old) and burn the music if I really had to. I have jacked all my CD boxes and only have disks.

The key point is to look at something, think about its cost new and whether it's worth paying X amount to ship it.

You should also consider setting yourself a liimit - my first two moves I limited myself to my checking and carry on allowance, last time I also shipped two tea chests, but this meant that I had to make tough choices about what was shipped and what wasn't.

I donated all my books, which nearly killed me, but now I rely on the library.

I kept several kitchen dishes and glassware even though they were heavy/fragile because they had sentimental value.

Everything else went to goodwill or freecycle. I'm not a particularly materialistic person (although i do like nice things), and this was a real exercise in learning what value really meant.
posted by poissonrouge at 10:02 AM on February 10, 2010 [1 favorite] has many threads that cover this exact topic.
posted by special-k at 10:11 AM on February 10, 2010

You have a whole van to fill? I changed continents with just a couple of bags.

Start by thinking you'll get rid of everything you can buy on the other end. Pack the fantastic and irreplaceable stuff and jam it into the van, or digitize things you don't really have to have on original media. Give the originals to loved ones or get naked, rub yourself with grease and feathers, go out back, and burn the originals while you dance around the fire.

Have a shower while you think about the rest of the stuff and decide what you would still absolutely use daily or weekly for at least the next year or two if you had it at your destination, stuff you would have to buy very soon on the other end if you didn't take it with you. Stuff you need to settle in immediately to work or home life. If it's durable stuff (work clothes you wear every week, good tools, books you definitely have or will read more than once, etc.), jam that shit into the van.

Everything else -- all the not quite necessary stuff, even if it cost you a lot at the time and was hardly ever used and is still in great condition and it seems a shame not to hang on to it -- all that shit goes to relatives, friends, neighbors (heavy stuff is easy to move across the hall or across the street), the Goodwill, or the garbage. Dump the extra shoes you never wear, almost all of the furniture, the cheap ass electrical and electronic appliances, the stuff you could conceivably use but never really do.

Save yourself some moving effort by laying it all out and asking people over for a last beer and to grab any shit they like that isn't boxed and labeled for the move. Ask them over in order of how much you love them, so the best stuff goes to your favorite people.

You will be happier with less shit.
posted by pracowity at 11:01 AM on February 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think that the poster is not actually moving, but is looking to pare down their current life. Imagining a move is good for this, as is having to actually move (especially overseas). I have trouble estimating volume, myself, that's why I prefer to do the "have I used it in the past year" strategy. This works especially well for regular clothes -- if you haven't worn it in the past year, then you probably won't again (because it doesn't fit/suit/isn't comfortable/etc).*

Obviously, book or media collections are different than clothes or tools -- you will use them less often, but still choose to keep them. In that case, I always ask myself: will I read/watch/listen to it again? If the answer is no, it gets donated. (I try not to buy if the answer is no, but sometimes you have no choice).

With cookware, I try to avoid things that only do one thing unless that thing is something I use a lot (bread maker, used every 2-3 days) or it is small (meat thermometer, used only a few times a year, but small). There is a reason I don't own a bundt pan, or a lemon squeezer, and I wouldn't own a waffle iron if it didn't come with a hot sandwich maker my husband uses all the time (because both of us prefer pancakes). I have only a few pots with few specialised ones (the crepes get made in the stir-fry pan), and I bake and roast in the same 9x9 square pan (a very versatile size). I have 6 cooking knives, but I could live with 3-4 (chef's knife, paring, bread knife and maybe carving, but I don't carve well anyway -- and that one rarely gets used.)

*Exceptions may be made for awesome replica medieval dresses you made when you were 15 and which don't quite fit because you are 32 (and have way more up-top and around the middle), but are still hard to let go of. That said, if I don't get back down the requisite 10-15 pounds in the next 5 years, I'm taking pictures of it and trying to find a suitable home for it (in this case, with a fantasy or medieval geek, because it's too cool to send to the mundanes at a thrift shop. It has a matching kirtle and all).
posted by jb at 1:36 PM on February 10, 2010

Think of ditching your old furniture, plates and appliances as a chance to redecorate and modernize. It's a new period in your life-- why shouldn't it look new, too? All questions of cost aside, you deserve not to have your life weighed down by a bunch of old crap.

I moved to New York from Los Angeles with one large suitcase and felt absolutely great about it. Good luck!
posted by aquafortis at 1:37 PM on February 10, 2010

The problem with the way you've framed your question--and therefore many of the responses--is that your choices will be different depending on whether you are ACTUALLY planning on a long-distance move with a van's worth of stuff (in which case, getting rid of stuff that cheaply and easily be replaced is a major component) or whether you are just using this van as a metaphor for how much stuff you actually want to keep, while remaining in your current locale (in which case getting rid of stuff that can cheaply and easily be replaced, but which you USE ALL THE TIME is a huge mistake!).

My advice to you is to focus on actuals, vs. hypotheticals. Not "can I use this?" but "do I use this." Get rid of what you don't use, first. Then, break down what is left into frequency of use. Things you use every day. Things you use every week. Things you use once a month. Things you use every six months. Things you use once a year. Etc. One of those cut-off points will dictate where you start making hard decisions.

If your wooden coathangers are used for hanging up clothes that you wear all the time, you're not saving any space by throwing them out. But if you've pared down your wardrobe so that 80% of it is stuff you wear all the time and you find you have dozens of extra hangers, then the hangers are only encouraging you to find more clothes you don't need to fill them up.
posted by drlith at 1:59 PM on February 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

I personally would keep all CDs, books, mementos, favorite clothes/linens, and bills/legal documents. Actually I'm paring down my possessions now and those are my criteria. I have four boxes waiting to be donated. It's a great feeling! Definitely donate, freecycle, or recycle everything you decide to get rid of.
posted by halonine at 10:38 PM on February 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

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