Getting rid of unwanted items: when perfect can be the enemy of the good

When going through the uncluttering process, once you’ve decided what to keep and what should go, it can be easy to get hung up on the next step: actually getting rid of the non-keepers.

The following are some things to consider as you approach this step:

Is it worth your time to sell it?

I’ve set a dollar limit for myself; anything that I don’t think I can sell for that amount or more gets donated rather than sold.

I also tend to sell in the ways that are easiest for me. For example, I’ll sell used electronics through services such as Gazelle and GreenCitizen, which offer a fixed price. I could make more money, perhaps, using eBay — but I find eBay to be difficult for a very infrequent seller like me. For items other than electronics, I’ve sometimes used Craigslist.

Some people love yard sales or garage sales — for the social aspect as well as the moneymaking aspect — so such sales make sense for them. For others, giving up a day or two to a yard sale doesn’t make sense. And some people, like many apartment dwellers, have no good place to conduct such a sale.

If you’d like to sell some items and don’t have the time or skills to sell them yourself, would it make sense to use the services of someone such as an eBay specialist to sell them for you or to take them to a consignment store which handles your type of item? You’ll be splitting the proceeds, but at least the sale is actually happening.

Another consideration: Depending on your tax situation, getting a tax deduction for a donation may remove some of the sting of not getting cash in hand from a sale, if you decide against going to sales route.

Is giving it away to family members or friends realistic?

Would the other person really want it? You don’t want to make your clutter problem become someone else’s clutter problem.

If the person you’re thinking of doesn’t live nearby, is shipping the item financially worth it? Some things are easy and inexpensive to ship off to others, but many items aren’t. Unless it’s a sentimental item, you wouldn’t want to spend more in shipping than the item is worth.

And if you’re just thinking it would be a good gift for someone, without having anyone specific in mind, you may want to reconsider. How much gift giving do you do? Do you have an area where you store gifts? Is it already full?

Does it need to be recycled? Or can it be recycled?

Know the laws in your area for hazardous waste and electronic waste disposal. If you live in an area with curbside recycling, be sure you know which items are accepted and which are not. In my area, I’ve seen that the same waste collection company has different rules in different cities, for some reason.

Does freecycle work for you?

Freecycle communities and similar groups are run locally; some communities work really well, while others don’t. Using freecycle might take more time than just dropping things off as donations. Finally, freecycle will be easiest for you if you’re okay with people coming to your home to pick things up. If having strangers know where you live makes you uncomfortable, freecycle may not be your best option.

Are there donation places that are convenient and want what you have?

Many donation places provide lists of what they accept and, of course, you want to honor any restrictions they have in place. Some places will pick things up at your home, which can make things extremely convenient. For some people, the group you’re donating to matters a lot. Do you agree with the group’s mission and values? Do you want a place that gives your items to people in need, rather than just selling them to raise funds?

Is leaving it at the curb a good solution?

This can work really well in some neighborhoods, like those with high foot traffic. Some apartment buildings also have areas where people tend to leave things for other tenants to take, if they want.

Out of all the possible ways to dispose of your items, which ones will you really do?

If you’re doing a massive uncluttering project, you may want to go for the easiest answer, at least for the bulk of your items. Tell your inner perfectionist to be quiet, and realize that you don’t have to find the absolutely perfect new home for every single item you unclutter — a “good enough” solution is just fine in many cases.

14 Comments for “Getting rid of unwanted items: when perfect can be the enemy of the good”

  1. posted by CanadianKate on

    I’m in the middle of this process now but gave myself 18 months to cut my possessions by 1/2 to 2/3.

    In Canada there are no charitable receipts for donations to Goodwill-type places so that benefit doesn’t exist for us.

    My husband wanted to give away everything. I wanted to sell. The compromise was to sell but give proceeds to charity (therefore I do get an income tax receipt for the money donated.) I give the buyers the choice of three charities (our local church, children’s hospital and Habitat for Humanity.)

    I’m using a combination of garage sales (have had one, will have another in the spring), online sale sight (in our city it is Kajiji) and my children (and the people buying our house who are close friends) know to “shop at Kate’s” first.

    Clothes go straight to thrift store. Leftovers from the first garage sale went to thrift store after the sale.

    There’s a box for Habitat for Humanity. Sheets and towels will go to animal shelters. Old electronics were donated to a local drive.

    I’m not using freecycle anymore because my first few attempts brought lots of response from people who can’t get to me and requested I deliver the items to them. No thank you, I’m not spending my time and money driving into the city to various addresses, I’ll donate to the thrift store instead.

    My online selling has gone very well. Three items so far were offered at the garage sale and didn’t sell. Online they raised more than the garage sale asking price.

    My daughter is moving next month and will take not only the things she’s left here but a good amount of our excess furniture.

    So it is a multi-prong approach for me, allowing me to get the most value and keep the most out of landfill. If I had to move in a short period of time, I’d hate to think about what would happen to my stuff so I’m glad I have the time to do this in a leisurely way.

  2. posted by Northmoon on

    This is where I have the most difficulty de-cluttering. I have several items I believe are ‘special’ and should be sold. But I don’t/won’t make the effort required to find a buyer. For example my saddle. I haven’t had my own horse in years, it’s nothing fancy. Not a big market where I live downtown. So how do I get rid of it?

  3. posted by Rhea on

    We are far from uncluttered, but our usual attack plan is donate without bothering to try and sell (unless the item is worth a considerable amount). We load up the car every so often and take everything to Value Village (perhaps a Canadian version of Goodwill?) and their proceeds help local charities. Anything unsuitable, they ditch so we don’t have to!

  4. posted by Marie on

    Northmoon, you might investigate any area riding groups. There might be a market for reselling or passing on something like your saddle.

    I take a multi-prong approach too. I have general policies for what kind of item goes where. Once I find a place that works for a given kind of item, I try to not dither about it. If I worry about finding the “perfect” place to donate, I will never get anything out of the house!

    Few things are worth selling for me, except occasionally to a local kids consignment sale. That gets its own box in the closet where I keep my tagging materials too, and when it comes around, I see if I have enough energy to tag everything. I will also collect items for a family clothing closet, Goodwill, or the curb. Each place gets its own collection spot, and I keep adding to it until I’m ready to move it. Some things just go straight to the curb or trash. Craigslist has been great on the receiving end, but not on the giving end, whereas Freecycle is the opposite! I assume that most items will find their way to someone who can use it. (i.e. I choose to not spend energy worrying about something’s fate!) I do NOT give to family members unless they need something right that moment, because they have similar decluttering issues. :)

    My big challenge is getting rid of books. My favorite used book store screams if I try to sell them anything (it’s a tough economy). Other options are books for prisoners or service members, the library sale, my church book sale, a neighborhood library, reselling to Amazon, Goodwill, random friends, or the trash! Each one has their own restrictions and requirements, and sorting them wears me out. I’ve had some success with sorting piles, but some days I just want to pitch them all!

    Overall, I have the most success if I can collect a number of items for a location and then take everything over at once, rather than in pieces.

  5. posted by erica on

    I’m lucky enough to live in a high foot-traffic area in New York City and happily engage in ‘bum recycling’. Just put your usable items into a plastic bag and hang it on the fencing around the front of your building. Your items will be gone within an hour and sometimes you’ll see them being sold by nearby street vendors.

  6. posted by Deborah on

    Marie, Have you heard of Paperbackswap? It for any books, including hard cover. You post the ISBN numbers of the books and then people can request them from you through the mail. (Postage and printable packaging right from your desktop. If you are a reader, it’s great because for each book you mail, you get credit for a book of your choice to be mailed to you.
    If you just want to get rid of a lot of books, donate them to your library. If they do not need them, the will benefit from the sale of the books at their yearly sale. Just ask.

  7. posted by Andrew on

    I use a 3 step process to unclutter. First, SORT the things that you want and don’t want. Usually I ask myself how frequent I use these items. If I don’t use them for more than 1 year, most probably I’m not going to use them. Of course, I would consider sentimental items that I would like to keep.

    Then, 2nd step is to ORGANIZE those items that I want accordingly. The common sense is to put the things that you use frequently closest to you. For example, I have a hook in my backpack where all my keys go. And, different set of keys have different key chain so that I can easily identify which one for my office and which one for my home.

    3rd step is the CLEAN away or throw or give or sell away those “unwanted” items. I normally give away but now I learn from your article, I will sell them online next time.

  8. posted by Robyn on

    For Freecycle, you can also arrange to meet people at a neutral location rather than having them come to your house. I ask people to come to my office building. I bring the item in my car, they call or text me when they get there and I come out to meet them. Less worry about someone poking around your house. The best day was when a fellow Freecycler was on a different floor in my same building! We met in the lobby, lol. Luckily we have a pretty good Freecycle group in my area. I’ve met tons of super nice people.

  9. posted by Pat Reble on

    I’ve also had good luck with Freecycle but I am very clear in my ads that I won’t deliver so have never had a problem with people asking. I also wait a day until I have several replies to chose from before selecting the recipient as the first to reply is not always the best choice.

  10. posted by Anna on

    Excellent suggestions from this good community.

    On my street, which has hardly any foot traffic but where the auto traffic is subject to 30 mph, I have often put larger items out by the roadside with a FREE sign attached. They always disappear.

    Recently I had accumulated about a dozen household items for a yard sale that I never had time for. Finally I put them all in the car and donated them to the health services thrift store. Believe me, the weight off my life was far more valuable than the few dollars I could have made with a yard sale. I actually felt physically lighter in my body.

  11. posted by Michaela on

    I still struggle from time to time as to what to do with uncluttered items. Recently I went through my coat closet and found four barely worn coats (none of which fit well anymore) that I had for at least the last five years. I really waffled back and forth about what to do – one still had the tags attached and I felt guilty for the money I spent on it, the fact it never looked right, and the fact I failed to return it when I had the chance. But at that point of my life I had a new baby and was totally unorganized in every sense – unlike now.

    I considered selling, but I haven’t had good luck on Craigslist selling lately (everyone wants to haggle, and its really irritating when I am already selling at what I feel are cheap prices). I knew no one who wore the sizes I had. I considered the local coat drive, but they were not accepting until December(wtf? really?). And Freecyle has been nothing but Failcycle lately with people not picking up items, or admitting they have no car and wanting me to drop off stuff.

    So out of frustration, I bagged them up and stuck them in a box alongside the road for a local charity to pick up. A sense of relief has since filled me. They aren’t here taking up space, and that is ultimately what I am going for. The money would have been nice, but the effort would have been too great for me. It seems when I decide I want something gone – it has to be NOW. I hate things sitting around reminding me of my personal failures and shortcomings.

  12. posted by Leslie on

    I’m in a unique position. I recently moved without the benefit of boxes. As such, as I was carting all these things down the stairs, while battling nausea from a severe migraine, I figured out what I wanted to keep and what I no longer had an attachment to or need for. Unfortunately, the majority of those items are worth quite a bit. I had thought about leaving many of them with a consignment shop, but the ones nearby aren’t very busy. I elected to have a garage sale, but before I do, I’ll offer them on craigslist. We have a lot of resellers around here and the prices I have these items listed at will allow for another buyer to still make a profit on the resell.

    Some of my items (2yo w/d, 4mo blueray player, brand new kitchen stuff) were gifted to family members who recently bought a home.

    It all seems to be working out and I feel like this huge weight is lifted from my shoulders.

  13. posted by Yvonne on

    I started a website to try and solve the problem of lots of small stuff for sale when de-cluttering. It’s only in Australia at the moment but the concept is to take one photo and then tag the items for sale (or for giving away!). It’s meant to be a local sales so you may get to meet some people close by too (address details are kept secure until after an offer is accepted). http://www.oddswop.com.au if you are in Sydney, Australia.

  14. posted by amy on

    Great ideas – I have used most, but not all. When I lived in Washington, I used freecycle a lot. Once I moved to Nevada, I had the same experience as a previous poster, where potential recipients wanted me to drive the goods to them. I met a couple of people halfway, but got tired of the frequent requests. Now I sell big items, but donate goods to local organizations or schedule pickups. Scheduling pick ups has met with varying success. When I schedule a pick up, it is because I have a large quantity of items to donate. I make it worthwhile to come to my house, for the privilege I have of calling them to come. Some charities though, need to work out the kinks. I have been playing phone tag with Boys and Girls club, and I think I am ready to give up on that. I appreciate the tips and am trying to reduce my consumerism and physical goods.

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