I wrote already about what I brought home for Christmas... but I need to make room for those presents! So it's an excellent time of year to remove stuff from the house -- by tossing, donating, or repurposing it. Remember that I have a 2012 goal to get rid of 80 things? I'm inclined to count this closet purge as part of that goal to give me a head start... but maybe that wouldn't be strictly fair. What do you think?
Here are some of my tips for thinning out possessions in preparation for the new year:
Even if it looks like a huge task, the sooner it's begun, the sooner it's done. You can do it in chunks instead of all at once, if your time is limited. Pick one room if you have several to choose from (I don't!) and dig in there.
-Sort into piles.
Keep, Trash, Donate, Return to Owner, Put Away are good categories to start with. You'll probably want boxes or paper bags to hold each pile, and maybe a laundry basket for those items that belong somewhere else. I have a few empty packing crates on hand from a previous project, so they're serving the purpose for now. Don't forget your trash bag! (Lots of my "trash" is paper recycling, so I have a separate bag for it.)
-Apply the rules.
Consider whether you really need or want each item you come across. When did you last use it? Do you like it? Is it in good condition? Is it important? Rules may be different depending on your lifestyle. Some minimalists advise not keeping anything you haven't used in the last 30 days, or even the last week! I generally look at clothing and think about the last time I wore an item and when I might wear it next, whether it fits and is flattering, and what other bits of my wardrobe it goes with -- if the answers aren't pleasing, out it goes! Someone else will wear it more often and appreciate it. Old T-shirts and the like can be converted to house-cleaning rags, and old towels are often needed at the animal shelter. If I haven't used a gadget in a while, and I still want to keep it, that's a cue to either make a bigger effort to use it frequently (breakfast smoothies with that blender for the next month?) or to put it in storage (the silver my grandmother gave me) until I have use for it.
-Find a home for everything you keep.
It's so much easier to keep a room tidy if every item has a home. If you don't see room for a piece... well, that's why you're cleaning it out, right? Think of what you can remove to make space for it, or consider whether you actually need to keep it. Be ruthless! Most things can be replaced down the road. Oh, and while you're putting everything in its home, you might as well dust or sweep the area around it.
-Return borrowed items.
I'd like to think we all have one or two of these, and it's not just me! If you've held onto a borrowed book or sweater longer than strictly necessary, swallow your embarrassment and make an appointment for tea with its owner! You can include an edible goody from your own holiday haul to sweeten the apology. I also make a point of rounding up library books that need returning -- just so they don't get tossed into the donation pile.
-Sell items of value.
If you have an eBay seller account already, you know what to do. If, like me, you're not so endowed, try listing your goods on Craigslist. Know the minimum you'll accept for an item and consider whether you want to let the buyer pick it up, or whether you'll be shipping to them. The choice can affect your profit by quite a bit, but the convenience and privacy may be worth the difference in price. Make sure to include pictures! Once you have a URL for the posting, you can circulate that on Facebook, or in the office if you have a friendly work environment for that sort of thing. Selling to someone you know (or someone they vouch for) can be more comfortable than dealing with complete strangers -- but maintain courteous business practices to avoid future awkwardness.
-Take donations to a local source.
You can make it easier on yourself by advertising on Freecycle, but if you carry a few bags (and convince a friend or spouse to take a few as well) to a local thrift store, you can also write off the deduction on your taxes. Ask the staff at the store for a receipt, and make it easy all around by inventorying and itemizing what you're donating. You can find approximate values for used items in this valuation guide from Goodwill.
-Repeat as necessary.
This time of year is popular for turning over new leaves, but you don't have to wait for the end of 2012! Check back in a couple of months and see how you're doing. Starting to feel cluttered again? Never stuck with your smoothie plan? Still haven't worn that pair of shoes you swore you couldn't part with? Maybe you need to do a mini-clean. If you find that you just accumulate STUFF, take steps to change that. Think twice before you make a purchase. Find a home for something new as soon as it comes into your house. Spend one Saturday afternoon a month sorting out donations. You'll have an easier time keeping up (and keeping your place tidy) if you downsize what you keep.