A New York Times article tells us that self-storage units are a $40-billion-a-year industry with 10 percent of American households paying to store their stuff someplace other than the place in which they live. SpareFoot.com helped locate self-storage near me. I learned that the monthly cost for a 5’X5’ climate-controlled unit is $49, while a 10’X10’ space costs $115. I know there are good reasons for people to use such storage, but if it’s just to house belongings they are unable to otherwise purge, I find it to be ludicrous. Being a Frugal Fannie, this information inspires me to get chummy with my local Goodwill attendant and with my neighborhood trash man. If you feel similarly, here are five tips for getting rid of stuff.
#1: Start with the Low Hanging Fruit
As it is said, the hard part of getting started is to start. Thus, I suggest you start with whatever seems easy. In my case, I have file cabinets full of financial papers, so I started there. According to the Federal Trade Commission’s Shredding Infographic, I am to keep my tax return itself forever, but after seven years, I can get rid of the supporting documents. Guess who has thirteen years of such paperwork on hand?
That’s a lot of stuff to easily pluck from the file cabinet and chuck, but in this case special care is needed with the chucking. Such documents need to be shredded. If I cannot find a shredding event in my community, I can pay for this service at a UPS store, FedEx, or any office supply store.
Here’s a bonus idea from my daughter, Lisa: If a document you have filed is readily available online, why keep a hard copy of it? She is speaking of statements from brokerage houses. This advice seems radical to pack-rat me, but I will keep it in mind for the future.
#2: Send Your Possessions to Purgatory
Women are told that every time they buy a new clothing item, they should get rid of an old clothing item. This is great advice! But, I never follow it. Hence, my walk-in bedroom closet is at capacity. There are lots of things I rarely wear, yet I am resistant to get rid of them.
Here’s my best trick for handling these clothing items. It works for knick-knacks too. I pack my precious belongings into a box and move it to the basement for a year. After this time in purgatory, I can resurrect items if necessary, or take them to their final resting place, the trash or Goodwill.
Here’s a bonus Idea from CNN, which they call a life-changer: They suggest you take a photo of your possession before donating it. And speaking of such…
#3: Here’s How to Deal with Old Photos
My family had many sage elders, and this bit of permission came from AunTillie-the-Wise: If you have an old photo and you recognize no one in the picture, it’s ok to throw it out.
And here’s a great idea for those with scads of framed photos covering every square inch of coffee tables, end tables, bedroom bureaus, shelving units, and the like: Take the photos out of the frames and consolidate them in one nice photo album. I did this when my dad downsized. It was actually great fun. Some frames had multiple photos hidden behind the top one. I gave my folks a formal portrait of my three kids every year on Father’s Day. Imagine my surprise when that one picture frame had fourteen years of annual photos behind it! It made a fabulous spread in the album.
#4: Regarding Memorabilia, You Are Getting Rid of the Ticket Stub, Not the Memory
I have boxes and boxes of greeting cards, letters, formal invitations, travel brochures, and entertainment mementos. Travel souvenirs were easy to pitch. I have photos of my vacations, so did I really need to keep the guide to all seven floors of toys at Hamleys in London? Entertainment souvenirs were equally easy to throw away. Goodbye playbills from theaters. Goodbye matches and menus from restaurants.
Sorting through cards and letters was more troublesome. If I took the time to read all the old letters, it would take days to go through one box, so I just looked to see who wrote the letter or card, kept it if it was from a loved one, and pitched it if it was not. This got rid of lots birthday cards from the minor players in my life.
There are two lessons from going through the memorabilia. The first is that this sort of housekeeping can be a multiple step procedure. It’s ok to cull your collection in stages. The second is that as I moved through the boxes of stuff, I got better at throwing things out. Indeed…
#5: My Goal Is to Become Ruthless
As I aim for this goal, I think back to the day my brother and I cleaned out our dad’s apartment before we moved him to a skilled nursing facility. Rich was ruthless! He could easily throw out Dad’s tuxedo shirt, while I still clung to the hope that Dad would wear it again someday. As I work toward emulating my brother, I think of my high school prom dress in the basement closet. Yes, it made it to purgatory. Perhaps on round two, three, or four of housecleaning it will go to Goodwill. Either way, I forgive myself.
A Bonus Tip About Cash
If you are the sort of person to hide cash in the house, I bet it is well hidden, like mine is. I’m not counting on my heirs to find it. I’m digging it out now. I’m spending it now. But not on a temperature-controlled storage unit for my junk. I need to handle that myself!
So off I go. I’m going to pick a closet – any closet – and get to work.
If you like this story, you will like other things I have written. Please try:
- My blog
- My new book, Love, Loss, and Moving On
- Or my latest book review: People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry.
- Thank you!