Living more simply through eBay

Here’s one way to live more simply: sell all your possessions on eBay. That’s what John Freyer did in 2002. As he was getting ready to leave grad school in Iowa for New York City, he decided to sell everything he owned on eBay and on his site, He sold everything, from used socks, to a can of Chunky Soup from his pantry, from his Planet of the Apes LP, to a bag of small, roasted cuttlefish. The result is a book that catalogues his project, which is described on the site as an “explor[ation of] our relationship to the objects around us, their role in the concept of identity, as well as the emerging commercial systems of the Internet.”

You don’t need to be as hip and PoMo as Freyer to see the benefit of eBay as a tool for turning clutter into cash. Just today I saw an article in Sunday’s New York Times about how teens trying to get quick cash are a great source for cheap electronics on eBay and Craigslist. Especially when you’re about to make a life change, like moving to another city, selling a lot of your stuff, instead of packing it up and paying to ship it, can be a great organization strategy.

There’s a moral here for you even if like most of your possessions, thank you very much. Whenever you’re decluttering and you don’t think you can bring yourself to part with some knick-knack, just think of John Freyer and his Star Wars sheets.

Of wants and needs

In the first installment in our series of getting started getting organized we went over the steps to decluttering, which can be summarized as keep the things you use all the time, throw out what you don’t, and “practice living without” the things you’re ambivalent about, as Connie Cox and Cris Evatt, the authors of 30 Days to a Simpler Life, say. Today we’re going to cover the next step in the process, which is avoiding clutter in the first place.

Clutter happens when you have too much stuff. We’re all guilty of acquiring more possessions than we need simply because we can. Sometimes a deal is just too good to pass up. Sometimes we buy something to make us feel better. And sometimes that new nick nack just seemed like a very good idea at the time, but in retrospect, what were you thinking?

Cox and Evatt share a simple maxim that was a revelation when I first read it. Never let anything cross the threshold of your home unless it’s something that you know you need or that you know you will love and cherish for a long time to come. That bobble-head you got for free for filing up your gas tank doesn’t count. Neither do pasta, bread or ice cream makers in most cases. Before you buy anything, ask yourself, do you really need it? Is it a replacement for something you’re throwing out? Is it another black sweater? Or is it something you don’t already have?

If you’re just buying yourself a treat to reward yourself or cheer yourself up, consider a consumable, like a nice meal. Or, if you’re watching your figure, how about a movie or a concert. How about downloading some music or getting a massage or manicure. You get the picture. The idea is to not let anything into your home that won’t serve a purpose while not leading a monastic life. It takes some conscious effort, but it’s rewarding when you come home to a serene space.

Cops raid clutter home

Crazy eBay MomHere’s someone who should read Unclutterer. From the Dayton Daily News:

The Miami County Health Department next week plans to inspect the inside of a house that a police officer said was so full of boxes, paper and debris that he had to, at times, walk sideways to get through rooms and up a stairway.

“Words alone cannot fully describe the appearance of the inside of the residence,” Ptlm. Joel Misirian wrote in a police report after being in the house earlier this week. He said there was “complete clutter” that went from the floor to about halfway up walls toward the estimated 10-foot ceilings.

The officer was at the house to serve a warrant on the owner for allegedly failing to show up for a hearing on a city property maintenance charge filed last year in Miami County Municipal.

Not surprisingly, the case was referred to the health department. This reminds me of the Crazy eBay Mom story that floated around a few years ago. A guy gives a tour of his eBay obsessed packrat mother’s home with photos and a narrative. If you haven’t seen it before, you have to take a look. It’s not so much funny as shocking. This kind of clutter doesn’t need an organizer, it needs a shrink. But to be fair, those of us who get hives looking at these pictures probably also need a shrink.

More kitchen tips

More kitchen tips from an article in The Telegraph:

  • Decluttering tips: A time study revealed that most people use the same four pots and pans over and over again. Take a hard look at the other seldom used items objectively.
  • Recipes: Purchase a three-ring binder with magnetic photo pages. Collect recipes from magazines/newspapers, Internet and cookbooks that require ingredients you already have on hand. Prepare the recipe that week. If your family doesn’t find it to be a hit, then toss the recipe out.Discard unused recipes yearly, a task Dutson does while watching TV. It takes only minutes to do this. “Special cookbooks can be kept in your library or displayed,” she said. She keeps a couple ethnic cookbooks on a coffee table as a conversation piece.
  • Paper and mail: Handle your mail only once. It’s best to open mail right beside a recycling bin or trashcan. Don’t put it in a pile to “sort later.” This delay tactic only wastes time, as you’ll have to review the mail a second time. It takes seconds to pitch it now. If you can’t get your magazines read, don’t subscribe. Use the library, or pick up a copy at the grocery store.

What’s a kitchen for?

Today’s kitchens are used for more than just preparing food. They are more often than not also playrooms, offices, mail centers, and TV rooms. When you mix up so many purposes for the same space (or even the same countertop), you’re not going to get good results. Something as simple as making a ham and cheese sandwich is impossible when your countertops are full of bills and other papers. Instead of succumbing to this fate, set up different spaces for different tasks.

Ideally, your kitchen should only be for cooking, but realistically that’s not going to be the case–especially since kitchens tend to be the center of family activity. Designate some countertop space that’s off-limits to anything but cooking or eating, and make it a point to keep it clear when it’s not being used. That way, when you’re ready to use it again, it’s ready for you.

If you must bring mail and bill-paying paraphernalia into the kitchen, set up a space for just that activity and don’t let it spread out of that area. (A cubby is a perfect solution.) Even if you can’t dedicate surfaces to specific activities like bill-paying, storage in the kitchen can help. For example, when you finish eating at the kitchen table, you take away the dishes to wash and store in the cupboard. Why not do the same with everything else? If you pay bills, do homework, or play games at the kitchen table, make sure to clean up when you’re done. Keeping a drawer or cupboard for each activity will make it as easy and second-nature to put away your stuff.

Keep kids’ POV in mind

The Arizona Republic has some great organization tips for parents. My favorites are the kitchen tips.

Establish a pantry snack shelf at the hand level of little tykes.
Why it works: Children and their friends can serve themselves without having to climb on chairs or interrupt parents to ask. What you need: Matching clear, stackable containers.

Arrange a continental breakfast nook.
Why it works: Little ones can serve themselves in an expedited fashion since bowls, cereal, sugar, fruit, muffins and any other breakfast foods and utensils are kept in the same space. What you need: An hour to rearrange the pantry and cabinets and possibly resize shelving to accommodate cereal boxes.

Is clutter not all that bad?

If you’re looking for a justification for your clutter rather than a solution, might I suggest the new book by Eric Abrahamson and David Freedman, A Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder–How Crammed Closets, Cluttered Offices, and On-the-Fly Planning Make the World a Better Place. In it the authors contend that challenge “the accepted wisdom that tight schedules, neatness, and consistency are the keys to success.” They cite, for example, the success of Arnold Swartzenneger, who refuses to make appointments and just sees people whenever he needs to. Their concerns are that time spent getting organized is tie not spent being creative, and that over-organized people and organizations can close themselves off to random influences that might spur innovation.

In an article about the book, Freedman says that piles serve as an organic form of filing. “The top of the pile are newer papers and the bottom are older,” he said. Sure, but how much of the stuff in the middle is garbage? He also said that “Someone that keeps a neat desk spends more time filing papers that can be ignored,” he said. That’s why the most-used file in any system should be the circular one.

It’s true that too much focus on the process of organization will nullify any possible gain in peace of mind or productivity. The trick is to adopt a set of systems that become second nature and keep you organized. While too much rigidity in any system can make it brittle, I find it hard to believe that clutter is too useful. Sure, some year-old document on your desk that you find while digging through a pile for something else might spark a new idea, but how much time over the course of a year do you waste sifting through piles?