Clearing Up the Clutter

Ways to Get Rid of Your Old Stuff

clutter-headIt’s just a fact of life: the older we get, the more things we tend to accumulate. And if you tend to lean more toward the packrat side of things, it can get overwhelming pretty quickly. With the first week in October being “Get Organized Week,” now is a great time to clear out all the clutter. You just have to choose whether things are worth keeping, worth selling, worth donating, or worth throwing away. And who knows—you might even get some extra money for the holidays out of it!

Take inventory

Before you can decide what to do with all that extra stuff, you need to know what it all is. Clearing out a spot where you can sort items into four piles (keep, sell, donate, trash) is best. If space is limited and weather permits, you can even do it on a deck or in the backyard—just make sure not to leave things out overnight, as your neighbors probably won’t appreciate it and some housing codes might even forbid it.

Keep it

My wife instituted a “Year Rule” with me to curb my packrat tendencies: if I’ve used it in the past year, or will in the next year, it can stay. Otherwise, it goes. There are exceptions to this, such as for power tools or items with some sort of sentimental value (e.g., a gift from a now-deceased family member), but the concept serves as a good evaluation method.

The Year Rule also work with kids, as there’s a good chance they have old toys that some other child could enjoy. Again, exceptions can be made for things with value (Star Wars toys have become valuable collectibles) or that the child might want to pass down to his or her kids (such as my son and his Legos, some of which were my old ones). You’ll also want the child to help choose which items to clear out—it can help to prevent any future meltdowns when your kid discovers a toy you never knew she loved is suddenly gone.

Sell it

The easy way to do this is have a garage or yard sale, but that depends on where you live. Most military installations require permits or have other restrictions, as do some communities and home owners’ associations. Make sure to check to see what you’ll need to do to stay within the rules, or any money you make might be going toward a fine.

If there aren’t any restrictions, you’ll need to decide when to have it. Check the extended weather forecast to help ensure you don’t get rained out, and see if any other neighbors are also having a sale so you can coordinate and even promote them together.

If a garage sale is out, you can list items on Craig’s List or even your local newspaper. There are also some church groups that will have a “neighborhood” sale a few times year, and swap-n-shops are popular places on the weekend. So check around your area to see what options are out there.

Donate it

The list of places you can donate used items can be extensive, so it’s really up to you to decide what organization you want to assist. You can give to a national group, such as Goodwill, or stay local and donate it to your church.

No matter where you donate, make sure to get a donation receipt. While giving back is its own reward, getting a tax deduction is also nice.

Trash it

This could be as simple as filling up a trash can, or as complicated as needing a special dumpster. Regardless of how you pitch it, you’ll want to make double sure you aren’t trashing something valuable. While certain items might clearly be trash-worthy, things like sports memorabilia, paintings, old toys (especially pre-World War II), and even furniture might be worth a small fortune. The best rule of thumb: if you think something might have some value, do research first. Otherwise, you might see your old “trash” being appraised for a nice chunk of change on Antiques Roadshow.

So take advantage of the weather and clear out your basement, garage, or attic. As a bonus, you might even make a few bucks in the process!

Mark Dye

About the author: Mark Dye

Mark Dye has been writing articles, recording podcasts, and putting together books on personal finance for nearly a decade. His work has been recognized by the American Bankers Association and the Institute for Financial Literacy, and received an 2011 APEX Grand Award for Writing. Follow Mark on Google+.

Contact: Mark Dye


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