I don't want my life to sit around gathering dust.
December 26, 2007 6:43 PM   Subscribe

Simplifying life and purging my junk. I'm exhausted and I haven't even started. How to make it easier, less painful, and maybe even profitable?

So, I live in a huge 1440 square foot place right now. In the future, I don't plan to. But I own lots of junk. Generations of collected things (large & small) as well as a zillion books that followed me home from thrift stores. I own some treasured stuff, but also a lot of stuff I never give a second look to, which bothers me. I'm looking to move in six months or so and I'd like to streamline my load considerably, hopefully gradually and without having a nervous breakdown or regrets (In my former life I was a sentimental pack rat who would clutch Bing Crosby 78s and scream, "But... I may need this someday!" I've gotten better over the years but it's still stressful).

I'd like to be zen about it, but right now all I see is how much work it's going to be. I don't even know where to start. Should I sell things on ebay? Craigslist? Is it not worth the hassle & I should just throw my belongings on the side of the road? I could use some money but I'm really not sure how much to even ask for things or how to go about it methodically. I've never really done this before. I have a big ol' back injury so I'm also trying to figure out how to do this without working so hard I put my back out from stress or lifting crap.

Soooo... what has your experience been? What works? What doesn't? I need all of the advice & help I can get.

Thanks in advance. :)
posted by miss lynnster to Home & Garden (57 answers total) 116 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Oh, and my past experience with yard sales has been somewhat annoying... but I'm open to all suggestions.
posted by miss lynnster at 6:45 PM on December 26, 2007

Me, I'm an anti-pack-rat. If I have clothes or books or whatever I don't need, they go right over to Under One Roof or Goodwill. I can't deal with yard sales or ebay or even freecycle.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 6:48 PM on December 26, 2007

When we cleaned out our kitchen, we looked in every drawer and cabinet and asked, "Have we used this in the last year?" The rule was then that we had to use it within a week, or it got sequestered. Eventually, the sequestered stuff gets disposed of through donation, sale, or trash.
posted by Richard Daly at 6:51 PM on December 26, 2007

There is a tension between the easiest and least stressful way to get rid of the most crap, and the way you can get the most money for it.

On the one hand, the fastest and best way to deal with the fundamental problem of a cluttered house is to put the stuff in boxes on the curb. Perhaps put a post on Craigslist or Freecycle saying that the stuff is on the curb, but beyond that it's not your problem. Radical surgery, but once you are done you really are done.

On the other hand, the only way to earn money is to evaluate each item individually and as part of a set, find out what similar things are selling for, take photos, list on Ebay or wherever, deal with flaky buyers who don't pay on time, and so on. This takes many hours of your time, and more importantly, lots and lots of emotional energy (at least to the extent that you care about any of the items, or that handling them brings up memories of when you bought them).

My suggestion is to separate out the small set of things that are really valuable and sell those, and put the rest out on the curb. Once you get that crap out of your life, you will feel lighter, freer, and less stressed by it.

When I have done this for myself, and when I have helped friends, I have had the best luck decluttering by taking one area of one room at a time, and not going on to another area until that area is done. That can be as small as one shelf of a bedroom closet, or as much as a most of a room in one go, depending on how much stuff there is. I have also found that it is really hard to immediately sort into "keep" and "toss" piles, but it is easy to sort when I allow a really big "maybe" pile. Invariably, everything in the "maybe" pile (plus a lot of the "keep" pile) gets tossed, but it is so much easier to first categorize the stuff into it -- I think calling the stuff "maybe"s is a way of acknowledging that the things had meaning to me at one point, and are markers of my own history... without actually having to really keep them.
posted by Forktine at 6:56 PM on December 26, 2007 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: When I moved up here I did donate most everything. Here's another issue I have though... I own a Miata. In LA, they picked stuff up that I donated but I get the impression that places in the Bay area don't, and my car can hold about 3 postage stamps.

For the collectible heirloomy stuff I don't think I could give that away though... I'd have to sell that stuff for profit or my family would kill me...

posted by miss lynnster at 6:57 PM on December 26, 2007

I've sold some stuff on ebay and it's very low-stress. Beats the hell out of craigslist. I also move all. the. time. because I am a masochist. This is my time honoured way of getting rid of stuff, all stuff, in one easy month.

Start by selling the stuff that you know is worth something on ebay: unworn shoes, designer or brand name duds, collectibles, electronics. Stock up on boxes and Priority Mail envelopes and locate a post office with one of those package mailing machines. If a friend or relative had previously expressed and interest in something I'd give it to them. Then I'd evaluate what's left. Books: go en masse to a used book store on a weekday, stop off at Salvation Army on the way home and drop off what they won't buy. Old clothes go to a women's shelter (and while you're at it ask them what else they can use). Decent furniture goes on craigslist. Furniture that's too ugly to sell goes on freecycle or craigslist. Appliances go on craigslist, extra place settings and kitchen crap goes to someone's kid who just graduated and has nary a spatula to their name.

By this time you are only left with fridge magnets and odd socks. Salvation army gets one more delivery, recycling station gets one, everything else goes in the trash.
posted by fshgrl at 6:58 PM on December 26, 2007 [6 favorites]

fwiw I'm morally opposed to wasting stuff or landfilling it so I do my level best to find it a new home.
posted by fshgrl at 6:59 PM on December 26, 2007

Best answer: You need a buddy, someone who can come in and say "miss lynnster, this Bing Crosby album is MOLDY, I will put this in my car for later..." and then at some point drive away with your things. I do this for my sister. All the computers she thinks hse might need "someday" I promise to give to a good home. All the clothes that I might someday wear I bring to my house and then to the thrift store. There are a few problems people have when destuffifying

- sentiment
- value/money
- transpo & just getting it the last 100 feet out of the house
- inertia & "where to start?"

You'll need to see where your achilles heel is. A friend can help with this. I think the good thing to do is a few things

- some area for "keep at any cost" items
- some area for "get this out of here" items
- sorting area for everything else

Learn to put like with like. Records together. Books together. Clothes together. It's much easier to evaluate a stack of records than ten piles of 3-4 each. Same with books. Split jobs into small parts like this

- remove treasured items to some safe space - Area A
- remove trash - Area B
- make "to do" piles with concrete assignments -- sell on ebay, thrift store, give to family, etc - Areas C
- split remaining stuff into piles
- sort through piles trying to move more stuff into Area C areas

Be honest with yourself. If you're never going to sell stuff on ebay, don't claim you will. If you're never going to take the recycling out, put it in the trash. If you're saving plastic bags because you hate to see them go in the landfill, make a one time exception. If you live in the city, you can move stuff slowly out to a FREE Table, but beware that they don't take your table or your free sign. If you start early enough and do one room at a time [except for grouping like wiht like, like with books or something] you can do this in a few hours a day. The trick is to not save something for later "Oh I'll look through that box of photos and decide what to keep LATER..." but to do it now. You can do it while watching TV or while listening to music you like. The big deal is try to make those decisions for the person you are today.

I had to admit, for example, that I just did not NEED five or six party dresses anymore because even though they were fun and looked great on me, I am a late 30s woman that lives in rural Vermont and do not party so much anymore. If those things change and I go to Burning Man in 2008, I will buy new dresses. Same with books that maybe were important to you in college or high school. Keep a few, ditch the rest. I have a one bookshelf rule where I try [with cvarying degrees of success] to keep one big bookshelf of books and when I get new ones, I try to get rid of old ones or at least take a hard look at what's left.

So, in short

- get a friend
- make a plan
- set some time limits
- have Area C areas in mind
- Go!

Good luck, I think you can do it.
posted by jessamyn at 7:08 PM on December 26, 2007 [52 favorites]

Best answer: I'm a big fan of the Flylady (www.flylady.org).
This is my variation
1. Pick a room to start in.
2. Pick a closet, bookshelf or dresser to start.
3. Get a trash bag, a box or bag labelled "give away or sell" and a laundry basket for things that go somewhere else in the house
3. Set at timer for one unit of work (15 to 30 minutes)
4. Start going through the stuff, putting them in the trash, box or basket or back where they belong. Don't take out more than you can deal with at one time!
5. STOP when the timer goes off. Throw out the trash, put the stuff in the basket away. Anything else you took out goes back where it came from so things aren't messy. On weekdays you are now done. On weekends, you might want to come back later and do another work unit.

Sometimes, things are so jumbled that you need a pre-sort - for example, in our garage, I went through a first time, threw out the obvious trash and put everything else in boxes with labels like "paint supplies" "hand tools 1" (and 2 and 3) or "parts that belong with other tools". I ended up with about 20 boxes which I could then go through one box or category at a time. When husband saw 7 hammers in a row, it was easier to pick out the three that he wanted to keep.

I love freecycle - emotionally it is so much easier to give things to someone else that I would hold onto rather than throw in the trash. I often offer things as a related bunch - a shoebox of hand tools or half a bag of old computer mice + misc. cables. I also leave things on porch for pickup so I don't have to worry about being home and dealing with people when they come to pick up, although sometimes it is nice to meet them - especially if the item has sentimental value.

In my experience, unless the resale value is more than $30 - $50, it is not worth my time to sell it on ebay but that depends on how much you value your free time. In any case, wait until you have a couple boxes to give away and then decide what is worth selling, freecycling, goodwill or ends up in the trash after all.

Final tip - weigh everything as it leaves the house. Don't count ordinary trash or things that are immediately replaced but everything else you purge, wherever it goes, should count. Keep a running total. I was very excited when I managed to get to a ton (literally 2000 lbs) in a year's time!
posted by metahawk at 7:12 PM on December 26, 2007 [5 favorites]

43 Folders had a good blog post about this. The advice that stuck with me was
two 32-gallon Brute trash cans, ten 12-gallon boxes, and a huge-ass roll of contractor bags.
posted by Nelson at 7:21 PM on December 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

Oh, how to decide:
1. do you use it? (have you used in the past year or so? if not, how easy to replace, rent or borrow if you need it again? For example, most books are available from the library, many others can be bought used if you really need a copy later - I'm getting really ruthless about books.
2. Do you love it? Does it make you smile? Some things deserve a place in your home just because they make you feel good.
3. If not, it needs to leave your house one way or another.
posted by metahawk at 7:21 PM on December 26, 2007

If you live in the Bay Area, there are many stores that will buy used clothing, lots of them around UC Berkeley. There are also bookshops that buy used books but you have to schlep them. An alternative to that is to post them on Amazon.com and mail them out yourself when people buy them. The money is deposited in your checking account. I made a couple of hundred selling books on Amazon. When I moved out of the Bay Area I sold all my furniture off of craigslist and it went faster when I posted pictures. Don't knock those Bing Crosby 78's...they are worth some money now. I also do the Goodwill thing, but I have to do it in small doses. I start a brown grocery bag, when it is full I drop it off at Goodwill or Salvation Army (I pass one of each on the way to work). To try and purge all at once is overwhelming. Do it in small steps, list your books on Amazon, start a bag for Goodwill, take some digitals of furniture you definately don't want and start posting on Craigslist. If you start now and get rid of a little bit each week it should be relatively painless. Good luck!
posted by 45moore45 at 7:21 PM on December 26, 2007

I did the same not too long ago ... and now almost all of my stuff (except bicycle, trailer and related stuff) fits in a *single* bedroom (well and some misc cooking stuff in the shared kitchen). The books especially were hard to get rid of -- I had to cull it down to one bookcase. My solution for that one was to record every book I owned on library thing then classify them into "own" and "giveaway". My criteria for keeping a book were things like: will I read it again? does it have *good* reference value? does it have sentimental value? can I easily check it out from a library or pick it up cheap later on? Then, I offered all the ones tagged "giveaway" to friends (local and on the internet).

It's a lot easier to give away a book (and most books really aren't worth that much unless you work at it either by selling online or getting various used bookstores to take them) to a friend, then just donating them wholesale -- though I do have five boxes that are going to a book swap in a few months. Having the list on librarything gives me some peace that at least I know what I *did* have once in case I wanted to find a book again.
posted by R343L at 7:31 PM on December 26, 2007

If you're looking for a good place to start, you might want to check out Unclutterer.
posted by pjdoland at 7:38 PM on December 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

I had to do this when I moved to Japan. Sold a lot on Ebay, totally worth the time I put into it, but if taking photos is difficult, perhaps donation is the way you want to go.

Use Half.com for books, it takes incredibly little time if you search using ISBN number. They even have stock photos you can use. I sold half of my books on Half.com, then took the remaining to used book stores, the ones that still remained got donated to the library.

Seconding the recommendation to get a friend help you, especially with the back injury, or even consider hiring someone.

About selecting what stays, I used the rule that if I put something in the "get rid of" box, let it sit there for a day and never thought about it once, then it was in the box to stay. Things that stay have to be things I can recall owning. Also get rid of anything with a bad memory attached or which you hold onto for reasons of guilt.

I would try to avoid trashing things that are still usable though, please try to donate first. Filing boxes from a place like Office Max are great for transporting things, particularly for books; they can be easily flattened and assembled again, are very sturdy, and have handles and lids.
posted by fan_of_all_things_small at 7:50 PM on December 26, 2007

It may be worth it to find a teenage son/daughter of someone you know and hire them to post a bunch of the stuff on ebay and pay them like 60-70% of the winnings, if its just stuff you're not locked into keeping but dont want to go to waste.
posted by softlord at 8:00 PM on December 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

For books, start with Amazon.com, then roll the ones that don't sell to Half.com, or donate them to the library.

I also take a photo of everything non-trivial that I toss -- there are memories associated with things and I occasionally use the photos as a memory jog.
posted by user92371 at 8:01 PM on December 26, 2007

We've got a three year plan to move, and get rid of 15 years of junk and this is how we're doing it:
Sci-fiction and power tools to my brother (so, if you have any relatives locally who would like your stuff, unload!)
Other books via my husband's work email list (no worries about postage etc which was a small hassle with ebay) and we get a small amount of cash. What seems to be working quite well so far with the books is putting up lots that have similar themes: thrillers, chick lit, etc.
Whatever doesn't go through that, we will give away via freecycle and local charities.

Finally, anything I find difficult to get rid of, but have no use for, I'm taking a picture of. I'm reminding myself that I run neither a gallery, nor a museum or a library. I don't have to hold on to this stuff. I won't be less of a person with less stuff to cling to.

And I have thrown things out. Old journals that I wrote in only two pages of, about quitting smoking 7 years ago (that quit didn't stick), stuff from employers/colleagues from 10 years - people I never think of but for the crap they gave me that I didn't like in the first place, clothes that don't fit or is stained or missing a button (nope, I'm never going to sew another on).

Put aside an hour (or whatever you can spare) each night, and go through a drawer, a shelf, a box. Normally we are over cautious in what we keep. Be a little reckless. You probably won't miss it, and if you do, you can figure you lost it in the move.
posted by b33j at 8:41 PM on December 26, 2007

Best answer: I've been planning to take a big chunk of time and empty out my apartment for, oh, a year or so. It's really easy to put off. What's slowly working for me instead is to get rid of one thing each day. So far my method has been to look through my bathroom closet every morning while I brush my teeth, and find at least one thing that can be eliminated. Most of the stuff goes in the trash, but I've also got a big box in the closet for things that should be donated. Whether it's a mostly-empty bottle of lotion or an ancient eyeshadow or a "Happy Birthday" internet-florist vase, I get rid of it during the 2 minutes when I would have just been staring at myself in the bathroom mirror. When the donation box gets full, I move it to my car and drop the stuff off whenever it's convenient.
posted by vytae at 8:48 PM on December 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

A good book on de-cluttering and dealing with stuff is It's All Too Much, by Peter Walsh (the Clean Sweep guy on TLC). There's a lot of great advice about dealing with the emotions we attach to stuff. The specific things about having x amount of books in y amount of shelf space might not apply as much.
posted by O9scar at 8:51 PM on December 26, 2007 [2 favorites]

This isn't the best article out there, but John Freyer of All My Life For Sale might serve as a good role model. :)
posted by soviet sleepover at 8:59 PM on December 26, 2007

I found the Apartment Therapy book really helpful. (Not that I'm suggesting buying something so you can get rid of stuff.)
posted by Airhen at 9:03 PM on December 26, 2007

I used to tell myself all the time I'd sell things on eBay or Craigslist. I still haven't got around to doing this. However, my wife has pushed me to just put a lot of the stuff I thought I might "someday sell" out on the curb, and it's turned out to be quite liberating.

We've also taken quite a bit of stuff to the local Goodwill. You can ask them for a receipt, which you get to fill out yourself (you can add in estimated values later), and when you're doing your taxes you can claim all the stuff you donated as a charitable deduction. Then at least you can feel like you're getting some monetary value out of it (and virtuously keeping it out of the landfill, letting someone else get a bargain, and benefitting a non-profit organization).
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 9:26 PM on December 26, 2007

Well, when we inadvertently ended up with a house full of someone else's collectible stuff, I started a blog. I posted many photos of said stuff.

Most things were not worth more than $40. Actually, most things were not worth even $2 but there were TONS of them. If I had let myself buy into "Wow! If I could just sell 1000 things for $2 each, that would be a lot of money!" I would still be drowning in worthless stuff. The time it takes to sell that stuff would have sucked up any profit I might have hoped for.

So, I decided that anything not worth at LEAST $50 was not worth my time to try and sell. I gave away or donated hundreds of things. Perhaps 12-15 station wagons packed full of things.

Everything else was either sold through the blog or through Craigslist. A few things on eBay but it was a lot of trouble and angst for not a very large payoff.

Honestly? I found the blog to be the most useful tool, even though I did not start the blog in order to sell stuff. I started the blog to share my anxiety ABOUT the stuff with my family in other states. But, by and by, through the blog, people started to find the stuff and asked about it. Only a handful of items brought in hundreds of dollars. One item which I might have even thrown out was purchased by a movie props master for a Nicole Kidman movie. He found the item through the blog. But that was a weird coincidence I'm sure and is not a business model that I'd recommend to anyone.

Best of luck.
posted by jeanmari at 9:34 PM on December 26, 2007 [3 favorites]

The best thing you can do is to set parameters, and do NOT make exceptions to those parameters, for any reason. For example:

- If there are clothes in your closet you haven't worn in a year, take them to Goodwill. NO EXCEPTIONS. Not for that one cute thing you wore on that one date once, not for the shirt you wore when you met so-and-so, NOTHING. If you haven't touched it in that long, you don't need it and you won't wear it. Give it to someone who will.

- Same goes for books. Books are easy to come by - if you have a shelf full of books that you're not likely to need again, that you haven't read in a year, out they go. Unless you have valuable, signed first editions, you can always get them from the library if you want to read 'em again.

- Knickknacks and tchotchkes are harder, but easier. What I mean is, once you get past the "awww" factor, do you really NEED to have all that crap cluttering up your shelves, gathering dust? Will Bing Crosby be mad that you get rid of a moldy old record?

In all honesty, that stuff "you'll never give a second look to" can go out on the curb, right now, with a sign that says "FREE STUFF".

It's very hard to de-emotionalize your relationship with your stuff, but your life will be better for it. At the end of the day, they're just things. If you don't use 'em now, you won't miss 'em when they're gone - just take a deep breath, box all the never-used stuff up, and curb it. Don't worry about trying to make a profit from them, that'll just keep you from doing anything while you "strategize". Act now, and de-clutter.

Good luck.
posted by pdb at 9:43 PM on December 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: What a great post above by jessamyn. Good stuff to think about.

I wanted to comment on books. Almost without fail when this topic comes up you will have many people tell you to get rid of your books. Well, from one who did that once to 'simplify', I can tell you to be very careful. I miss my books - in a bad way. I'm not suggesting you not get rid of the books either, just be sure you really, really don't want them. I think some of us need books around just like others need pets and some of us need both! For the bibliophile to think they will be happier with less "stuff" and include their books in the "stuff" it can be a very sad experience. What I wouldn't give to have so many of my books back. Some don't even show up in a Bookfinder search! Just be careful. For me, I don't know if it was the glue, the paper, a mixture, whatever - but I realize there was a comforting smell to my domain that WAS my books! I miss seeing the books lined up on bookshelves, miss spotting the spine of a certain favorite, I miss the company of my books. I know, it sounds crazy. So, get rid of your books if you feel you must - but remember me - and give it a lot of thought if you are a true book lover.
posted by Gerard Sorme at 9:47 PM on December 26, 2007 [7 favorites]

You live in one of the population centers of MetaFiltration and you are the fabulous miss lynnster. You should host your own meetup and potlatch some of that stuff. I suppose you could make it a general swap meet, but if so, try to resist temptation and make sure that you have less stuff at the end of the day :)
posted by mumkin at 10:02 PM on December 26, 2007 [2 favorites]

For the collectible heirloomy stuff I don't think I could give that away though... I'd have to sell that stuff for profit or my family would kill me...

Why not give those "collectible heirloomy" things to your family? Then they can sell them, keep them, whatever. No longer your problem, and no one can claim that you didn't value the keepsakes.
posted by Forktine at 10:32 PM on December 26, 2007

Response by poster: Why not give those "collectible heirloomy" things to your family?

Well, for various reasons. One is because the people who would kill me would be the people who bestowed me with the stuff in the first place and they don't want it. The other is because they all live a 10 hour drive away from me. I'm going to be moving closer to them, but the whole point of this is trying to have less stuff to move.

posted by miss lynnster at 10:42 PM on December 26, 2007

I've spent a lot of time lately tackling a very similar problem. I have a compulsion to hang on to stuff and then I miss it when it's gone. But like you, I just had too dang much crap and had to whittle it down. I found that taking photos and scanning things helped enormously. I kid you not: I have a digital, visual record of hundreds of the items I've set free.

See, one of the reasons I packrat is that all the old books and t-shirts and plastic cups substitute for the journal I never kept. I might keep an old book, for example, that I've never read simply because I bought it while I was shopping with my ex-girlfriend in a book store that closed down years ago. And I know that I can always look at that book and remember that day and all the other days we spent rooting through that book store and how we used to fight about how much money we were going to spend and so on and so forth. I mean, what if I just forgot about that day and didn't think about it ever again for the rest of my life? To me, the thought is unbearably depressing. And I guess I feel like as long as the book is still around, that can't happen. But if I still have the scan or the digital photo of the item, it can jog my memory just as effectively as the thing itself. And the bytes take up a lot less space. Of course, if the item exists in its entirity in digital form out on the internet, I'll download a copy.

Now, when it comes to actually physically getting rid of things, I find it helps a lot if I know someone is going to be getting some use out them. As you say, the awful thought is always there: "But what if I need it??" On top of that, there is (for me, at least) a corresponding pleasant thought when I find, one day, that I actually *do* need that item: "Oh, crap. My keyboard just up and died! Wait... I've got another one right... here. Ha! Take that, you gods of computer malfunction!" It's only in the last few years that I realized, though, that if a friend calls up and says "Hey, my keyboard is toast and I don't get paid till Friday. Can you help me out," the pleasure derived from having and deploying the keyboard is almost as great. There was a need and I filled it. I totally kick ass. I find Freecycle is good for finding people who need my stuff. Through that list, I've given a few hundred books to this guy who distributes them to local libraries and schools, for example.

Oh, another effective tactic: storage instead of disposal. Fortunately for me, I have access to free air conditioned storage space. I recently boxed up about two hundred books; ones I wasn't going to read any time soon or could replace with digital copies but didn't want to get rid of entirely (in a lot of cases, because I'd had them since childhood). There's now a lot more room on my book shelves and I didn't have to actually part with the books.
posted by Clay201 at 10:42 PM on December 26, 2007 [2 favorites]

Best answer: This happened to me when I moved from my Texas house with the big walk-in closets to my tiny 1920's California bungalow with no storage space. A year later I'm still decluttering, but I made huge progress in the first 3 months.

First, you said that you have things that your family wants you keep or sell for profit. You need to return those items to your family. If its yours then you can dispose of it as you wish - sell, donate, trash. You aren't a free storage service for your family heirlooms. Once you free yourself of your mental obligations to these objects, the whole process is a lot easier.

Second, stop making the problem worse. Stop buying stuff. This is a very hard thing to do.

Third, put a donation bag in every closet or storage area. Fill those bags a little bit at a time every single time you go into that storage area. Don't worry about sorting it immediately. Just put items into the donation piles every day.

Fourth, schedule regular donation pickups on your calendar with charities that accept a wide variety of goods. I have 4 quarterly donation pickups scheduled - Goodwill, Salvation Army, Vietnam Veterans and Father Joe's (St Vincent de Paul). Pick whatever charities feel good to you.

Finally, about once a month donate specific types of items to whomever they will do the most good. For me, this is far more satisfying than one lump to Goodwill or the Salvation Army. There are tons of specific organizations. I'm always stunned when I research how to donate a specific item. Here are a few:
• Professional clothing - Dress for Success.
• Prom or Party dresses - Princess Project or Glass Slipper.
• Old eyeglasses - New Eyes for the Needy.
• Old (but not ancient) PCs and Periferals - Cristina Foundation
It's far easier to let go of things when you know it's going to someone who needs it. That satisfaction keep my momentum of donations going.

Last, collect all those taxes receipts and enjoy a nice, fat refund.
posted by 26.2 at 10:53 PM on December 26, 2007 [3 favorites]

i don't think books are worth the hassle of reselling them individually on ebay or clist, unless they're really special books. instead, i suggest you grab a couple sturdy laundry baskets and quickly, ruthlessly sort through them- 2 groups: "goodwill", and "used bookstore". (you'll leave the ones you want to keep on the shelves).

when you're done sorting, get a brawny pal to drive you and your books to a used bookstore. get the books appraised, (the buyer will want some and not others), but then convince them to take ALL the books for a slightly higher price. if they're still reluctant, you can offer to take a store credit instead of cash- this will usually get you a higher number figure, although of course it means more used bookstore clutter in future. i've traded batches of crappy old books- maybe 50 at a time- for $20-$40 in store credit.
posted by twistofrhyme at 12:31 AM on December 27, 2007

oh, and you know the clothing trick, right?
put as much clothing as possible on hangers. put all the hangers backwards on the rod (so the ends of the hooks point towards you and it's slightly inconvenient to get the hangers off the rod).
use your clothes as usual. once you've worn an item, you can re-hang it with the hanger facing the normal way, or put it in a drawer.
a week before moving day, look for all the backwards hangers in the closet- they will each contain an article of clothing you haven't worn in 6 months-- which means that after a quick sorting to remove the special exceptions from that pile, you can donate the remainder to someone who'll love them more than you!
posted by twistofrhyme at 12:44 AM on December 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

oh, one more- flylady.net has good advice about decluttering.
posted by twistofrhyme at 12:48 AM on December 27, 2007

oops, decluttering should link here.
posted by twistofrhyme at 12:49 AM on December 27, 2007

One of my big problems with clearing out our place has been my attachment to the idea of clutter. I come from a pretty undemonstrative family, so as a kid I always What a wastefelt like an archeologist exploring all the junk drawers/cabinets/basements of my little clan. Novelty Holy Water decanters! X-rated swizzle sticks! Strange booze decanters and mystery hinges! But that's not my junk drawer. My junk drawer is quite literally crammed with junk, although it's taken me a while to realize it. I think I've come to see a lot of the crap in my house as a kind of fake nostalgia; I'm hoping it will delight someone, the way my auntie and unc's stuff delighted me. But I'm sure they would have been thrilled and unburdened without the paraphanalia, just as I will tomorrow once it's all on the curb.
Don't try to sell it- box everything, just give yourself a much smaller box for "sellable" stuff, and a huge ass container for curbside pick-up. Even in my relatively affluent neighborhood, folks will find stuff to take away. My son has found some of his favorite toys this way- man, if that stuff had been in a bin rather than in a box on the curb... What a waste it would've been!
posted by maryh at 1:02 AM on December 27, 2007

(please excuse that first inappropriate 'what a waste'- clearly, typing will never be something people describe as one of my 'gifts')
posted by maryh at 1:10 AM on December 27, 2007

There is a lot of good advice in this thread for how to get rid of stuff. My ethos boils down to:

- Books, china and knicknacks get Ebay'd first. Whatever is left over goes to Goodwill.
- Clothes go straight to the Goodwill pile.
- Furniture goes to Craigslist, for sale on round 1 and for free on round 2.
- Broken stuff and/or rubbish goes to the curb.
- Old papers and gross clothes get set aside for recycling, over several weeks' pickup if required.

My criteria for identifying what goes into these piles is:

- Clothes: If I have not worn it for two years, it goes.
- Knicknacks: If I have not actually looked at it, fondly, for a year, it goes.
- Pots, furniture, computer stuff: If I have not used it in a year, it goes.
- If it is broken, and I can't be bothered to fix it, it goes.

FWIW, here we have a service from B&Q or Home Depot or equivalent where you can pick up a kind of laminated, folded up half-skip for €99. It comes in a box you can put on your passenger seat. You put it outside your house and fill it with all your throw out stuff, and as part of the €99 they pick it up, crush it and landfill it. Maybe worth checking for similar services at your local mega DIY store.

Landfill is not ideal, but if you make a good effort with the other stuff so it's minimised, it's just the filtered down stuff that goes in there.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:35 AM on December 27, 2007

Second Rotation was recently reviewed on Ars Technica.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 4:53 AM on December 27, 2007

Consider professional help. I had an organizor help me with decluttering. She'd come in once a week and decide what we were working on and do a few hours work, and then give me a homework assignment to do something -- sort out all my yarn, or sort my closets or whatever -- and some guidelines we'd agreed on for doing the task.

Just having those weekly deadlines really made a difference. If your schedule is less compact, you might have her come monthly or similar.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:08 AM on December 27, 2007

Best answer: If getting rid of stuff is a priority, then turn it inside out. Instead of looking at each thing you own and deciding whether or not to keep it, set aside a few minutes and do an Easter egg hunt:

- find 15 clothing items to give to charity
- find 15 books to give to your local school or library
- find 15 things to trash
- find 15 gadgets to give to your favorite electronics junkie
- find 15 things to Freecycle
- find 15 things to give to a particular friend

...and so on. Adjust "15" for your circumstances and repeat until you've reached Nirvana. The nice thing about this method is that, instead of agonizing over "Do I get rid of THIS thing?" you get to search and destroy the stuff you really want out of your life. Anything that's on the cusp you just won't spend time or emotional energy worrying about because you'll look for something else that you feel good about getting rid of.

(The nice thing about giving books to the library is that, if you decide you want to read them again, you can just go borrow them back. :) )
posted by mikewas at 7:24 AM on December 27, 2007 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Freecycling is fun. I keep watch for things requested, and really enjoyed seeing someone leave with my old sewing machine. I keep a shopping bag of stuff for Goodwill. Once in a while, there's something I wish I still had, but it's rare. So, just start. Start in the middle, don't worry about perfect efficiency, but get going.

You have the luxury of space. Consider clearing a space to use for this project. If you ebay or craigslist stuff, it's very nice to have a space for photographing, and for shipping. It's nice to have space to store things you need to think about.

Then you could do a 1st run and get rid of things you really don't want. Once you start, you may find that the pleasure of less clutter will motivate you. I did a declutter of files recently, and it felt great. It's okay to keep stuff you love. It's okay to keep books, or old letters, or your highschool prom dress. What's important is to store and organize your stuff appropriately. It's not okay (for me) to keep moldy old record albums. My son's future bride may not choose to wear my wedding dress, but she'll have the option.

Especially with the family stuff, in the long run, keep telling yourself that it's only things. We're going through my Mom's stuff, and some family members feel strongly that lots of things should be kept, preserved, and not sold. But there won't be room for everything, and if my brother gets that silver ladle, and ends up selling it, it's really not a big deal. As you do your decluttering, you'll develop your own priorities for what to keep.
posted by theora55 at 7:42 AM on December 27, 2007

Best answer: I think this comment by occhiblu is one of the best I've read about the psychology of de-cluttering:
On kind of a meta note: To some extent, I think de-cluttering involves recognizing that regret is part of life, and being OK with that. Yes, I've given away books that I now often wish I still owned. But I've also screwed up relationships, made iffy career choices, etc. -- you suck it up and move on. If you try to cling to *every* *single* *thing* (material, spiritual, or emotional) that you might need one day in the totally hypothetical future, you're going to end up bogged down in a lot of stuff.
posted by OmieWise at 7:54 AM on December 27, 2007 [10 favorites]

I just want to second, or third maybe, getting a friend or relative to help you with this. My Mom always invited my cousin who loves to organize/ purge stuff down when there was a move happening. She'd hang out for a week or so and get it all ready for shipping, selling, or donating. She loved it, and Mom the packrat had much less stress.
posted by hwickline at 8:31 AM on December 27, 2007

Personally, I've never found books to be a big clutter problem. It's easy to declutter books... they sell cheap pre-made units to hold them in a nice organized way. I guess if you're out of wall space, then that's a problem.
posted by smackfu at 8:58 AM on December 27, 2007

Best answer: Because you have some time, and because you are a bit of a sentimental packrat (you still have those instincts, even if you are recovering) you may want to add a step and get a bunch of little colored dots, and stick the dots on things when you use them, enjoy looking at them, or even when you think about them. You don't need to be ruthless, you just want to make sure that everything you own and choose to move is useful, brings you joy, is worth the physical and psychological costs of keeping it.

Another thing to watch out for are how many things are you holding on to that are vestiges of a former life? Or of other people's former lives. Make sure you keep things that represent your life now/in the immediate future-- not the life you wish you had, and not the life you used to have. We all need to keep some mementos that remind us of who we used to be, but that's the cheerleading sweater- not the whole outfit, and the shoes and the books and the videos.

I personally think nothing beats a yardsale. Having a finite day when all this is going to get taken care of is just priceless. Get 2 friends to help you. Have one of the friends help you take everything that didn't sell to donate to goodwill and then be immediately done. My husband has the patience for eBay, and generally speaking people make the most selling on eBay during the first quarter of the year, so you have good timing. But I just hate the waiting and the shipping and the dealing with flaky buyers. Craigslist is sort of fun, in that you meet people face-to-face, but it only works really well for furniture. And I had my husband with me every time someone looked at our stuff.

I think if you have a lot of stuff, or even a small amount of good-quality, unique or interesting stuff you should try to sell it. It is really nice to have the cash, and people will pay money for all sorts of crazy stuff.

I loved watching the show Clean Sweep on TLC. The organizer on the show was really good at finding out what was holding people back from letting go of an object, and finding a solution. Do you need to keep the whole thing? Can you cut a scrap of the fabric and frame it, can you take a picture? Can you keep one of a collection to be representative of the whole thing? Can you give the family heirloom to another family member? Often just asking the question "how precious can it be if you are keeping it jammed in a cardboard box and you haven't looked at it in 10 years?" I think they still re-run the show, it's worth watching.
posted by Mozzie at 9:27 AM on December 27, 2007

Read this.
posted by allkindsoftime at 11:30 AM on December 27, 2007

Response by poster: It's really really hard to pick best answers here. I'm going to have to take time to really read through all of this!* Wow.

*Time well spent, as it shall be helping me to further procrastinate going through my belongings. :)
posted by miss lynnster at 12:25 PM on December 27, 2007

Following on from mumkin's comment, how about listing everything on Ebay, being sure to add the first batch to Projects - I can't be the only one who would love to bid on something (especially a book!) from the fabulous miss lynster :-)
posted by ceri richard at 2:31 PM on December 27, 2007

Response by poster: You guys... seriously... I ain't all that. I swear. Believe me.
posted by miss lynnster at 3:14 PM on December 27, 2007

Response by poster: But my dog, on the other hand, is.
posted by miss lynnster at 3:18 PM on December 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

This is a very personal, touchy, sensitive issue. If you're a pack rat, there's not much we can do to help you. Even so, here are a few tips that might help. (BTW, I am not a pack rat, but my brother is, so I'm familiar with the problem. Also, I'm a guy, so I understand if the clothing advice gets ignored.)

- For clothes, if I haven't worn it in a year, it gets donated to goodwill/thrift.
- For memorabilia (non-family stuff, like your Bing Crosby 78s), I weigh its "worth" to the amount of space it is taking up. Actually, that's good advice for anything.
- I am a book person, so I have bookcases. They don't take up too much space.
- Other stuff that you can classify as "I might need it someday"... I usually just toss these things. Cardboard boxes? Yeah, I might need them, but in my experience, no. And if I do need a box, I can buy one at Staples.

As to how to go about this daunting task... A little bit at a time. Doing ebay and craigslist will generate a little cash. But I find it very cathartic to donate &/or toss.

Oh, and allkindsoftime's reminder is a good one. Good luck!
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 6:33 PM on December 27, 2007

There are companies that will do this all for you. Basically, you drop everything off, they post it on ebay, package it, ship it, etc. It means you get a smaller cut but it all depends on whether the time you would spend on it is worth more to you or not.
posted by Deathalicious at 12:05 PM on December 28, 2007

Best answer: i really enjoy bookmooch for getting rid of books. give away a book, get a point that you can redeem for another book later. this was excellent when i was moving - got rid of books i wasn't using, and later once i was moved into my new place i had plenty of points to redeem.
posted by groovinkim at 5:22 PM on December 28, 2007

Response by poster: Update: You'll be proud of me! I actually set aside a closet just to put crap in that I don't need. It's already almost full, it's got about five boxes of books in it and ALL sorts of other junk. Most of the books I'm going to get rid of are ones I either already read and won't read again; ones I know I haven't read, won't read, and won't miss; or ones that are easy to find again if I want to. Half of my joy is finding and buying books anyhow, so I'm sure I'll buy plenty more down the road.

I'm finding all sorts of stuff I didn't know I still had or *why* I still have, though. And I'm not feeling as attached to some of the stuff as I'd expected to. Because honestly, do I really need THREE brochures from The Ponderosa? And am I ever going to make anything from 1950s Pilsbury Bake-off Cookbooks? No, I'm not. I haven't even opened the things. I haven't baked in ages.

So, little steps but at least I've started, which is the hardest part by far. Thanks for all of your advice. I'll be checking back in here as I go along & need inspiration.
posted by miss lynnster at 11:14 AM on December 31, 2007

Response by poster: BTW, the dust is killing my allergies. Daaang!
posted by miss lynnster at 11:14 AM on December 31, 2007

I have three tips:

Use a camera to "keep" something without actually keeping it. A lot of the value of stuff is as a momento or memory aid. By looking at it you remember something important. Taking pictures of stuff can free us to give it away, because we still have an image of it that we can browse.

Start using a local library regularly. If you aren't a member, join. Search for books and a/v materials using the online catalogs. Order materials and have them delivered to your local branch. Check out CDs of music you haven't heard before. I predict if you do this long enough you will realize you don't need to buy many new books. Then you might realize you don't need to own so many books, because they are so easily available. Finally you will feel you can let go of most of your books.

Rip your CDs and sell them to Amoeba in Berkeley.
posted by conrad53 at 4:30 PM on January 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

« Older Young, Dumb, and in NYC for a week and a half   |   iBudget Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.