Updated on 12.06.10

Out With The Old, In With The New: Clean Out Your Closets and Liquidate

Trent Hamm

Throughout the month of December, The Simple Dollar is posting a daily series focusing on specific activities you can do right now to set the stage for a great 2011. Out with the old, in with the new.

7. Clean out your closets and liquidate.

Even after a few rounds of doing this very thing, our closets are still loaded with stuff. Accumulated but largely unwanted Christmas presents. Old baby clothes. Old CDs. Unused blankets. Art projects abandoned. Books that have been read that we haven’t listed on PaperBackSwap yet. The list goes on and on.

Once every year or two, Sarah and I spend a weekend or so cleaning out closets. We pull everything out of them, then go through everything. Do we really need to keep this? Are we really ever going to look at this again?

We usually end up with a big pile of unwanted stuff that is destined for either the trash bin or, more importantly, some form of resale or trading. Even better, our closets find themselves much more empty, with plenty of room and with the items inside much more organized and easy to access.

Not only that, the whole process feels very cathartic. It gets frustrating when our closets become full enough that we’re unable to find things when we’re looking for it and it’s also a bit unsettling to have that much stuff that’s utterly unused. Cleaning out our closets takes care of both of those problems, gives us a day or two of enjoyable activity, and often results in some extra cash in our pocket.

Cleaning Things Out
Our approach is really straightforward. We put aside either a long day or two shorter days, then designate what closets we’re going to clean out.

Our first step is to completely empty out the closets. We usually pile all the stuff into one big pile in our family room as best we can. We don’t ask questions about the item – the purpose of this step is to just get everything out and accessible.

After that, we start separating the stuff into piles. We do this by evaluating each item. The big question: are we going to keep it? If the answer is yes, we usually go put the item outside the closet from which it came. If the answer is no, we ask ourselves if the item has any real resale value. Could we get something for it on Craigslist or at a consignment shop or on eBay or in a yard sale?

If it has resale value, we put it in one pile. If it doesn’t have value, we usually throw it away unless we think someone might want the item, in which case we’ll hold onto it until we can check with that person.

You need to be realistic with this process. If you haven’t touched an item in years, get rid of it. At the least, it’s taking up closet space. Often, it’s holding some value as well, value that can be used in a better way in your life.

Dealing with the Unwanted
So, how do you handle that pile of stuff that you think has value but that you don’t want?

There really are a lot of options. Generally, the more time you invest in a particular option, the more cash you’ll get from that option. Here are a few that we use.

Craigslist Just toss up some entries for your items, put a default price “or best offer” on each one, and see what you get. Often, people will come to you to get the item, which makes this easy. Ebay is similar to this – you’re likely to get a bit more per item, but you have to deal with shipping the items.

Yard sale This is usually the best route for getting rid of unwanted non-high-end clothes and other general items. We usually put out items at a high price starting on Friday, then gradually lower them throughout the weekend until we’re nearly giving the stuff away on Sunday.

Consignment If you have some high-quality clothing items, you might have more success with a consignment shop than with the above methods. This is usually as easy as driving there, talking over terms with the shop owner, and then waiting.

PaperBackSwap This is where most of our unwanted books go. We simply swap read books for unread ones of our choosing.

Clean out your closet. It’s cathartic, it can free up space, and it can also put some money right into your pocket.

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  1. valleycat1 says:

    When I purge stuff, anything that we don’t want but is still usable gets donated either to a local charity or dropped at the local Salvation Army. I’ve also sent shoes (in decent condition) to Soles for Souls; our optometrist collects eyeglasses for charity. We don’t really toss enough stuff at one time to warrant the trouble of a garage sale. My husband will occasionally sell some things on ebay – mostly camping/hiking gear or photography items.

  2. Fawn says:

    I have been on a cleaning streak lately. I am tired of all the crap that fills our house. We have a small house (900 sq. ft) and hardly any storage space. I just feel like I am suffocating in all of it! My problem is getting rid of the stuff. I have quite a pile of stuff I want to donate, but I never go that way, and when I do, I forget the stuff. Any ideas? (I have a truck and we get quite a bit of snow in the winter, Montana, so leaving it in my vehicle isn’t an option…

  3. Steve in W MA says:

    Throw it out, throw it all out!!!

  4. Steve in W MA says:

    Fawn, just bring it to the landfill. You have to be merciless. It’s either YOU or the stuff. Pick YOU.

    If you live on a busy road you could try making a big pile out front of the house for people to pick up as the drive by.

    Whatever’s left after 3 days goes right to the dump.

  5. Patty says:

    Please remember, those new/old books you don’t want any longer, donate them to your Friends group at your local public library. You can get a receipt for tax purposes for your donation. I suggest to keep a list of the titles that you gave away as part of the record keeping process.

    You get a tax deduction, your Friends group can sell them and put that money back into the Library. It’s a great was to create some sustainability.

  6. kristine says:

    Fawn, try freecycle. You can post it, and the person who wants it comes and picks it up. Or you can meet them in a public place near to you. Freecycle.org

  7. valleycat1 says:

    Patty – very true – I am ruthlessly pruning our book collection & the local library has benefited greatly. Also, good children’s books (anything appropriate for children/young people are ofn accepted by school libraries if they fill a hole in their collection.

    Old towels, blankets & even sheets are needed by animal shelters. Household items & sometimes clothing by women’s shelters or similar groups.

    This time of year our local paper often posts ‘wish lists’ from various local charities (& most charities post online if they have a website).

  8. CNM says:

    What if you are a purger but your spouse is a hoarder? I am merciless when it comes to getting rid of stuff. My husband, however, seems like he wants to keep every scrap of paper he has ever laid eyes on! Any suggestions? Right now the solution is that his random junk goes into a cardboard box so at least it is out of (immediate) sight. Not a great long term solution, though.

  9. Jenny says:

    Yesterday I spent one afternoon turning our craft room into a usable space. It was where craft projects went to die. Even in the event that I knew where something was, I probably couldn’t get to it. We packed our van full and took it all to the Salvation Army. We didn’t make a dime, but the thing is, we don’t have a garage or anywhere to store stuff until we can sell it. It just prolongs the clutter agony, and normally we wouldn’t make enough off the stuff to go to the trouble. I’m sure someone can use most of that stuff though, and I’m so happy to have my craft room back :-)

  10. Michele says:

    I do this 4 times a year! We donate most of it, sell some of it and freecycle a tiny amount of it. It all adds up at tax time. I seriously hate doing garage sales so we take photos and the tax deduction for most of it.

  11. Brittany says:

    Freecycle or goodwill it. Don’t just throw it away!

  12. KC says:

    When I lived in a 1400 sq ft house I keep things to a minimum – had to, no space. But now I’m in a larger home and things tend to accumulate because there are places to store them. But once a year I go through an area I consider cluttered (this year it was my bedroom and closet) and donate stuff to Goodwill.

    Now if only I could get my husband on board. He’s a real hoarder. Fortunately he never buys anything, but everything he’s received as a gift or work materials, etc, he’s kept. He likes to keep things in piles, too. But like a friend of mine told me. Just pull from the bottom of the pile and discard.

  13. Mel says:

    @Fawn: you just have to do it. Put aside a day / morning / afternoon, and when that time comes, load up the truck and go. Maybe get a friend over to help. Is there a nice cafe or something near or on the way to the donation place? Treat yourself on the way back.

    Hmm, I should take some of my own advice – I have one back to donate, and one to dispose of (awkward things, like a dead car battery). I know *of* the places I need to take them, but not the actual locations. Plus the fact we don’t have a car… But, we’re moving in a few weeks so no doubt both piles will grow and we’ll have a vehicle available.

  14. Kate says:

    As a person who is currently cleaning out a relative’s house who would definitely qualify as a hoarder, I have to chime in with these words: the humane society gladly and with open arms will accept old towels/blankets/sheets; if you want old pictures to pass to a future generation, make sure to label the people in the pictures; go through old photos and cull out the blurry ones; it is obsene to hang onto usable clothing that people who are less fortunate can use; keep a recycling bin and shredder by your front door and handle mail as soon as it comes in; do everything you can to take your name off junk mailing lists (credit card offers, etc.);

  15. Kate says:

    Don’t wait to have a yard sale someday: set a yard sale date and start putting things in the yard sale pile or sell it some other way.
    Don’t rent/build a storage unit to store things–at some point your relatives will have to go through it and make decisions that you should have made;
    If a family member dies and you have to go through their house, make decisions! Don’t bring it all home with you.
    Don’t start a “collection”–they cost money and take up room;
    Don’t keep the little Christmas gifts that you know you will never use–donate them to a school or to a thrift shop immediately. Just because someone gave it to you, doesn’t mean that you need to keep it.
    Keep your wrapping paper and stationary supplies in a central place and periodically inventory it instead of just buying more because you “might need it”.
    Biggest thing: You can’t take it with you! At some point, most of us are going to have to downsize into a smaller place. From my research, older people are less likely to make a move that is beneficial for them (i.e. moving into an assisted living place) because they have so much “stuff”.

  16. Matt says:

    I’m doing the same thing, only with huge collections of small stuff that have built into boxes and boxes I don’t want — books, video games, and movies. And clothes.

    Probably thousands of dollars being donated to the Salvation Army next weekend. Everyone should do this.

  17. Gretchen says:

    Thankfully, I don’t buy so much extra junk each year I need to take every single thing out of my closet to review it’s usefulness.

  18. Joan says:

    My husband and I have been following along with the Out with the Old activities.

    Our comment on this one is a little point – I noticed, Trent, that you said this gives you an enjoyable activity to do with your wife. I thought we were the only couple that thought that!

    We will pick something – books, closets, a room, and we’ll say, “Oh, let’s play ‘Sort the books.'” Dorky, maybe, but we really do enjoy it and we talk a lot about other things as we go. A win-win.

    Meanwhile, this was a good fit, because as we started our five-year plan, one of the things that quickly rose to the top was even less clutter and even fewer possessions.

  19. michael bash says:

    I haven’t read it all but the 1st commandment is, “If you don’t use it once a yer, you don’t need it, and get rid of it.” This allows Xmas decorations, for example. simplify, simplify.

  20. michael bash says:

    That’s “year”.

  21. GayleRN says:

    @Fawn, You go grocery shopping don’t you? On shopping day load up the truck with what you want to get rid of. Go to that place and get rid of it. Then go grocery shopping load the truck and go home. Unload truck. All done. Rinse and repeat as needed.

  22. socalgal says:

    A Fawn #2- I either give things away at Freecycle or list them on Craigslist under “Free”. The people come to me (actually to stem the flow of people I only give the first few my address via email). It has worked out great & no more trips to Goodwill!

  23. Steve says:

    Don’t let “but it’s worth money” and “but it’s still good” be the friction that stops you from clearing your life of clutter.

    A lot of what gets donated to goodwill gets thrown away anyways. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for keeping stuff out of landfills! But there is a corollary rule to the one year rule – let’s call it the one month rule. If you have a pile of stuff that you’ve been meaning to get rid of, and it’s been sitting there for more than a month, just throw it in the trash.

  24. Briana @ GBR says:

    Cleaned out the closet and heading to the consignment store tonight!

  25. DeLaina says:

    Freecycle is also a good way to get rid of things that may not have value, but are in still usable order. I just moved and had a “Freecycle Yardsale” that helped get rid of a lot of things I didn’t have the time or the energy to really sell. I posted that @ 3pm at my address, bring your own bags/boxes and you can have whatever you want. 3/4 of the stuff was gone that day and the rest the next day.

  26. AniVee says:

    You have no idea how most of that “junk to take to the land fill” would be welcomed here in Latin America. A lot of the stuff in the 2nd hand clothing shops here is stamped “GOODWILL” inside.

    Many of the newly-arrived-to-the-USA (from eastern Europe, from Latin America, from Africa, where-ever) need to start all over again and welcome anything they can receive or buy used. A good way to get “plugged in” to a redistribution network (if there isn’t one available to you) is through the churches – especially the bilingual ones. The Lupus Foundation (in and around NJ, at least) runs terrific thrift shops under the name “UNIQUE” and will come and pick up donations of clothes, furniture, appliances, housewares.
    Knowing someone needs and will use my stuff is great motivation to clean out closets!

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