My 16 Favorite Ways to Get Rid of Clutter

By Max Wong on 1 November 2016 4 comments

Ugh. I hate clutter. It actually hurts my brain. However, even if I were Mari Kondo fancy, and could afford to throw away everything in my house that I don't love, my inner-tree-hugger would feel guilty about putting perfectly usable items into the landfill. So, what's an environmentally responsible person to do with their clutter?

Here are my top 16 clutter-busters that keep my house from looking like a warehouse:

1. Stop Bringing New Clutter Into Your House

If you have a cluttered house, chances are you already have everything you need to survive. If you are like me and love to trash pick like it's a competitive sport, this means sidelining your treasure-hunting hobby until you have a grip on what you own.

But, don't despair my freegan brethren. You can still get the thrill of the hunt; you just have to do it inside your house.

2. Use It Up, Wear It Out, Make It Do, or Do Without

I like to turn this Depression Era proverb into a game. How long can I go without buying groceries? How long will it take for me to eat through my pantry? If you have a hard time staying on the no new clutter wagon, challenge a like-minded friend to a competition to keep yourself accountable. Can you go one year without bringing stuff into your home?

By the way, stepping away from the consumer treadmill even for 90 days (or 30, or even 10!) is a great way to save money.

3. Sell Your Stuff Online

Duh. This seems obvious. Typically I make a few thousand dollars every year by selling my old things on eBay, Etsy, and Craigslist.

There are different price thresholds for different selling platforms. I can generally get more money by selling vintage items and clothes on Etsy and eBay than I can by selling them on Craigslist. For things like home electronics, buyers in my area will pay more on Craigslist than they will at a garage sale for the exact same item. To maximize your cash do a little research on who is paying a premium for your things.

Depending on what you own, you might be able to flip your old things for cash by using specialty sites that focus on one type of merchandise such as baby clothes, vinyl records, and vintage home furnishings.

4. Consign Your Stuff at a Brick and Mortar Store

I personally prefer to sell difficult to ship items like furniture and glassware to a local second hand store for either store credit or cash. Although stores usually take a 30% to 60% cut of the sale price, sometimes it's better to cash out so you can get those things out of your house before you break them and they become unsellable.

There are some second hand stores that will buy goods outright for cash, and some stores that will only give you store credit. If you consign your items at a store, make sure that you are clear about pricing. Some stores will discount your goods to nothing after a set period of time. And some stores will not return items that don't sell to you. If you have a bottom price threshold, this needs to be negotiated in advance and on paper.

In addition to bulky vintage items, I also sell back my used books, records, and contemporary clothes to second hand stores for cash.

5. Throw a Garage Sale

I paid for two entire years of my life by trash picking furniture and then selling it back to my neighbors at monthly garage sales. Last year my husband and I paid for our Christmas vacation with money that we'd earned selling stuff at garage sales. And our garage sale inventory wasn't even that amazing. Like, I can't even remember half the things we got rid of! They were that inconsequential to my life.

I approach every garage sale as an opportunity to get other people to pay to remove clutter from my house, so most things are priced at one dollar. By taking this grateful-to-my-customer stance, I am always happy with my garage sale earnings, regardless of how paltry.

6. Gift

Shopping for presents is time consuming and expensive. A few years ago I decided to start gifting clothes and things in my house to admiring friends and family members. As in, "Oh, you like that? Here, just take it with you. Happy early birthday." This on the spot gifting is always a welcome surprise and I don't have to fuss with wrapping.

7. Recycle

I know many people who live in homes that resemble recycling centers because they care about the environment. While it is a good thing to keep resources like glass and paper out of the landfill, you are not actually doing the world any good by turning your house into a mini dump. Companies as diverse as Terracycle and Madewell have recycling programs for hard to recycle items like denim, instrument strings, and Solo Cups.

8. Upcycle

Why pay for new craft supplies when you have clutter? Instead of bringing new, virgin goods into your home, find new uses for your old things. You don't even have to have any creative talent to upcycle. For example, upcycle your old cotton underwear into cleaning rags.

My husband and I own two Moroccan poufs. Rather than pay for new stuffing, we filled our poufs with old linens and drop cloths that are too torn or stained to sell or donate.

9. Share

I share a china pattern with my brother-in-law. I only have space in my small kitchen for eight place settings. My brother-in-law has 12 place settings. Whenever we have larger dinner parties, we loan each other dishes. What can you share with your friends and neighbors? I share garden tools with my friend Laura. I share kitchen gadgets with my neighbor Alexandra. I share a set of luggage with my sister. I only have to store those things in my house half the time. More importantly, I don't have to buy every single thing.

10. Check It Out

If you don't have handy friends and neighbors, look for a tool library in your area. I don't own bike repair tools because I live within walking distance of a bike repair cooperative.

I am a lifelong library patron. In addition to checking out books, music, and videos, I use my library as an air-conditioned oasis in the summer when my house becomes unbearably hot, and as my personal newsstand. Once a month a have a magazine date with myself and spend an afternoon flipping through glossy pages to my heart's content. I give myself a little reading vacation, and cut the clutter and the cost of owning a personal subscription all in one fell swoop.

11. Catch and Release

I am a minimalist traveler. The only time I buy books is when I'm going on a trip. I buy the cheapest copy of the books I want to read so I have no problem leaving them behind in cafes and airports when I am done with them. Not only do I get cheap, analog entertainment, this book packing method always ensures that I have a little room in my luggage for vacation purchases.

12. Rent

Due to near constant car trouble this year, I have been experimenting, unintentionally, with living as a one-car household in Los Angeles. I suspect by the end of the year that the math will prove that it is cheaper for us to rent a second car when we need one rather than own three cars outright.

I don't love renting because I know that ownership is generally a better deal. But, do I really need to buy a jackhammer to break up my cracked driveway? No, I do not.

When deciding when to rent and when to own, be honest: How often will you use this item? Will your daughter wear her Quinceañera dress a second time? Consider the extra cost of renting to be money that you saved on storage fees.

13. Swap

Even our shyest friends love our book exchange party that we host every New Year's Day. The concept is simple: Everyone brings the books they enjoyed reading but are now taking up shelf space, and throws them on the communal pile. Our guests take as many books as they want home, for free. The books that are left behind are donated to the Los Angeles Public Book Drive.

Swap parties are fun because it's weirdly satisfying to see people fall in love with your old things. But why stop at books? What about a winter coat swap at your kid's school? How about a kitchen tool or recipe swap party with your neighbors? I offset the cost of my groceries by attending a monthly neighborhood backyard produce swap.

14. Donate Like a True Do-Gooder (Without Getting Audited)

If you want to get stuff out of your house in a hurry, feel like you are helping the less fortunate, and get a tax write off, donate your extra stuff to charity.

Charities like The Salvation Army and Goodwill do not set a valuation on your donation. That responsibility is left up to you. But donor beware! Huge tax deductions for donated goods are a red flag to auditors. Use a donation value guide to assess the true market value of your used items. Also, it's a good practice to photograph your donated goods so you have evidence of your good works should you get audited.

Ahem, let me get on my soapbox for one moment.

Charities spend a huge amount of their budgets on trash collection because so many people use their local shop as a dumping ground for all their old crap. Would you buy a pair of pants with a brown stain across the front? No, you would not. Don't be that guy who trades trash for a tax write-off. That's cheating on taxes and on charity.

When it comes to charity donations I am very careful to only donate items that are in selling condition. As in, an item is in such good condition that I would spend money to buy it.

(Steps off soapbox.)

That said, just like I am always on the hunt for new places to recycle weird stuff, I am always on the lookout for groups that repair expensive, broken goods for charity. For example, I donate my old glasses to the Lions Club.

The screen of my laptop computer died in January. Although I could sell it on Craigslist for parts, I'm donating it to CRASH Space, my local hackerspace, because I know the makers there will recycle the entire machine responsibly. As a side benefit, I can claim this donation as a tax write-off since CRASH Space is a nonprofit.

15. Curb It

My nightly walk takes me past a wide set of concrete steps that used to lead to an apartment building but now lead to a vacant lot. I few years ago I started leaving items that were in usable condition, but not nice enough to donate or sell for money, on the steps to nowhere. I leave pretty much everything — stinky shampoo, old clothes, recently expired canned goods, vintage electronics, magazines, pens that I don't like — on the steps, neatly merchandised for easy shopping. The things that aren't gone by the next night, I know they are truly garbage. I throw the leftovers away without guilt. Usually, the stuff is gone before morning.

This personal donation spot has been a fun experiment. I have met some of my late night shoppers and I was happy to hear how they are enjoying my old things. Also, some of my neighbors have started copying me. About once a week I see that someone else has made a donation to the steps.

16. Go Digital

Yes, I am old. I came of age in a world without cloud storage and I have nostalgia for books made from dead trees. So is it any surprise that the bulk of my clutter is paper-based? Between the library and our digital subscriptions to everything from IMDB to Netflix, we're managing our shelf space, but our file cabinet is exploding.

Although I have successfully resisted this chore for more than a decade, I am finally getting around to digitizing the hard copies of all my old contracts, patterns, notes, etc. for clutter free, online storage.

Does anyone have any tips on digitizing documents and ditching paper clutter? (Oh, please). I could use all the help I can get!

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Guest's picture
Olivia

Thanks Max! Having worked in the back of a local thrift, (where the sorting is done), I can attest to the accuracy of people ditching their junky clothes. Please don't do it! If something is gross or smelly, wash it first. We can't afford to wash everything that comes in and just pitch it. If it's still unsalvageable as a garment after washing, think about home use, like for rags or small pieces for scrap quilting or doll clothes. A little preventive editing saves us a bunch of time and allows us to handle other projects. In the end it saves the customer money.

Max Wong's picture

Olivia-

Thank you so much for chiming in with your expert advice. Only donating clean and sellable items is a financial win for everyone.

Guest's picture
Claire

Great article! Thanks for the information. I did not know Madewell took old jeans. Now I will not be throwing worn out jeans into the landfill! Also upon checking out the Terracycle page, I found new recycling brigades I was not aware of. The different Terracycle program pages have info on upcycling different items there as well.

Max Wong's picture

Hi Claire--

I'm not sure that every Madewell takes jeans so call your local store in advance. The denim is chopped into little pieces to make the insulation, you can donate your most ragged jeans. My local store gives out discount cards for the purchase of new Madewell jeans to denim donors, so you might get a little treat for your good work. I'm glad you found the link to Terracycle helpful! (You have no idea how much time I spend scouring the internet for helpful links for my readers. Thanks for validating my work).

Guest's picture
Maria Karen

Decluttering can bring positive changes in your life. But how to get rid of online clutter? Do you have any good suggestion?