How to Declutter and Put Cash in Your Pocket

Life makes clutter by Darkstream on Flickr!People have a tendency to accumulate stuff. They load up their closets with it, their shelves with it, and much of their living space with it. Take a peek inside your closets or your pantry for proof of this phenomenon.

Our own experience is another great example. My wife has a much stronger tendency than I do to save things. She’ll put things away in boxes and stick them in the closet, even though the stuff probably won’t ever be used again. It’s simply her natural tendency.

My tendency is the opposite. I tend to want to minimize the stuff I own. When we’ve pillaged our collections of books and DVDs and CDs in the past, for example, it was mostly a process where I wanted to eliminate virtually all of the items while she wanted to keep most of them, and we carefully compromised between our opposing viewpoints. And that’s still what we do – labeling boxes in the closet with date of last use and agreeing that boxes with labels more than a year past can be eliminated.

Here’s the thing, though: all of that stuff stored in the closet is money just sitting there gathering dust, and it’s particularly painful when you have difficulty making ends meet or are struggling valiantly to pay off debts.

Here are ten tactics to use to clear out a lot of your unused stuff (freeing up space in your home) while also putting some cash in your pocket.

1. Go through all the stuff in your storage areas.
We have two lofts in our garage and a large storage area in our basement that tend to accumulate a lot of unwanted stuff. These are great places to hit, as the items that wind up in storage in those areas are usually items that are seasonal (which you’d mostly keep) or are never used (which you can almost universally get rid of). Go through your storage bins item by item as well – don’t just keep or chuck a bin because of what you think is in it.

Tip #1: Take it out, then put it back I find it very useful, when cleaning out a storage area, to simply pull everything out onto the floor in a large room so that I can see all of it, then start putting items back in a sensible pattern. This way, I’m forced to consider each item multiple times and it forces me to take a specific action to keep it, instead of just seeing it there and deciding to be lazy and simply leave it in place.

2. Go through all your clothes.
Get rid of anything that’s worn, anything that doesn’t fit well, and anything that just isn’t as aesthetically pleasing as you thought. Again, it’s useful to pull everything out, then only put back clothes that you actually will wear in the future, leaving out all of the pieces that don’t fit in some way or another. Not only will this likely eliminate quite a bit of your clothes, it’ll also give you a chance to rearrange them into a more sensible system and refresh your wardrobe a bit as you’ll be bringing forth some clothes that “drifted” to the back over time.

3. Empty out your kitchen cabinets and pantry.
This is one activity that I particularly enjoy doing, because I love being in the kitchen. It’s pretty simple, actually – just pull everything out of the cupboards and see what you have. The goal here isn’t to get rid of stuff, but instead discover all of the interesting stuff that’s slipped to the back unnoticed over the last few months. These items always form the backbone of several meals for us, which are essentially free ones since, without the cupboard clean-out, these items would have been forgotten until past their expiration date. If you’ve got it, you might as well use it.

4. Dig through your media collections (DVDs, CDs, books, etc.).
Media collections are almost always overstuffed with items that we thought we’d like, enjoyed once, and then forgot about since it wasn’t nearly as transcendent as we thought it would be. They fill our shelves, gather dust, and are forgotten about most of the time. In other words, they’re the perfect place to start trimming fat. Go through each item and ask yourself honestly, “Will I listen to/watch/read this item again in the next year or two? Or would I rather be doing something else?” Every item that you honestly recognize as something you won’t pick up again soon is an item to get rid of. Not only will this clear a lot of space (making your living space much less cluttered), but it’ll likely raise you a lot of money as well.

Tip #2: No replacements When you’re getting rid of a lot of your stuff, it can be tempting to replace some of it with shiny new stuff. Don’t. Instead, put more effort into choosing high-quality items that you’ll actually use again and again instead of just one-off items that you’ll barely use that just fill space. Think about each of your purchases, and make each one count.

5. Clean out your garage.
Garages are almost always accumulators of things that should be dealt with but aren’t, often resulting in a crowded and barely-functional mess. Give your garage a thorough cleaning and get rid of that stuff you don’t actually use. With regards to the stuff that you do use, organize it so you can easily find it. Bring in some well-labeled bins to keep track of things. Install a pegboard to keep many of your tools hung up for easy access. But, most importantly of all, get rid of the junk that just takes up space. A more functional, clean garage gives you more breathing room to work on projects that can end up improving your home and saving you money.

6. Walk through your whole house, evaluating what you actually use.
Many people have tons of items that just sit in their home, gathering dust without use or appreciation. Video game consoles. TVs that are never watched. Decorations on shelves that no one in the family really likes. Old chairs that no one sits in. Look around your home carefully and look for the things that no one uses or no one likes. Those are things that just take up space and should be sold.

7. Take clothes and some individual items to consignment.
When you start unloading all of this stuff, the best place to go for starters is to a consignment shop, where they will sell many of your common and well-cared-for items for you and split the proceeds. This is a great place to take clothes and some of your other individual items, depending on the shop (decorative ones are usually good candidates for consignment). This is an easy way for you to get some reasonable income from these items. If you’re feeling charitable (or if clothes don’t sell at consignment), take them to Goodwill – not only will you be helping others, but you can get a tax deduction from the receipt as well.

8. Sell non-media collections on eBay, listing valuable individual items separately and less valuable ones in bulk.
eBay is a great place to list obscure collectibles, such as trading cards, baseball cards, figurines, and so on, as well as individually valuable media items such as box sets. In these cases, the effort of listing and packaging on eBay is worth it; for individual DVDs, CDs, and other single media items that aren’t otherwise exceptional, it’s not worth the effort, as the time you put in won’t be financially rewarded.

9. Take media collections to used media stores (or online swapping sites).
After you’ve cleaned out your media collections, take the unwanted items to used media stores for cash. The return here is fairly low, but it’s very convenient and a quick way to eliminate big swaths of your media collection. You can also try swapping the items online for other items, such as PaperBackSwap (for book trading) or SwapADVD (for DVD swapping), but your goal shouldn’t be to accumulate more, but to essentially “rent” new items, enjoy them, then trade them away again.

Tip #3: Sentiment Many people tend to hang onto unwanted items for sentimental reasons, such as not offending family by getting rid of it. Don’t let sentiment make you keep an item you wouldn’t otherwise want. For starters, the gift itself is often not one that the giver put extensive thought into, so you don’t need to feel guilty about getting rid of something that they poured their thoughts into. On the other hand, a caring and loving relative would not want you to keep something that you didn’t find personally valuable for no good reason. Only keep items that are genuinely important to you, not items that you’re only keeping because of potential guilt.

10. Have a yard sale for remaining items. As for the remaining items you’ve decided to get rid of, but don’t know how to toss? Have a big yard sale for them. If you have children, get them involved – have them bake cookies and make lemonade to sell at the yard sale. Not only is this an opportunity to get rid of stuff, it can also provide you some cash and form the basis of a family weekend together. After the yard sale, if there’s still anything left from your unwanted stuff, give it away or trash it.

Good luck in getting rid of your unwanted and forgotten stuff – and turning it into cash!

Trent Hamm
Trent Hamm
Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.

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