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What Our Garage Sale Taught Me About Decluttering My Mind

States of mind

This past weekend, my family had our long-delayed garage sale. It’s been two and a half years since I went through practically everything I owned and sorted it all into “keep” and “don’t keep”: the trick in the time since has been finding and setting aside enough time to organize, price, advertise, set out, and sell those items. In that couple of years, too, I’ve found that there are a number of additional objects I had that I could do without, and so along with everything else there needed to be another round of decluttering.

However, we did it all, and we survived. While I hope to not have to do another sale for a number of years, I feel like I’ve learned some useful lessons about running one successfully, and I’ll be putting that information in a separate post. This post, however, is about the emotional side of garage sales, because for many of us, getting rid of our old stuff is even a bigger emotional task than it is a physical and organizational one.

In the course of this sale, I’ve had to face a few truths about myself, my stuff, and my relationships, and it all continues to be challenging and sometimes even painful. Here’s what I think I’ve learned:

1. I’m not going to get what I paid for it: that money is gone
It’s nice to imagine when I buy something useful and well-made that I’m not really saying goodbye to my money: I’m just letting it go away for a little while. Eventually, when I no longer need the thing, I can just sell it and recoup much of my expense, right?

You probably aren’t falling for that and know as well as I do that the minute we take off the plastic wrap, whatever it is we bought no longer equals money: all it’s worth is its use to us plus sometimes a greatly-reduced resale value. Yet many of us find ourselves saying (or thinking) “But I paid ___ for that!” It’s hard to let go of the idea that things are worth what we paid for them, but at least in monetary terms, they hardly ever are. Maybe if you’ve recently bought a used Kindle Fire or something, you can get away with recouping what you paid for it, but that kind of thing is the exception, not the rule.

The hardest things for me to get used to losing value on, surprisingly, weren’t even mine: they were my son’s old toys. I would look at something and think “I remember when he was absolutely dying to own that,” and how we (or a relative at a birthday, say) had paid $50 or whatever it was for the item that was now sitting in our driveway on a sheet with a little sticker on it saying “$3.” It’s a hard lesson to learn, this evaporation of value, but it’s worth knowing–especially if it helps guide us into buying less stuff we don’t really need or won’t be able to use well.

2. The money I make won’t justify the time and effort, and that’s OK
One of the things I’ve been avoiding energetically is analyzing what my income per hour has been on this garage sale project. I’m not really making money in a meaningful way from doing this. What I’ve reminded myself, over and over (and it has helped), is that my payoff is in organization, space, peace of mind, and closure. All those objects in my life that have been hanging question marks (What do I do with this? Is it worth anything? How do I get rid of it? Do I really need it after all?) are being resolved into completed episodes of my life. Even if we hadn’t made a cent, all of the work was still necessary to get our lives back in order.

3. Bringing out old things brings out old thoughts
It was hard for me, during the sale, to relive some of my parenting from years gone by. I certainly don’t consider myself a world-class parent now, and currently I’m much, much better at parenting than I was years ago. Once again my son’s old toys gave me the most trouble: I remembered times when I’d been a just plain crummy dad. He used to have trouble sleeping starting when he was around 3, and I’d get angry when an hour after his bedtime he’d wander out into the living room. What I really wish I could do is go back in time and force some sense into my then-self, help myself realize that a kid who has trouble falling asleep probably needs some additional attention, affection, or comfort, and that a little patience would probably see the problem through much more handily and with much better impact for my kid than anger would. Other people might have to face reminding themselves of people they loved who had died, or relationships that went sour, or projects that disappointed. It’s hard stuff, sometimes, but it’s certainly a good thing to work through those old pains when we can and feel we’ve made our peace with them.

4. Giving things to people who can use them is kinda beautiful
One of my biggest challenges is my books: I have hundreds of books I no longer need that must have cost me at a thousand or two thousand dollars or more  over the years, and I have been really attached to the idea of getting some money for them. When I asked about selling or giving away used books on Facebook, though, a number of friends came back with a series of terrific ideas (which I’ll detail in a separate post): schools in my area that could use them, hospitals, homeless shelters, bookmobiles … I realize that far better than making a little bit of money from my unneeded things, I can actually get them to people who want or need them. The eight bags of clothes in the back of my car that are on their way to Goodwill or the boxes and boxes of books I can donate so that suddenly there will be all these great new things to read just where people need them … that’s almost magical, you know? I like the idea of charity, but don’t get to do nearly as much of it as I’d like. Here, suddenly, is a beautiful opportunity to give from a position of real (but non-monetary) wealth. What a huge improvement over boxes of books taking up space and never getting read!

I know that for many of you out there, garage sales aren’t this grueling. This is the first one I’ve had in years, and future sales probably won’t involve all the same memories and clutter. My point, though, isn’t that garage sales are always hard–it’s that decluttering our homes and lives goes with the difficult process of decluttering parts of our minds, and that if we’re having trouble with one of those things, it may help to turn our attention to the other.

It just takes a bit of courage. And time. And maybe a garage.

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Having a Purpose Makes You Powerful

Strategies and goals

In a recent post (“How to Change the World: Simon Sinek on Leadership“), I talked about Simon Sinek’s TED talk, which boils down to “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.” By “buy,” Sinek also means “care,” “act,” “follow,” or “join in.” The principle fits sales, but it also fits social change, politics, the spread of ideas, and a lot else.

To have a “why” is to have a purpose, and I’ve begun to realize that having a purpose makes you nearly invincible. To explain that, let me tell you two stories. Let’s start with the failure.

The fall of the REALM
About 18 years ago I owned a small software development company outside Philadelphia, and I was hired to develop a software product to manage real estate and physical assets, like vehicles and storage tanks. The man behind the project at the client company was a friendly, energetic guy, and he quickly revealed that he was interested in doing more than just dealing with his own corporation’s needs: he had forged an agreement with the company such that they got free updates and enhancements and he would get rights to the software they paid to have developed. As I was the developer, he offered to split proceeds with me 50/50 if I would stay in the game and develop it further.

This was a golden opportunity. There was no software we could find that did what REALM (Real Estate, Assets, and Logistics Management) came to be able to do. REALM was easy to use, was inexpensive by corporate software standards, and was developed by an asset management specialist (him) and a skilled database and application developer (me). We made many enhancements and began to sell the software. We got a few clients, a few opportunities … and eventually fizzled. What should have been a business that could have made me financially secure for a long time, if not for life, turned out to be a time suck. Why? We had a good product. We had funding to develop it to a marketable state. We were both smart, friendly people. What happened?

I’ll tell you what happened: my heart wasn’t in it. When it came right down to it, I didn’t care about physical asset management, and even if I did, I didn’t care about the corporations that needed to do it. I was in the project for the money; that was basically it.

I don’t mean to suggest it was immoral or anything. After all, we need money to live in this society: without it, there would be a very real chance of starving or freezing to death on the street. Yet money has never really seemed that important to me in the grand scheme of things, and it was an utter failure for me as inspiration.

The rise of Codex
Now let’s shift gears and talk about something I’ve done that has been very successful: Codex. Codex is a free, online writers’ group designed originally for “neo-pro” fiction writers–that is, writers who are just beginning to prove themselves. (A number of its members have since become established pros, however.) The initial entrance requirements were either making a pro fiction sale or attending one of the major workshops where they choose participants from a writing sample. We later added alternative ways to qualify: getting a good agent or reaching a certain level of success with selfpub writing.

Codex was a ton of work. I had written a forum system in the past, and I used that for Codex instead of installing one of the common ones. Because I had done that, it wasn’t too hard to integrate a lot of features into the forum, like a critique exchange with tracked critique credit, contests with anonymous participation, a library of Codexians’ work, a blog tour system, and a lot more. The Codex forum as it now exists represents tens of thousands of dollars worth of custom programming, though I had never thought about it like that until just now.

Yet the technical work has been a minority of what I have done to keep the group running. I’ve participated in thousands of discussions, moderated, handled disputes, developed rules when they were needed, oriented new members, and otherwise run things that need running.

How has Codex worked out? Very, very well. We’ve barely made any effort to recruit members, but we get a steady stream of new applications. We’ve had over seven thousand discussions with well over 200,000 posts, over a thousand works critiqued, and dozens of contests over eight years. Our membership continues to grow bit by bit: last I checked, there were more than 230 active members. More and more members are selling novels and short stories and getting nominated for awards. On the current Nebula award ballot, every single person in the short story category is a member of Codex, though one of that group joined (without any solicitation from the group) after the nominations were announced.

Codex doesn’t net me any money–in fact, in the past it has cost me money, though this year a Codex member generously underwrote the cost of the entire year’s hosting as a celebration of his writing success. What’s more, these days I’m so busy with my own writing and related work, family, Taekwondo, and the daily demands of life that I can’t really even participate meaningfully in the discussions–I don’t have time. Yet Codex has provided meaningful friendships, my best professional opportunities in writing, huge amounts of insight, and a lot more. My first book sale (to a major publisher), my opportunity to do commentary for a Florida NPR affiliate, and my first professional speaking engagement all occurred because of Codex.

The thing is, I’ve never questioned my commitment to Codex because I have a purpose: to develop and be part of a community that helps its members improve their writing. If I hadn’t had that purpose, I would have given up on it a long time ago. My purpose protected Codex from getting derailed by problems like arguments among members (rare, but damaging), unreliable Internet hosting providers (we’ve had to switch service providers five times!), the need for complicated yet unpaid programming work, and so on.

There is no such thing as competition when you have purpose
Having a real purpose eliminates competition: people who are doing the same thing you’re doing for the same reason are helping you, because a real purpose is about something bigger than ourselves. People who are doing the “same” thing you’re doing for different reasons, often shallow ones, really aren’t doing the same thing at all.

I’ve recently started doing professional speaking events, and at first I was a bit worried that there would be too much competition for me to thrive. Yet I quickly came to realize that my speaking was an outgrowth of the same thing that has made this blog successful, which is a profound desire to first learn, then share knowledge of how to become a more empowered, compassionate, and happy human being. I don’t know whether that sounds hokey or not, but I do know that people who hear me speak do and will see that I am there to try to make their lives profoundly better. Anyone who’s doing the exact same thing has my admiration. Anyone who isn’t is no competition at all.

Photo by Lisa Tiyamiyu

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How Do You Fix Greed, Part III: Why Should I Sacrifice Myself?


In a recent comment to my post “How Do You Fix Greed? Part II: American Society Is Built for Greed,” someone asked

Why should l sacrifice my self to others? Read Ayn Rand, and you will know where greed comes from.

I was surprised by the question, because the answer seemed obvious to me, but the more I thought about the response, the more grateful I am for the comment, because it’s a fair question: even if greed is bad for society, which is something I’ve been asserting in recent posts, from a certain perspective there’s the following pressing question: So what? If I can get everything I want, why should it matter to me if other people are unhappy about that, or if it interferes with things society or culture expects from me?

For the asker’s interest, I’ve read Ayn Rand, and I’m familiar with a lot of arguments for greed. If you’re looking at the question on a strictly personal level, it comes down to this: people who let themselves fall prey to their own greed are assuming that getting more will bring them more pleasure, and that pleasure and happiness are the same thing. The truth–and there’s good science backing this up–is that having more stuff does not necessarily bring more pleasure, and that even if it did (which it doesn’t, remember), that pleasure doesn’t by itself amount to happiness.

I’m not going to go into detail about all the research here, to prevent this post from becoming unmanageably long, but before I continue I’ll link to other articles on this site, several of which reference the studies that provide the raw information for the connections between human relationships, happiness, and pleasure that I’m about to describe.

The Difference Between Pleasure and Happiness
If It’s Not Fun, Why Do It? A Few Pointed Answers
Why Happiness Is Key
How Other People’s Happiness Affects Our Own
Want to Reduce Stress? Increase Social Time
The Best 40 Percent of Happiness (this one covers lottery winners)
The High Cost of Not Liking Your Job

Why doesn’t “more” bring more pleasure?
Getting more things does not necessarily lead to more pleasure, although it’s true that some things, in some situations, can add to pleasure and even happiness. Unfortunately for our pleasure levels, though, the more we get, the less any given part of it matters. If you go to a restaurant and eat the most delicious meal in the world, the first time you eat it, you may be in ecstasy. If you eat it again the next day, due something psychologists call “hedonic adaptation,” it simply won’t be as good. It’s similar to the process a drug addict may go through, whether that drug is caffeine or crack or something in between. The first hit has an enormous effect, but subsequent experiences produce less and less dopamine, the neurochemical that makes us feel pleasure. In other words, the more I have, the less pleasure I get from each thing.

Additionally, having more power, money, resources, or things also means I have more concerns, because I need to defend myself from people who want to usurp my power, siphon off my money, use my resources, or take my things. As I get more and more, what I have pleases me less and adds more to my stress load. We often envy celebrities, people with political power, and others who have “more,” yet the rates of scandal, failed marriage, substance abuse, and other indicators of severe unhappiness seem to be exceptionally high among these kinds of people. Some of it is surely the pressure of being in the public eye all of the time, but regardless, it lends support to the point that having more is not necessarily pleasurable. Ask the many people who’ve won the lottery and later committed suicide–oh wait, you can’t: they’re dead.

Isn’t “happiness” just another word for “pleasure”?
Even the pleasure that we can get from having more doesn’t amount to happiness. Happiness, according to research, has a lot to do with having enough and not much to do with having extra. It also has a lot to do with how we think and feel about ourselves and about our relationships with other people. If I feel like a good person, am proud of my accomplishments and integrity, enjoy the company of people close to me, experience trust and connection with others, and otherwise make the most of myself and my relationships, I’m far, far more likely to be happy than if I have piles of stuff, people whose interest in me might be mainly about my having piles of stuff, and things I don’t need that I have to defend from people who either don’t have enough stuff or are as greedy as I am.

Greed at its heart is a misunderstanding, at attempt to substitute money, power, or stuff for the things that really make us happy (see the first article in this series, “How Do You Fix Greed? Part I: The Roots of Greed“). The altruistic and kind behavior that seems like sacrificing ourselves, when done in a healthy and proportionate way, surprisingly turns out to get us the most individual happiness of anything we could possibly do. Greed is an easy path to falling short of the happiness we could otherwise achieve.

Photo by CaptPiper


How Do You Fix Greed? Part II: American Society Is Built for Greed

Society and culture

Recently I posted about the emotional roots of greed–that is, some reasons we sometimes act or think greedily. Today I want to pick up where I left off and talk about how we’ve gotten ourselves in trouble with greed as a society and what we’d need to do to if we want to root it out.

It would be great if greed were a simple problem, but it appears that it has at least five different parts.

  1. We already talked about where greed comes from individually, the emotional component in Part I of this series.
  2. We have a culture where greed is not only OK, but encouraged.
  3. The effects of how we use money are hidden.
  4. Most of the organizations that handle money in our society are set up to maximize profit.
  5. Laws and regulations about taxation, corporations, and commerce in some cases make greed the law.

Our Greedy Culture
Rich people in our culture tend to be admired, and poor people tend to be looked down on. We tend to think of wealth and success as being closely related, and the role models we see in the media are usually people with a lot of money. This isn’t unique to Americans or particularly shocking, but it is harmful. If we can gradually focus more on people’s accomplishments, integrity, regard for other people, happiness, and personal fulfillment instead of their cars, houses, financial resources, and lifestyle, we’ll move toward justice and compassion as a society and away from celebrity worship and the quest to Have More Stuff.

But it’s hard to change who we envy. If offered the choice between becoming as a balanced and compassionate as the Dalai Lama or as rich as Bill Gates, which would you choose? I’d have a really difficult time with that challenge, I have to admit. When I think of having huge financial resources, I imagine how many of the things in my life that currently take a lot of effort would be much easier, how much good I could do, what great things I could get for my family, and so on. I don’t necessarily think about the complications that come with money or the disparity between the wealth I’d have and the poverty a lot of people live through day after day. I also have a lot of trouble weighing the benefits of being as happy and at peace as the Dalai Lama appears to be against the seemingly more obvious benefits of having tons of cash. Even those of us who work hard at staying out of the consumerist mindset can get hung up on this problem–but that’s exactly the kind of conscious change that will help us transform our culture’s attitudes toward greed.

Hidden impacts of our money decisions
We rarely see the help or harm that comes from our investing or spending. It’s very hard to know exactly who gets our money or what they do with it when we buy something or make an investment. It’s possible be an ardent anti-tobacco activist and to unknowingly have a retirement account that invests heavily in the tobacco industry, for instance. We may buy a product and not know how much of the money we spent goes to people who worked to get us the thing in the first place, how much to investors, and how much to parasites (like corrupt government officials in the country where the thing was made or speculators). It’s even harder to get a clear idea of our money’s impact on things like the environment or the availability of good jobs.

Even when we do know something about the impact of our money–for instance, buying a cheap electronic item made in China at a local Walmart, which is likely to be supporting underpaid labor both in the factory where the item is made and at the Walmart where it’s sort–we often don’t act on it, probably in part because we can’t be sure we’re right. Maybe those Chinese workers are really getting paid a living wage. Or even if they aren’t, maybe the money they are getting paid is better than what would happen to them if that job moved to a country where people get paid fairly for their work.

By not knowing the real effects our financial choices have in the rest of the world, we’re cut off from making better choices. Ideally, whenever I wanted to buy or sell or rent or borrow or lend or invest, I could get a little scorecard that showed me how much good or ill my choice was making all the way down the line to people, places, and organizations. In practice, that’s probably next to impossible (though in a few decades we might have enough information available electronically that something like that would be possible). However, we can educate ourselves about where the things we buy come from, where our investments go, and all the rest. We might not know the exact details of every purchase we make, but any insight empowers us to make decisions with our money that otherwise would be made for us by somebody else.

Designed for profit
Usually, companies are set up by investors or entrepreneurs who are trying to make a bunch of money. While they might have other priorities, money usually comes first. The penniless immigrant chef who starts with a sandwich cart that grows over time to a restaurant and then a chain of restaurants is probably cooking at least in part out of a love of cooking, a desire to do work that’s valued, and all the rest, but  … well, I was about to say “the bottom line is still profit,” but that’s what “the bottom line” means. The need for profit has come to be central even in how we talk about what’s important. We can even things like “The bottom line is that a lot of people don’t have adequate healthcare coverage” without realizing we’re being ironic.

What’s the alternative? Different kinds of organizations: fewer entrepreneurial start-ups and money-worshipping corporations and more non-profits and cooperatives. I’ll grant you, this doesn’t solve everything itself. For example, the health insurance I had up until a year or two ago was run by a not-for-profit, and yet it was terrible. Still, organizations like my local food co-op and the credit union where I bank show that these kinds of organizations can be reliable and successful without anyone trying to turn them into little money factories.

Greed is the law
Like a lot of things that have become part of our culture, greed has naturally made its way into our laws as well. Probably the biggest example of this kind of legislation is that for-profit corporations are legally required in many situations to maximize short-term shareholder profits, and corporations are also treated as individuals with legal rights of their own, just like a person.

Laws won’t change much until the culture does, but laws that make profit sacred get in the way of cultural change away from greed. There are only two ways I know of to get out of a bind like this: one of them is to make improvements wherever possible and gradually drag the legal system along with the priorities of the people it governs. The other is for there to be a huge catastrophe that ruins everything we’ve built so that we have to go back and start over.

I favor the first approach.

In the next post in this series, I’ll talk about ways we can take greed out of businesses.

Photo by Michael Aston


How to Stop in Mid-Fail

States of mind

When we make bad decisions, where’s the real point of no return?

Let’s say Meg decides she really want to go to Sweden, and she plans an incredible 3-week vacation there: great hotels, tours, plane tickets, the whole shebang. As she’s making these reservations, she thinks to herself “I probably can’t afford this–but I’ve always wanted to go to Sweden, and who knows when I’ll have the chance next?” Everything’s set. Once the reservations are made, is it too late for her to change her mind?

Two weeks before the trip she looks briefly at her finances and begins to worry about what will happen to her credit card debt if she goes. Is she really going to be able to pay all that money off? It turns out she doesn’t have it in savings, as she was kind of hoping she would. Now is it too late?

The day before she leaves, the anxiety is too much for her, and she sits down and runs the numbers. It turns out that the trip isn’t just a little out of her reach: it’s going to cause havoc to her whole budget–she might even run out of money while on the trip! And she hadn’t realized the hotel was going to cost that much, and should she really have booked the more expensive flight so that she didn’t have to leave at 5:30 in the morning? Is it too late now?

It may feel too late. When you’re driving away from the fast food restaurant or about to drop that angry letter in the mailbox or standing at the counter while the sales clerk rings up your purchases, it may feel as though you’re committed to the bad choice you’ve made, even if you now realize it’s a bad choice. For some of us (and this is completely typical of the old eating habits I’ve been painstakingly overcoming for years), you may be halfway through eating something, realize you’re not enjoying it at all, and still finish it because oh well, you already bought it and started eating it, and you don’t want it to go to waste, right? Because making you unhappy and contributing to your ill health is much less going to waste than throwing it away … uh, right?

Yet it’s never actually too late until it’s literally impossible to take whatever it is back. Even if it would take a lot of effort to backtrack, or if you lose money by changing your plans, or if you have to do something that seems random and embarrasses you, it’s better to reverse a bad choice at the last minute than to never reverse it at all. The day before Meg’s trip, she can say to herself “This is ridiculous: I can’t afford this, and I won’t even be able to enjoy the trip because I’ll be worrying about money the whole time.” Then she can call the airline and see if she can get a refund or credit for the flight, call the hotels and tours and cancel her reservations, and so on. If she’s past the deadline for getting much money back from the trip–for instance, if she got non-refundable plane tickets and the airline won’t give her credit toward future travel–then maybe it is too late, but if she just has to take a hit of a few hundred dollars instead of spending thousands she doesn’t have, then canceling (or scaling back to much cheaper arrangements) is still the right decision for her.

On the surface, this kind of reversal looks stupid: you go to a lot of trouble to arrange something, then you go to a lot of trouble to cancel it, and lose money in the bargain. The important thing to realize is that the value Meg was trying to get at the beginning was an illusion: the trip was not really something she wanted on those terms. If she took it, she would be less happy and less empowered than if she didn’t. Once she realized this, the value of the trip as she understood it changed. It’s as though you made arrangements to buy a nice car and then found out the car was a lemon. Would you still buy the car (and for the same amount) just because it seemed like it was worth more before you knew better?

There are two benefits to reversing a bad decision even after the bad decision has already cost you something. The first is that the bad decision hurts you less if you don’t follow all the way through with it. The second is that you give yourself a memorable and meaningful lesson. The canceled trip will, we hope, really stick in Meg’s memory, so that the next time she tries to buy something that she can’t afford, she can reflect on it and say “Remember when I almost bankrupted myself on that trip to Sweden I wanted? This is like that. Why don’t I steer clear this time?”

Is it ever too late to get a little smarter?

Photo by tricky

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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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