How to Cut the Clutter and Get Organized

March 4, 2014

 I tend to be the type of person that makes resolutions throughout the year, rather than on January 1st.  A couple of years ago when I moved into my first house, I resolved to get rid of the clutter that was taking up space in my life.  In fact, decluttering has been sort of an annual event since I tend to pair it with each move (and I've moved several times).

Currently my wife and I are considering an upgrade to our housing as we examine the prospects of a growing family.  I finally got smart and decided to declutter the mess before a move, rather than moving my junk only to get rid of it shortly after.

With my extensive history of decluttering, I wanted to share some hints that might help others to get rid of the junk.

Guiding Principles:

When deciding if I need to keep an item I generally ask myself two questions:

  • Do I need it?
  • Will I ever use it?

If the answer to both questions is “no”, then why would you keep it?  Some people like to examine the items use within the last year. If I didn’t use it in the last year, then I don’t need it.  However I think there are some exceptions to that rule.  Even though you didn’t use that 3-piece suit this year, you might attend a wedding next year.  Other items have sentimental value and, for me, those items are worth keeping.

Last year I decided to part with a large collection of books from my undergrad and grad school classes.  They didn’t pass my guiding principles test, and were frankly just taking up space.

What To Do with the Junk:

While going through my junk over the last several years I have found that there are 5 things I can do with my junk:

  • Sell it
  • Donate it
  • Recycle it
  • Trash it
  • Organize it

Sell It:

In the case of my old college books I decided to sell them.  At ~$80 a pop, I wanted to recoup at least some of my investment.  I found a few local sellers, as well as some online retailers (Cash4books, BookScouter, Half.com, Ebay) where I sold quite a few items.  For me I preferred the retailers that would buy my items rather than the auction sites because my goal was to get rid of the items, rather than make money.  I also decided to use social media to sell vintage video games to friends.

Donate It:

The items I tend to donate the most are clothes.  I usually keep my items in pretty good condition, so when I find that an item falls out of my rotation I take it to Goodwill.  When you drop off your items be sure to keep track of what you donate because it is tax deductible.  I used the IRS guidelines, and Salvation Army website to valuate my donated items.

Recycle It:

When my wife moved into my house last year we had three tube TVs and one old desktop computer just taking up valuable storage space.  We tried to donate the items to Goodwill, but even they were no longer taking the “ancient” technology.  Upon searching the net I found a few local centers that would recycle the items for a fee (~$60).  The money conscience side of me was ready to just trash the items, but the environmentalist side waited for another solution.  I later discovered that my local Best Buy had an electronics recycling program that was free for certain items (of which mine qualified).

Trash It:

I reserve my trash it category for items that no longer have value, are broken, or can’t be recycled in some way.  Socks whose match has been sucked into oblivion are an item I often put into the trash category.

Organize It:

The organize it category is usually for items that I don’t need but may use at some point, or have sentimental value.  For whatever reason, my old Halloween costumes have found their way into this category.  I don’t need them, but you never know when you are going to have to dress like Richard Simmons.

Go Digital:

I made the choice two years ago to go digital.  I found that all of the music I listened to was either on my iPod (and backed up on my computer) or I listened to the radio, or streamed through Spotify, or Pandora.  All of the books I was reading were also on my Kindle.  I had shelves, and racks of books and CD’s just collecting dust.  I decided to sell all but a few items and go digital.  With the advances in cloud-based storage I may soon decide to get rid of all of my DVD’s as well.  For me, going digital made sense because it gave me more space and removed the clutter, but if you are nostalgic about your amassed collection, it may make more sense to organize it.

For me this declutter system has helped eliminate stress-inducing clutter.  What do you do to declutter?

This post was written by Chris Kamp from Colorado PERA. Would you like to write a guest post for The Dime? Email us at dimecontact@copera.org.