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Clearing your mind by cashing in

States of mind

Our states of mind are often influenced–sometimes heavily–by the space immediately around us: our offices, workplaces, homes, cars, yards, towns, and so on. I talk about this a bit in my article How Tools and Environment Make Work into Play, Part II: Letting Your Environment Help You, and it certainly bears out in my own life: the massive peace lily in my office below the photograph my brother made when he was shooting in the subways of New York City; the additional focus I have now that there aren’t random papers scattered around my writing area any more; even the smile that comes to my face when I walk into my kitchen and everything is cleaned up and in its place. The effects will vary, but for most of us, physical clutter means distraction and annoyance.

Yet it’s often hard to get motivated to clear things out of our lives, especially if they seem to have some value–the old turntable that’s never used but that cost hundreds of dollars in its day, the suits in the closet that no longer fit, the old computer that still works but that has been shut down ever since the new one was set up …

Fortunately, there’s an easy and motivating solution to these problems: sell stuff, or give it away to someone who needs it. We live in a golden age of ways to get rid of stuff, which is lucky, since we also live in a golden age of being buried in our own junk. Here are some of the places I’ve been using lately to lighten up my life a little, after observing the more minimalist home of a friend I admire:

  • eBay: A great option if you can ship it affordably and it’s worth more than a few dollars. Not only does eBay provide good ways to sell your stuff, but you can also find out how much similar stuff has sold for lately and choose a sane price. Remember, the price is a matter of what someone else will pay for it now, not a matter of how much money you had to put into the thing. I’d suggest searching “completed” listings for real comparison prices, since current listings are just asking prices and current bids.
  • Craigslist: Free and local, good if you have something a lot of people want or that’s too bulky to ship.
  • Consignment clothing stores: Ideal for clothing that’s really worth something but that you won’t wear again. Selling things by consignment is more work than giving them away, though, so factor that in. There are also consignment stores in some areas for things like bikes, sporting goods, and household goods.
  • Freecycle: Great for things you’d love to give away when you don’t have anyone to give them to. Offer the stuff, get a taker, leave it outside the door, and it magically disappears to brighten someone else’s life.
  • Goodwill: This organization and ones like it (the Salvation Army, clothes donation bins in grocery store parking lots, etc.) are the perfect destination for things from your closet or dresser that you will never wear again, but that someone else would.
  • Recycle stores: Here in northwestern Vermont we have a wonderful, non-profit organization called ReSource that takes donations of everything from furniture to toys to appliances to building materials and makes it all available at low prices in their store. They also provide jobs and job training. Your area may have something similar. If not, I’ll try not to gloat about living in this part of Vermont (but sometimes it’s difficult).
  • Used bookstores: If you have material you’re not going to read again, go through your bookshelves and storage areas and box up some books to bring to a local used book store. You can also donate used books to library book sales and recycle stores.
  • Amazon and SecondSpin:  Second Spin buys used music and movies, and Amazon offers a marketplace for those things plus many other types of items. Second Spin will pay you up front, but often lower amounts, whereas Amazon is another consignment opportunity.
  • Garage sales: For anything of fairly general interest. Find a beautiful weekend day to spend outside chatting with your neighbors as you lighten your load of things you don’tneed. Also can be a good way to teach your kids about money. Anything that’s left, bring to recycle stores, Goodwill, etc. Try to store nothing that you have set out to sell: once you’ve decided it should go, it should go unless it’s going to be worth a lot more to you down the road.

Remember that there are virtues in getting rid of things other than the money. Garage sales, for instance, tend not to bring in a whole lot of cash, but they do pay off in getting things out of your way.

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