How to Get Rid of Your Junk

By Andrea Karim on 18 June 2007 (Updated 26 May 2010) 18 comments
Photo: mstroz

Ed's post about moving and getting rid of stuff got me thinking about my clutter. Are you barely able to breathe in your cluttered household? Have tons of stuff that you need to get rid of?

A few weeks ago, I took a seminar called "Commanding Your Clutter" at a local community college. Here's what I learned about collecting, hoarding, shopping, and finally, letting go of all that junk.

Why people hold onto things

I paid so much for it! Yes, but are you getting your money's worth from it? No? Sell it.

I have sentimental attachment to it. This is my biggest problem. See step 4 below.

Someone else will be angry if I sell it/give it away. Our teacher told us that the best way to do this is to contact people by letter or by phone and let them know that although you love them, and appreciate the thought that went into the gift that they gave you, you simply don't have room for it anymore. You ask if they would like it back, or if they have any input as to what you should do with it. This can be a difficult proposition, but many people appreciate the honesty. The other option is to get rid of it and just tell them that you broke it if they ever ask.

My children will eventually want it. ASK your children if they will eventually want it, and keep asking them. See if they want it now. I have this monstrous set of big, fake plastic grapes glued to a piece of driftwood that I LOVED as a child. They were my grandmother's. I used to think that they were magic. Now, I can't think of anything to do with them, short of launching them into the ocean using a homemade trebuchet.

But this is an heirloom! Sez you. If you think you have something of heirloom quality, get it appraised and store it properly. Many of the things that you consider heirloom quality might not be. This is (again) where taking a picture of the object, labeling it, and storing it in an album would be appropriate.

It'll be worth so much money some day! This might be true. But if you're like the 40 Year Old Virgin, consider paring down. If collectibles are getting in the way of your everyday living, selling some of them off now will save you years of annoyance, which is worth a bit of money. You can invest that money and watch it grow, and it will grow faster than the value of the baseball card/action figure/porcelain doll, without a doubt.

Tactics for getting rid of stuff

1. Start small, with one closet or one corner of a room. Our teacher told us to use an egg timer and to work in 15 minute intervals, but that doesn't work for me — I'm better off tackling everything at one go. However, if you are looking at a huge project that can take days, our teacher suggested that organizing for 45 minutes (with 15 minutes of cleanup), one day a week was the only way to get it done while maintaining your sanity.

2. Procure three empty boxes, and label them Keep, Undecided, and Toss. Divide your junk into these boxes, and empty them frequently (in the garbage or at Goodwill, or in your Yard Sale pile). I actually use Keep, Donate, and Toss, because I like to make my decisions straight away.

3. Resist the urge to look through the photo albums and year books during the first round. If you think that the info contained therein will be valuable down the road, put them in the Keep box and deal with them at a later date.

4. Deciding what to get rid of is hard, but it must be done. Our teacher told us the story of a man she had helped on a big cleaning project. He was hanging on to things like a plastic bag from a bookstore in Paris that he felt reminded him of his college travels. The bag, he said, had a special place in his memory.

Fine, she said. Let's get a nice frame for it and hang it on the wall. The man looked at her like she was nuts. You don't frame and hang a plastic bag.

No? Well, let's take a picture of it, then frame that picture. Again, the man stared at her like she had lost it. It finally dawned on him that the bag wasn't the source of his memories, but merely a souvenir, and a junky one at that. Toss it, he said.

Our teacher recommended that we use this rule for each item that we hem and haw over:

1. Would you want to frame and display it?

  • Yes = Keep.
  • No = See step 2.

2. Would you want to take a picture of it?

  • Yes = Take picture, get rid of item.
  • No = Get rid of item.

If you can take a picture of something that you want to remember, but can't use, do so. Put it in an album with a label. But let it go if it's taking up too much space.

But what should I do with it?

You don't have too many choices, but there are a few to consider:

  • Throw it in the garbage.
  • Put it outside with a FREE sign. Better yet, put a $50 sign on it and watch how fast it gets stolen.
  • Give it away to a friend or family member, or to a complete stranger through Freecycle.
  • Recycle it (computers, TVs).
  • Call a junk tower to take it away.
  • Sell it online.
  • Trade it online.
  • Sell it in the newspaper.
  • Take it to Goodwill or similar charity.

Me, I've stopped trying to sell stuff. Donation is the key to getting rid of what I don't need. The amount of money I can make for selling my junk on eBay or Craigslist rarely makes up for the amount of time that goes into arranging the sale.

Yard sales are a great way to make money, and 'tis the season right now. Get Rich Slowly (via The Simple Dollar) has some great tips for a successful yard sale.

You'll probably be surprised how much stress is relieved by parting with your junk. I was really taken aback this morning when I was able to walk from my bedroom to the bathroom without looking like I was doing the Filipino tinikling all the way there.

It can be hard to part with things, but in the long run, it's worth letting go. When they say that you can't take it with you, they aren't kidding.

Of course, part of the trick to maintaining a clutter-free zone in your home and life is not to accumulate MORE crap. I'll be blogging more about that tomorrow.

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Guest's picture
Lansy

Hello Andrea, I am so glad to come to your post. Fantastic writting and extremely helpful tips! Count me in to come back often to ask for more more and more tips! (*i won't mind in dollar form*)

I have started a "Let Go" meme: http://adropofhappyness.blogspot.com/2007/06/law-of-let-go-meme.html
I invite you to join in. You already have a post here. Just need a bit editting about to let go too in the mind. (Mind first then action in the real world). Talk a bit letting go of hatred if you may dare. :D

Guest's picture
Karl

I've been trying to simplify my life through external and internal avenues.

Externally I am slowly selling stuff I don't need. I've come up with a good way for me not to impulse buy - I picture myself a year into the future and try to imagine myself with a product. If I can't see it or don't like what I see I don't buy it. It's so much easier to simplify now then it is after I have too much junk.

Internally I'm clearing out thoughts that I don't need. I'm learning to do this through meditation. I've noticed that I'm choosing to be happy with what I have, not what I lack.

Cheers Andrea - to a good Post!

Guest's picture
60 in 3

I used to try and sell old stuff on Craig's list or eBay. Like you, I realized it simply wasn't worth the effort. There are plenty of charities around who will take items off your hands and give your full value credit for them. The tax deduction you get is probably worth more than the money someone would have been willing to pay anyway.

Gal

Guest's picture
mommydeedee

Selling things on Craig's List or eBay usually IS more trouble than it's worth, I have found, with ONE exception.

Appliances.
I had an old but functional fridge that came with my house. Sat in the basement for years. I also acquired a large deep freeze which I used for a while and then stopped, as it was not energy eficent and I wanted to replace it with a new one, with no leaky seals, etc.

These items had some value, especially to someone who could tweak them back into functionality, but no real 'sale' value.

I called some junk dealers and they wanted me to pay them upwards of $200 to haul them away!

In desperation one Sunday evening I snapped a picture of them both, & put them up on Craig's List (under 'FREE stuff category) at 9pm.

They were gone from out of my basement by midnight!
Wow

I consider options like that now as I do when evaluating 'the right tool for the job'
That one worked like a charm.

Guest's picture
Leslie

I am so proud of you...even though I don't know you. Getting rid of the stuff that "clogs" you is a great release and a wonderful way to also help the enviroment. If more people thought about the clutter they have and the need to be free of such things--this world would be such a better place.

Check out my website and let me know what you think!

www.lesmess.com

Thanks, Leslie

Guest's picture
Guest

Give it away to someone who can use it. Check for your local Freecycle group at http://freecycle.org

Andrea Karim's picture

I actually mentioned Freecycle in the article.

Guest's picture
Randy Bradakis

I believe the rules for Freecycle specifically include 'no trading'. Freecycle should be in the 'give it away' part of you list.

Otherwise, excellent article.

Guest's picture
Benton

I discovered Freecycle (usually it's a local Yahoo group) and I love it. People are looking for things other people don't need anymore, and I've used it to get rid of things I don't use anymore but can't bear to throw out because they're still in good condition, like kid's outgrown bikes, joggers, toys, etc. The rules for Freecycle are that the recipient can't throw away the item and can't turn around and sell it. It makes me happy to see these once-loved things go to a good home where they'll be enjoyed again.

Andrea Karim's picture

I wasn't aware that no trades we allowed. Will correct.

Guest's picture
Natilie

I will donate and give the stuff that people give to me to the homeless people or shelter or good will or salvation army or I will give it to someone who really needs it like people moving into houses that need stuff for their home or teenagers who needs it for their apartment.I love helping others and I do that by helping them find things they need or by giving things to them that they need.So please help me out on this so I can keep helping others and maybe in the long run you will also be happy cause you would be helping them also by giving me stuff for them that they need and they will be so happy an so thankful to you all.

Guest's picture
Natilie

I will donate and give the stuff that people give to me to the homeless people or shelter or good will or salvation army or I will give it to someone who really needs it like people moving into houses that need stuff for their home or teenagers who needs it for their apartment.I love helping others and I do that by helping them find things they need or by giving things to them that they need.So please help me out on this so I can keep helping others and maybe in the long run you will also be happy cause you would be helping them also by giving me stuff for them that they need and they will be so happy an so thankful to you all.

Guest's picture
maria

I have several old flags of other nations and don't know what to do with them. I don't want to throw them away. Can I sell them and how do I find out what they are worth.

Guest's picture
Guest

Hi MARIA

I don't know how old this thread is (couldn't see the date), but you could consider donating them to the church. I once attended a church that displayed flags of many nations in order to demonstrate their multiculturism.

Guest's picture

Thank you so much for this! I'm a pack rat and it's starting to drive me crazy!

Guest's picture
Katie

You have no idea how helpful this will be! I'm 24 years old and I still have my barbies. My mind set on that is the Ken dolls from my child hood are so much better then the ken dolls now and if I ever have a girl who gets into barbies I would want her to have the better. But I realized that's a problem so reading your article will help me a ton with so much more of my junk. Thanks!

Guest's picture
Chris

This is one of the most hilarious things I have read in a long time! Thank you for taking the time to write this piece.

I have been having a heckuva time trying to figure out how to divide what to keep and what to get rid of for some time now. More than a couple of years actually. When I read your piece I thought the advice was good but when I got to the part about the man with the plastic bag, I completely lost it--at work, in my cubicle! I don't think I've snorted like that since I was about eleven. I had to go outside my building for some air... and because my co-workers were looking at me like I was ready for the looney farm. "Are you crying or laughing," they asked. A little of both. It was a huge release and a welcome change from the insanity of holding on.

Thanks... that was pretty cool.

Guest's picture

Clutter. The word Clutter is where I needed help the most. Unfortunately, I still can't decide on what stuff to keep and get rid of. The ones where I want to keep, there's more that is coming into my life. I tend to buy more books and stuff because I don't want to go to a library and borrow. I might have forgotten on what day it's due which will cost me more money.
Thanks for posting this cool article of yours. I'm going to keep in mind of some cool tricks you mentioned. Thanks.