Purging all of the things
October 22, 2012 8:17 AM   Subscribe

Have you ever done a large purge of your possessions? How did you do it?

I have a lot of stuff. A LOT of stuff. I buy things I don't really need (I'm addressing that separately) but I also receive a lot of things from family that just pile up. While addressing the source of the buildup, I also want to rid myself of a lot of the bulk. I'd like to think I live a modern, sleek lifestyle, but I just have STUFF coming out of every corner of my apartment.

I'm pretty good about purging my clothes, and I do a cleanout about twice a year. I could donate more things, probably, but clothes aren't the bulk of the problem.

I don't even know how to describe the problem items as a group. They range from book and magazines to gadgets to very specific cooking tools to reusable bags to god knows what else.

I don't want to trash the stuff, because a lot of it is new or like new/useful. I have used Freecycle for some of it, but making posts is time-consuming and I would like to reap some money from the valuable items. I suppose Craigslist or eBay would be the next step, but again, listing things takes time and I'd have to arrange shipping for many, many items.

So, have you done this? Please tell me how you accomplished this without going nuts.
posted by rachaelfaith to Home & Garden (77 answers total) 88 users marked this as a favorite
I suppose Craigslist or eBay would be the next step, but again, listing things takes time and I'd have to arrange shipping for many, many items.

If one gets to the point where the process of getting rid of stuff is too time consuming or annoying then 90% of it should go.

Pick a date and everything bought before that date or that you haven't used since that date goes. It's only money and stuff, too much of either can drive you nuts.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:22 AM on October 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

I boxed/bagged up about 50% of my things and took them to Goodwill. In the long run, for me at least, any money I could've gotten for any of the things would not have equaled the time and energy and effort it would have taken to actually GET the money. Plus, I'd rather add it to my almost neverending list of itemized deductions for next year.
posted by elizardbits at 8:27 AM on October 22, 2012 [22 favorites]

Have you ever done a large purge of your possessions? How did you do it?

Moving house 5 times in 3 years. After the second or third time you start getting SERIOUSLY brutal with chucking stuff away that you don't need.

I don't know if you have "charity shops" in the US (I think Goodwill is something similar?) - but we just took bags and bags and bags of our old stuff and dropped it off at various charity shops (and a fair few bags at the dump). Donating it means you don't have to spend the time and energy putting it on freecycle (and arranging collection etc), plus the charity benefits from your stuff.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 8:28 AM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Do you know a teenager? Would you be willing to part with say 40% of the money earned? Because there you go.

Or, I know you fee like you want some money for the items BUT I can assure you that just having them out of the house will make you feel so much better than the few dollars will. Pack up some boxes and bags and take it all to Goodwill, seconds after dropping it off you will feel so much lighter and better you won't care about the money.

You can also just pick out 3-5 things that you think will bring more money and sell just those items. Then you will see what a giant pain in the ass it is and (most likely) how it doesn't bring it as much money as you thought and then you can feel good about just taking the whole lot to Goodwill.
posted by magnetsphere at 8:28 AM on October 22, 2012

For a lot of stuff, it's not worth the time or effort for me to ebay or to try and sell on craigslist. So, off to charity it goes.

I feel really fortunate at those times to live in a place where there are a lot of folks who come around and trash pick (not just folks picking up cans, but people who take appliances and fix them up, and scrap metal folks, plus college kids looking for furniture etc), so things that I don't feel good about giving to charity (too beat up, etc), I put out the night before trash day and sure enough they're gone in the morning.

Depending on where you live, one thing that can work is to put it out (easily accessible if not actually on the sidewalk) well before trash pickup time and post to craigslist saying "this free stuff at this place, until whatever time".
posted by rmd1023 at 8:30 AM on October 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

I had a fire that destroyed my apartment. That worked pretty well, but I don't recommend it.

If you don't have a deadline you're working against (move, etc.), just commit yourself to gettin rid of ten things every week. Make posts on Craiglist; have a couple of two-hour windows each week during which people can come get them so you don't have to deal with coordinating pickups (the most annoying part of selling stuff on CL ime). Group small like items that aren't worth selling on thier own together - "Box of misc. kitchen gadgets, $20, must take all."

You have to decide how much money you're willing to lose out on for convenience. Stuff will sell, and sell quickly and conveniently, if you price it at about 75% of what you think it's worth.
posted by peachfuzz at 8:31 AM on October 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: How did you do it?

Moved. My family has a saying: "Three moves is as good as a fire." There's nothing like the knowledge that one is going to have to pack, schlep, unpack, and put away a given item to motivate one to ask whether said item is strictly necessary, or even desired. Including moving in and out of dorm rooms in college, I've had to move house completely something like eighteen times since 2000. One learns to be pretty brutal about getting rid of stuff with that kind of mobility, particularly if, as I was in most of the earlier moves, one is limited to the stuff one can fit in one's car.

At this point in my life, the easiest way to take care of most of this stuff is just to drop it off at Goodwill or the Salvation Army. But that's because I itemize my deductions and can thus realize a fairly sizable tax benefit for this sort of thing. Five bags of men's clothing? At $50 a piece, that's a $250 deduction, which will likely net me something like $50 in tax savings. It's easier than selling it, and they'll take basically everything, so there's no hassle.

You may not be in the same position, which makes that more of a last resort type option. Here's the thing: your sense that a lot of the stuff has value to someone is probably correct. But finding that person and extracting said value from them represents an enormous expenditure of time and effort. I don't know what you do for a living, but odds are very, very good that the amount you could actually get for this would fall significantly below the amount you can earn in an hour. So even if you don't get a deduction, the benefit of getting this stuff out of your hair now is probably still worth anything you might lose by donating instead of selling.

Short version: be brutal about stuff you don't need and just donate it. If you haven't touched something in a year, you probably won't miss it if you were to ditch it.
posted by valkyryn at 8:31 AM on October 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Have you ever done a large purge of your possessions? How did you do it?

I stopped worrying about whether something was "valuable." None of it was, because I didn't value it; besides, with the exception of a handful of expensive gadgets, none of it was worth that much money. Not, at least, relative to the thought of not having all this random unnecessary crap.

So what I did - what I still do, on a small scale, regularly - is I went around to every single object in my home. I anthropomorphized it. And I said, you there! Gadget, book, whatever - what good are you doing? Do you really deserve to stay? Why are you here? And if the Thing couldn't immediately respond - "Oh, you use me all the time when you have company over" or "You sit on me every Saturday" - it got tossed in a Donate or Trash box. Maybe-useful wasn't good enough; possibly-convenient wouldn't do it. Everything has to be used all the time or at least used for Very Important Events, or it goes.

In other words: The default should not be "Do I toss this." The default assumption is everything will be thrown out, every last object, and each one has to fight for its life.
posted by Tomorrowful at 8:32 AM on October 22, 2012 [38 favorites]

I made a blog with a priced list, plus photos where appropriate, of the items and emailed it to my friends. Within hours I had people I didn't know (friends of friends of friends) offering to drop by and collect items. (This was pre-Facebook; if I were doing the same thing today I'd obviously use FB as well.) Anything that didn't sell, I gave to friends or donated to a charity shop.
posted by hot soup girl at 8:32 AM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

I just moved cross-country for the third time in the last 3 years so I'm pretty good at getting rid of stuff. This time, we listed things on Craigslist that we thought we could get at least $50 for -- the rest went to Goodwill or we gave them away to friends & family. Set a minimum price that you'll go through the trouble of selling things for. We tried listing a DVD player for $10 and the amount of hassle in responding to people and then having them not show up just ain't worth it.
posted by jabes at 8:33 AM on October 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

yeah, moving helped.

I also have adopted what I call the "box method." In my basement sits a very large box. When I see something sitting around driving me nuts, or something shows up that I'm not sure I need/want/whatever, into the box it goes. Once a quarter, I call up purple heart or the vietnam vets or whatever, and have them come get the box, plus any clothes I've decided to part with for that quarter. I don't go back through the box, unless I'm frantically searching for something that I think might have been deposited there.
posted by dpx.mfx at 8:34 AM on October 22, 2012

What about donating things to Goodwill or a local thrift store? That is where my excess goes.

I've sold off entire households of stuff, twice:

1. Posted the stuff on FB. My friends claimed about 90% of the furniture/kitchen stuff/electronics. Really helpful if you have the number of cheap haulers handy for your friends. (Found my go-to haulers on CL).

2. Craigslist collections or specialized items. Free/v. cheap. I got rid of an entire glassware collection in an hour.

3. Everything else goes to Goodwill. If you don't have a car, find a charity that picks up donations.

Do the FB/CL listings on a weekend you have no plans. Being able to be flexible with when people pick things up is half the battle.
posted by peacrow at 8:35 AM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, also, for things that are still useful, like baby items, I will often use facebook. Just posting "hey, anyone need X" will sometimes get rid of things. There are also lots of trading/swap/freecycle type groups organized by area that seem to see a lot of action - you just have to be careful not to shop or trade, as that won't help you with cutting things down, obviously!
posted by dpx.mfx at 8:36 AM on October 22, 2012

I've had a smaller-scale version of this problem. Like everyone else here, I rarely even try to sell extraneous items. I find an ethical charitable thrift store, and drop it all off. The fact that you're even considering sifting through all these items, makes me worry that you're trying to put off doing anything about this.

For instance: You cite "magazines" as part of this build-up of clutter. How valuable could magazines possibly be? If they aren't historic issues in perfect shape, good lord, just recycle the damned things. And feel free to just drop the books off at a thrift store, too. You could try to donate them to a library, but eh, they may not want them.

elizardbits is right, as usual. You won't get enough money for your trouble. If you donate the stuff, you can at least feel good about yourself in the process. And believe me, we have no money. If we thought we could get our time's worth out of selling our crap, we would have.

When we were moving out of our last house, I had a nice bike that I never used, that just needed a few tweaks here and there to get it going again. It was gratifying to give to to the teenage girl next door, so she and her grandfather could fix it up. We also put baby gates on the curb, announced it on Craigslist, and they disappeared in half an hour.

You could also do what hot soup girl recommends, and make a list of stuff to send to your friends. When I've had something really nice that had to go, my friends and family were the first stop.
posted by Coatlicue at 8:37 AM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

A garage sale, with the first day for friends and family to pick out anything they would like for free, and the rest for anyone who stopped by, with an "everything goes" policy. If you have stuff that could be nice/useful for someone else, it's nice to see people's eyes light up at the sight of something.
posted by BibiRose at 8:38 AM on October 22, 2012

I use Purple Heart because they come by and pick up.

I keep a paper bag with PH for Purple Heart on it next to a couple trash cans around my house. Stuff from family that I don't want goes straight into the bags, for example. So collecting things to be purged is a continual habit. Purple Heart calls me every few months and says they 'll be in my neighborhood and what morning and I put the bags on the porch that day.

To do additional big purges:
I do one room a day: Get a paper bag or box and go over the room putting everything in there I want to get rid of. The next day I do another room. Limiting it to one room a day keeps me from getting overwhelmed.
posted by dog food sugar at 8:38 AM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm not much of a buyer these days (had a mild to moderate problem in the past).

I recently put my house on market. I did a big clear out to help the house show at its best. I took it off the market. We realized we didn't want to leave. On or off the market, I clear stuff out on a regular basis. Here are my tips:

1. If you have a lot of stuff and are serious with getting rid of stuff DO NOT try to sell stuff. Sure, you can sell one or two big items but that is it. Getting bogged down in Ebay or garage sales is not going to help you clear out stuff fast.

2. I donate books to my local public library system. I cannot tell you the thousands of dollars worth of books I have donated. I am not patting myself on the back. I am advising you to use your library and Kindle instead of purchasing real books that clutter up your space. I keep a bookcase for my most treasured books and reference books.

3. Do you have a car? Load the trunk up every weekend, or every day if you have the time, and drop it off at Goodwill. My local Goodwill has a side drop-off door. A person comes out, greets me, and hauls the stuff in. You do not have to walk anything in. If you don't have something like this, call a pick-up service. Salvation Army, Goodwill, etc. As soon as you, or they, drive away you will never think of this stuff again. It's liberating. I recently gave away a ton of "valuable" stuff. Brand new patterns galore, designer fabrics by the ton, brand new craft supplies, art prints, fancy bundt pans that I never used, cookbooks, desirable hardcover fiction and non-fiction, etc. Sure, I could have made some money by selling on Ebay but I look at it like this. Some real sewer or crafter or cooker is going to benefit from my donation. I get joy from that. My donated stuff is actually going to be used, or maybe stored. I don't care, it's out of my house.

4. Magazines -- do not even think about trying to give away magazines unless you work in an office with a waiting room. Recycle them. Throw them out. I stopped subscribing to magazines. I only have one subscription to a favorite. Everything you wanted to know is on the internet or you can read magazines online or subscribe to the digital version.
posted by Fairchild at 8:38 AM on October 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

Have a yard sale. Anything that doesn't sell goes to goodwill/salvation army or the like.
posted by ephemerista at 8:40 AM on October 22, 2012

but making posts is time-consuming and I would like to reap some money from the valuable items

If you don't want to do the individual craigslist/ebay stuff and you want to make some money so you don't want to donate, then yard/garage sale is the way to go. It's a lot of work, but it's a lot of work once and then box up and donate what doesn't sell. Just stick by a rule: if you were willing to sell it, you were willing to part with it. Nothing that goes outside to be sold gets to come back in. The next stop for that stuff is the car, with a charity/thrift shop as final destination.
posted by headnsouth at 8:41 AM on October 22, 2012

Best answer: When going through your things, if you say, "I might need this," you don't need it.
posted by ShooBoo at 8:42 AM on October 22, 2012 [29 favorites]

When you have a big project - any big project - it is less intimidating to break it up into chunks. So, this week, you could do your books. Next week, kitchen equipment. It's also very motivational to finish one chunk. You know then you're capable of doing the rest of it.

When I was planning a book-collection purge, I posted a question about it which had some great and book-specific answers.

I don't want to trash the stuff, because a lot of it is new or like new/useful.

You have a point but if you really want a good purge, you need to put aside this mindset for now. If their newness if what is keeping you from chucking them, but you do not use them and they are just taking up space, just bite the bullet and chuck them. If you know that putting them on Craigslist/Freecycle etc is going to be a mission in itself and that is going to get in the way of throwing them away - just throw them away. No one will know.

Ornaments and other bric-a-brac: take a picture and throw away. TRUST ME.

Personal anecdote: I have always been a packrat. I recently packed up many of my belongings in preparation for a move. I put the things into storage for a flat fee, thinking that as soon as I had moved I could reclaim them. The move did not take place on schedule. It has yet to take place. The things are still in storage. You will not believe how little I am missing the stuff that I packed up. I realised that in my day to day life all I need are books, toiletries and clothes.
posted by Ziggy500 at 8:43 AM on October 22, 2012

Purging and making money do not go well together. In my experience, the key to really getting rid of things is giving them away or throwing them away. Craigslist and Freecycle are too full of flakes, only use them when something is too large to get rid of by yourself. If there is something actually valuable that you can't stand to just donate, what about giving it to a friend or relative who has time but needs money so they can sell it? We've done this with my sister-in-law and things like stacks of DVDs we didn't want anymore. If you really have a Stuff problem, do not count on yourself to sell things.
posted by that's how you get ants at 8:44 AM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I'm not really in a neighborhood that would support a yard sale, so I think that's out.

A question on Goodwill/Purple Heart: Are these places picky about what you donate? I believe I've called Purple Heart regarding donations before- they didn't have a local drop-off point, they wouldn't come to my location, and they were pretty specific/interrogative about what items I had on hand to give.

Can I really just bring a box of Things to Goodwill for them to sort? Of course I wouldn't box up useless/broken items, but I've only ever donated clothing before.
posted by rachaelfaith at 8:45 AM on October 22, 2012

Goodwill has, at least in NYC, huge open donation bins just inside the front doors of their shops where you can dump all your stuff without any unnecessary human interaction, which I find perfectly delightful.
posted by elizardbits at 8:49 AM on October 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

I have an extreme packrat girlfriend, but I am a pretty serious minimalist. She wanted to get rid of her stuff, but like you, was having a lot of problems getting started. Here's what we did:

1. Pick a room and an area to work on (shelf, closet, drawer, wherever stuff is stored). If you're having trouble, just pick at random. The point is to get the ball rolling.

2. Without thinking about it, immediately sort every item in that area in to "keep", "get rid of", and "unsure" piles. If you have to think about whether to keep or not, just toss it in the "unsure" pile. You're going for low hanging fruit here, not agonizing over individual items. Do this as quickly as possible, shouldn't take more than 15 minutes unless the area is huge.

3. Put the keep items away. Go through the unsure pile once more and see if you can move it into either the keep or get rid of pile. Anything that remains in the unsure pile, make a little mental note of and put away.

4. Throw trash and broken/unusable items from the get rid of pile away. Put the rest in a trash bag/box/whatever and put it in your car to run to a thrift store. If there are any unusually valuable items, you can set those aside to sell on ebay/craigslist, but don't let the thought of cragslist stop you.. if you can't deal with it, just get rid of it.

5. Repeat until your whole apartment is done. If there's still too much stuff, start from the beginning, and be more aggressive with the "unsure" pile.
posted by zug at 8:50 AM on October 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

And to answer your question, most goodwills will take anything. Furniture, toys, clothes, board games, housewares, etc etc etc. No need to sort.
posted by zug at 8:51 AM on October 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

Purple Heart out here (Chicago/Suburban Chicago) is not picky at all. They come by, grab the boxes and leave a receipt. You don't even have to be around when you do it.

I agree with the above posters that selling things is more trouble than it's worth. Trting to sell things or find them a "good home" will slow you down and ultimately prevent you from purging. If I can't expect to sell it for more than $100 (and it's the rare article that will actually sell for that much), I just donate it. Some stuff is good for classrooms (got rid of a fishtank that way and some dress up stuff to a preschool) or women's shelters, but most of it, I just give away to Purple Heart. Large furniture or household goods in excellent shape, I donate to the Children's Hospital charity shop, but they are discerning in what they will or will not take.
posted by crush-onastick at 8:51 AM on October 22, 2012

The Purple Heart link above does say SELECTED areas of NJ (where you may be per profile), DE, PA, MD, VA, CT and NY so sorry if it is not available. I'm in Houston, TX. I would recheck. Their site also has a list of things they accept. Other charities probably do this as well.
posted by dog food sugar at 8:51 AM on October 22, 2012

Can I really just bring a box of Things to Goodwill for them to sort? Of course I wouldn't box up useless/broken items, but I've only ever donated clothing before.

Yes, you can. I've done it plenty of times.

As for how to choose among things you need - try getting everything out of corners and grouping them into piles of certain categories (all the kitchen stuff together, or all the clocks together, or all the dishes together, etc.). Then go through the piles, pick out what you want and ditch the rest.

The "piles" method is a great way to get you to realize "wait, what the hell am I doing with four sets of dishes?" and that will spur you to cut back when you see how much of a given item you have. (And if you're me, sometimes you'll procrastinate by suddenly deciding "wait, let me see if all of these pens really work, and I"ll throw out any dry ones").
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:52 AM on October 22, 2012

Goodwill will do pick up, but they need ~6 weeks notice, and you have to have a LOT of stuff or big stuff. If you pay, they will come sooner. I haven't found Goodwill to be picky; check with your local donation center. For example, here's the list of things the one by me WON'T accept. If Goodwill won't accept it, then you should just recycle/throw it out. It's too much trouble to find a willing recipient -- don't feel too guilty. Sometimes stuff just outlives its use.
posted by bluefly at 8:56 AM on October 22, 2012

The easiest way, if you don't want to deal with selling things online, is to take whatever you're getting rid of and sorting it into two piles: junk and donate. Junk is self-explanatory. Donate goes to the local Goodwill/Value Village/Salvation Army/whatever in as few trips as possible. Whatever they are unwilling to take then gets trashed or recycled.

It may be worth looking into what items they will and will not accept in advance so that you're not hauling around large items only to be told that they won't accept them. A lot of places no longer accept CRT TVs anymore, because they have too many and no one is buying the ones that they've already got on their shelves.
posted by asnider at 9:02 AM on October 22, 2012

I have also found it very helpful to work with a professional organizer. When I am paying someone else for their time, I'm much less likely to sit and go through the stack of book reports from sixth grade and much more likely to part with that fourteenth pair of black shoes or whatever.
posted by judith at 9:03 AM on October 22, 2012

I've done it, going from a one-bedroom apartment's worth of stuff to just what would fit in a compact car (plus a few boxes of books). I was lucky in that my apartment was across the hallway from our building's Free Box, so I could just toss stuff out the door and not overthink things. Can you set up something similar? Boxes or bags you can just fill impulsively, then drive to Goodwill?
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:16 AM on October 22, 2012

Forget about valuable and ask yourself about useful.

By this I mean, set aside things of obvious economic or sentimental value (china, jewelry, heirlooms, &c) and focus on the stuff. Don't ask yourself whether you think it's valuable, because that's a dodge that will have you keeping stuff in the house. Ask whether it is useful -- meaning, does it have an immediate use for the lifestyle that you now lead? Now the lifestyle that you are planning to lead when you finally do take up horseback watercolor rock climbing. The lifestyle you have now.

That means, as valkyryn and others have said, if you haven't used it in a year, put it into a box and bring it to goodwill. Because if you haven't used it in a year, you're not going to use it.

Give yourself a hard and fast number of sentimental take-backs (say, 10). You get ten things that, even though you haven't used them in a year, you can keep them. Ten. Think hard about which ten you will keep.
posted by gauche at 9:18 AM on October 22, 2012

Leo at Zen Habits has a bunch of posts about decluttering...I've found them to be inspiring, helpful, and kind of reassuring ("What if I get rid of that thing and I need it someday waahh!")
posted by Elly Vortex at 9:18 AM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I think my problem is that too many things end up in the 'Unsure/Possibly Useful/Useful Someday' pile. I'll have to just turn that into the 'You Thought You Needed It, But Just Donate It Already' pile.

Thanks for all of the input so far.
posted by rachaelfaith at 9:21 AM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't know if this suits your financial situation, but one thing that helps me when I'm deciding what to get rid of is knowing that if I really need the item again I can get a new one and it'll be faster / fit better / be more waterproof / smell nicer / not be chipped / etc.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:27 AM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

A few things elaborating on what people have already said, the concepts here have helped me go from hoarder to brutal disposalist:
  • That time commitment of packing stuff up and doing Freecycle/eBay/Craigslist? Take a brutal look at what you make per hour, and with that number in mind think about what your leisure time is worth. Can you make more than that selling it? Yay. No? Goodwill, or dump.
  • What is your house costing you? This is kind of an absurd comparison, but bear with me: We have a 768 square foot house. We paid $435k for it. That's kind of an inflated number, but that means that (before thinking about mortgage interest and insurance and maintenance) we paid $566 per square foot for it. What's in that space right now? Okay, maybe your kitchen has 4 levels of shelves at any given place, but that still means that that crock pot we used once is occupying $141.60 worth of space. If you put those things in a storage unit, how long would it be before the storage unit costs exceeded new price of those items? Okay, now discount that by your "leisure time is worth" thing above... Crying yet? (yeah, I did when that was pointed out to me)
  • If Goodwill and Freecycle won't take it, it's landfill. And that's something to think about with new acquisitions.
  • Totally with everyone else on the "are you actually going to use it ..." (see above about costs of storage) "... or is it the idea of using it that's attractive?". Places this is particularly hard for me: Kitchen gadgets and books.
Dunno if that's useful, but some of those things helped me change my mindset. That, and paying for a year of storage unit while I built my new shop, then looking at the things I pulled out of the storage unit and windering if I would have done better to just re-acquire...
posted by straw at 9:27 AM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's an extreme approach unless you are actually planning to do this anyway, but I find that working abroad is the best antidote to gatheringclutteritus.

90% of my books (and I had boxes) got donated to charity shops or friends (my friends love to receive books to read). I figured that buying any of these books again would be relatively inexpensive anyway (especially with used books on Amazon) so parting with them became super easy.

I decided to limit myself on keepsakes (as I didn't want to unduly clutter my parent's attic) so all my historical artefacts fit inside an old laptop delivery box. Setting an arbitrary limit is very useful in these situations when your rational mind tends to go walkabout.

For everything else, unless a "completed items" search on eBay told me it was worth selling, each item got put in one of two piles as has been mentioned already: junk and donate. If you don't want to spend huge amounts of time on doing eBay postings I would suggest either getting someone else to do it for you and giving them a hefty cut, or only posting the items that would fetch enough money to make it worth your while.
posted by Juso No Thankyou at 9:31 AM on October 22, 2012

I think my problem is that too many things end up in the 'Unsure/Possibly Useful/Useful Someday' pile. I'll have to just turn that into the 'You Thought You Needed It, But Just Donate It Already' pile.

Right. You can keep ten of those things. The rest, you donate.
posted by gauche at 9:32 AM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you don't want to list everything individually, you can try selling stuff in lots on eBay, like "baking supplies," "assorted yarn," etc.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 9:33 AM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh! I have a very specific and very cool suggestion for books - Paperback Swap. I found that it was a lot easier to let go of some books if I knew that in theory I could order it again for free if I needed it. (I've let go over two hundred books on PBS and only been moved to re-order something precisely twice.)

The credits you get for giving away books never expire, so you can also easily catch up on some reading you'd always wanted to do. I think I've saved over a thousand dollars on books by getting stuff free on PBS.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:35 AM on October 22, 2012 [4 favorites]

I once set up an apartment sale and advertised it on Craigslist. Since I didn't have a yard, I set it up in my apartment and asked my now-husband to help keep an eye on things. (Maybe recruit two friends and promise them a portion of the sales and/or all the free secondhand stuff they wanted?) In the Craigslist ad, I mentioned that some categories of stuff were free, which ended up drawing a lot of people. Some of them just grabbed the free stuff without buying anything, but I didn't care because I was getting rid of it. I made about $75 - not a ton of profit, but quite nice considering I wasn't selling any big-ticket stuff - and gave everything I didn't sell to Goodwill.

I've also given secondhand stuff to friends. I like doing this for things I'm attached to but no longer have any need or space for, because I know the object is going to a good home rather than sitting in a Goodwill bin. Plus your friends will be like "cool, free stuff!"
posted by Metroid Baby at 9:38 AM on October 22, 2012

Huh, after my divorce from my first husband all of my stuff could fit into a car. So yep. I've done this before. Someone above said that if you think to yourself "I might need this someday" toss it. That's excellent advice. If you don't need it today, you don't need it. Toss it in the donate pile.

Unless your stuff is collectible and in mint condition, it's not worth much, and even the collectibles probably aren't worth what you might think they're worth. Donate your things if you don't want to take the time to sell them. Trust me, it's time and effort to sell stuff.

Anyway, my purge was along the lines of, "Do I need it? No? Gone." It was that simple. I went from a 2 bedroom house to fitting in a car. You probably don't want to be that drastic, but that's what I did.
posted by patheral at 9:38 AM on October 22, 2012

I dealt with the hassle of kijiji pickups by using the honour method. I tell people that I'll leave the item on the porch and I trust them to put the cash in the mailbox. I've never been taken advantage of, and if (when) it does happen the amount of money I'll be out will be worth the ease and stresslessness of not having had to coordinate pickups for everything else. Plus, I feel good for being a truster, and the buyer feels good for being trusted.

Really, though, I donate about 70% of what I get rid of, and throw away/recycle 20%. I purge when I move, but you can also just pick a room a week and devote yourself to getting rid of 1/2/3/whatever makes sense for you items a day.
posted by arcticwoman at 9:46 AM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

ShooBoo: "When going through your things, if you say, "I might need this," you don't need it."

Please make an exception for fire extinguishers.
posted by vasi at 9:52 AM on October 22, 2012 [8 favorites]

Best answer: I have cleaned up after two hoarders. Here's how you do this.

Four piles:

(1) Keep - "Keep" is variously defined as (a) stuff that is used on a regular basis, or (b) stuff that will cause actual physical harm to someone if it's gotten rid of. If you look at something and say to yourself "I might use this", "I could use this", or "I'm gonna us this", it does NOT go into this pile.

(2) Donate - The "might/could/gonna" items go here, as well as any items you plan to donate. Do yourself a favor: register yourself at ItsDeductible.com and keep track of the stuff you donate. The last year I donated stuff from my parents' hoard, I got a $7,000.00 USD tax deduction (YMMV, please check tax deduction guidelines).

(3) Trash - Obvious trash goes here. If it's broke, and you haven't fixed it in a year or more, it goes here as well.

(4) Recycle - If you have hoarding tendencies, or are dealing with someone with hoarding tendencies, I recommend this pile only--only!--if you have a garbage service that provides recycling services who will come to your house and get the recycleables. If you're able and willing to make the effort to take stuff to be recycled, check out Earth911.com for places to drop your stuff off.

As you sort, keep in mind the One Year Rule: If you have not used it, needed it, or even bothered to look for it in a year or more--you DO NOT NEED IT AND IT NEEDS TO GO AWAY FROM YOUR HOME.

Now, you've got a huge pile to sort through that's probably very overwhelming to look at, let alone dive in and sort. How do you even get started?

You use The Mount Vernon Method. Author Sandra Felton talked about this in one of her organizing books:

"One of the Cleanies I talked to some years ago in my desperate search for help, told me that she was so impressed with the maintenance of Mount Vernon that she made it a point to talk to the woman in charge of housekeeping. She asked the housekeeper about the method they used. The housekeeper responded that she directed her cleaners to start at the front door, turn to the left, and work around the inside periphery to the next piece to be attended, doing everything that needs to be done in each room so that the rooms are left clean and organized. They dust from the time they come to work early in the day until it is time for the public to arrive. A few minutes before opening time the workers collect their boxes of cleaning supplies and leave. The next day they begin where they left off and keep going from room to room until it is time to leave again."

You want to use this method to organize. You walk in, turn to the left, and the first item you see, you pick up and make a decision: keep, donate, trash, or recycle? Put it in the appropriate pile, and move on to the next one: keep, donate, trash, or recycle? And you keep doing that until you've worked your way around the room.

When you have done enough for one day, STOP. Put the boxes away and wait until tomorrow. Don’t overdo. This is a marathon, not a sprint. Don’t wear yourself out. Pace yourself.

If you're in hot water over your pile (your marriage is in trouble, the landlord is threatening eviction, the Health Department called), you may need to use Felton's Mount Vesuvius Method. Buy a large quantity of white storage boxes at an office supply store (they usually come in groups of six, cost about a dollar or so each, have a detachable lid and need to be assembled). In the room you're tackling, position six or more boxes in the room. Begin filling the boxes rapidly with similar groups of things. On each box, tape pieces of typing paper labeled in large, dark print with the name of each group such as TOYS, MAGAZINES, CRAFT MATERIALS, JACK'S CLOTHES, etc. On the side of the box called PAPERS, note where each pile of paper came from in your room so you will be able to locate what you may need later.

Buy a large quantity of white storage boxes at an office supply store. They usually come in groups of six, cost about a dollar each, have a detachable lid and need to be assembled. In the room you are tackling, position six or more boxes in the room. Begin filling the boxes rapidly with similar groups of things. On each box, tape pieces of typing paper labeled in large, dark print with the name of each group such as TOYS, MAGAZINES, CRAFT MATERIALS, MARY’S CLOTHES, etc. On the side of the box called PAPERS, note where each pile of paper came from in your room so you will be able to locate what you may need later.

Fill a bag with any obvious trash and toss it ASAP. When that room is finished, the floors and other surfaces are clear. Put the tops on the boxes and stack them against a wall. Since they are neat, white boxes, they will not look objectionable. Turn the large labels to the wall and note on the front in small print the contents of the boxes if you wish.

Your immediate problem for that room is solved because it is now clear. Go on to the next. Later, handle organizing one box at a time.

Whichever method you use, avoid thinking to yourself:

- I'm too busy now, I'll get back to it later

- Right there is okay for now (Jeff Campbell of "The Clean Team" writes that it's important to eliminate "for now" from your vocabulary when you're organizing, because it's just another way of saying "I'm not going to make a decision about this stuff".)

- I'll do it in a minute.

- I'll be using it again soon so I'll leave it out

..and similar things. You want to incorporate OHIO as you sort: "Only Handle It Once". The moment you pick up an item, you make the decision--keep, donate, trash, recycle--and then you act on that decision by putting it in the appropriate pile. After that, the decision is made, and you don't have to worry about it anymore. Let it go, and move on.

As you start getting stuff under control, get the Trash and Recyclables off your property. Put the Keep stuff aside for later organizing. And Donations? The nice thing about Donations is that a lot of charities will come to your home to get the stuff.

In the US, I've found ClothingDonations.org can guide you to free donation pick-ups. The Disabled Veterans of America will come and get stuff, for example, as will the Society of St. Vincent dePaul, the Salvation Army, and the Habitat ReStore (if you're donating furniture, appliances, countertops, and the like).

Make sure to talk to the charity in question about their criteria for pick-up, and what they can and cannot accept as donations. For example, a few years ago several charities local to my area stopped accepting donations of any electronics goods, esp. TVs and computers--people just weren't buying them in their thrift shops. And get receipts for those tax deductions!

Good luck!
posted by magstheaxe at 9:56 AM on October 22, 2012 [22 favorites]

If you have THAT much stuff and you don't think a yard sale would work, what about an "estate" sale? Obviously not truly an estate sale, but you could move everything you'll keep into rooms that have a door you can shut and block. Sell everything else. People go crazy for estate sales; they will travel. Advertise on CL.
posted by peep at 10:00 AM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Minimalism is the art of immediate utility. If you have not used it in a year, you don't need it. The "Unsure/Possibly Useful/Useful Someday" pile is shit you clearly do not need or you'd be using it.

Also remember the cost vs utility thing: yes, you can hold on to the rice cooker, carving knife, melon baller, egg cups and 300 other kitchen implements you have never touched, because you might need one of those things one day. Or you can decide it is worth the potential $30 you might spend buying a carving knife in the future, just to be rid of all of those things today.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:00 AM on October 22, 2012

I use the phrase "When in doubt, toss it out" quite often with stuff around my house. It's honestly not worth my time to list stuff on Ebay, and I've found Craigslist full of flakes -- though I do use the "free" section occasionally.

You should just be able to box things up or put them into garbage bags and drop them off at a Goodwill type place. Start a spreadsheet and keep track of things in case you need it for tax purposes.
posted by Ostara at 10:04 AM on October 22, 2012

A lot of that stuff, it sounds like you could just take to Goodwill.

Big Brothers Big Sisters will come to your house and pick up your stuff, though they're quite specific about what they will take. You have to call them to arrange the pick-up, so at that point you can ask.

Re: tag sales, I once participated in a...I don't know what to call it. Mass tag sale? Community tag sale? A storage facility near where I was living had a thing where anyone could reserve a place on their huge lawn and they'd hold a sort of combined tag sale. You could bring anything you wanted to sell. I got rid of a lot of stuff and made about $100 which was certainly nice to have, but maybe not worth the work of driving all the stuff over there and standing out all day while people haggled for it. If that sounds good, maybe someplace near you does this too?

I think my problem is that too many things end up in the 'Unsure/Possibly Useful/Useful Someday' pile. I'll have to just turn that into the 'You Thought You Needed It, But Just Donate It Already' pile.

The reason moving is so good for getting rid of things is that suddenly you see the value (or non-value) of something really quickly when your choices are packing and transporting it or donating/throwing it away. If the thought of having to maybe buy a new one eventually is horrible for whatever reason, then there you go. If you're not moving, maybe pretend you are? That might feel sort of silly. But if you don't imagine yourself needing that sweatshirt/baking dish/coat rack in your fictional new apartment, why do you need it now?
posted by DestinationUnknown at 10:26 AM on October 22, 2012

Best answer: I did this. In fact, I'm kind of famous about it I guess; I'm profiled in the book My Plastic-Free Life with a two-page spread about the whole "decluttering" thing.

About six years ago, I moved from 1200 square feet to 400 square feet. The math just did not add up. It took me about two years to purge everything from start to finish, once I admitted that there was only one solution to my problem.

You already know the solution: get rid of stuff. You even know how to get rid of it. It sounds like what you really need is the motivation to start, and to stay on track.

Without seeing any of your stuff, I can pretty much guarantee you that any money you capture from the sale will not be worth your time and effort. Truly, it is best to just avert your eyes and chuck boxes of your stuff at Goodwill. (Exceptions: jewelry, antiques, and other actual valuables.)

Absolve yourself of the need to sell things. It's not worth your sanity.

You would like to reap money from this, because you want to feel like it was worth it for you to keep all this stuff. But let's be honest: it wasn't worth it. Your best strategy is to get rid of it as quickly as possible so that you can move on with your life.

Here's what you do: start small. Break it down into manageable units. Go box by box, and take care of everything before you move to the next box. Don't leave piles lying around, because that only makes things worse.

Be wary of foisting items off onto friends and family; this quickly becomes tiresome for them. Throw away broken items, and take non-broken items to Goodwill. End of story.

This is not something you'll be able to finish in a weekend. It will probably take you the better part of a year (random guess). But that's okay. This isn't a sprint, it's a marathon. As you clear things out, as you reclaim your space, you will see your progress and it will keep you motivated to keep going.
posted by ErikaB at 10:36 AM on October 22, 2012 [8 favorites]

Best answer: On preview, you say that "too many things end up in the 'Unsure/Possibly Useful/Useful Someday' pile."

That's okay!

Those items ARE useful. They are useful to the person who will be browsing Goodwill, looking for that exact item. There is a whole world of people out there who could genuinely put your things to use. Let them! Release these things to the universe. They aren't doing anyone any good sitting in a big heap on the floor.

Seriously, just take one big box of Stuff to Goodwill and see how great it makes you feel. It's a real high, a feeling of liberation. Once you get started, it's so much easier to keep going. You just have to get past that initial hurdle.
posted by ErikaB at 10:39 AM on October 22, 2012 [11 favorites]

I think my problem is that too many things end up in the 'Unsure/Possibly Useful/Useful Someday' pile. I'll have to just turn that into the 'You Thought You Needed It, But Just Donate It Already' pile.

This pile is easily reduced by having a friend (or a professional organizer) work with you. They have fewer sentimental attachments to your stuff, so they can help you be brutal. I am a bit of a packrat and generally didn't manage to get rid of much stuff when I tried to declutter in the past for exactly the reason you're describing.

When I was packing to move in with my wife just before we got married, she came over and started going through stuff with me. Because she had no personal attachments to most of my stuff, she was able to be pretty detached and made me realize that, actually, I don't need most of this stuff and that if it's just been sitting in my closet for years then it'll continue to sit in the closet at our place and out it went.

Moving a great catalyst for decluttering, but even without that, having someone to help you view things a bit more "coldly" is helpful.
posted by asnider at 10:46 AM on October 22, 2012

All of the "might be useful" stuff: Get rid of it. Resign yourself to the fact that IF you actually have to pay out of pocket to replace one of your 500 "might be useful" items in the next two years, it is money well spent for the sake of your sanity and quality of life.

Also wrap your brain around this: These possessions are consuming your time, energy and money right now. You will have more money if you do not have to spend it on renting a larger apartment, buying another organizer or shelf, and whatever you are spending on cleaning supplies. Reclaim your life and time from all these things. You really don't need them.

I basically sold valuable items like furniture and video games. I donated or threw out anything that wasn't going to have much monetary return. That turned out to be a great deal more stuff than I sold (and I had four yard sales at one time).
posted by Michele in California at 11:02 AM on October 22, 2012

"Might be Useful" stuff: if it's not too expensive / easy to obtain /bulky and takes up a ton of room - try to just get rid of it.

But, if it's something that would be difficult or expensive to replace, and especially if it's small, put in a box - make a whole box of "I can't get rid of it yet" things. Put them in the back of your closet. If you need something from it, you can go get it. After six months or a year, donate anything that is still in the box.
posted by insectosaurus at 11:17 AM on October 22, 2012

To add to some great advice here: I take a photograph of anything I'm holding onto out of sentiment (except for the very few sentimental items I keep). That way, I can still revisit the memories of the thing, but it only takes up a litle space on my hard drive.
Oh, and if I feel bad about getting rid of something because of guilt, or sentiment, I take it as a sign that the item has a bad hold on my emotions: I remind myself that once it's gone, I won't remember it, and therefore won't feel bad about having gotten rid of it!
posted by Edna Million at 11:20 AM on October 22, 2012 [5 favorites]

If you're looking for a fun idea to get rid of books, try Book Crossing.

You put a unique Book Crossing sticker in a book, leave the book some place public, and watch as it travels around your city, state or the country.

Kinda fun, and a creative way to get rid of some books.
posted by THAT William Mize at 11:20 AM on October 22, 2012

Yes, I have done a major purge. I think you should do a combo of 1) selling stuff on CL and 2) donating the rest to Goodwill. Price the CL items VERY low. This way you will be assured they will move, but you'll also get a bit of money for your trouble.

Stuff to sell on Craigslist:
Furniture (even Ikea will sell on CL), working electronics, yard tools & implements, valuable decorative items you know there's a market for (i.e., check eBay to verify that Aunt LeeLee's Roycroft vase really is worth selling rather than donating), valuable rugs, large pet supplies like beds & crates.

Stuff to donate:
EVERYTHING else. Gadgets, costume jewelry, reusable bags, books, magazines, most decorative items, most "organizing" items, kitchen supplies, clothes, pet bowls & leashes, shoes, most artwork, DVDs/CDs/unwanted media, lamps, lighting & plumbing fixtures, and all the crap your family has ever given you that you do not want.

When the Craigslist people show up, ask them if they want to take other stuff with them for free! That's less stuff you have to drive to Goodwill.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 11:43 AM on October 22, 2012

Oh! I have a very specific and very cool suggestion for books - Paperback Swap.

Flagged for Enabling!

I swore I would use Paperback Swap myself, but then I realized I would have to pay postage for each book I shipped out...and then only recoup that by GETTING MORE BOOKS. I unloaded a few books, but only replaced them with slightly-more-desirable books: Problem not solved. Now I just give my books to the library book sale, and they sell 'em for money to buy new stuff that I can check out and then return.
posted by wenestvedt at 12:01 PM on October 22, 2012

My wife would say I am a hoarder, but I think there is value in hanging on to a limited amount of stuff if you really will use it. My workbench has some bins and boxes under it where I keep wood, metal pieces, parts of stuff, whatever -- but I use it up to make school projects with the kids or toys for them (I made a sweet lightsaber this weekend!).

However, I no longer save every little thing Just Because. Yes, avoiding a trip to the store will save cash and gas money and time, but not that much of the really odd stuff has ever proven useful.
posted by wenestvedt at 12:03 PM on October 22, 2012

Selling stuff sucks. In Rhode Island, the Big Sisters truck comes through our neighborhood every six or eight weeks. (We get postcards since we donated the first time.) You put your stuff out by the curb before 7AM and it's just......gone.

We always write up a receipt of claimed cash value (according to the document on the Salvation Army's web site), and they leave us a fairly vague receipt that we use for tax time. Yay, deductions! We have a half dozen bags & boxes, several times per year, and it's great for keeping the basement clean.

Also, if someone says "we have some stuff" and you only think you would use some of it, you can still accept it because once you've picked over it, it goes in that special corner of the basement.
posted by wenestvedt at 12:07 PM on October 22, 2012

And when you go through a drawer/shelf/room, don't make a Trash Pile since you will only get sucked back in emotionally when the time comes to gather it all up and throw it away in another room. Instead have a trash can right there as you sort.
posted by wenestvedt at 12:08 PM on October 22, 2012

Right now, I'm working hard on this myself. Set a small goal of at least ten items a day, which often rolls into much more.

The best advice I have heard recently was to think "If I lost this today, would I pay to replace it?". No? Then get rid of it.
posted by purenitrous at 12:12 PM on October 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

Do you have a Half Price Books near you? I got rid of tons of books by taking them in there to sell. I did not get tons of money for them, but they do take everything off your hands even if they can't resell everything (they donate some of the books they can't use to charity and send the rest for recycling) so you won't have to take anything back with you. I use plastic laundry baskets to tote mine in, which they return to me when I go up to get my offer.

I have occasionally gotten what seemed like a fair amount of cash for a big batch of books, close to $200 one time. (I'd love to know what was in that batch that was worth so much, as I've never made near that much since.) I've also gone in with a good-sized load expecting to get around $50 and hoping for a bit more, and wound up with an offer of $20. So it's probably not a great way to make extra dough, though it might pay for your gas and lunch.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 1:12 PM on October 22, 2012

I moved.

It's easier to purge when you don't have an option not to. It's also easier to honestly judge what to keep when keeping anything at all creates a challenge of moving it. The further the move, the easier the purge.
posted by 2oh1 at 1:40 PM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

When I did a big purge, the way I got over the whole "it might be useful one day" thing was to change my mindset to "If I haven't used it in the last six months, it goes" (most of the purged items hadn't been used in years!).

I also subscribe to the idea that if you can't find something the moment you need it, it's the same as not having it at all - that helps me keep things organized, and helps me determine if I really need to keep something that I just don't seem to have room for.
posted by vignettist at 1:45 PM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

I sold or gave away nearly everything I owned before a cross-country move a few years back.

I was ultimately glad that I'd sold/given away all my furnishings and decorations, because it was definitely time to upgrade to some nicer/more attractive stuff.

The things I really regretted purging were all the little things that you generally forget about when moving. Kitchen stuff, hardware, bathroom stuff, various games/keepakes/momentos/costumes/personal effects, that kind of thing.

If you have a problem with hoarding, I'd say you want to err on the side of throwing things out. But if you don't, I'd say keep the things you may want to use again, especially if they're small and don't take up much space.

Also, never ever ever throw out books. That was the one bulky thing I did take with me when I moved, and I've never regretted it.
posted by Afroblanco at 2:06 PM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've moved a bazillion times. Across country, etc. That helps you divorce yourself from your stuff in a major way.

There are three reasons you're holding onto things that you don't use:

1. I might need it one day.

2. It has a sentimental attachment.

3. It's valuable.

1. You might need anything you've ever touched. So what? By the time you get around to actually using said item, you might be better off getting the latest and greatest, most technologically advanced item. If you haven't used something in the past year, you don't need it. Give it away. You can always get another one if you end up requiring it. Or borrow one from your friend.

2. I have a hard time throwing away greeting cards I get from my husband. If an object has a sentimental attachment and it's not on a pedestal in your home where all and sundry can see it, then it's not being given the respect it deserves. If it's paper, can it be scanned? (photos, certificates, newspapers, etc). If it's a thing, if you don't like it, but it was Nana's favorite Hummel, see if a cousin or auntie might like it for his or her collection. If no one wants it take a picture and then send it onto someone who will truly appreciate it. My parents have a bunch of crap they picked up in their travels, Indian Kachina Dolls, Japanese Hina Dolls, Guatamalan wall hangings. NONE of it is to my taste. I told my Mom, "Find a museum because if you don't it's going on eBay. She found a museum, and my sister and I are cool with it. If you don't like it, pass it onto someone who does.

3. It might be worth something. If you're curious, check eBay. If you see one listed for $600k, great, list yours. Most likely you won't. My MIL has been keeping an Avon cologne bottle that her father used. "Someone told me they were valuable." I looked it up on eBay. Full of cologne, Mint In Box, the going rate was .01. So no, it isn't valuable.

Now that you know where you stand, put it in boxes and donate it. Find a 2nd tier charity who isn't picky about what they'll collect. We had a yard sale and people came out of the woodwork to ask us if they could have what didn't sell. "If you come by with the truck, it will be in the driveway." It was gone by 6:00 PM that night.

If you have furniture, see if there's a consignment shop who will come take it. We did that with our old furniture and we made $1800 off of it. Even the old, much loved sofa brought $375.

The consignment store that takes furniture may also take tchotchkes. Ask them.

Call around to see if there are 2nd hand stores that will give you a price on the lot of it and who will cart it away for you.

Or just donate it all.

With Kindles and MP3 players, media can be relegated to your local library.

Now enjoy your space.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:18 PM on October 22, 2012

I have done big purges of my possessions - but I've done it in a funny way. Sometimes I rent items to tv shows and movies for props. So, a few years ago when much of my household decor was wanted for a movie, I packed it up and lived without it for a few weeks. And I realized that I didn't need a bigger house or more time - I needed less stuff. I sold off a lot right then to the set without unpacking the boxes. I kept other items for years thinking I might rent them again. Alas, there was no Camp Rock 3.

This is the way that I do it, and there happened to be a post about it on OrgJunkie recently that explains it better than I can.

A while ago I changed one habit, and that was that the minute I decided I was done with an object of minor, I'd walk it straight to the donation bag. So when I realized we had six bottle openers (too many free ones in cases of beer) all but two went in the bag right away. Not "someday when I can get that drawer cleaned out."

Going through your clothes (or any items) twice a year maybe isn't enough. I have a bag hanging on a hook by the front door (and one in the laundry room.) We have the good fortune of a thrift store around the corner (and I take part in an amazing clothing SWAP a few times a year) and so items go out pretty much weekly, and quality clothing items every three months.

One thing to tell yourself is that you don't have to control the ultimate destination of every item that leaves your possession. You don't have to find the best place for it - you just have to find another place for it. Don't worry about recouping money - you'll get more back in space and time and the freedom from obligation to an item. Give yourself a pass for a period of time, and after that, just be more resolved to keep the items you'll have to deal with eventually from coming into your house in the first place. I get really funny looks for refusing freebies at events sometimes, but mindlessly taking another cheap pen with blue ink that I'll never use is the last thing I should be doing.

If you do want to offer items on Craigslist, make a post with multiple items, written so as to be easily searchable; then offer them for pick up only for cash only within a certain time frame only - like a yard sale (and under that section), but without the front lawn and walk-up action. If they don't sell within that window, let them go.
posted by peagood at 2:48 PM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm a habitual hoarder and my office now has so much stuff in it that I'm short on working surfaces and can't fit more than one chair in there.

I'm also a habitual procrastinator and have been putting off a major purge for several decades.

But it's OK: it's under control. I've started running the same one-in, two-out policy that I initially developed for managing the kitchen dishrack, and the mountain in the office is now eroding quite noticeably.

The policy is really simple. Every time I take a new thing in there, I throw out two old things. Doesn't matter what the things are. Doesn't matter if the new thing is bigger or smaller than the old things. As long as one new thing coming in means two old things going out then I'm constantly decreasing all of the things, and I never need to get rid of so many things at once that working out how best to do so becomes stressful.

Starting with the dishrack in order to get habituated to this kind of process has made it very easy to apply more widely.
posted by flabdablet at 4:44 PM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: "I have used Freecycle for some of it, but making posts is time-consuming and I would like to reap some money from the valuable items. I suppose Craigslist or eBay would be the next step, but again, listing things takes time and I'd have to arrange shipping for many, many items."

Lots of people have given good advice; I wanted to emphasize a philosophy: When you are doing a major purge, the goal is to absolutely minimize friction in getting rid of things. That means that if listing things to sell them or Freecycle them takes time, it adds friction, and you can't do it. I've been doing a major purge on my wardrobe and people keep telling me, "Oh, get donation receipts, oh, take it to a consignment store," because some of it is really nice stuff, but I have been loading up my trunk with stuff as soon as I decide to get rid of things so that the next time I pass the Salvation Army donation bins (about once a week), I can just pull up to the bins and dump everything in. Putting it right in the car means I don't pull things back out.

If I happen to run into someone who might like a particular item or who works with a charity that takes that particular item while the stuff is in my trunk, I will give it to them. But otherwise, it goes to Salvation Army. They will sort out the trash. (Having done sorting for a big charity sale, there's nothing so weird or gross or broken that it hasn't been donated, and it wasn't really a big deal to sort through people's stuff. I mean, that's what we DID.) I went through shoes on purpose this week because I know I'm going to see a friend who works with a Cinderella prom-dress charity tomorrow (and put all the sparkly ones together for her), but all the rest of them will just go to Salvation Army.

Start with the easy decisions. NO FRICTION. Taking too long to decide, agonizing over things, that adds friction. Get rid of the ten T-shirts you know you'll never wear again. You can go back through later and do it again. Even if you have 150 T-shirts, getting rid of 10 makes a dent! A small dent, but a dent. The world won't end, and you can do it again. Set a low bar -- decide you'll pick five things to get rid of every day. Or ten things every Saturday. But keep doing it. As you start having the awesome, unburdened feeling of having gotten rid of things, you'll start getting rid of more.

Sometimes if you have 50 pairs of shoes and you want to only have 10 it's easier to pick the "ten best pairs of shoes to keep." But sometimes it's easier to say "these are the five worst that I will get rid of now." You still have 45 pairs, but with the five worst gone, it's that many fewer to sort through and pick the ten best ... or the five next worst. Whatever is easiest, NO FRICTION!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:23 PM on October 22, 2012 [7 favorites]

If part of your hanging-onto-stuff problem is environmental guilt, the way it is for me, you might not want to read My Plastic-Free Life (mentioned in an earlier response) at this time. I tend to feel guilt about throwing anything out because "What if I need one in the future? Getting another one would be wasteful" and "I need to do something with this or it'll end up in a landfill!". Reading about the wider impacts of our stuff can end up (at least for me) reinforcing and legitimizing these thought patterns. For example, a while back I read Little House on a Small Planet, and even though it's an interesting book, afterward I felt all kinds of angst about my physical possessions and my living space in a way that was counter-productive to actually doing anything about them.
posted by mirirose at 8:21 PM on October 22, 2012

You need to do this for a while to get to a comfort level. One way is to have sturdy bags/boxes for Donate, Trash, Handle. Donate = Goodwill or the easiest charity shop. Goodwill is quite good at recycling the vast amount of stuff they get, but it's much better to send things that are clean and saleable. Stained, torn, horrible stuff should be in the trash. If you really feel strongly about recycling, remove buttons and put them in a ziplock bag for Goodwill before discarding. Trash/Recycling - paper, jars, etc.

Handle = the footstool your friend might like, the books for the book sale at the library, etc. Be honest - will you really get around to taking those books to the library? If not, they go to Donate. I contradance, and my friends and I had a swap event, trading dance skirts and other clothes. Everyone went home happy, and the excess went to Donate. It was also a fun social event. If there are things of value, consider putting them in 1 place, and offering them to friends. Potluck Dinner: you bring food, and take home useful stuff.

Things you want to keep: They must be clean, repaired, and have a place to live. That beautiful blouse that needs buttons - it gets fixed, or goes away. The stack of pants to be hemmed - try them on, mark the length & to the dry cleaners for hemming. Great-Gramdma's teapot - either use it for tea, or as a vase, or keep it on the bookshelf because its job is to remind you of tea with Great-Gram. It's okay to take a picture of it and give it away, or let your sister have it, since she always loved it. If you use it for tea, it might get broken; true, but that's its purpose, and the nature of life is that stuff breaks and wears out.

My son & I have boxes labeled Memory Box. He can out any treasure in his; I can do the same. I have room to store them, and may move them to something more decorative. There is no moral requirement to ruthlessly purge. The thing is to have stuff you like and will use, and to have it organized so that it isn't in the way, doesn't get damaged, and you can find it when you want it. I also have bins of bits & pieces of stuff for art projects. It's junk, but it's sorted and if I end up not using it, someone on freecycle will love it. If you hesitate when getting rid of stuff, it's okay to put it in a 2nd chance area. After an afternoon of cleanup/discard activity, you may look at that pile of road maps & magazines and realize "Hey I can put those in the bathroom/ art supplies/ whatever" or "Wow, that's no use to me; Donate."

If you want ideas, Magazines can go to any waiting rooms, lots of libraries have book sales, reusable bags can be used to tote stuff to Donate, office wear can go to an organization that helps people dress for job interviews, and you can probably put out a box of stuff at the curb, labeled FREE in Very Large Letters. Selling stuff on Craigslist is time-consuming, and probably not worth the time. If you have a lot of Pretty Good Stuff, recruit friend(s) in a neighborhood that is yard-sale friendly, and have a big group yard sale, possibly for charity. It can be fun if you have friends to help & to hang out with.

For getting rid of stuff/organizing, the absolute thing is to get started. It gets easier as you realize that if feels good to give away stuff so someone else can enjoy it, and to realize you didn't need it, don't miss it and it's out of the way. Also, if you aren't sure you want stuff from family, drop it off at Goodwill on the way home. Hey Mom, your old electric frying pan? Nice offer, but I just don't need it. Can I drop a box off at Goodwill for you? Aunt Polly, it's so kind of you to knit mittens for me, but I can't wear them all; may I donate them to the homeless shelter? In my family, our holiday gifts are small, and we make an effort to get it right. See if your family will do a music/ book/ calendar/ ornament/ mug swap, instead of spending tons of cash on stuff that will end up at Goodwill. One of my best gifts was when I scanned family photos and gave everyone a cd. Time-consuming but inexpensive, and genuinely enjoyed.
posted by theora55 at 9:51 AM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have had good success by doing the following for clothing.
1. Write a list of all clothing types (short sleeve t-shirts, work shirts, pajamas)
2. Without looking through your closet or thinking about what you already own, write down the number of things of that type that you actually need.
3. Count the number of each item in your closet.
4. Compare the reasonable # with the actual #.
5. Get rid of (or acquire) items to meet the estimates.

It helps me because I may have 10 tshirts that are perfectly good and useful, but if I only need six, I can get rid of four, freeing up closet space and getting rid of clutter. My wardrobe is much more useful and easier to maintain if it's a bit sparse.
posted by valeries at 5:50 PM on October 23, 2012

There's been so much good advice already that I don't have much to add.

I haven't done a major purge myself - but as a professional organizer, I've helped others do major purges. Most of the time, we decide to NOT sell the stuff, for all the reasons noted already.

Specifically addressing your point about Unsure/Possibly Useful/Useful Someday stuff, here are some questions you can ask yourself:

1. Would I buy it again, today?
2. Would I be angry if someone stole this?
3. For "useful" things: If I *did* need something like this, could I easily borrow it from someone?
4. For things like clothing: Would this ever be my first choice of something to wear?
5. For decorative items: Do I love this enough for it to earn a place in my home? (Most of us don't have room for things we just "sort of like.")
6. And the good old "pretend you're moving": Would I pay to have this shipped across the country if I were moving?

And I want to re-emphasize what Eyebrows McGee said: Start with the easy stuff. You'll find plenty of things you can give away with no hesitation. Once you get in the "clearing things out" groove, it'll be easier to come back to the other items.
posted by jeri at 11:45 PM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I've purged a pretty hefty amount of stuff since I asked this question. 70 lbs of books, about 30 pounds of clothing, tons of gadgets and knickknacks. I'm still going, but my space already is noticeably less cluttered.

Thanks, everyone!
posted by rachaelfaith at 9:05 PM on November 18, 2012 [4 favorites]

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