If you’ve read Hey Eleanor before, you probably know I have a thing about de-crappifying.
Or decluttering. Whichever term you prefer.
I grew up in a house full of crap. This would be my dad’s house, not my mom’s. Her house was always nice and clean without a lot of crap. But at Dad’s, nothing ever got thrown away or put away. My dad also has never met a garage sale, Menard’s end-of-season-sale or memorabilia store he walked away from empty handed. I used to love tidying up his house when he was at work, cleaning out the fridge, pantry, junk drawers, you name it.
As I’m writing this, I’m realizing what strange behavior this was for a 12-year-old. I mean, does any middle schooler you know even make their bed without asking, let alone toss all the fridge’s expired or donezo condiments? After school, I’d sort through unopened mountain of mail on our kitchen table. Under that, eight or nine unread newspapers. Under that, who knows what you’d find.
I wouldn’t call my dad a hoarder, it’s just that he literally does not see clutter. And it doesn’t seem to bother him, either. Meanwhile, I was always embarrassed to have friends over because it looked like I lived in a frat house, not in a real house.
I’m still incredibly self-conscious of clutter at my own house. I am bad at putting things away on a consistent basis (you could call me a tornado. I’d be cool with that), but then am ashamed by my explosion of crap. I’ve found I can get rid of most clothes/books/toiletries all day long… but as soon as something has a bit of sentimental value, I have a hard time parting with it. But sentimental crap is still crap, and really, most of it actually means nothing to me.
When you have less crap, there’s less mess to deal with. I’m also consciously trying to buy less stuff– clothes, gadgets, books, movies, everything. Less mess makes me feel so much better about myself. It makes me feel better about everything, really.
I know a lot of you also want to de-crapify your lives. I also know you’re torn about what do to with your castaways. So, what really happens to your stuff when it’s donated to charity? Are garage sales worth the work? And why isn’t the consignment store taking your perfectly good threads? Let me explain.
1. Donate to a Local Charity Shop.
I don’t know about you, but I find dropping off bags of crap at Goodwill to be incredibly satisfying. That said, I completely understand it’s my way of covering up the truth: that I’m mostly giving someone else the responsibility of throwing away crap I didn’t have the balls to throw away myself, banking on the chance that someone else might want it.
I know what you’re thinking: But Molly! I am sure someone will want to wear your perfectly good donated clothing/VHS copy of Captain Ron. I agree! Except for one thing: Charities only resell about 10 percent of the clothes you drop off. They’re getting too much crap. The rest is either shredded and sent to textile recycling companies or shipped overseas to be sold by a used-clothing vendor in Sub-Saharan Africa.
But that sounds okay still, doesn’t it?
Kinda. I don’t think it’s a long term solution (this Slate article does a great job of explaining why). By one estimate, used clothing is now the United States’ number one export by volume, which is pretty darn horrifying.
Until there’s a better way, I will continue to drop off my unwanted items at Goodwill (or the Epilepsy Foundation, who will literally pick it up from your house). However, I am no longer disillusioned that most of my stuff will end up ticketed, hanging in the store. It’s probably insulating someone’s house or waiting to be sorted somewhere overseas. If no one wants it there (which is happening more and more), what happens next? I have no idea.
2. Give To a Friend, With Intention.
With clothes, books or kitchen gear, I often find myself thinking, “I’ll bet so-and-so would love this garlic press/sundress/crockpot cookbook!” This method of repurposing is ideal, especially if you truly think someone will like your stuff.
That said, it’s rude to just drop off a bunch of unsorted crap at a friend’s house, basically saying, “You get rid of this for me. Bye!” That’s what Goodwill is for! (I kid, I kid… kinda). And just because you think someone might like your 15-year-old homecoming dress doesn’t mean they will. So if someone wants what you’re giving away, awesome! If not, don’t push it and don’t act offended. Remember, you don’t really want said item(s), either.
3. Consignment/Retails Stores
I love the idea of making moolah from the clothes I thought I’d wear, but never really did. There’s a Buffalo Exchange down the street from my house that gives you cash on the spot for nearly new clothes. I once made $150 selling there (!), but that’s definitely an outlying situation.
It’s pretty darn annoying to hem and haw over what to sell, to only have a salesperson at a consignment store want none of your goods– except for literally the ugliest thing you brought in. Or at least that’s what always seems to happen to me!
On my last trip to Buffalo Exchange, I asked for tips on how to sell clothes with a higher success rate. Here’s what I learned.
- Sell on the weekdays, not weekends. Sales associates are less busy and aren’t stressed about getting through a 10-person long line of sellers.
- Be mindful of your born-on dates. Sure, trends and brands matter at resale shops, but often times not as much as how recently the clothing item was made. Nearly everything article of clothing includes a tag stating when it originally hit store shelves (it’s usually a while tag that says something like SPR14… aka Spring 2014). These guys want stuff that’s fairly new-ish, in good condition. Problem is, those are probably the clothes you are still wearing, not the stuff you want to get rid of.
- If it’s fall, bring in fall/winter things. If it’s spring, don’t expect these guys to buy your sweaters– no matter how nice they are.
- Keep in mind where the resale store is located. For example, my local Buffalo Exchange is in a fairly young neighborhood. They always seem to buy stuff from Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie, Forever21 or any other store fit for a 20-something. Professional clothes aren’t a big thing here; maybe take your old suits or dresses to a resale store in a nearby ‘burb.
4. Dress for Success & Other Specialty Organizations
Speaking of professional clothes, you can always donate nice professional clothes to Dress for Success, Career Gear or another organization helping people make a good first impression at a job interview. Dress for Success asks that all items donated are freshly dry-cleaned / laundered and ironed, not more than 5-years-old, and suitable for wearing to job interviews.
Other great organizations: Winter coats can go to One Warm Coat; shoes to Soles for Souls; special occasion gowns to the Glass Slipper Project; toiletries to Hope and Comfort. There are plenty of places who desperately need what you’re getting rid of.
5. Yard Sale/Garage Sale
Ah, yes. The garage sale. It always seems like a great idea… until you start working on it. Sorting through your stuff, pricing it all out, displaying things so they look pretty enough to buy, haggling with your neighbors over a Marilyn Monroe mug someone re-gifted you in college… ick. By the end, as you’re counting the $93 you made in exchange for 20 hours of hard work, you’re thinking, why in the hell did I do this????
However, garage sales can be really fun.
I did a fabulously successful one-day garage sale a few years ago. The key: teaming up with a bunch of friends and making a party out of it. We each brought stuff we wanted to sell to my house (which happened to be the best location for foot traffic). We organized clothing by theme and displayed jewelry on a screen door we found in the garage. We even made a cute changing area with mirrors to encourage people to try stuff on.
And then we offered cookies and coffee (and later, mixed micheladas just for ourselves), blasted music and hung out all day. It was actually pretty fun because we turned it into a social event. And since I had a few higher ticket items (a couch and a rug), I walked away with about $500! Definitely worth the time.
However, if you’re just selling clothes, books or a hodgepodge of junk nobody really wants (I’m looking at you, VHS tapes!), will the potential income make the time investment worth your while? You won’t sell everything, and most things you’ll sell will be purchased at half-price.
What’s your time worth? Figure out how many hours you’ll put into the sale, then really think about how much you’ll potentially make. Is $7 an hour worth the stress? What about $20/hr? $40/hr?
Do you not really care, so long as you’re drinking bloody marys and hanging out with your friends? That’s perfectly fine, too.
6. Clothing Swap.
I arranged one last winter and it was so, so fun. The gist: invite a bunch of friends over for snacks, wine. Ask them to bring clothes that they like, but don’t wear anymore.
My friend Kate suggested we each do a show-and-tell with all of our stuff– why you love a certain piece of clothing, but don’t want it anymore (example: I always loved this dress, but haven’t worn it since having a baby; I love how this sweater fits, but I think it’s itchy). I thought it was a weird idea, but ended up being rather helpful in seeing potential in what would’ve been just a big ass pile of clothes on the floor.
As the party host, I offered to bring all unwanted items to Goodwill… which means our casted off goods are probably smashed into a cube somewhere in Detroit right now. 🙁
Listing things on eBay or Craigslist takes time, but can be great for higher ticket or specialty items. I know it’s obvious, but always list Craigslist items with photos and only accept cash payments. Oh, and extra obviously, be careful who you’re meeting from Craigslist. Make sure you’re not home alone when they check out your Bjornskoog shelf from Ikea (totally made up that Ikea name, but it probably exists).
For eBay, you’ll probably be able to get a higher price (you’re reading a global vs local audience), just remember you’ll need to ship the item, so add in appropriate shipping costs.
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I know a lot of you are apprehensive to get rid of things because of how much they cost or the fact that your donated goods might end up in a landfill. I totally, 100-percent get that.
However, I will leave you with this:
So let’s say you drop off a bunch of stuff at Goodwill and it ends up as rags, or shipped around the world where it might just end up as garbage. That sucks. But does it suck more than having it sit at your house, unused, taking up space UNTIL you eventually throw it away?
And who cares how much something cost if you aren’t using it? Sell it to someone who will use it and get it the heck out of your face. If no one will buy it, get rid of it anyway.
Sort of related story, I have an uncle who used to eat ALLLL of the leftovers because he didn’t like to see food “wasted,” even if he didn’t want to eat it or was already full. Even if it had been sitting out all day and had mayo in it. At that point, what’s the difference between throwing it away and eating it? I will tell you: one makes you fat/gives you food poisoning and the other doesn’t.
So… How do you get rid of your crap?
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