The Great Decluttering of (insert year here)

Decluttering–it’s all the rage, the subject of classes, TV shows, and bestselling books. I have lost track of the number of times I pledged to once and for all dispatch all the books I will never read, clothes I will never wear, old financial records I don’t need to save anymore. The odd piece of furniture, old tools, handbags and costume jewelry and general household detritus.

But, for all I wish I could regain control of my space, I always seem to fall short of the mark. Toward the end of last year, I had made some dents, cleaning out a couple of bookcases, organizing the armoire in my bedroom, and freeing up drawer space in the spare bedroom. In the process, I found things I had forgotten I had. For instance, the half-dozen pairs of sunglasses, including a very nice pair of Smiths that have to be at least 25 years old. I bought them because hey, we have the same name. Also, the frames are purple. I love purple.

I know that one rule of thumb for this process is that if you haven’t used or worn something in the previous year or two, you should get rid of it. I can’t always agree with that. Sometimes you do lose track of things that you really liked or that went out of style and then came back in, which is my way of saying that I will be keeping the sunglasses.

That said, the one thing that has always stopped these clean-out sessions in their tracks wasn’t that I didn’t want to get rid of things after all, but that I didn’t know how best to get rid of them. I don’t want to deal with the hassle of a garage sale, and simply tossing the stuff in the trash is wasteful and in the case of some electronics and household chemicals, ill-advised if not illegal. So I talked to friends, then poked around online, and found that I have more options than I thought. Not all of them are free, but they’re out there.

The Give Back Box is a free service that allows you to use an old Amazon shipping box or other cardboard box to send clothing or household goods to Goodwill. The US Internal Revenue Service Publication 526, Charitable Contributions and Publication 561, Determining the Value of Donated Property, contain guidelines for defining charitable contributions and in general how to estimate value. Goodwill has also put together guidelines for calculating the worth of donated items. In addition, this Donation Calculator references valuations from several charities (the online spreadsheet showed up in Firefox, but not in Safari). Some Habitat for Humanity websites also have guidelines for estimating of value of donations of appliances, building materials, and tools.

For me, that means spreadsheets and photographs for tax purposes. Yea, spreadsheets.

When it comes to clothing, I always forget about resale/consignment shops, which are a good option for my old office clothes and dressy coats I haven’t worn in years.

Old VCR tapes are currently one of the banes of my existence. Some resale shops may take the old movies, but I doubt they would want the scores of History Channel WWII programs that my dad recorded. Companies like GreenDisk can recycle the tapes, along with electronics such as laptops etc, though the service is not free. Local municipal agencies–in my case, the Solid Waste Agency of Lake County, accept all sorts of household waste, including chemical and electronic. My local OfficeMax accepted an old printer of mine for recycling, and they also give credit for returned ink cartridges if you make in-store purchases. Check the website for details.

Lots of places accept donated books. My local library. Goodwill. A number of online charities.

So, with some work, I hope to finally, FINALLY, get rid of the junk. I will try to recycle most of the things I no longer want, and minimize the garbage destined for the landfill.

How about you? I know there are any number of recycling and donation options I’ve missed, so if you have favorites, please do post them.

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About Kristine Smith

Kristine Smith is the author of the Jani Kilian series and a number of SF and fantasy short stories, and is a winner of the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. She worked as a pharmaceutical process development scientist for 26 years, but now writes full-time. She also writes supernatural thrillers under the name Alex Gordon. Check out her BVC bookshelf
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6 Responses to The Great Decluttering of (insert year here)

  1. Two great helps I have found is Freecycle, and Facebook. Freecycle is always local, and is for giving away things that are too nice to actually toss. You have to go to their web site and sign up for the one in your community, but it is a grand place for offloading things that you know people will want: half-sheets of plywood, a long comic book box, a box of oddball crayons, etc.
    Facebook started a ‘yard sale’ thing recently. It too is local — put ‘yard sale (your neighborhood)’ into the search window. You can put things up for sale that are worth $, that would otherwise be impossible to sell on Ebay — sectional sofas, for instance. In metro areas these pages even break down by subject; my daughter haunts the ‘children and baby’ resale page in her town.

    • Kristine says:

      Thanks for the info. I’ve heard of friends in the UK using Freecycle, but never thought to check if there were branches over here.

  2. Yesterday, in the post-New Years dismantling of the Christmas tree, I finally got rid of years’ accretion of ornaments that were never used on the tree but somehow stuck around for years. I felt vaguely criminal about it, but I cleared it with the Usual Suspects first, and no one but me felt this was a morally suspect idea. On the strength of that I cleared out my sock/underwear/miscellaneous-stuff-that-goes-nowhere-else drawer.

    Perhaps I’ll take on the linen closet. I do not expect that I am decluttering, so much as making room for new clutter to distribute itself.

    • Kristine says:

      The local solid waste place does accept Christmas lights, so when they have that drive, I will be there with some old lawn ornaments.

      I also learned that a local documents shredding company is offering shredding services on the same Saturday that I will be dropping off some household chemicals at the solid waste place. And it’s located nearby. The box of waste documents in my office, that has been filled to the tippy top, will soon be gone!

      I have a shredder. It’s a nice shredder. But sometimes these tasks get away from you. Especially when you know that the shredder will scare the dog.

  3. Here in the city, we have a simple version of getting rid of things you’re not using: Put them out on the curb. Most of them go to neighbors. Some are picked up by homeless people. I got a couple of useful tables that way.

    And I definitely agree that the “haven’t used in ___ period of time” rule doesn’t work. I sorely regret a couple of things I got rid of when I was moving, especially as I keep finding new ways of combining old clothes. When it comes to clothes — at least — I think Marie Kondo’s “spark joy” test is a good one. Don’t throw out that jacket you love that doesn’t work with anything, but do throw out that “practical” shirt you feel wrong in every time you wear it.

    • Kristine says:

      Curbcycle is a thing here as well. Got rid of an XL Dogloo just by putting it out at the end of my driveway. Two women walked by an hour later, claimed it, then came back for it as soon as one of them could borrow their dad’s truck.

      And there are three chairs in my garage that I want to refinish/reupholster that I found the same way.