Monday, 12 January 2009

The Unencumbered Life

by N. from Bad Human!

When J. and I first started going green one of the things we realized is that we had way to much stuff.  We didn't have enough for a McMansion but we were pretty close. We had two bedrooms sets, three kitchen tables, three couches, three chairs, a love seat, two sets of pans, three sets of dishes, four or five sets of glasses, and the lists goes on and on. 

There was no way for us to live a simple life with all that stuff around. Since January is a new year and many people resolve to cut the clutter, organize, downsize etc., I thought I would share how we downsized our lives and are happier for it.

Depending on the amount of clutter and things you have the idea of going through it all can be overwhelming to say the least.  Don't set yourself up for failure, instead set small and attainable goals.  If you have stuff in boxes that works great; a single box is a great goal, if you are motivated you could aim for two or three. If you don't have boxes then start in a room, within that room you could tackle the closet in sections, dressers by drawers, under the bed, bookshelves etc. I same aim low because you want to completely finish something before moving on.

When J. and I moved in together my entire apartment was set up and full so his stuff (completely boxed up) ended up in the garage.  The first thing we sorted was furniture.  If you are combining lives you need to be prepared to compromise!  We used most of his furniture but kept my coffee table, end tables and kitchen table.  That left us with almost a house full of furniture to get rid of it.  Completely overwhelmed, we offered almost of all it to our friend Bob.  She took a full living room set, kitchen table and chairs, and pots and pans.  Then we categorized the remaining furniture into sell and donate piles.  The donate piles went down to Goodwill that day and gave us a huge sense of accomplishment, and a lot more room to maneuver in the garage.  

Our first thought with the furniture was a consignment shop and while we were able to sell our leather couch the shop took a 30% commission.  After that we started listing things on Craigslist.  Most of our furniture sold the first week it was listed and we didn't have to share our profits with anyone!  On Craigslist we sold a couch table, arm chair, washer and dryer, and a mattress. We made a couple hundred bucks and promptly put it all into savings. 

Once the furniture was sorted out we were left with lots and lots of boxes. We spent every Saturday in the garage doing a cursory, then more detailed sort.  First, things went in piles with like items. Anything we knew off the bat we didn't want or need went into sell or donate piles. 

This is what one of our trips to Goodwill looked like


Before we went any further in our sorting, we took the donate pile to Goodwill and listed all the sell items on Craigslist.  We tried Ebay once for clothes and craft supplies and didn't make any money.  We also tried selling books on and made so little money it wasn't worth it.  If you have used books, I recommend a local used book store and the same with DVDs and CDs in good condition.  You can try listing them on Craigslist but unless someone is buying a lot of them it isn't really worth it. 

We had the most luck selling electronics and furniture on Craiglist.  Clothes and shoes didn't sell at all.  Small kitchen items and sporting goods sometimes sold and sometimes didn't. After a couple weeks of listing I donated everything.  I would have preferred to make money off those items, but it was taking too much time.  Of course, and alternative could have been to Freecycle items, but with the sheer volume we had it made more sense to donate it to Goodwill. 

All that stuff was no sooner gone than we turned our attention immediately back to the garage.  The point being that, if you didn't completely sort stuff, we were just going to end up with the same amount of stuff spread out.  The point, of course, is to actually organize items you want to keep and get rid of everything else. 

Next up was a more concentrated sort, this was hard because now you are going to find yourself emotionally attached to items you have no use for.  If you are doing this with someone else it be can a frustrating process.  Take it slowly and accept that you aren't going to get rid of everything in one sweep.  Organizing is a life long process and you will need to continue to go through closets, drawers, basements and attics to eliminate clutter from breeding :). 

By the time we had gone through everything again we had probably cut our stuff by 1/4. That's pretty impressive, although what it says about the amount we started with, I prefer not to think about.  But we weren't done yet, we simply had to take a break while we moved across country from Colorado to Pennsylvania.

When we moved into our row home in Philadelphia, the same boxes of stuff that we hadn't truly sorted still ended up in our basement.  It was nice to get away from it and focus on settling and decorating our new home.  Every time I went downstairs to do laundry, however, I had to move through a maze of boxes and was reminded of the work still ahead.  I followed the same process this time with individual boxes.  I would sort a box into keep, sell and donate.  If we were keeping it then it had to either leave the basement and go where it belongs or it could stay in the basement in a designated container.  
Our basement was now segregated into appropriately marked containers such as sporting goods, tools, camping equipment, etc., on shelves in that are easily accessible and dry.  I took all the donations to Goodwill the same weekend and listed all the sell items on Craigslist.  Then I took a week or two off from sorting to sell the items. 

After more than a year of sorting we have cut our amount of stuff in half and all we have left is 7 boxes of paperwork J. needs to sort.  He still has high school papers!

It feels liberating to have lightened our load so much and I can honestly say we have never missed anything that we got rid of.  All you need is a little time and dedication and you too can sort through your clutter and even make a little money.  The process would certainly be simplified if we held a garage sale, but we haven't really lived where that would be possible. 

Some other helpful items are the clear plastic bins and drawers and tape to label them. That way you can readily identify everything.  Sturdy shelves are a great way to maximize vertical space just make sure you check the weight bearing capacity or it could all come toppling down. 
I'm also a fan of music while sorting but to each their own :)