Reader Allicia submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:
I recently moved to Minnesota from New Mexico. I didn’t have a job at first so I moved most (almost all) of my stuff into a storage unit. Now that I am settled, I have a plan to go to New Mexico to unload and organize my storage unit and get rid of stuff I no longer need, etc. I am sitting here in Minnesota and cannot fathom an idea of how to sort through the stuff packed away. I also wonder how to deal with family who will be helping me and may not want me to get rid of stuff. They have more attachment to things than I usually do. Can you help me devise a plan to attack my storage unit?
Storage units are great resources when you temporarily need a place to put your things for three to six months, like you needed to do with this move. Storage units, however, are not where things should go to live for years. When you abandon things in storage units you end up spending more money storing the items than you would selling everything and buying replacement items in the future. Additionally, the storage units are much more likely to be infested with bugs, rodents, mildew, mold and other possession-ruining things than they would be in your home.
It’s not exactly clear in your question if you plan to move your items to your new place in Minnesota or if you just want to organize the unit and leave your things in New Mexico. Whatever your current thoughts, I’m advocating that you completely get rid of the need for your storage unit. I think you’ll find that you don’t want or need the majority of the things you left in New Mexico when you headed to Minnesota.
Think of the first step of your storage unit clean out like a treasure hunt. Go through the unit on your own and find the irreplaceable things you truly value — photographs from your childhood, your favorite pieces of jewelry, and whatever else you would feel truly crushed about if they were destroyed by a fire. For most people, these items fit in one medium-size box.
Tape up the box and carry it with you on your flight or drive back to Minnesota.
For the next step of the process, have your family come in to help you sort through the remaining stuff. Before opening the storage unit door, let your family know that you plan to close the unit by the end of the day. This goal should be crystal clear in everyone’s mind, including yours.
Then, clearly mark four areas near the storage unit for your objects — trash/recycle (these are things everyone agrees are ready to be purged), sell (these are items you can post to Craigslist or take to a consignment shop), donate (these are things in good shape that a local charity could benefit from having), and family stash (these are items your family members will take with them at the end of the process).
The family stash pile is going to be the most controversial pile you create (or, rather, don’t create). What will likely happen is that someone in your family will say, “Oh, you can’t give that away!” about an object in your storage unit. In response to their declaration, you can respond, “I will gladly give it to you if you would like it.” If the person says she wants it, then it will go into the family stash pile for that person to take home. If the person says, “I don’t want it, but I think you should keep it,” the object will then go into the donate or sell pile. If someone doesn’t want an object enough to want to care for it themselves, they have no leverage to try to guilt you into keeping it.
Have a truck or trucks available at the end of your sorting process to immediately haul the four piles to their appropriate destinations. If you are selling objects on Craigslist, you will likely need to store these objects in someone’s garage for a few days so potential buyers can come by and view the items. Give yourself a strict deadline that any objects that haven’t sold by the day before you leave will be donated to charity.
With the money you get from selling items on Craigslist or through consignment, you can buy things (if you want) for your new place in Minnesota.
Finally, I strongly recommend thanking your helpers by providing them with drinks and snacks as they work and dinner when you are all finished. People tend to be more level-headed and easy going when they’re well fed and hydrated.
Thank you, Allicia, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column. I hope I was able to help you navigate this process, and congratulations on your move. Be sure to check out the comments for even more suggestions and different perspectives from our readers.
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