Zen Spring Cleaning (and making a little cash off it too)
This is it. Tomorrow is the beginning of the big day the husband and I have waited anxiously for all winter: spring-cleaning. The kids are going to grandma’s over night and armed with a couple of Dwell Magazines and a few books on creating Zen in the home, we’ve vowed to organize the garage and kick the clutter habit once in for all or at least for 2008. Our goal? Nothing stacked on any surface and nothing double stacked in the bookcases. We want to walk in the living room and see flat surfaces everywhere.
My mother was actually the queen of this. Before every Christmas she’d place two grocery bags in the middle of the living room and tell my brother and I that they had to be filled with things we didn’t play with or read anymore before Santa would come with new things. As a spring take on this, my husband and I are shooting for twenty brown shopping bags filled with things we don’t want or use––wish us luck. It’s good to create your financial goal for spring-cleaning too because it helps you let go of things that may be worth something that you don’t really want or neat. We’ve set the goal of $1000 of selling on eBay from our Spring-cleaning and $300 for a garage sale. That’s almost as much as George Bush’s economic stimulus package for a family of four.
My husband is better at this than I am. As a former eBay Powerseller, he doesn’t even let something in the house unless he can assess its resale value the moment it enters the house. I don’t quite think that way though I’m learning. Here’s a list of a few household items and perhaps the best thing that can be done with them and when.
As I look across the living room and out the window into the garage the number one thing I see cluttering our lives is reading material: books, magazines, comics. You name a magazine and we’ve got an issue somewhere. But our house is a dainty 1000 square feet and there is literally no room left in the six bookcases in the house. If this sounds familiar to you, stop and ask yourself what the hell you need all these books for? Even if you’ve already read all the books in your collection (I’m betting you haven’t, because I sure as hell haven’t) when will you have time?
So, the husband and I had a book chat this evening and I think it was a pretty sound agreement: here’s how we are dealing with the books in the house and in the garage:
•Out of print and rare books stay
•Current reads for research, interest stay
•Children’s books stay
•Books used for school stay (I teach)
•Mass market books, even those we like, go
•Current Best sellers go
•Books we love go if there’s no chance we’ll re-read them in less than 5 years
This is making organizing the bookcases much easier. The living room bookcases will now house out of print, rare, and current reads. The garage bookcases will store books used for school and rows of books scanned and ready to sell on eBay and Amazon. Oh my goodness! Space has opened up! But what to do with the ‘go’ pile?
Garage sale, donate to your local Friends of the Library, sell or swap online (www.bookmooch.com or www.titletrader.com for example). Books I love I often give away to friends and students. We usually send friends not one present, but a Christmas or birthday box of presents. Throwing a couple of good books in gives the recipient good reads and opens up space.
One tip for selling books on eBay and Amazon, go through the book collection and see if you have any college reads. Set those aside and label that box college. Come August, list that box of books on eBay once students have started scouting for this semester’s list. No matter what you charge, it’ll be cheaper than the college bookstore and that’s what they’ll be looking for. Books have such little resell value that the only time to cash in is really at the beginning of each semester.
As they are heading out of your dominion, label the boxes of books appropriately so you don’t have to go searching through them again and again to find out what’s in there.
Magazines and comics, believe it or not, have a much higher resell value. I attribute this to there being more photos and pictures and Americans not having the patience for books without such things. While my husband has ever copy of WIRED magazine ever printed, and I hold onto the National Geographics and Harper’s, most other things we’ve agreed not to hold onto. Yet somehow, there are stacks here and there. It seems a shame to have them go to the recycling. Especially the ones we didn’t get around to reading. What to do?
•The ones with good ads and photos put in the kids are supply bin—you never know when you are going to need to make a collage with the preschoolers.
•Library free table donation
•Waiting rooms need you’re Sun Magazines to balance out the Good Housekeeping––if you have a lot of cool small press magazines drop them around town strategically and it’s as good a political statement as any. Hooray! The religious homeschool kid just picked up your copy of Bitch Magazine: Feminist response to pop culture! Your job is done.
•All music or acting related magazines are going to go on eBay. Because someone somewhere wants that Vanity Fair with Harry Potter and my Bust Magazine with Sandra Oh. Currently my husband is unloading a secret stash of Rayguns he forgot he had. Every one of them got a bid.
Next we have too many DVDs and CDs. If it ain’t something you’ll watch time and time again or is a classic then why have it? Keep The Princess Bride; get rid of Kindergarten Cop. Once my husband has made files of our CDs to play on our computers and iPods, we rarely ever see the CDs again. So why keep them? Occasionally nostalgia will get in the way. I’m not giving up my tape of Leonard Cohen’s I’m Your Man because I bought it for .99 back in the day and it was the first time I’d ever heard him and the record store I bought it at has long since closed (what a sap).
Then there are the hidden items in the house taking up valuable real estate in the closets––the clothes and shoes. My husband insists that he should have no more than six pairs. OMG! Only six?! Yeah, that’s not working for me but I can make an effort not to go beyond 20. If you haven’t worn it in two years it should be in the bye-bye pile. Clothes are another matter entirely. There are clothes you wear and then, if you are like me, clothes you collect. And then there is the matter of keeping at least five different sizes.
I apply the same get rid of stance that we apply to the books:
•Keep rare, vintage, interesting pieces
•Keep functional things you wear everyday
•Get rid of anything that makes you look fat because, it’s always going to make you look fat (odds are it’s not just the clothes)
*Get rid of everything else.
The get rid of pieces do best at garage sales or donations to the thrift store. My advice is to find smaller thrift stores to donate to or make friends with someone who works or manages one. Odds are that if you drop off five boxes of clothes and you see a sweater you like, you can get them to give it to you. I have two I donate to that I also shop at and I try to only buy from them on days I’ve donated. They either give me a huge discount or let me walk away with a free bag of goodies. It feels very freeing to get rid of the wait of five boxes with a simple cardigan in your hand.
Toys! That’s the hard part. There are our kids’ toys and all those remnants of our childhoods we’ve bought on eBay. My husband’s solution for toys and Zen Spring Cleaning was to create a whole wall of shelving in the garage with white storage boxes. He’s labeled them things like “Superheroes” and “Thomas the Train” and “Hello Kitty” and “Lego.” Each kid gets access to one box from the toy wall a week so that there are no more than two toy boxes in the house at any one time plus art supplies and puzzles. We continually sift out toys we don’t want in the house to garage sale, donation, or giveaway prizes.
There's also the karmic side to it. I find the more stuff you give away, the more things you want seem to come your way. My daughter receives hand me downs with the tags still on them and I can't help but think that if I quit giving away her things she's outgrown, my freebies would go to.
Finally, return everything you may have borrowed to their rightful owners. The owners will be mad you are returning stuff they have no room for, but insist. It’ll get the ball rolling for their spring-cleaning too. And have that garage sale next weekend too.
What’s lurking in your closet, garage and living room that you should get rid of? Where will it end up?