Tuesday, April 23, 2013

How to Shed Stuff (Part 2)

(See Part 1 for benefits of de-accessioning)

Part 2:  Action Plan for de-accessioning:

This article is for people who find it difficult to organize or get rid of accumulated items.  It includes helpful hints for how to get started.  

Note:  As you get started, you CAN postpone decisions on any items.  But as you take action, you:
a) will free up space for other things/activities you value more
b) may make money from items other people will pay for
c) may make people happy to whom you give or sell items you don't use or value
d) may shed old prescriptions and foods that are no longer healthy
e) will give you a reality check about actual market value for items you have assumed had value.
f) may save money by discovering you have 18 of this or 10 of that item you forgot about.

(If you want to start with shedding large furniture, scroll to the bottom of this article)

 Pick a limited time frame and space

Make it easy on yourself by designating a short time and focus, like one hour. Do NOT start with emotion-rich objects or rooms. Pick something unemotional like your bathroom cabinets. Throw out old prescriptions and cosmetics you don’t wear.  Mark the expiration dates for current medicines in big, dark writing ( a Sharpie or Magic Marker) so you won’t over-purchase in the future. Consolidate multiple bottles of the same mouthwash or cleaning supplies. Cut up and store those frayed towels for excellent rags.   Suddenly you realize that you need only 5 shelves instead of  8 and that you had a lot more of “X” than you thought, buried in the back.  You will save money and free up space for what you need and want. 

For small items, (which is where many people start, like clothes, CDs, book cases, or desk drawers), have three, sturdy, good size boxes, a marker, tape, a garbage bag or box, and a dust rag or two.

Label each box as follows:  Box 1:  Keep.  Box 2:  Donate (or sell or recycle).   Box 3:  Postpone decision making.   

The garbage bag or garbage box is not only for trash but for anything broken (because if you haven’t fixed it by now, you won’t). 

Review each item. Toss it in a box.  Review next item; toss it in a box. Even "postpone decision" means that you touch and move something out of the drawer or closet. How hard is that? Even if you put everything back, you'll clean the bottom surface and reorganize the contents more usefully.  You may make room for stuff you value more than the dead pens, batteries, bugs, light bulbs mismatched socks, and outdated electrical devices.

This process will reveal multiples of items you bought to replace items you could not find, like umbrellas and sun screen. Does that potpourri have any scent left? If not, toss it.  Soap shards?  Out.  When you are close to the end of your time allocation, start to clean up.  Toss the garbage bag. Move the Donate Box to your car or next to the back door.  Clean the drawer or shelf or floor space with a rag.   Either restock that space or just tuck away the “Keep” and “Postpone” boxes for another time.  Good job!  Now you have more space for what you currently value and can more easily find the things you want to use.  

Make it fun: 
The delightful Mary Poppins movie had a song about “every job has an element of fun.”  If this connection eludes you, create one.  Associate a special treat with the task.  For example, I found that cleaning and organizing crowded walk-in closets was particularly boring.  So that was the only time that I carried my computer into the closet to play old Perry Mason episodes.  By association, if I wanted to watch another, I needed to DO ANOTHER CLOSET!  I found that an hour long show was a good period for me in a stultifying environment, but I would work 2 hours in a pleasant.  Figure out what works for you.  Another friend does her deep cleaning to a favorite radio show once a week.  Maybe you have a friend or relative who routinely calls to monologue.  Plan a task for that next call. Put him or her on speaker phone while you put those old phone books in a recycle box or gather together those dry, hard paint cans; or put all those piles of pennies and nickels and dimes into a jar.   By the time he/she winds up her call with the inevitable, “Next time we’ll have to catch up about you,” you will have accomplished something for yourself (as well as being the designated listener to your self-absorbed friend or relative). 

An alternative to the three box approach above is simply to reorganize (and perhaps label) items.  I do this every time I visit my parents.  For example, my mother had 66 pairs of shoes still in boxes.  I organized them by color, style, and preference.  I reorganize bookshelves so she can find the books she likes most.  I put all her loose recipes into a neat file. 

My husband had clothes (that his mother bought him) that I had never seen him wear. EVER.  Rather than force decision making, I simply segregated those small, dated, and dusty items on one side of the closet, away from the clothes he favored.  By doing so, his favorites were no longer hidden by clothes he did not like.  Within a week, he tossed a sizeable pile in a handy box labeled “donate,” which I then whisked off to the Salvation Army.  His  action freed up space for the clothes he valued.  With the extra room, they were no longer wrinkled!  

Invite a friend:
If you are going to ask a friend to help you do this, order a pizza or plan to take him/her out to lunch. Let's face it.  Organizing other people's stuff is so daunting (or boring) that there are professionals that do this - before or after the funeral, who are paid by the hour.  If you find a friend to help, you will see that your attachments to all that crapola are in your head and not intrinsic to many of the things cluttering up your home.  A friend (or paid professional) won’t be emotionally involved with this old purse or that dusty kitchen appliance. Maybe paying someone is a motivational.  At $xxx per hour, how much time do you want to spend reminiscing about those old sneakers?

Besides, additional make faster work (as long as you can avoid telling a story about each item!).  When I help friends, they are in charge of allocating items to respective “keep, donate, or postpone” boxes.  I hand down the items on a top shelf or open a neglected box and put it at eye level.  There’s nothing like waving an old attaché case in the air to force a decision.  I also make sure that we have pertinent boxes, bubble wrap or whatever at the beginning of the task so that the friend (who has engaged me because of difficulty making decisions in this regard, obviously) doesn’t wander off and get distracted from a task they have successfully avoided for years.    

Have a Swapping Bee Party: 
My sisters and I used to trade Christmas gifts.  Similarly, as an adult, I had a fun, regifting party.   I invited friends to come for a cocktail party and bring smallish items in good condition that they would be happy to give away to other friends attending.  We all laid out small things, like table games, jewelry, scarves, paperback books, coffee cups, unused cosmetics, travel umbrellas, etc.  Anyone was welcome to anything.  This “swapping bee” was much more fun than dropping things off at Goodwill.  It was nice to hear someone say, “my grand-daughter will love this!”  or “this is really nice, Laura; are you sure you won’t wear it again?” 

My general impression (isn't this yours) is that most people’s homes are over-crowded due, to accumulation and lack of selectivity.  By looking at your furniture with an eye to how you use your space, you may find ways to better use what you have and (get rid of the extras). 

When professionals "stage" a house for sale, they routinely remove 1/3 of everything from closets, and about 1/3 of the furniture in a room.  This not only makes the space seem more inviting/useful, but bigger, too.  
Be vigilant about purging the array of collectibles crowding every horizontal surface including kitchen and bathroom counters, tables and mantle pieces.   Let's say that you love your knick knacks and memorabilia.  Start by putting one third of them in a box for seasonal trade outs (just like you would with holiday decorations).  Can many of your framed or loose photos be consolidated in an album instead?  Now rearrange the best of the rest.  Might the four prettiest candlesticks be more eye catching than the dusty baker’s dozen? Can you store additional items neatly by rearranging your bookcases, closets, or shelves. Yes.  I guarantee that you can.

Think about how you can re-purpose pieces you currently own in different ways for the life you want to lead.  For example, if you plan to move to a smaller home or want to free up space in your current one, consider trades.  Maybe that big sideboard can be replaced by the narrow console table behind your couch.  A slim quilt rack can display the quilts currently stored in a huge storage chest.  If more than two people never sit together on your 9 foot couch, would love seats and chairs suit that space better?  Perhaps you keep your favorite reading chair but nix the enormous ottoman. If your dining room table takes up a lot of room, consider pushing it against a wall, with chairs along the other two or three sides.   
Maybe you need to position chairs of comparable height to encourage conversation.   

Here is an example of how furniture shiftin can enhance one's life:  Two extroverted friends/relatives (one a man and one a woman)  had been unable, despite their stated desires, to sustain any romances.  As soon as I visited both homes, I understood why. Their homes were dusty museums to collections/hobbies. Both dining room tables were so covered with stuff that no one could eat there.  In fact, there wasn't a single horizontal surface inviting two (or more) people to sit, talk, put down a drink, or reach for a canape.  When I moved items in order to put a coaster for a cup of coffee, one person became anxious. Both homes spelled out, "I am more interested in my things than I am in people, even when I have invited you here."  And yet, those prized items were languishing in dust. Those two will never have an intimate relationship - at least at their homes.  

To donate large furniture, appliances and multiple boxes:
Some donation shops are open on Sundays.  Others will pick up furniture and working appliances from your home by appointment or schedule.  (Fewer take mattresses, but I found one that did).  Check websites and then call to find out their schedule.  For example, one service provider trolled my neighborhood two days of the week, but was committed for the next two weeks.  With that deadline in mind, I stripped the extra bed and piled it with increasing numbers of donation boxes.   Note:  the workmen lacked the logical tools for dismantling the bed frame.  Have your tool box handy.  Foster care, women’s centers, and immigrant service charities often welcome household items.     

Family/sentimental attachments: 
The hardest items for me to address in my own downsizing were family heirlooms, photos, and memorabilia.  I carted them with me for several moves until I finally parted with them.  Many parents hold on to their children’s school stuff with the intention of passing them along to Junior one day.  Why not now?   If you haven’t framed that artwork for daily viewing, if the items are languishing in a saggy, cobwebbed cardboard box in the garage or basement, repack them and send them off to the intended recipients.  I divided pictures, cards, trophies, and school items of my sons into two boxes, and shipped them off.  In many families, one person is the keeper of genealogy documents.   That was my husband.  Before we moved, I had my son scan scores of photos, contracts, resumes, graduation cards onto the computer.  Then we sent the boxes of originals to particular relatives and the CDs of images to others.  Done.

If you plan to give to relatives a sentimentally valuable collection of yellowed doilies or that nicked oak table from the family farm, have you asked whether they even want them?  For example, neither of my sons wanted any of my china.  So I sold one set and donated another.  If they do want items that you aren’t using, why wait?  Send them on.  Every relative HATES going through a dead relative’s home to ready it for sale.  By controlling the process yourself, you may benefit, but you will also be doing your heirs a favor.  Otherwise, your indecisiveness about your own accumulation stuff makes work, not pleasure, for relatives after you go to the great beyond… without your doilies, which will likely end up at a Goodwill store not in a relative's living room.  

When we downsized to our cabin in Alaska,  I did not feel it was my place to sell family and inherited art, china, and silver.  So I picked family members whose lifestyle and space seemed best suited to those items.  First I sent digital photos so they could assess interest. Then I shipped them off.  Depending on the size and insurance, this can be expensive, so plan ahead.  In some cases, the recipients value them as much as I did.  In other cases, the items were no longer visible last time I visited.  Out of my hands.  

Make money?  Maybe: 
To get an idea of market pricing, look up items on www.craigslist.com  and www.ebay.com ,  or visit consignment stores or auction company websites.  The fact that you paid $xx for it 40 years ago may not be indicative of current trends and styles. That Japanese WWII gun is selling for $129.  That bulbous 1960’s lamp is offered for $60.  That expensive armoire and charming Hoosier cabinet are not “in” anymore.  By assessing the interest of both relatives and the market, you can then decide to keep, sell, or donate the items.  I constantly hear collectors and hoarders say, “it will be valuable one day.”  A real collector finds out.  A hoarder does not. Surely anything you don’t use at all– like the furniture relegated to the basement, the third dresser crammed in the guest room, or any neglected, bulky kitchen appliances like pasta makers, bread makers, juice squeezers, can be moved along for sale or donation without much emotional turmoil.   Use them or shed them.  Do you have some art work piled on the floor or leaning against a wall in a closet?  Hang it up.  Or kiss it goodbye.   Enjoy what you have accumulated, but why pay for a larger home or a storeroom to warehouse items you don’t even look at, much less use?  Gain space or maybe even money to put toward something you DO value.  I have a friend who "can't afford to travel." Does paying for a storage unit for 20 years have any bearing on that?   

Useful websites: 
Craig’s List (www.craigslist.com) is most suitable for low priced, quick, local sales (the listings are only posted for seven days at a time).  The site makes it very easy to post offers, and it is free.  I recommend this website for items you would otherwise donate to charities, but where you would consider yourself “ahead” if you could reap even a low price in exchange for a buyer who picks it up and carts it off.  I sold big bulky dining and living room furniture on Craig’s List to young couples.  They were excited and so was I!  My father-in-law sold a toboggan that had been left in the attic by prior owners 20 years before.  That’s found money!  On E-Bay (www.ebay.com ), we sold most of a set of collectible seasonal china and some other decoratives, but few practical items.  Note:  for remote E-Bay sales, you will have to pay to pack and ship, which, in our experience, cost more than the E-bay suggested price, so you might “test the water” with a few items first in order to set an appropriate price. 

Websites have also popped up for donating items.  One is www.freecycle.com  – items are free for people who pick them up, like firewood, pets, or washing machines.  Another is www.yurtle.com , on which you can create circles of acquaintances who can trade things for free.   This is appealing if you don’t want to deal with strangers.

Much of our accumulated stuff really represents indecisiveness and benign neglect.  By assessing what you have, you can selectively choose what you like best, what means the most to you, and can shed items that are “no longer you.”  I hope these helpful hints make the process easier for you to address on your own time table.  Maybe you’ll make a bit of money.  Maybe you’ll make somebody else happy.  Maybe you’ll just clear out some space for whatever you plan to do next.  You will feel effective.  Good luck!

1 comment:

  1. I loved reading all of your helpful hints on purging clutter! Great hints. You motivated me today! CS, Chicago