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Are you radically downsizing to move overseas, embrace minimalism, or undertake a nomadic lifestyle? Here’s how to get rid of (nearly) everything you own.
I stood in the center of the mostly empty living room, furiously stuffing the contents of our linen closet into a donation bag for the ASPCA. At the bottom of a stack of old towels, I saw a familiar lump of black, white, and green fleece. My son’s baby blanket. With tears streaming down my face I took a deep breath and shoved it in the bag.
I had to be ruthless. We had decided to become digital nomads, get rid of EVERYTHING, and downsize from a 2,500 square foot townhome to six suitcases/backpacks and eight storage tubs.
Going from a regular, run-of-the-mill consumer to an ultra-minimalist was one of the hardest and most rewarding things I’ve ever done. What follows is the guide I wish I had when I started–the steps I followed to get rid of (nearly) everything we owned.
STEP ONE: GET RID OF THE EASY STUFF
Start with these five categories of things to get your feet wet discarding, donating, and selling. You’ll exercise your de-owning muscle and strengthen it for the harder stuff to come.
This one seems obvious, especially to those of us who aim to keep a really tidy home. However, even the cleanest home probably has some items in it that could easily be trashed or recycled.
Do you have stacks of papers that need to be shredded, old cosmetics that can no longer be used, or pairs of underwear that are so ratty you don’t even want your spouse to see them?
The next time you put your hand on an item that no longer provides value to anyone, toss it in the trash.
If you’re hoping to sell your items, the very best time to do so is when everyone is looking for them.
- Lightly worn high heels and evening wear might be easily sold around the time your area holds its school dances.
- Halloween costumes your family will never use again are greatly in demand beginning in late September.
- Everybody wants sleds, Christmas decorations, and old winter clothing when the weather turns cold. (I listed our toddler sled on the Facebook Marketplace just after the weatherman predicted our first snow of the season and started a bidding war!)
Keep a mental or physical list of some of the items you’re trying to downsize, and the season when they’d most likely go. Pick a date once a month to list these items on Craigslist, eBay, Facebook Marketplace, or Nextdoor. If they don’t sell by the next month’s listing day, donate them to charity.
Items that irk you
These are all the things that make your life worse for owning them—the pair of jeans that makes you feel frumpy whenever you try them on, the fitness equipment that reminds you you’re not working out, and the kid’s toy whose song is like fingernails on a chalkboard. If you’ve got stuff in your home that makes you feel bad for any reason, let it go.
Do you have 50 T-shirts, 30 coffee mugs, or 1,000 ballpoint pens which may or may not write when you need them? Remember that you only have two hands and that there are only seven days in a week. Your surplus could really help someone else out.
Items that you’ve outgrown
These items are always really obvious to pick out when I’m going through my kids’ stuff, but much less obvious (and a little sad sometimes) when I’m purging my own things.
That’s because this category includes not only the items that physically don’t fit anymore (btw, I promise when you lose the weight you’ll prefer to get something new and stylish) but also the items that no longer fit your lifestyle.
Maybe you’re a SAHM with a closet full of business suits and no plans to go back to work. Maybe you brewed your own beer for a while, but now you aren’t ingesting carbs, and all that equipment is gathering dust in your garage. Maybe your children have all moved out, but your basement still looks like a daycare center.
Whether it is clothing that fit an old body type, stuff associated with an old hobby, or relics from a different stage of life, your old stuff is keeping you bogged down in the past and preventing you from filling your home and your life with things that would serve you better. Let it go.
THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND AS YOU GET RID OF EVERYTHING
REMEMBER SUNK COST
As you’re deciding whether something stays or goes, keep in mind that the money you’ve already invested in the item in question is a sunk cost. This means that whether you wore the shirt 100 times, or whether it hung in your closet with the tags on it, you already spent the money and you can’t get it back.
Although we’ve all heard stories of finds from someone’s attic going for millions of dollars, your stuff is likely not worth what you paid for it, even if it is brand new. Remembering sunk cost will help you manage expectations when you’re pricing things.
If getting rid of your stuff for pennies on the dollar bums you out, remind yourself that you will make smarter purchasing decisions in the future.
KEEP ITEMS ‘JUST FOR WHEN’ INSTEAD OF ‘JUST IN CASE’
I first heard of the idea of “just for when” vs. “just in case” items from The Minimalists. The idea is that we very often keep items that we are extremely unlikely to ever use again because we’re afraid we might need them someday.
Our closets and basements fill up with things we have no intention of ever using because we can’t bring ourselves to let them go. Make sure that the items you are keeping have a definite place in your future and keep them “just for when” rather than “just in case”.
UNDERSTAND THAT IT WILL BE EMOTIONAL
Depending on how radically you are downsizing, you may end up getting rid of things that you love. You are bound to dredge up lots of memories, both good and bad as you dig through things. You might feel anger, regret, or shame when confronted with the massive amount of things you own. It’s ok to have a good cry while you’re going through the process. Remember that feeling a bit sad about losing a particular item doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to keep it.
STEP 2: GET SPECIALTY STUFF TO THE RIGHT PEOPLE
Just like there’s a lid for every pot, there’s a likely subset of people who would really love some of your most obscure stuff. It sounds simplistic, but make sure you get your goods in front of them. The giant collection of opera sheet music I had to get rid of would have only been useful as a fire starter to most people.
When I compiled the list of scores into a spreadsheet, though, and posted it in Facebook forums for classical singers and professional voice teachers, I made hundreds of dollars and helped a population that really needed what I had to sell.
STEP 3: UTILIZE NICHE WEBSITES AND STORES
If you’re looking for quick cash for your used goods, you’ll find places both online and in your local strip mall that want what you’re selling. Although you will not get as high a price as you would selling each item to an individual, you can’t beat the convenience. I tried the following services:
GameStop takes old computer games and gaming machines in good condition. I was able to sell an old Wii and a PS4 along with a few games. The whole process took maybe 20 minutes and netted me about $50. The payout would have been double if I had accepted a store credit instead of cash. I didn’t have to research/photograph/list items for sale, and the electronic waste didn’t end up in a landfill. Win/win.
Although we only seem to listen to streaming music (on Spotify) and to watch streaming TV these days, we still had dozens of old DVDs and CDs stashed in closets around the house. Decluttr made the process of getting rid of them incredibly easy. I used their app to scan the bar codes of my old media and watched the proposed purchased price for each item pop up.
Although Second Spin’s interface was slightly less easy (I had to type in the UPC) they sometimes paid more than Decluttr for a particular item. Because of this, if you are pressed for time, I’d just use Decluttr. If you are wanting the biggest payout, I’d search both.
With both companies, I boxed up the titles I wanted to sell, printed out the pre-formatted shipping label, and took the box to the post office. Within a few days, I found money for the DVDs and CDs and the shipping reimbursement in my PayPal account. As with GameStop, I didn’t receive a ton of money for each individual item, but the time savings was definitely worth it.
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STEP 4: UTILIZE KID SALES AND CONSIGNMENT SHOPS
Because new parents are always looking for affordable stuff, kid items can be some of the easiest things to get rid of.
Several kids consignment sales happen at various times throughout the year in my area. Although the coordinators of the sale keep a portion of the profits, sellers have the benefit of getting ALL of their baby and kid stuff out of the house at once. Do not underestimate how amazing this feels.
Also, rest assured that your baby monitor, travel potty, or aforementioned toy whose song is like fingernails on a chalkboard will be displayed in front of people who are specifically coming to shop for discount baby and kid things. Even the annoying stuff is likely to sell.
These types of sales aren’t just for baby stuff either. I also made a few extra dollars taking some lightly used adult clothing and housewares to a consignment shop in my area.
STEP 5: CONTINUE TO USE ONLINE MARKETPLACES
As I mentioned in the “Get Rid of the Easy Stuff” section, you’ll find all sorts of virtual garage sale sites, such as Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, eBay, Nextdoor, and Let Go.
Be aware that photographing each item, researching its value, describing its features in the listing, and communicating with buyers could easily take the rest of your life.
You’ll be happiest if you save the online marketplaces for items of fairly high value. I listed lots of $10-$15 items and was hating life by the end of the process.
If you have lots of small items, you can list them in lots—an entire collection of women’s clothing in the same size, an assortment of kitchen utensils, or your kid’s embarrassingly large collection of Hot Wheels tracks–packaged together and sold for one price. You can get rid of lots of tiny stuff at once without making the process last until retirement.
Make sure that you do your best to stay safe while selling online. This article from Reader’s Digest has some great ideas to keep in mind.
STEP 6: HAVE A GARAGE SALE
Because our house sold much more quickly than expected, we actually ran out of time for this step. Garage sales provide a great opportunity to get a little bit of money for your bits and bobs, though. I loved reading this guide to hosting a successful one.
STEP 7: DONATE WITH AN OPEN HEART
In the last few days before we vacated the house, we gave stuff away to everybody. Family and friends got many of our most beloved items. (I’m certain my Dad will never return my Instant Pot, even if I do want it back.)
We donated carloads of stuff to charities in our area. When items weren’t selling on the Facebook Marketplace, we edited the listing to make them free. Truthfully, it felt a bit hard to simply give away items we’d invested hard-earned money in, but we were really pleased to be able to help people.
If you’ve got free items you’d like to part with, look for local ‘Buy Nothing’ groups on Facebook and consider joining Freecycle. You’ll also want to visit the Donation Town website, which will connect you with charities in your area that will pick up items from your house for free!
STEP 8: TRASH/RECYCLE WITHOUT GUILT
I’ve got some bad news for you.
At the end of this process, after you’ve worked your butt off to find new homes for everything, you will still have items that you haven’t gotten rid of.
We had pieces of upholstered furniture that couldn’t be donated, old electronics nobody wanted, and bags of hangers that I couldn’t give away even when I offered them for free on my front porch.
Taking these items to the dump/recycling center sucked. I reminded myself that I’d gotten good use out of them, I’d done my best to find a new home for them, and I’d make the best purchasing decisions I could in the future. Remember, you don’t have to hold onto things just because no one else wants them.
So there you go–the eight steps we used to get rid of everything we owned. The process was gut-wrenching, but I wouldn’t trade the feeling of freedom I have now for anything. Even that old baby blanket.
Want a helping hand as you get rid of (nearly) everything you own? Check out The Radical Declutterer’s Guide to Getting Rid of Everything--a book/ebook combo with a step-by-step framework to walk you through it.
Wondering What We Kept?
- a few of our sons’ favorite toys, stashed at their grandparents’ houses for fun when we visit
- our favorite kitchen items, stored in two tubs
- one tub of winter clothing for each family member (we’ll spend most of the year in warm weather locales)
- one tub of Christmas decorations (personalized tree skirt, handmade/personalized ornaments, etc.)
- one tub of family keepsakes (special art, photos, and one-of-a-kind items)