A Reader’s Decluttering Dilemma

Clutter

 

Occasionally you readers write and ask me for advice.

When you query me about topics like cooking, gardening, simple living, and Greek yogurt, I always feel a mixture of flattery and terror—honored to be asked, and scared to death I’ll steer you wrong.

Curiously, you never ask me for dating tips. What’s up with that?!

Anyhoo, a lovely reader named Leah wrote me about a common dilemma that can arise when trying to clear space and get organized. Here’s her letter:

Dear Wise Eliza,  (Please note: I may or may not have added the word “Wise”)

We need to declutter, and I am about to get rid of lots of things. For me, the difficulty isn’t in parting with the things (i.e., it’s not a question of sentimentality or nostalgia) – the issue is that I don’t know how to find all these things good homes without going to great lengths. Goodwill and other charity shops are great for some items, but I simply don’t know what to do with really nice things. I want the next “steward” to really love them – not keep them in storage (as I did) and then put them in landfill.

I can get rid of these things quick on Freecycle, but I’ve found that people don’t value objects or services unless they pay for them. eBay is a possibility but it involves a lot of time and hassle; yard sales are time-consuming and people generally are looking for deals (rather than things they love and need); and giving these things as gifts feels like I’m burdening my friends. Two strong, conflicting needs – to shift the stuff fast and be non-wasteful – are tough for me to reconcile, and I don’t know what to do.

What would you advise?? My husband tells me not to feel guilty or responsible for the existence of these things (especially the items that were given to me as gifts), but I find this so emotional and difficult!

Gratefully yours,

~Conscientious, but Crowded

 

Leah, have you considered keeping a hungry goat as a pet?

 

Pet goat

 

Sorry, I’m kidding—no pun intended.

Let me share a couple of thoughts, and then we’ll invite our astute readers to weigh in.

1. You might enjoy this post,How to Declutter Your Home,” by Maxwell Ryan. Ryan is the co-founder of Apartment Therapy, a wonderful site with inspiring photos and ideas to help people in smaller homes create beautiful, highly functioning spaces.

2. Consider selling your treasures on NextDoor.com, a site that connects people in nearby neighborhoods. It’s much less anonymous than, say, Craigslist. I’ve sold several items using the site’s free classified ads, and met some really nice people in the process.

3. Find a nonprofit that helps people transition from homelessness. A fine example here in Denver is Joshua Station, a former old Motel 6 converted into apartments refurbished by volunteers and decorated with donated goods. If you find a charitable organization where your wonderful treasures will directly be making a difference in another person’s life, you may feel more peace about letting them go.

4. Photograph your treasures before you say goodbye, and make a photo book through a service like Shutterfly. Write a few memories, so that you can remember and share your feelings about the items and what they meant to you.

How About You?

Readers, will you share your thoughts about how to mindfully declutter and let things go? I always love hearing your ideas, personal experiences—and dating tips.

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

P.S. Grateful thanks to Tomi Knuutila for the use of the collection image above and Rebecca Siegel for the use of her wonderful goat image.

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

4 comments to A Reader’s Decluttering Dilemma

  • It’s great that Leah is letting go and doing so mindfully but I understand the dilemma! I’d suggest a couple more ideas. Would local primary schools be interested in any of the objects? If any of the items have come from Leah’s travels, for example, she may have things that schools could use in project work.

    Here in the heart of England, we also have a thriving Facebook group: Things for Sale in Kenilworth. The group has over 14,000 members and is a good place for passing on unwanted items (some for free; others for a small cost to the buyer).

    Hope this helps!

  • I love your suggestions, Eliza. And here are my thoughts…

    From my perspective the fear that people won’t treasure and respect the stuff is a bit misplaced – but that may be because I sort of have the opposite problem. I tend to be a bit of a “bottom feeder” when it comes to stuff. I don’t generally buy things new, and I tend to use them WAY longer and more thoroughly than your average bear would. So by the time I’m ready to part with something, most people would be ready to consider it garbage.

    Anyhow, I guess the point is that when you let go of something, you have to really let go. And worrying over its fate (whether it’s worrying that someone won’t treasure something nice or worrying that no one will see the value in something that’s isn’t so nice) means that you haven’t really let go. Beyond a reasonable “due diligence” there really isn’t much you can do to control what someone else does or feels about your stuff.

    I constantly have to remind myself that the time to worry about the fate of an object is before you bring it into your life, not when you’re letting go of it.

    Not sure if that helps or not, but that’s my take.

  • Virginia

    I have a lovely retired neighbor whose mission is to find a useful home for every kind of unwanted item through organizations who give things away to those truly in need who will use them. She has connections with dozens of non-profits and mission minded organizations throughout the Denver Metro area. As we recently did a major declutter in preparation for a move, I was amazed at all the different types of things for which she had found a specific donation outlet. Everything from electronics to jewelry to professional clothing to sporting equipment. I, too, feel better about giving nice things to those who truly need them as opposed to just donating to a thrift store. If you live in the Denver area, I can try and point you in the right direction for specific donations. Otherwise you might try a philanthropy minded club in your local area (Optimists, Rotary, etc) or a local mission/homeless shelter for additional possibilities.

  • Debby

    I belong to a local Facebook group where we post things to give away and things we are looking for. No money or bartering allowed. It’s a wonderful way to find a good home for things others may need or want. Also check out Freecycle.

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