April 8, 2011

Decluttering: 4 Steps to Less Junk

Clutter in basement Every now and again, there comes a time to stop and look around, and realize that you have lots of crap that you don't use.  Hopefully you catch yourself before your basement or closet looks like the picture there (no that is not my house), but when I start to feel a bit "cluttered" I get stuck thinking about how to go about fixing the problem, and often get stuck in "analysis paralysis" where I start overestimating the amount of effort required to fix the problem and use that as justification for procrastination.

That said, we have recently begun looking at how to reduce the amount of junk we have that we don't use, and get a bit more organized around the house while we do it.  Here's the method that we're looking to employ.

Create a Plan
First step is to know what we're going to do.  First and foremost is determining "rules" for what to get rid of.  For us, it is primarily to get rid of things we have not used in the past two years or so and don't intend to use in the next year.  There's some exceptions to this, where we have some larger, more expensive items that we intend to use again in three or four years and would not want to have to repurchase, given the decreased amount we could get if we sold them, baby items that we or friends might be able to use, and some others, but for the most part, we have our rule.  Because, for most things, if it has not been used in two years, it is not truly something we need.  Once we have our rules, the next part of the plan is to figure out "which room is first."  So, by making a list of every room and closet in the house, we can prioritize and figure out which rooms to start on, and get started.

Divide and Conquer
When going through the items, there are two important decisions to make.  The first: keep or get rid of.  Luckily with pretty good rules, this decision is pretty easy, and the "exceptions" can be relatively few and far between or would require tweaking of the rules.  The second decision: what to do with the things that you are getting rid of.  My strategy?  Divide it into "disposal piles" based on which of the ways you plan to get rid of them.  Do it now and you won't have to do it later.

Dispose, Dispose, Dispose, and Dispose
Doesn't matter how you do it, once you have tons of crap to get rid of, you need to get rid of it.  I generally have two goals when getting rid of stuff, though:  1) try to keep it out of landfills and 2) get some money back on it if I can.  So here's my five-pronged disposal approach:
  • Sell - Selling is obviously the best.  Using sites like eBay are a good first step for anything that might actually bring some money.  But since money is not the "big" objective, we are likely to list some stuff for $1 or $5 and see if it sells.  Books and CDs and stuff we might take to Half Price Books or something like that and try to unload them, though I know they will pay like $2 for 100 books.  Still, gets them out of our house and into their warehouse.
  • Donate - If it doesn't sell, I am not going to kid myself trying hard to keep selling it (anymore.  I have stuff that I have tried to sell and didn't that is still sitting around because I think it is "worth" something).  Donating (and getting a receipt) equals a tax deduction and voila - a wee bit of money (next year).
  • Give Away - Things we can't donate but people might want we could give away, or post somewhere like Freecycle.org.
  • Recycle - if we can (torn up books, plastics, etc.), we'll recycle it.
  • Trash - If all else fails, to the landfill it will go.  Hopefully this is just small items.
If we fail to sell something, try to donate it, and on down the list.

Go Digital
Doesn't really help me with the current clutter, though I might be scanning in some documents, etc., but going digital with some things (old useless photos, etc.) might save some space.  Going forward, I'm relying on mp3 download purchases and Kindle books to eventually replace 90% of my physical media versions of those "items of content."  So if you're looking to buy me a CD or book for my birthday, hop on Amazon and gift me the digital version instead.

So - onward.  Let's see how it goes.  And if you have tips for decluttering, leave me a comment - I may need more advice than this.

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