More ways to sell and donate your stuff

Once you’ve done your uncluttering, the final step is to get the unwanted things out of your home or workplace. I’ve written before about the many ways you might do this, and Dave has provided suggestions, too. But now I’d like to mention a few additional resources. One of these is only available in a limited area, and all are based in the U.S., but you might find similar services in your area.

Note: I have no personal experience with any of these companies, so this isn’t an endorsement — just a reminder that there may be more ways than you expected to dispose of things that are no longer serving you. If you’re interested in any of these specific services, please do your own research before choosing them.

Remoov (San Francisco Bay Area)

Remoov will come to your place with a truck and take away your stuff. You pay for the portion of the truck you are using. But then Remoov will sell what it can, donate what it can (that doesn’t sell), and “responsibly discard” the rest. You receive 50% of the sale proceeds and a donation receipt. If items must be discarded, you’ll be charged a disposal fee that covers Remoov’s costs.

There’s a free consultation up front, so you will have a good idea of what to expect. Items must be packed up before the Remoov truck arrives.

Prices start at $199 and go up from there, depending on how much truck space you need and where you fit within Remoov’s territory. So this seems like a useful service for someone like the Yelp user who wrote, “I needed to clear out a bunch of junk from my place this week (elliptical, queen size bed, old dining set, a set of cabinets.” Another good fit: the Yelp user who wrote, “We are moving out of the country and needed to get rid of all our furniture.”

MaxSold

MaxSold conducts online estate sales auctions. You identify which things are to be sold, and then MaxSold catalogs the items, taking pictures and writing descriptions. MaxSold does the auction, and afterward successful bidders come to your home to pick up items during a pre-defined time window. MaxSold takes a commission on each lot of 30% or $10, whichever is greater.

MaxSold is often used to clear out a house at the end of a move. The company says, “On average, 98% of everything in your house can be sold via MaxSold.” Ordinary clothes are one of the few things the company doesn’t handle.

Using MaxSold allows you to have the equivalent of an estate sale in places where such sales might not be allowed. It can also work for those who don’t have enough of value for other estate sales or auction services to be cost-effective.

One drawback noted by some users is that everything must remain in place for two weeks until the auction is complete and the purchasers have taken their items.

Mighty Good Things

Mighty Good Things describes itself as “a nonprofit turning millions of previously-loved possessions into funding for other nonprofits.” You gather up your items and ship them off using a pre-paid FedEx label. (If you’re in San Francisco, items will be picked up.) Mighty Good Things then sells them on places like eBay and Amazon and donates 100 percent of the net proceeds to the nonprofit of your choice. You get an itemized donation receipt for tax purposes.

This is intended for “high value, reasonably small items” such as smartphones, small appliances, or a nice pair of shoes in great condition.

If you’d like to share other companies providing interesting ways to sell or donate your items, please leave a comment!

What squirrels can teach us about organization

The next time you see a squirrel running around, give it an appreciative smile. That’s your fellow organizer right there.

As summer yields to autumn, these little fuzzballs are busy gathering nuts that will sustain them during the winter. Scientists from University of California Berkeley recently wondered exactly how they accomplish the life-sustaining feat, including the improbable act of finding each tiny hoard weeks after it’s created.

What they discovered was pretty impressive. Squirrels use chunking. Chunking refers to the practice of sorting information into similar, easily remembered groupings. For example, when learning a new phone number, we don’t memorize an interrupted series of 10 numbers, we (at least here in North America) learn the three-digit area code, the three-digit exchange and then the last four digits.

Likewise, a bookshelf stuffed with no semblance of order would make it very hard to find a certain title. So, we group books into fiction, non-fiction, biographies, etc. It’s much easier to recall where a specific piece of information is when it’s in a chunk of similar items.

Squirrels understand this.

Researchers discovered that squirrels are “scatter hoarders.” That is, they create several caches of nuts, each grouped in the same way. In the study, 45 squirrels were offered a series of nuts from several locations. Upon receiving nuts from a central location, the cute little rodents put the goodies into species-specific groupings: almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, and walnuts. This suggests, scientists concluded, that finding the nuts weeks or months later in snow-covered forests, that the squirrels rely on a technique like chunking to recall where each pile (or species) of nut is hidden.

What does that have to do with you and me?

Aside from the obvious “we’re all nuts” joke, chunking is truly an effective strategy. Like the squirrels, it will help you recall where that seldom-used item is stored. For example, if you’re looking for Christmas tree ornaments, they would be “chunked” with the other holiday decorations.

Aside from storage, chunking can apply to productivity, as Mike Vardy explains on Productivityist:

Time chunking – and fine tuning the practice – allows me to work with optimum productivity. It’s worth trying in some form or another because it removes a decision from the process of doing: what to do and when to do it.

Take a lesson from our furry friends. Sort time, items, and effort into definable groups for better recall later. Whether you’re a human or not.

Donating to help needy animals

A friend recently told me that a local wildlife center welcomed donations of Beanie Babies and other such small stuffed animals because baby raccoons and other small animals like to cuddle with them.

Your local humane society, animal shelter, or wildlife rescue organization may be able to use many things you might be looking to unclutter.

Many such organizations take blankets (especially fleece) and bath towels, but always check with your local organization before bringing in donations. Many do not want sheets, but some do. Other obvious potential donations, depending on each organization’s policy, are pet care items in good condition: food, food bowls, grooming supplies, cat trees, laser toys, catnip, cat litter, pet carriers, etc. The SPCA of Solano County wants cardboard flats or beer trays to use as disposable litter boxes.

A lot of these organizations also need office supplies, which many people have in excess. Pens, highlighters, copy paper, staplers, rubber bands, and Post-its are just some of the items I’ve seen on numerous wish lists. The San Diego Humane Society has surge protectors and calculators on its wish list, and I’ve seen many homes with unused calculators sitting around.

Cleaning supplies are also on many organizations’ lists: laundry detergent, bleach, hand sanitizer, trash bags, dish soap, hand soap, etc. Humane Animal Rescue specifically wanted Original Dawn liquid dish soap, but many organizations don’t care about the brand.

Rather than recycling your newspaper, you might give it to a shelter or rescue organization that asks for it, as many do. Some also want shredded paper. There might be some restrictions — for example, Humane Animal Rescue specifically notes the shredded paper should not include shiny ads. The Humane Society of Missouri can use long-cut shredded paper, but not confetti-like crosscut shred.

I’ve also seen a number of organizations, such as Heart of the Valley Animal Shelter and the SPCA of Solano County requesting gardening tools: hoes, shovels, rakes, garden gloves, garden hoses, etc. Flashlights and batteries are popular wish list items, too. ASH Animal Rescue in the U.K. also wanted general tools to be used in maintenance: screwdrivers, drills, hammers, pliers, etc.

Some of these organizations, such as the Peninsula Humane Society and the Humane Society for Southwest Washington, run thrift stores whose profits support their work. These stores can be a great place to donate a wide range of items in good condition.

Then there are the requests that are more unusual:

So if you’re in an uncluttering mood, you might check with your local animal shelter or rescue organization and see what’s on its wish list.

What to do when your yard sale fails

Typically people hold a yard sale for one of three reasons:

  1. They want to earn some money.
  2. They want unwanted stuff to go to a good home.
  3. They want to pare-down possessions.

In any case, the organizer hopes for success — a few extra dollars in the pocket, some free space in the house, less clutter — however you define a successful yard sale.

Even if you plan a successful yard sale, sometimes it flops — nothing is sold or huge items such as a sofa or credenza are left. It’s the end of the the final day and you’re standing outside with a pile of unsold merchandise. The inevitable question pops into your head, “Now what?”

Let’s take a look at what you can do when your yard sale bombs.

First and foremost, don’t get frustrated with the leftovers. There are many potential variables that could have affected your sale:

  1. You had more stuff than you had time to sell.
  2. Your prices were higher than the typical customer was willing to spend.
  3. The right people didn’t find you.
  4. The weather or timing was bad.

But today we’re not looking at what when wrong (we’ve got a guide for that). Instead, it’s what to do with all the leftover stuff. There are many options.

Right away, before you bring a single item into the house, divide your goods into the following piles:

  1. Donation
  2. Sell online
  3. Free to whomever wants it
  4. Items for the next sale
  5. Keepers

Now, a look at each category.

Donation is self-explanatory. Often doctors’ offices or hospitals will take magazines. Think of friends or relatives who might want what you’ve got. Perhaps there’s a Scout troop, school, or other charitable organization in your area that will gladly accept certain gently used items.

Selling online is a great way to go. My wife and I have had tremendous success holding a “virtual yard sale” on Facebook. It was pretty easy to do. We took one or two photos of each item, added them to Facebook Marketplace and shared them on our walls. Within two days everything was sold and picked up by the buyers. If Facebook isn’t your thing, consider Varagesale. Creating an account is easy and, in my experience, most items sell quickly. Of course there is also Ebay and Freecycle.

Don’t be afraid to try another yard sale. Maybe the weather was bad, or a holiday weekend meant fewer people in the neighborhood. In any case, try again but make some changes. First, wait a few weeks and mark the prices down. Also, set up a “free” table for items you simply want to get rid of. You can even do a raffle at the end of the day. For example, for $3, visitors get a chance to have their names drawn and then the winners can take as much stuff away as they want.

Finally, acknowledge that there may be some keepers may have popped up during the sale. During our recent sale, my son identified a toy that he really wanted. Limit yourself to one keeper, as the idea is to get rid of stuff, but that single item can earn its way back into the house if you’ve really got a good reason for keeping it.

It’s depressing when a yard sale doesn’t live up to your expectations. But there’s plenty you can do with your remaining items. And remember the positive: you conducted a big purge and organize, you got some stuff at least to people who’ll use and appreciate it and you’ve reduced the clutter in your home. I think that’s a win.

Words to keep you motivated

Listed below are the most common pieces of advice I give to people on the topic of uncluttering. With a three-day weekend on the horizon for those of us in the States, I thought that some encouragement might be appropriate. Have a great holiday, everyone!

  1. You don’t have to unclutter in one fell swoop. Many projects, spread out over weeks and months, will get you the same results as if you had tackled it all at once.
  2. Benefits of uncluttering can include being better organized, less stressed, and having fewer things to clean. When you walk into a room, you’re able to relax because there is a place for everything and everything is in its place.
  3. Your motivations and visions for your uncluttered life are your guiding star when taking on uncluttering projects. Keep your eyes on your goals and you’ll find that uncluttering has less to do about the stuff and more about the life you want to lead.
  4. You can do it!
  5. You don’t have to unclutter alone. Seek out friends, family, or organizational professionals to help with motivation and keep you focused on your uncluttering goals.
  6. Keep things in perspective. If you relapse and get bogged down, don’t become frustrated and beat yourself up over it. Start again tomorrow. This is home and office organization, it’s not brain surgery. There are worse things in the world than not succeeding your first time with an uncluttering project.
  7. The person with the most amount of stuff at the end of his or her life doesn’t win an award.
  8. The person with the least amount of stuff at the end of his or her life doesn’t win an award, either. Living an uncluttered life doesn’t mean that you have to live an ascetic life. Simple living is about getting rid of distractions that prevent you from enjoying a modern, luxurious life. It’s about smart consumption, not no consumption. To paraphrase Albert Einstein, “Things should be made as simple as possible, but not any simpler.”

What advice, motivations, or thoughts have helped you to be more organized? Let us know what has influenced you!

 

This post was originally published in August 2007.

An idea for inherited china

Since the 1880s, when a woman in my family has raised her children and finds herself getting along in years she has picked up a small paint brush and signed her full name and birth date to the bottom of her china’s tea cups and saucers. Then, as she sees fit, she distributes the tea cups and matching saucers to her family and friends.

My mother has a collection of seven tea cups and saucers on a shelf in her dining room’s china cabinet. As a child, I would ask about the tea cups and my mother would pull them out and tell me the stories of the people to whom they had belonged. Not all of the tea cups and saucers were signed, those had come from my paternal line where signing the china hadn’t been the tradition. My mother had collected the unsigned pieces from my father’s family members so that when she one day passes on the collection to me that I will have a set including pieces from more than her family.

It seems a bit cluttered to collect seven different tea cups and saucers to store on a shelf of a china cabinet, but in comparison to keeping seven complete sets of china it is quite uncluttered. Also, with the sentimentality of past generations being passed on in tea cups, it means that other, more clutter-prone objects, are eliminated guilt-free from the inheritance process.

 

This post was originally published in August 2007.

Reader question: How should I store my fabric stash?

Reader Zora sent us the following question:

I sew my own clothing; I also quilt, make lace, crochet, etc. I have a 20 year accumulation of cloth, scraps, and supplies that is exquisitely organized (labeled boxes, labeled plastic drawers). If I had a dedicated sewing room, it would all fit nicely there. But I don’t. It’s all neatly stacked in the spare room, which I must clear out so I can rent it. Advice for fabriholics?

Zora, I understand the stash and hopefully can provide you with some help on this matter. I, too, sew and have a fabric stash. Fabric, yarn, fiber, thread, and canvas hoarding, along with pattern and supply accumulation is a common problem among fiber artists. (The most unbelievable stash I’ve ever seen photographed is showcased here. It’s a yarn stash, but the hoarding concept is the same.) The advice that I’m giving can be applied to anyone wanting to get his or her stash in order.

Mindset: There is not a limited supply of fabric in the world. Plants continue to produce cotton, worms spin silk, sheep have wool, and there are fabric manufacturers and retailers willing to produce and sell you gorgeous fabrics. If any of these processes cease to exist, you will have larger concerns than obtaining fabric.

That being said, it is ridiculous to assume that a serious artist will have no stash. A friend may appear at your door with a batik fabric from a trip to India. If you can’t think of a project to start immediately, you now have a stash on your hands.

Therefore, I suggest that your stash be a limited size. Determine the size of your stash based on two factors: 1. How much you can sew in a set time period (I suggest having no more than six months or a year of projects), and 2. How much you can carry in one load. If you cannot carry the whole of your stash, then it is too big. You would never be able to save it in an emergency if you couldn’t carry it, so why have more than you could reasonably save?

Future buying: Buy fabric for specific projects. Don’t buy fabric unless you know the exact length, style, and type that you need for a project that you will make in the next six months or year. I carry a list of my fabric and supply needs in a small moleskine notebook in my purse with me at all times. Resist all other types of personal fabric purchases. This is the hardest step in the process.

Organizing your stash: When I bring new fabric into my home, I immediately put it into a large Ziploc Storage bag. The pattern, thread, and all other necessary supplies for the project go into the bag, as well. I write the name of the project and the date the fabric was purchased on the exterior of the bag with a permanent black marker.

I measure fabric that is given to me as a gift and then put it into a Ziploc bag. On the bag’s exterior, I label the size of the fabric, its fiber content, who gave me the fabric, where it was purchased, and the date of the gift. I then actively seek out projects for that fabric.

Organizing your non-fabric supplies: I have two additional storage containers in addition to my fabric stash. The first is a thread organizer and the second is a tackle box for all of my other sewing supplies. I keep manuals and pattern books on my bookshelf and my cutting mat leans against the back wall of my office closet.

Getting rid of fabric: If you haven’t sewn a project in a year, evaluate if you’re actually going to make the project. If the answer is yes, it goes back in the bin with a re-evaluation date written on the bag. If the answer is no, get rid of the project in full.

After a project is complete, immediately get rid of scraps. You don’t have to throw the scraps in the trash (you may have more than a yard of scraps), but you need to get them out of your house. Scraps are clutter.

Here are suggestions for ways to de-stash projects, scraps, or large amounts of fabric–

  • Set up a Pay Pal account and sell it on your blog
  • List it on Craigslist or Ebay
  • Have a yard sale where you specifically mention that you’re getting rid of fabric
  • Freecycle it
  • Contact your local high school and see if the Home Economics department could use it
  • Donate it to charity
  • Let your sewing friends go through it and take what they want

 

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

What clutter looks like

What image comes to your mind when someone mentions clutter? For many people, that image might be a severely cluttered home — like one of those pictured at the higher levels of Randy Frost’s Clutter Image Rating Scale. Or you might think of the common clutter so many people have: overstuffed closets, etc.

But clutter can also look like part of this pegboard at the back of my garage. This is an old photo from 2004, and many of the things shown aren’t there any more. But those hula-hoops on the far left were there until earlier this week, when I gave them away on my local freecycle group.

The hula-hoops had a place, and I didn’t particularly need to free up that space for anything else. But I hadn’t used them since that photo was taken — I think I got them for a party. I couldn’t see using them in the foreseeable future, either, and I certainly had no sentimental attachment to them. So now they’ve gone to someone who will use them, and they are no longer useless-item clutter in my garage.

Clutter can also look like this table and chairs, which I gave away last week. I was about to have someone repair the table for me, but then I paused to give that idea some thought. While the chairs are comfortable and the ensemble looked nice in my front yard, I couldn’t remember the last time I’d used them. So now they too have gone to a freecycler who will actually use them.

We can get so accustomed to seeing something in our environment that we don’t stop to question whether the item is still serving us well. I might never have thought about giving away that table and chairs if the table hadn’t needed repair.

One way to become more conscious of what’s in your space is to create some sort of home inventory for insurance purposes. You might just take photos of everything, including the contents of all the closets and cabinets. Those photos give you a new way of seeing your space.

I did my home inventory some years ago as a combination of a spreadsheet and photos, and listing everything I owned certainly did make me think about why I owned all those items. Most of them had good purposes, but some were remnants of past relationships, things I thought I should have as a homeowner but never used, and other items that weren’t helpful in any way. They soon became deleted lines on that spreadsheet as I found new homes for them. But somehow I missed those hula-hoops! Maybe I thought back then that I’d still use them, while now I’m more realistic.

Wall mounted system for storing fishing poles

Like to fish? Have plans to clean and organize your garage? I ran across this storage device and thought it was sleek and efficient. Upon inspection of the product, I discovered that it also could work as a way to store fencing foils and billiards/pool cues. I love the way the garage door is used as a storage space!

This post was originally published in August 2007.

Readers ask for help with storage and more

Recently, we received a pair of emails from readers who find themselves in unenviable circumstances. Both are dealing with financial and health difficulties that are making it very difficult to maintain and afford a storage space that’s full of precious, sentimental items. It’s not a good situation, and again, one I imagine many readers can relate to. While I don’t have the perfect answer (and I really wish I did), I’ll share my thoughts here, and I encourage you, fellow unclutterers, to do the same in the comments. Hopefully the readers who sparked this post will find something in my words or yours that helps. Let’s start with very small steps.

A thing a day

A few years ago, we wrote about a technique called “A thing a day,” which first came to our attention via the Unclutterer forums. The premise is simple: eliminate one item per day until you reach a manageable cache of stuff.

Of course, it needn’t be a single item. You could do five items per day, or ten. You could wait for the weekend and pick a dozen items to part with on a Sunday. I mention it here for a few reasons. First, it’s not emotionally overwhelming or especially physically demanding. These two readers are dealing with a lot right now, including an urgent need to get on top of some items in storage. Also, the methodical elimination of several items could get you to a place where the storage facility is no longer needed, thus saving you some money. Of course, it’s not always that easy.

Sentimental clutter

Both readers expressed that there are many sentimental items among their stuff. Parting with sentimental clutter can be very difficult. Sentimental items usually don’t fall into the category of “If I haven’t used it in [x] amount of time, I can throw it out.” That’s because utility has very little to do with why you’re keeping that object. So how do we part with these things? I’ll refer you to a post we published in 2011:

Remember that clutter is anything that distracts you from pursuing the life of your dreams. If you have so much sentimental stuff that it is causing a stressful mess or taking up room in your home for things that matter more to you, you will want to cull the clutter. But, you don’t have to get rid of all your sentimental stuff. At least for me, some of the things I keep for sentimental reasons are objects that reflect what I value most. My grandmother is one of my most favorite people on the planet, and having her rocking chair makes me smile and remember all the wonderful times we have shared. So, I keep that exact chair. However, I don’t keep every card she ever sent me or every gift she ever gave me because I don’t have room to keep everything and the chair elicits the happiest of all the memories.

When deciding on sentimental keepsakes, aim for quality over quantity. I loved my grandfather dearly. He was a tremendous artist. Today, I have a pencil sketch that he did hanging on my wall. The same picture hung in his living room when I was a kid, and I always admired it. Today, it’s the perfect — and only — physical thing I have to remind me of my grandfather, and it’s all I need.

Lastly, see if you can employ help from family, friends, neighbors, or co-workers. A person who’s empathetic to your situation could help with reducing the need for a storage facility, the labor of going through a lot of stuff, and the anxiety of keeping it all in line. Even cataloging what you own by writing it all down can help reduce the feeling of being overwhelmed.

I hope this was helpful. Now I turn it over to you, fellow unclutterers. What advice would you give these readers? We welcome your comments below.

Reader question: How to dispose of unused medications

A reader sent us the following question:

“A family member is taking medications for a long term illness. Periodically, the medication is changed. We have ended up with many partial bottles of medications and empty bottles. The prescription bottles have info on it that you wouldn’t necessarily want to get in the wrong hands if you just threw it in the trash as well as old meds. What is a good way to dispose of these?”

When I was younger, I dumped old medicines down the toilet and flushed them. Just so we’re clear, this was the WRONG thing to do. I had no idea that medications (prescription and over-the-counter drugs) are hazardous waste, which they are, and I was just polluting the environment unwittingly. Shame on me.

I have learned my lesson, however, and can offer some advice to you on this issue:

  • DO NOT flush unused medications down the toilet or wash them down the sink.
  • Many pharmacies and doctor’s offices have pharmaceutical take-back programs. Call before you go, but this is a simple option if you’re headed to the pharmacy anyway to pick up a new prescription.
  • The EPA suggests that you black out with a permanent marker your personal information and your doctor’s information on the container, and then take your unused medications to your local hazardous waste facility. To find your local facility, check out the search tool on the Earth911 website.
  • Look at the printed material accompanying your medications to see if there are special disposal instructions. In some cases, the FDA advises what procedure to use. The list of special drugs can be found on this page if you have inadvertently discarded your original printed materials.

I hope that this advice is helpful. This is also a good opportunity to remind everyone to regularly clean out your medicine chest for health, safety and uncluttering reasons!

 

This post was originally published in July 2007.

Get your dot on

Alex Fayle offered the following tip in the comments section on one our posts. It was such a good suggestion, we thought we would bring it to your attention:

A simple way of knowing if you actually use things is to get removable coloured dots and stick one to each of your small appliances and kitchen gadgets. As you use your things, take off the dot (hence why you want to get removable dots).

After six months look at all the things still with dots and decide if you actually want to keep them or not (some things only get used rarely but are totally worth their storage space).

You could just as easily use this approach in other areas of your home or office. Here’s a link to suitable 1/2″ removable colored dots at Amazon.com.

 

This post was originally published in May 2007.