Ask Unclutterer: Sell or donate?

Reader Amy submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

I’d love to see some advice on what to donate vs. what to sell when clearing out the clutter!

Amy, this is a great request. Here is the following method I suggest for deciding what to do with home and office items once you determine they no longer belong in your possession:

Step 1: Visit some online auction sites like eBay, MaxSold, or other online classifieds and find out how much money a similar item recently sold for on the site. Look at the closing bids will give you a better idea of the final sale price.

Step 2: If the item sold for an amount that you believe is worth your time and effort to sell (for me, this number is $50+), then sell the item. Websites such as eBay and Craigslist (and kijiji in Canada) are perfect for online sales, and local consignment or pawn shops are wonderful brick and mortar alternatives. Garage sales are also good options.

Step 3: If the item sold for an amount less than your time and effort to sell number (for me this is less than $50), but is greater than zero, consider donating the object to charity or posting it on Freecycle or a neighborhood Buy Nothing site.

Step 4: If you cannot find a similar item for sale online and you think the item is junk, recycle, or trash the item. A good rule of thumb is that you should not give to charity any item that no one is willing to pay money to buy. Charities are not depositories for junk.

Note: Some of our readers have been successful uncluttering by listing items for free that they thought were scrap. For example, a wooden bed frame was picked up by a carpenter (to repurpose the wood), a contractor took away a pile of steel rebar and angle iron, and non-functioning electronics were scooped up by an adult learning center/trade school. If you choose to do this, and no one claims the items after a certain period of time (e.g., two weeks) then recycle or trash the items.

Thank you, Amy, for submitting the first question for our Ask Unclutterer column!

Do you have a question relating to organizing, cleaning, home and office projects, productivity, or any problems you think the Unclutterer team could help you solve? To submit your questions to Ask Unclutterer, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject of your e-mail as “Ask Unclutterer.” If you feel comfortable sharing images of the spaces that trouble you, let us know about them. The more information we have about your specific issue, the better.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2009.

Reader Question: I accidentally tossed my partner’s sentimental item. Help!

Unclutterer reader Rebecca wrote in with this dilemma:

I just read your post on Uncluttering and other people’s things as I was frantically googling how to ask for forgiveness when I’ve done just that. I just cleaned and uncluttered the house I share with my boyfriend. He was aware that I was doing a big overhaul, but I just realized that I tossed a red sheet that apparently belonged to his grandfather. I thought it was just an old sheet without the rest of the set. I am now dreading when he comes home and I have to tell him that I can’t find it. I will check the trash and stop at the charity shop tomorrow.

I am now very worried that this may create a rift in our relationship when it was truly an accident — one that I now know not to repeat! I was careless in my mission to clean house and clearly not thinking that I shouldn’t toss out any items without seeking permission. I am anxiety ridden! How do I ask for forgiveness in this instance?

Thanks for writing Rebecca. I can imagine how you feel right now. Believe me, I have been in your place before. A few years after my husband and I were married (almost 30 years ago now) I tossed out a few sentimental items of his. Like you, I had no idea the items were important. To me, they looked like clutter. Also, like you, my goal was to create a happy, relaxed, minimalist home.

Other people have made similar mistakes. See our posts about Accidents in Uncluttering and Regrets and Legacy Items. This recent news article about $50,000 in jewels being accidentally donated is eye-opening as well.

In my situation, I was very honest about what I had done and expressed my deepest regrets. If I had known, I never would have tossed the beloved items. I also explained what I had learned from the whole episode — never to toss anything unless given express permission. And in future, I would ensure that my partner had a chance to view items I accumulated before they went to trash/charity. Additionally, we created Legacy Boxes. Any items that we really wanted to keep, we put into our Legacy Boxes.

All the best of luck to you in this sticky situation. Remember, honesty is the best policy.

Editor’s note: Just before publication we heard back from Rebecca.

Thank you so much for the thoughtful and helpful reply! Luckily, I recovered the sheet, still a hard lesson was learned.

Have any of our readers encountered this problem? How did you handle it?

Do you have a question relating to organizing, home and office projects, productivity, or any problems you think the Unclutterer team could help you solve? To submit your questions to Ask Unclutterer, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject as “Ask Unclutterer.”

Ask Unclutterer: Dealing with gift-giving grandparents

Reader Sarah submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

We have a 3-month-old child who is just delightful. He has everything he could need or want at this young age! We had a conversation with both sets of his grandparents prior to Christmas explaining that he has everything he could want, but if they felt the need to buy for him then a book or two or some clothes would be sufficient. However, both sets of grandparents bought a heap of toys and clothes and books! It was very generous of them, but this is not something I want to see become a habit. We have trouble with storage as it is, so I would really only prefer one or two items to be given at holidays and birthdays. How do I have this conversation with our loved ones?

Thanks for a great question Sarah. You mention that you already had a conversation with the grandparents and they didn’t seem to understand your request. You are not alone in your dilemma. At this time of year, Unclutterer receives several inquiries about dealing with generous extended family members.

The short answer, is that I do not know how you should have this conversation with your loved ones. I do not know them or your relationship with them. I will provide several suggestions below perhaps one will work for you in this situation.

If you are having trouble knowing how and where to start a conversation you may wish to read Crucial Conversations. Unclutterer Alex reviewed the book and says it is a must read for anyone who is intimidated by discussing potentially sensitive topics. The book may also help you communicate your wishes without the conversation becoming emotionally charged.

Read Editor-at-Large, Erin Doland’s post on receiving unwanted gifts. You may find that it is easier emotionally and on family relationships to re-gift and donate than it is to keep having the same conversation every year.

Unclutterer Jeri has some great tips for dealing with unwanted gifts. Although the post deals mainly with gifts from friends, her advice applies to gifts from family members as well.

As Erin mentioned in her post, grandparents want to give. Rather than saying “no gifts” consider providing alternatives. For example, babies and toddlers don’t need a lot of “things” but eventually, that child might need tuition for college. Asking the grandparents to contribute to a college fund might be an option for your family. (Investing $100/year for 17 years can result in $3000). Grandparents could write a special memory or life advice in a card each year and the cards could be presented on the child’s first day of college.

We would love to hear our readers’ suggestions on how they deal with this issue. Please feel free to leave advice for Sarah in the comments below.

Thanks for your contribution Sarah. We hope that this post gives you the information you’re looking for.

Do you have a question relating to organizing, home and office projects, productivity, or any problems you think the Unclutterer team could help you solve? To submit your questions to Ask Unclutterer, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject as “Ask Unclutterer.”

Ask Unclutterer: Why is it so hard to let go?

Reader Trish sends in this question:

I grew up with a table with a center post. It came with extra leaves so we could expand it. We bought it second-hand and I have had for 40 years. Over the years, the legs have had to be screwed, or glued back on. I have been looking at center post tables for a while but couldn’t afford one. My son received a beautiful one and since he needs to move, he has offered it to me. I would love it! However, in order to get it, I have to throw my current table with its one loose leg into the garbage. Suddenly, that 40-year-old table is very beautiful and I have great sadness at the thought of tossing it out and have the garbage truck crush it to death. I am almost ready to back out of the deal. His wood center post table is beautiful and would be a great opportunity lost if I can’t detach my heart from my old broken table. HELP!!! I don’t understand why it so hard to let go.

That is a great question Trish. Many of us have a hard time letting go of things. A number of years ago, scientist examined the brains of hoarders and non-hoarders. Researchers found greater activity in a certain part of the brain when hoarders were faced with a decision to dispose of their belongings.1 This same part of the brain is also associated with maintaining a sense of “me.”2

This is not to suggest that you, or any of our readers who have trouble disposing items are hoarders. But, I wonder… if we own an item for a long period of time, will we have conditioned our minds to believe the item is part of us? It certainly seems that way sometimes.

From your submission, it sounds like your table, or parts thereof, could still be put to good use. Have you considered hiring a carpenter to build something from the salvageable parts of the table? Perhaps you could turn the table top into picture frames. Collect a series of photos showing your family around the table at birthdays, holidays, or special events and put them in the frames. You might consider building a shelf or serving trays from the table as well.

If you decide to build something new from the old table, set a time limit. If you have not moved forward with the project in six months, then give yourself permission to let the table go. If you are resistant to having it go in the garbage, consider donating it to a trade school or wood working club where the wood could be re-purposed. You might be able to find someone in a Freecycle or Buy Nothing group that would be happy to have the table and you would know it is going to someone who will appreciate it.

If you decide to let your table go, consider the advice provided by Marie Kondo in her book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying-Up. Think of the lessons that the table taught you and all of the wonderful experiences you had while you owned it. Thank the table for its devoted service and send it on its way. I held a funeral for a pair of riding boots that I owned for 30 years. I know it sounds crazy, but it helped.

Allow yourself to feel all the feelings. You are human. It is just a “thing” but the memories around the thing are important so do not feel guilty for acknowledging that.

Thanks for your great question Trish. We hope that this post gives you the information you’re looking for.

Do you have a question relating to organizing, home and office projects, productivity, or any problems you think the Unclutterer team could help you solve? To submit your questions to Ask Unclutterer, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject as “Ask Unclutterer.”

  1. Tolin, David F., et al. “Neural Mechanisms of Decision Making in Hoarding Disorder.” Archives of General Psychiatry, vol. 69, no. 8, 2012, p. 832., doi:10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2011.1980. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22868937
  2. McGonigal, Kelly. “Why It’s Hard to Let Go of Clutter.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 7 Aug. 2012, psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/the-science-willpower/201208/why-it-s-hard-let-go-clutter.

Reader Question: Organizing medications

Reader Deborah wrote to us to ask for some help with her situation:

We are overrun with pill bottles and medicines of all kinds — bottles, jars, tubes, etc. of prescriptions, headache pills, cold pills, skin creams, vitamins, and more. Years ago, I got a new cabinet to put next to my sink and it’s now overflowing too. You pull out the bottle you want and others fall out too. How do you corral these?

Dealing with dozens of little bottles that fall over all the time can be frustrating! Here at Unclutterer we’ve got some advice on how to corral these small containers.

Step one is to unclutter. It’s time to dispose of all of the medications and toiletries you no longer need or use. Gather everything up and spread it out on your counter or dining table to see what you have. Collect all of the prescriptions that are no longer used and any expired over-the-counter-medications and vitamins. Ideally, place them into a sealed bag or bucket out of the reach of children and pets until you can dispose of them properly. Check your toiletries such as face creams and cosmetics for expiry dates and dispose of any that are expired.

Now it is time to organize what is left — the items that you are currently using.

You have not specified exactly where you would like to store your medications (pharmacists say that the bathroom medicine cabinet is one of the worst places to store medications) so there are several alternatives listed here.

If several people in your home are using prescription medications, you may want to store each person’s bottles in small, different coloured baskets. It will be very easy to see whose medications are whose. Unless the vials are full of liquid, lay them down flat. They are less likely to tip over and you will still be able to see the labels.

Another option is to use a three-drawer desk organizer. Assign each person their own drawer and lay the vials flat inside. This unit does take up some counter space but it could be easily put on a closet shelf — out of the reach of children.

If you have liquid medications, you could use a turntable. One with high sides and interior dividers will prevent the bottles from falling over when it spins. The dividers would keep everyone’s medication separated and you could easily label each section. You would need counter space or a shelf at least 12-inches deep for this item.

Stackable, transparent storage bins with hinged lids would work for storing vials containing both liquids and solids. Again, each person could have their own bin or you could arrange the medications by category such as, “headache & pain relief” and “cough & cold.” This type of container is nice. Because the lids are hinged, they won’t get separated from the containers and lost or end up in a big pile at the bottom of the cupboard.

If you are limited in counter and shelf space, spice racks can be mounted to walls or the interior of cupboard doors. They are ideal for holding small bottles and vials. A spice rack with several shelves would work if you have multiple bottles of the same height. If some bottles are taller, opt for single spice shelves so you can mount them further apart to accommodate the various sized bottles.

If you travel frequently, consider storing your medications in a transportable, lockable, travel bag. It will keep everything in its place when you are at home and you can just zipper it closed and put it in your suitcase when you are ready to leave.

If you are having difficulty keeping tubes of medication, cosmetics, or even toothpaste from getting lost and tossed around in your cupboard, check out this idea to keep tubes of paint organized. You need not use nails on a piece of plywood in your bathroom, just attach a binder clip to the end of the tube and hang it from a small Command hook on the wall or inside a cupboard door.

Thanks for your great question Deborah. We hope that this post gives you the information you’re looking for.

Do you have a question relating to organizing, home and office projects, productivity, or any problems you think the Unclutterer team could help you solve? To submit your questions to Ask Unclutterer, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject as “Ask Unclutterer.”

Reader question: How best to pack and move delicate, fragile, and oddly-shaped items

In our Ask Unclutterer series, we provided advice about moving to New Zealand. One of the comments on that post was:

What should I do with awkward items, like framed artwork? I know it comes down to how much am I willing to pay to keep the item, whatever it is. It just pains me to think about keeping the art and ditching the frame, then paying again to have it framed. What about antique lamps? I have several floor & table lamps that are not only sentimental, but gorgeous. Three of them have very delicate glass shades. *flinch* Rewiring shouldn’t be an issue, just the packing. Should I use spray foam and pack like drunk elephants will handle everything?

Thanks for a great question. I have moved 13 times in the past 28 years, including two trans-Atlantic moves, and I have learned quite a bit about transporting household goods — not just from my own experience but from other military families as well. The first step is to get a professional to service and prepare for moving any:

  • Items with interior moving parts such as grandfather clocks and other time-pieces;
  • Large musical instruments like pianos, harpsicords, harps, etc.;
  • Items that require special skill to disassemble and reassemble such as billiard tables, sculptures, antique furniture, etc.

If possible, hire a professional moving company to pack any irreplaceable, sentimental, fragile, or expensive items. If you wish to pack the items yourself, we’ve listed some advice below.

For transporting artwork and delicate items, the Museum Conservation Institute at the Smithsonian states that you need three layers of protection; a protective wrap, a shock and vibration layer, and a protective outer shell.

Protective wrap covers the surface of your item and prevents scratches. The material used depends on what you are transporting. Cottons and flannels can be used with many things but they can stick to varnishes and some paints. Paper can be used with some items but make sure it is archival quality (acid-free and lignin-free). Plastic sheeting can also be used but moisture may build up and damage your item.

The shock and vibration layer protects against sudden blows (shock) and persistent small bumps (vibration). This layer should be “springy” meaning it needs to have an elastic memory to allow the cushioning effect to occur repeatedly. This material is often a type of foam. The type and thickness of foam depends on the weight of the item and the type of shock anticipated. A good option is pick and pluck foam — pre-scored foam sheeting that allows you to remove bits at a time to create a custom-shaped hole in the foam to protect your item. Check out this video on how it is used.

The protective shell is the outer layer. It provides a hard, puncture-resistant wrap in the event of rough handling. (The drunk elephants you mentioned above.) The hard, outer layer also allows delicate and oddly-shaped items to be closely placed or stacked. The protective shell can be an extra-thick, reinforced, cardboard box with corner supports, or a custom-made plywood box. I do not recommend using household plastic bins for delicate items on long distance moves. They are not sturdy enough. You would need heavy-duty plastic totes that will not be crushed if they are dropped or if other boxes are stacked on top.

About your artwork… I would suggest that you leave it in the frames. It may be more susceptible to damage both physical (rips, scuffs) and environmental (warping from humidity) when removed from the frame. During transport, the frame can act as a protective case for the artwork if it is packed properly. Consider wrapping it in a soft cotton or muslin fabric (protective wrap), add edge protectors (vibration protection), and package it in a heavy-duty cardboard or plywood box (outer wrap). Alternatively, you could pack your artwork in a flat screen TV packing kit.

The final step is to ensure that all of your fragile items are properly labelled FRAGILE and if required, THIS SIDE UP, and DO NOT LAY FLAT. If English is not the language spoken at your destination, you should print your own stickers with the translations to be sure the unloading crew understands.

For those that are interested in how museum artifacts are transported, take a peek at the photos and descriptions at Inside the Conservator’s Studio.

Thanks for your great question. We hope that this post gives you the information you’re looking for.

Do you have a question relating to organizing, home and office projects, productivity, or any problems you think the Unclutterer team could help you solve? To submit your questions to Ask Unclutterer, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject as “Ask Unclutterer.”

Reader Question: What to do with partially used toiletries

Unclutterer reader Joan sent us an email with this question:

What should I do with toiletries and similar items that were tried but we do not use? I have a number of products I purchased but did not care for. Also, I was an cosmetics rep for over 20 years, and that was many years ago. I have a large number of products stored in my basement and I would like to find them a new home.

This is such a great question. There are many reasons why we may have unused or partly used toiletries lying about, including:

  • You purchased an item and it does not work for your hair/skin type.
  • Guests (including children who have gone off to college) left items at your place.
  • You are moving and the moving company will not take any liquids.
  • You received items as a gift and will never use them.

The first step is to check if the products are expired. Some cosmetics/toiletry company websites will allow you to look up the lot number and see how old the product is. You can also inquire by email or use the website’s contact form. Two great independent websites for checking products are Check Fresh and Check Cosmetic. Both of these sites list lot numbers and expiry dates of most major brands.

If the product has expired unfortunately, the only thing you can do is dispose of the product and recycle the container. It seems like a waste but when the products degrade, they may do more harm than good. They may be contaminated with bacteria, as they breakdown they could irritate your skin/hair. Some products (specifically sunscreen) are no longer effective past their expiry date.

For products that have not yet expired, here are some uncluttering options:

  • Contact local charities and ask if they accept partial bottles as donations. Do not be surprised if they say no. Due to health/sanitary concerns, many charities will only take new, unopened products.
  • Have an Uncluttering Party and invite your friends or neighbours in for a “swap meet.” You might be able to unclutter your items and get items you would actually use.
  • If your workplace allows, leave items in a common area for fellow co-workers. (Always check with your human resources department first!)
  • List your items on Freecycle, craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, or other type of online classified ad site.
  • Offer items in your neighbourhood groups such as Nextdoor, or Facebook neighbourhood groups if you belong to any. My neighbourhood has a ‘Buy Nothing’ Facebook group that has been very successful in helping people get rid of what they don’t want while helping others get what they do want.

Thanks for your great question Joan. We hope that this post gives you the information you’re looking for.

Do you have a question relating to organizing, home and office projects, productivity, or any problems you think the Unclutterer team could help you solve? To submit your questions to Ask Unclutterer, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject as “Ask Unclutterer.”

Reader Question: Moving to New Zealand

Reader Charlee writes in with this question:

I’m having difficulty finding helpful information on moving overseas permanently. Most articles are about temporary moves and what you should store in the US or take with you depending on the length of your stay. The majority of those are for military families.

My husband is from New Zealand. We’re planning to move there within the next 2-3 years. We’ve been hard core uncluttering our home of 15 years, and are planning an enormous sale soon of stuff we don’t want now, then another shortly before the move to get rid of the remainder — the stuff we’ll use until we move. Do you have any advice about moving permanently to the other side of the planet?

This is a great question Charlee — not just for moving from one side of the planet to the other but even across the continent.

The first step is to investigate the country you’re moving to. Your husband is from New Zealand so I would assume that you have visited there a few times over the course of your marriage and are probably very familiar with how people live, what their homes are like, and what the cost of living is. If you don’t know, check out websites written by expats. Social media sites can also be a good resource. You can learn a lot from following journalists, businesses, and social services (health care, police, etc.) on Twitter.

Here are a few things that might not be so evident to our readers.

Vehicles

In New Zealand, they drive right-hand drive vehicles on the left-hand side of the road. A North American vehicle would probably need modifications to meet New Zealand’s auto standards. You would likely need special auto insurance and/or special licencing. Additionally, it would be very difficult to sell your vehicle (even for parts) when the time came. You might not even want a car in your new location if you are living downtown in a large city and auto fuel and parking fees are more expensive than a bus pass.

Recommendation: Sell the car before you leave even if you have to use a rental a car for a month before you move.

Electrical items

The electrical power grid in New Zealand is 230/240V and 50Hz. In North America, it is 110V and 60Hz. You can get a “step-up” transformer however, they are designed for short-term use and will cause your electrical devices to wear out very quickly. However, some lamps and lighting can be re-wired so if you have an antique or very expensive lamp, ask an electrician if it would be possible and feasible to re-wire. Computers, laptops, tablets, and phones can work on both 110V and 240V. Check your systems. You might only need to purchase a new power converter.

Recommendation: Sell or give away anything that plugs in and does not work on 240V/50Hz power.

Cost of the move

I am assuming that you will be paying for your own move (as opposed to an employer paying for it). If this is the case, calculate the cost of the move. Most moving companies use volume to calculate the cost. For example, it might cost $6,000 USD to move 1000 cubic feet (a small 3-bedroom house). This works out to $6 USD per cubic foot. If that old sofa in your basement takes up 65 cubic feet, it costs $390 USD to move. (Check out this household goods volume calculator.) Is that old sofa worth $390 USD? Would it be better to buy a new sofa on arrival? Consider that you will have to pay import duties on the current value of all imported items.

Recommendation: Do not pay more to move goods than the goods are worth — with the exception of sentimental items.

Import restrictions

Depending on the country to which you are moving, some items are not allowed to be imported. Usually these consist of hunting trophies, food and agricultural products, unfinished wood, alcohol, tobacco, firearms, and ammunition. Some children’s toys, furniture, and craft items may not be permitted if they do not meet the country’s safety standards. Medications that are over-the-counter in one country, may be restricted because they require a prescription in another country.

Recommendation: Check importation restrictions via Customs Services of the country you are moving to. Consider selling or giving away restricted items before you move. If you are keeping restricted items, start the process for ensuring these can be imported when the time comes.

Documentation

Managing your “stuff” is pretty straight-forward compared to the amount of documentation you have to keep track of for an international move.

Vital Records

Ensure you have original copies of all your important documents including birth certificates (long form with birth location and parents’ names), marriage licences, divorce decrees, passports, wills, powers of attorney, etc. It will be difficult to get them replaced once you move. Carry these documents with you but make a copy of each and store them in a secure cloud location.

Insurance and licencing

Contact your auto and home insurance companies. Ask them to provide proof of insurance for as far back as you can go. You may need to contact previous insurance companies as well. Try to get at least 10 years of positive history. This will help you get insurance in your new country.

Obtain a driving licence abstract from your State. This will show how long you have been a licenced driver and your past driving infractions. Getting 10 years of history will help with your auto insurance. Depending on your new country, you still might be required to pass a driving test.

Health records

Contact all of your medical, dental, and other health providers and obtain a complete health record. Often it will be provided on a password-protected CD. If it is on paper, scan it, and keep a copy in secure cloud storage. Check the vaccination requirements of your new country and get your shots before you go as it might take a while before you can access their health care system. This is especially important for children who may require specific vaccinations before they can attend school.

Pay for legal and financial advice

I cannot stress this enough — pay for professional advice from a lawyer and an international tax accountant (not your Cousin Vinny who “knows a guy”). There are legal and tax ramifications when moving money from one country to another. The laws are complex and depend on your specific situation (citizen, resident, immigrant, visa holder, etc.). The last thing you want is to get arrested at the airport by the IRS for tax evasion when you return to the US for a family reunion! These will be initially expensive appointments but you will sleep better at night knowing that you are operating within the law.

Your wills, living wills, powers of attorney, etc., although valid when created in the US, should be re-done in the new country to adhere to their laws. Should anything unfortunate happen, you will not waste time in courts to be able to access finances or determining a proper care plan.

There is much more we could add about document management and moving in general so check out these other Unclutterer posts that might be helpful.

We hope that we’ve given you some good information here Charlee and our readers often chime in with incredibly useful advice so please keep your eye on the comments section.

Reader question: Clothes closet organization

Reader Lisa Z. sent us the following question:

I am OCD, and I thrive on order. I have crazy organization of my closet, which includes organizing all my shirts first by sleeve length (all sleeveless shirts together, all regular-sleeved shirts together, all 3/4 and long-sleeved shirts together, and all t-shirts together), then by color (1st white, then light grey, then to darker grey, then starting with lightest red going to darkest red through the colors of the rainbow). I have four sets of rainbows in my closet, although I have gone back and forth between one rainbow sorted by sleeve length (which didn’t last long). I have 14 pairs of blue jean pants. I know; the first thing you’re going to tell me is that I shouldn’t have THAT MANY pairs of jeans. That is in addition to the number of skirts, shorts, and other-colored pants I own. But I sort even my jeans in order from lightest shade of blue to darkest shade of blue. The question: Do you think this is a waste of time, or do you recommend sorting clothes this way to find exactly what you’re looking for in a snap? It has always worked for me, but I am just barely starting to catch on to the possibility that this might be a waste of time… Thanks so much and keep up the great work on the blog!

Lisa, I don’t have OCD, and I organize my closet in a very similar manner. My exception to this is that I store my jeans and t-shirts folded in a dresser instead of hanging in my closet. My t-shirts are in piles of tank tops, short sleeves, and long sleeves in my drawer.

I’m also a stickler about all of my shirts facing the same way on the hanger.

Organizing my closet this way allows me to quickly match outfits, easily get dressed in the dark, and my husband doesn’t complain about having to share a closet with me. It may be overkill, but it works.

How about our readership? How do you organize your clothes in your closet?

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2007.

Reader question: Letting go of books

Reader Heather wrote in to ask advice about letting go of some of her books.

I read a lot (up to four books a day) and I have a number of books that I read over and over from select authors. I also have an advanced degree and am going back to school soon. I have novels, books about writing, poetry, birds, science, and art. I never know when I’ll be up all night or stuck at home for several days. I have been reading through Gutenberg.org, but that limits me to books for which the copyright has expired.

I have three regular sized bookshelves and one double sized bookshelf. I know I need to get rid of at least one bookshelf, or all the books on the floor in stacks, or both. My one-bedroom apartment is cluttered with books, birds, plants, and art supplies. It depresses me and it’s hard to take care of. I’m pecking away but often my chronic health problems interfere so it’s hard. Can you offer any suggestions?

Thanks for the great question Heather. Many bibliophiles have difficulty getting rid of books — myself included. I grow so attached to some novels that getting rid of them would be like throwing away my best friends. However, there is only so much space we have to store books that tough decisions (and yes indeed, they are tough) must be made.

Unclutterer has a great article about what books to let go. These include books you won’t ever read, books you won’t read again, and books you don’t like. Below, I’ve included a few more unconventional ways of uncluttering. Perhaps you will find one or more helpful.

Evacuate your home. Pretend you have been ordered to evacuate. You can take only the books you can fit into three smaller moving boxes and you only have 30 minutes to choose your favourites. Set a timer with an alarm and start boxing up your favourite books. When you are done, the books in the boxes are those you will definitely keep and everything else is negotiable. This tactic makes you react on instinct and not overthink your decisions. It doesn’t work for everyone, but if you might want to give it a go and see what you discover. It is a similar process to asking yourself if the book sparks joy.” However, with many book lovers (myself included), every book sparks joy so giving yourself this evacuation challenge might help.

Worst-case scenario. Ask yourself what would be the worst possible thing that could happen if you got rid of the book. Would you lose important information that would be difficult to find elsewhere? Would part of your family heritage be lost? If so, then the book is a keeper. Everything else that you could find in a library or on the internet, is negotiable. If the book is essential for working on a current, active project, then the book is a keeper. Convenience is important too. Once the project is complete though, the book becomes eligible for elimination.

Book Custodian. Are you looking after the books as if you were a librarian? Do you practice proper book storage and cleaning techniques? Are you able to keep up with repairs any books might need? Are your books organized in a way that you can find exactly what you need when you need it? Consider letting go of books that you don’t feel compelled to take care of.

Gamify it. In this technique, have a friend pull a book off the shelf at random and tell you only one significant detail of the book such as the title or author’s name. You have to tell your friend all about the book. For fiction, you could provide a brief summary of the plot. For non-fiction, provide some facts within the book. If you can’t provide details, the book leaves your home. If you haven’t yet read the book, the friend puts it in a separate “to read” pile and comes back in a month or so. If you haven’t read the book by then, it goes.

Here are a few other Unclutterer articles about books that you might find helpful.

Thanks for your great question Heather. We hope that this post gives you the information you’re looking for.

Do you have a question relating to organizing, home and office projects, productivity, or any problems you think the Unclutterer team could help you solve? To submit your questions to Ask Unclutterer, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject as “Ask Unclutterer.”

Follow-up: Should it stay or should it go

A few weeks ago, I asked readers to chime in and help me decide if my collection of organizing products should stay or go. I read and appreciated every one of the comments and the messages that were sent directly.

Some readers suggested I let everything go and start again when I moved to the next house. Others, suggested I evaluate the difficulty and expense of replacing items in determining whether or not I let them go. Many recommended that I keep only what would fit in one large bin. Almost everyone told me to get rid of the gum and mint containers as these are easily replaceable.

As we are new to this city, one of my neighbours told me about the semi-annual Giveaway Weekends. During the assigned weekend, residents can place unwanted, reusable household items at the curb in front of their house (apartment units usually have a designated area in their parking lots) with a “FREE” sign on the items. Residents drive around and pick up any items they want during the two days. The city website also provides a list of charities where leftover items can be donated and explains how to either take your item to the landfill or schedule a large item waste pick-up.

This Giveaway Weekend helped me with my decision-making process. Here is what I decided.

The items stayed if:

Everything else (plastic filing cabinet, car cup gum containers, Altoids tins, various sizes of plastic baskets) would go out on my curb for the fall Giveaway Weekend. Whatever did not “disappear” by Sunday evening, would go to charity.

Of course, the day after I made my decision, my daughter took an Altoids tin and turned it into a sewing kit to have in her dorm room at college. Therefore, I decided to keep one each — and only one each — mint and gum container.

Next year, we will know where we are moving a few months before the spring Giveaway Weekend. This will give me the opportunity to go through my stash again and make decisions on what stays and what goes.

Thank you, dear readers, for all your help!

Editor question: Should it stay or should it go?

Normally, a reader asks a question about uncluttering and organizing that our writers answer with amazing input by fellow Unclutterer readers. Today, I have a question that I’m hoping readers can help me answer.

We’re a military family. We’ve lived in 13 different homes in the past 28 years. Each house has been different. Some have basements, others have garages. Some homes had three bedrooms and one bathroom, others had four bedrooms and four bathrooms. We lived in houses with very little closet and cupboard storage, others with walk-in closets and walls lined with cupboards.

Because the houses have been so different and we have moved so often, I have accumulated a large stockpile of organizing products. This includes:

  • A slat-wall system with various hooks and baskets. It has been used in garages in previous homes to store garden tools and bicycles. Our current home has a shed that won’t support the use of the slat-wall system.
  • A plastic filing cabinet with broken locks and missing wheels. The cabinet was rather expensive. It is sturdy and in great shape so it could be used for storing something. It is currently empty.
  • I have probably two dozen fabric drawer organizers. I’ve used these to organize clothes in drawers and items on shelves in various houses over the years.
  • There are lots empty totes. I’m not sure what was in them at previous houses. They are all in great shape and have matching lids.
  • I have a few shelf extenders. Our current home has adjustable shelves in the kitchen cabinets. Almost none of our previous homes did.
  • I save car cup gum containers and Altoids tins because they are great for storing office supplies, cotton balls, cotton swabs, and other small items. There lots of each type of container in my stash because they might come in handy.
  • There is a tower of plastic drawers that I’m sure could come in handy for something but it is currently empty.
  • There are at least 50 ways to use a basket so I have baskets of all sizes in my stash. This includes a bunch of kitchen drawer organizers.

Part of me wants to keep all of these items because we will be moving again in less than one year. I have no idea where we will be moving or what our next house will be like. I might need the organizing supplies because they are useful and I just love having lots of organizing products.

Another part of me wants to just donate all of the stuff and only buy what I need when we move into our new house because I just love buying new organizing products.

So, I will ask fellow Unclutterers as the classic song by The Clash repeats in my head…

Readers, you got to let me know
Should it stay or should it go?
If you say “keep,” because it’s mine
It’ll be here ’til the end of time
So you got to let me know
Should it stay or should it go?