Accidents in Uncluttering

A few years ago, Unclutterer’s editor-in-chief Erin Doland described her regret at accidentally disposing of vital documents when uncluttering. While we would all like to have instant clutter-free lives, it is important to take your time to properly sort items before you dispose or donate them. When uncluttering and organizing, think of the process as more like a marathon than a sprint. The following are a few tips to help you avoid accidents when you’re uncluttering.

Take your time and examine every item before disposing it. Often money is forgotten in old purses and coat pockets or between the pages of a Bible. Sometimes expensive jewellery can be mixed in with costume jewellery. Occasionally, a toddler will have a hidden cache of useful items between the sofa cushions or tossed valuables in with Lego bricks. People with dementia or mental health issues may hide money, expensive items, or important documents in places that may not seem logical, such as inside mattresses. Last month, a thrift shop in Nova Scotia turned over to police thousands of dollars in cash that they found in donated curtains.

When organizing paperwork, you do not need to read every scrap of paper, but it is important to scan documents to determine their significance. Tax accountants and lawyers can provide important information regarding which documents are important to keep for legal and tax purposes. Obtaining advice from these professionals is especially important if you are helping someone unclutter whose personal business you’re not familiar with, such as aging family members.

Consult with family members and friends about sentimental items, documents, and photographs. You might feel that an object has very little value, but it may hold powerful memories for another family member. If your family and friends live far away, it might be difficult for them to stop by the house to view items. Consider setting up a website or a Facebook group to share photos and descriptions of items you wish to pass along to family and friends.

When uncluttering, clearly separate the garbage from the donations. Use only black or dark green bags for trash and transparent bags or cardboard boxes for donations. If different bags or boxes are going to different charities, clearly label them on both sides of the bag or box. Astronaut Chris Hadfield had intended that a box of memorabilia from his time in space be donated to a science centre but last week his flight suit was found for sale at a Toronto thrift shop due to a mix up with donation boxes during a move.

Get an expert opinion before you dispose or donate items with which you are not familiar. You may be able to determine the approximate value of items by looking online at sites like eBay or specialized sites for specific collectibles. You may not find a comic book that will pay your mortgage but you may be able to earn a few extra dollars. If you don’t even know what the items are, check out our tips on how to deal with UFOs (unidentified found objects) before you dispose of them.

Have you ever found an expensive item stashed in a strange place while uncluttering? Have you accidentally donated or disposed of something you wish you hadn’t? Help fellow unclutterers by sharing your stories in the comments section.

10 Comments for “Accidents in Uncluttering”

  1. posted by JP on

    I would not limit hiding cash or valuables in “odd” places to “People with dementia or mental health issues” – this is very common, especially for folks who lived through the Depression, did not trust banks, and had cash on hand “just in case”. After my father passed away, my mother found $100 in a shoebox under the bathroom sink he had left there. After my mom passed away, I found $150 in a bank envelope under a piece of tissue paper at the bottom of her full sewing basket. When cleaning out my great-aunt’s house, rolls of bills were stashed at the back of dresser drawers. I would assume folks living in difficult situations – domestic abuse, alcoholism, etc. – would do the same.

  2. posted by Amy Connelly on

    Found 116.00 in a purse I bought from my favorite thrift store. Yippee!

  3. posted by adora on

    My mom has accidentally donated my elementary school photos, my personalized stamps and my retainers to charity when I was off to college. Someone called her back about the photos and stamps. But no word on my retainers. Someone bought my retainers???

  4. posted by Elle on

    My siblings and I found hundreds of dollars, maybe thousands, throughout my parents’ home when we sold it. It was in file folders, between towels in the linen closet, under furniture, in the garage, and I don’t know where else. Both parents lived through the Depression, both had dementia. We also found expensive jewelry in clothing pockets, in kitchen and bathroom cabinets, and elsewhere. We do not for a moment believe that we found everything before we turned the place over to the realtor/new owners, but we did what we could. So, for possessions, INVENTORY, INVENTORY, INVENTORY! There’s not much you can do about cash, but for jewelry and other small valuables, be careful and keep track of where things are located/hidden. And give yourself more time than you think to go through things. Speed = bad decisions!

  5. posted by Sue b on

    And if you do decide to hide something, for the love of your sanity write yourself a note and save it to the computer or send it to yourself in an email. I still don’t know where my safe deposit key went and it has been over a year. I hate having to pay $150 to get it replaced but that may be what I have to do.

  6. posted by Christine on

    My grandmother sewed her “valuables” into the hems of coats and other garments. Cash was under the lining of her luggage and rolled into cigar tubes or prescription bottles. Checks and gift cards that she had received were taped to the bottom of drawers. She had jewelry safety pinned into the bodice of her apron. Not one place that she managed to hide things in would have been considered for it’s value. I’m certain that many things were donated or thrown away because of it.

  7. posted by SkiptheBS on

    My sister threw away Mother’s gas credit card slips after negotiating a balance reduction for charges which seemed unreasonable for a woman in poor health.

    Later, we discovered that a redneck criminal with a car of the same model and color acquired the credit card number from a cashier, used it, and gave the number to others with a similar car.

    Watch out for caregivers with knowledge of these hiding places. They will clean out their savings while cleaning that house or apartment.

    A local flea market customer scored $1500 with the purchase of an old chrome Eveready flashlight.

  8. posted by Sabrina Q. on

    When clearing my mom’s pocketbooks, I had to go thru all off them closely , because she would store her gold jewerly in them. We found rings, earrings, and a bracelets.

  9. posted by Beverly D NP on

    My father hid $1000.00 from my mother in the bottom of a coffee can filled with screws and nails. He forgot where he put it and found it only many years later, because the can spilled (thank goodness!!).

  10. posted by jc on

    In one of our rare accident/probate cases, the child of a deceased couple found the couple’s wills two years after their deaths. The wills were found on a property 3000 miles away from the couple’s current residence, and in a folder of documents for a car they hadn’t owned for ten years.

    My Grandfather was a licensed powder-man. When he passed, we found caps and other blasting paraphernalia in his basement. The military was called in to remove and destroy it.

    Not a valuable, but with a teenage son who can cook for himself, nothing in the pantry is sacred. I’ve hidden noodles and other ingredients, but when it come time to cook supper I’ve forgotten where I’ve stashed them. I currently have 7 boxes of girl scout cookies hidden in the coat closet in my mother’s apartment downstairs. I didn’t even tell DS that I had ordered them.

    Growing up I had a sibling that would steal from me. I would hide my money and forget about it until I accidentally found it months later- usually between the photo and backboard in a frame.

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