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5 no-guilt ways to part with clutter
Tip 4 is a game changer
For those following along on my Instagram, you know I’ve been doing a major clutter purge. We are adding a guest suite in our basement and thus losing most of our storage space (thrilling for me—truly), so most of our stored items need to go.
Decluttering, or “editing” as the pros say, stirs up a lot of emotions. Guilt for accumulating so many things you don’t use, pain over the sunk cost of these items, memories made and attached to inanimate objects, agony over the environmental impact of the waste you create.
If you need to do a huge edit, I recommend not worrying about where items will end up — at least initially. This can inhibit your ability to let go. So just don’t worry about it for now. And sometimes, the right thing is to just drop it all off at Goodwill or the dump and never look back. So please don’t feel guilt if this is what you need to do in order to move forward.
But if you have the fortitude to funnel items to specific new homes, it can be extra satisfying. The dopamine high from seeing belongings piled up on their way out of the house—knowing they’ll be used and cherished in their new life—is enough to drown out other feelings of guilt or sadness. At least it is if you’re me.
To give you some ideas about how and where to start funneling, here are some ecologically and emotionally reasonable tips to give your items a kind goodbye:
Tip 1: Recycle and donate textiles all at once.
It can be hard to find places who will accept used textiles, especially ones in rough shape. JustPorchIt.com will pick them up for free from your porch, and then they donate what's usable and recycle what isn’t. They take sheets, blankets, pillows, shoes, and bags. Go to their website, enter your ZIP code and request a pickup. They’ll text you a date they’re going to come by. I love them!
Tip 2: Don’t fall for the allure of garage sales (and obvs don't shop them).
While it may seem like a good idea, probably don’t do a garage sale. We did a multi-house garage sale with our neighbors recently. I don’t know that it was the most efficient method for decluttering, but it was nice to have all our stuff gone in a day (just don’t hoard junk for months till you have “enough” for a sale). But also, no shade on garage sales — they can be great if you like the community aspect, have a lot of time, and need a deadline to get a bunch of stuff out of your house.
I also can’t resist adding: don’t shop garage sales! Finding irresistibly cheap things you didn’t know you needed is not the path to a clutter-free life.
Tip 3: Sell books to book-lovers.
You can sell your books to Powell’s Books, Portland’s legendary used book store, from anywhere in the country. Go to their Sell My Books page from your phone, and you can use your phone’s camera to scan each bar code. The scanning function is slick though buggy, so you can enter the ISBN as a backup. They’ll tell you which books they’ll accept, how much they’ll pay you for them, and they even give you a prepaid shipping label to send them in. Easy peasy!
I scanned all these books in about half an hour, shipped several to Powells and took the rest to Goodwill. If you have more time, there are other places you can sell used books, including your local used store, Amazon, etc.
[EDITED TO ADD: I stopped in at Powell’s and asked about their buy rate for in-person vs online. Turns out the online system is way pickier, so the buyers recommend bringing in any books in good shape as they’re more likely to buy them in person. So if you have time and are in Portland, that’s the tradeoff for schlepping your books to the store.]
Your local second hand music store will often buy your old CDs, DVDs and records. For us, that’s Everyday Music (iykyk). Ask if they’ll kindly dispose of any items they don’t want to buy to make it easier on your heart.
Tip 4: Use gratitude to help cut the cord.
Books, CDs, and records can feel like friends, and it can feel disloyal to say goodbye to friends, even when they no longer fit into our life. Reflect with gratitude on how these items have served and supported you over the years. Tell a book “thank you” and then consider releasing it to someone else who will appreciate and love it. It’s not living its best life when it’s collecting dust on your shelf, and that isn’t kind to the book.
Another way to make decluttering easier emotionally is take everything you need to sort off the shelves, and then just select what you want to keep, rather than leaving everything and choosing what to get rid of. This way you’re only saying Yes instead of No.
The photo above is my attempt to “help” my husband jumpstart the sorting process (if his book collection is confusing, know he’s an elementary school teacher). Related question: Am I a good wife or terrible wife for this? Follow-up question: How long can he live with this stuff on the floor of his basketball-watching room before he finally goes through it? It’s anyone’s guess!
Tip 5: Join the gifting economy.
Buy Nothing groups are hyper-local groups where people gift goods and services to each other in an explicit subversion of the capitalist economy. Most neighborhoods in my town have micro-groups on Facebook, so everyone is neighbors. The charter is to create community and reduce waste. I scoffed the first time I saw someone offer the “gift” of overripe bananas but then it turns out my friend had snapped them up to make banana bread and gave me a piece (ok finnnnnne). And within months I was gifting similarly odd things.
Buy Nothing is great when you don't want to send things into the abyss of a donation center—you want them to go to a specific person who is stoked to have them. I’ve gifted:
a weighted blanket to someone who works with autistic kids
prenatal vitamins to someone who couldn’t afford them
furniture that wasn’t quite right in my house to someone new to town
other things that are hard to part with — when someone enthusiastically raises their hand to claim them, it becomes so easy to say goodbye
It feels good! I try not to take things from the group, but from time to time I post asks for random items, like a 1990s-era Troll doll for my toddler who fell in love with one at preschool. The woman who dug one out of her basement for us was ecstatic it’s getting a second life.
More on the Buy Nothing Project here (I don’t use the app, just Facebook group, but I’m sure the app is helpful too).
If you need more help getting started with your edit, here are two great resources:
Clutterbug Podcast (The REAL Cost of Clutter) — this episode is a thoughtful discussion about why you should not feel bad about getting rid of collections and sentimental items, and why people can feel emotionally blocked when it comes to decluttering
The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning — a large font book that is basically a stern Nordic woman telling you over and over that you’re going to die, and no one wants your stuff. It’s wonderfully to the point and practical.
Real Time Update
I wrote a few weeks ago about my various solutions for hiding all the different types of trash and recycling in my house. I mentioned I was toying with changing things up and doing something bold in the dining room. Well, I’ve done it — and I love it! Check out the before & after here.
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