Zen Spring Cleaning (and making a little cash off it too)

By Maggie Wells on 5 April 2008 (Updated 30 June 2009) 18 comments
Photo: iStockPhoto

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?

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Guest's picture

Nice post and good luck with your spring clean! Two small things:

1. Be careful with getting rid of your cd's. My computer and soundsystem both crashed in 2007 meaning all my music that was saved was gone. Even with an external hard-drive it can be risky. I have one of those IKEA tables that is box shaped and then the inside is storage, all my cd's happily reside there - out of the way but handy in an emergency.

2. I also used to keep books galore and found it hard to get rid of them even when I came to the viewpoint that if I kept them all I would miss out on all the new books that were printed each day. LibraryThing (www.librarything.com) is a great solution. Here you can put in all the books you have, including your thoughts on the book, reviews, when you finished the book, etc and then you can let all those books go. That way you have a record of what you read without the hassle of keeping a space for it.

Best wishes,

Cloggie In Training

Guest's picture

Except mine isn't just strictly for Spring, it's on going the entire year to be more of a minimalist, and to have more of a uncluttered, zen lifestyle. Hence why I'm selling all I can on FB Closet...

I have yet to start on my dvds, cds, books, and comic books... ugh :)

Guest's picture
Lucille

I cleaned my clothes closet last month. I found an amazing amount of clothing that either I didn't like anymore or was two sizes too big. It really felt good to get all of that out of the way. I can find things so much easier too. We also store much of our winter clothing in under bed storage.

Guest's picture
LisaKay

I need to create Zen in my home. I think. Can you point me to some info describing Zen home. [I am not being sarcastic, btw.]

Too cluttered to live life,
Lisa Kay

Guest's picture
Alyson

1) make sure that while you're strategically placing the interesting reads 'round town that you somehow obliterate the address label. This could come back to haunt you some way some how. I once got an e-mail from Vicky's Secret about my non-existent order because the person ordering had put in the code from the back of a catalog and then given the correct name and address. Vicky apparently did not care about the correct information and insisted on e-mailing me the order status. Took forever to get figured out. LLBean did that too with someone with the same first letter of first name, same last name as me. Order confirmation got mailed to me, the non-orderer. When I looked up my history online I had like 3 or 4 non-me orders listed. Debbie at Bean was very helpful, but it was also stupid.

2) textbooks are worse than cars in depreciation. They go from $100+ to $15 with or without any visible damage. Personally, especially because the content is usually poop (why else would I be getting rid of it???), I'd rather have the car.

and with all that typing I forgot the 3rd thing, which means I actually stuck to two. Yay me. Decluttering already.

Maggie Wells's picture

The great secret about being an English major is it is cheap on the books since most of the books can be bought anywhere (novels etc). APA manuals, and most students aren't going to care that the introduction and one chapter they aren't going to read anyway has been updated.

 

Margaret Garcia-Couoh

Julie Rains's picture

I have 6 grocery bags awaiting disposal right now. Most of my stuff will be going to a yard sale associated with a youth organization my son belongs to -- helping to fund activities I'd have to pay for otherwise. I have thought about selling the items but am not sure if I am up for it.

I liked the way you categorized items -- how to decide what to keep and what to dispose of, which is the most difficult part of sorting through stuff. Hope it goes well this weekend!

Guest's picture

The *only* area of our house that is really cluttered is the bookselves. I have been talking to my husband about getting more shelves...maybe I should reassess the book situation instead! trouble with having 5 people in the house - various ages, various interests!

Guest's picture
Jen

I love Spring and I have been slowly getting rid of stuff for a couple of months now. I have a big bag in my closet that I add stuff to and when it's full I take it to my favorite thrift store who gives me a 20% off coupon.
I have another box filled with stuff to give away to friends and family, I have a whole box that is slated to go to my mom for Mother's day. We are the same size in clothes and shoes which is handy. She has never owned a pair of ballet flats. What?? Well, I have eight pairs so take two of those.
I also switched out my cool weather stuff with my warm weather stuff leaving out my favorite three pairs of jeans and a couple of lightweight sweaters and cardigans. During the switch is when I weed out my clothes. Things I'm on the fence about I save to decide on during the next change-out. Sometimes I'm too hasty and end up regretting it.
Since I started this process I was gifted a huge bag of kids' stuff including three pairs of shoes. It was great because I had been thinking my boys needed more shoes, but had I bought them I would have been kicking myself. I also received from another friend a bag full of stuff that will be great for next Fall, it's already in my cool weather stash. Even when I'm clearing out all my old crap I don't mind being given other people's stuff. When I'm already cleaning, I am more discerning and donate the things I don't want along with my stuff. And having "new" stuff on hand keeps me from feeling justified in running out and buying new things as a reward.
I can't seem to part with my cd's or my magazines but they have their own stash spot that isn't really taking up much space.
I've vowed to stop buying fluffy reads at the thrift store that I will just re-donate and go to the library instead. I now only buy kid's books there.
It feels great to get rid of clutter and reveal all the good stuff that I forgot I had. It also lends a nice rhythm and continuity to my life that I really enjoy.
Happy De-Cluttering!!!

Guest's picture
Daniel

I just completed a similar project myself. Here's the "why" post I did on it:
http://eclecticgeekology.blogspot.com/2008/03/tyranny-of-stuff.html

I actually need to post one last update on it now that I'm down to the last few items up on Ebay!

Guest's picture
Grey Walker

This is a superb article! Thanks!

I especially appreciate the tips about books.

Guest's picture
Guest

Could anyone recommend some good books on zen living that they have found helpful?

I am currently spring cleaning and need inspiration!

Maggie Wells's picture

Three that I go back to again and again (and that stay on the shelf and don't get thrown out at spring cleaning) are Shunryu Suzuki's Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind and his book Branching Streams Flow in the Darkness. There is a gardening book I like (and try to apply the sensibility's to inside the house as well as the garden) and that is Zen in Your Garden: Creating Sacred Spaces by Jenny Hendy.

Margaret Garcia-Couoh

Guest's picture
DivaJean

Just like Niecey Nash says on Clean House (one of my fav guilty pleasure shows), when you open up your hand to give away, its open to receive.

Guest's picture
Jenny

Margaret, thank you so much for answering my question concerning zen themed books. There are so many out there, it is difficult to know which are most informative/useful.

I will definitely be seeking them out!

Thanks again.

Jenny

Guest's picture
Dave Kuck

"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?"

You should keep them because if you no longer own the CD, you no longer have the legal right to play the song that was originally copied from the CD.

Frugality should not trump morality.

Guest's picture
Allison

I was just about to post a similar comment about the CD's.

It is illegal to have music copied onto your computer/music device if you no longer own the CD. If you buy it off of iTunes, that's different.

We are selling a bunch of CD's we don't listen to anymore on eBay. If they don't sell there, we take them to a used CD store. If we can't get anything for them there, we drop them off at Goodwill. But we keep the ones we listen to.

Otherwise, great post! You're definitely inspiring me to cut out some of my books that I'm not necessarily going to re-read anytime soon. I have way too many paperbacks.

Also, another great site for swapping is www.paperbackswap.com

Maggie Wells's picture

I should clarify that my husband and I have very similar musical taste and often find that we have three copies of the same CD but since his domain is in the garage and my cds are in the upstairs bedroom it's only on rare occasions that we realize wow--why do we have four copies of Jane's Addiction's Nothing Shocking?!

We are both big music and musician supporters and I've probably spent more money on music than the average citizen.

 

 

Margaret Garcia-Couoh