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Oct 4, 2013

The Declutterer's Dilemma: When to Donate? When to Sell?



The more I ditch, the more I realize this is not just about a book here, an old scarf there.  I would honestly like to be rid of more than half the things I own!

It's not only that it feels like clutter; it doesn't even feel like me -- not the present-day me anyway.   I would not choose to purchase (or save) any of these possessions now but they're also very hard to part with.  I don't (like to) think these items are keeping me anchored in the past, but who knows: two decades-worth of old journals, a box of old letters, another of old photos.  Am I going to drag these things with me for the rest of my life?

If, say, they were lost in a fire, how devastated would I be?  Or would I feel relieved?

Then there are those items that I could sell.  The donate vs. sell conflict is a big one for me.  On the one hand, it would feel like a wonderful gift to myself not to have to invest the time and effort to photograph, list on eBay, box, and ship all the things I'd like to be rid of (even Craigslist can be a hassle and it's not a great place to sell small items like, say, sunglasses) -- but do I deserve it? 

On the other hand, who wouldn't like a little extra cash for items there's clearly a market for?

I'm looking at you, Patti Playpal!

I found some interesting websites discussing these very issues (the comments tend to be more interesting than the articles themselves, so check them out too), here and here.  I'm not the only one dealing with the clutter conundrum.

We live in a culture that is obsessed with the cash value of things: think Antiques Roadshow and Storage Wars.  Auction sites like eBay allow us to check what people are willing to pay for almost anything we own and then to sell it ourselves; we no longer have to resort to garage sales or consignment shops.  Even old books can be sold on Amazon (Michael did this just this week, ka-ching).

Decluttering raises a lot of interesting questions about one's relationship to both stuff and money, as well as to time.  It can force you to examine beliefs you may have inherited from parents -- if your parents were raised during the Great Depression, they may have experienced privation firsthand and passed down a fear of not enough-ness that doesn't reflect your life today.  On the other hand, fear of a sudden loss in the value of your national currency might cause you to hoard things -- and who's to say that might not be a good idea?

Today, I had to make a decision about that blue plush peacoat (modeled up top and below) I found last year at the Salvation Army for, like $5.99, and which Cathy wore last winter in her pink hair photoshoot.







I thought about listing it on eBay -- it's vintage, it clean, it's cute.  But instead I brought it back to the Salvation Army.  It just seems like too much trouble to sell clothes online, unless it's like, an original Courrèges. 

Meanwhile, I dumped a few more things today: a big bag of fabric, more books, clean cotton underwear with too much Spandex to be comfortable. (Since I've started sewing boxers, I feel like I'm suffocating in stretch cotton briefs.)







In closing, readers, when you declutter/downsize/simplify, how do you decide what gets donated and what gets sold?

Do you ever feel pressure -- or give pressure -- to sell something for money rather than just give it away?

Could you -- and this is a big issue for me -- forgive yourself if you later regretted the choice you'd made to give away something if, at some future time, you might need the money?

So much to think about.  Maybe over a glass of wine.

Have a great day, everybody!

47 comments:

  1. I've been saying exactly the same thing, "I need to get rid of half of this stuff". And debating about donate, sell, trash (last resort). My Mom grew up in the thirties and we've been talking about how much "stuff" there is to buy now compared to when she was a child. It's hard for me to let things go, because I wonder if I will need them later or regret not having them. Clearly, some of the things are long disused and the chance of using them again is slim. I wish you well in your ditching efforts. You are becoming a bit of support for me in my struggle with discarding clutter. Hey, if you can do it, so can I! Thanks for posting your thoughts.

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    1. Hope all this navel-gazing can be worth something to somebody! ;)

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  2. I love to purge, and rarely regret getting rid of something I haven't thought about in several years. I have done Ebay, Craigslist, Amazon and donation, depending on the item. My Ebay rule is if I think it will sell, but fail in two listings, it gets donated. Clothing is always donated. Fabric is good for a couple of tries on Ebay. Freeing your world of clutter is very liberating!

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  3. I have a huge yard sale. What ever doesn't sell goes to the Salvation Army. And I never turn down an offer. If I mark something for $5.00 and someone offers $1.00. I take it.

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  4. This is a fascinating topic, Peter. Having completed the biggest "simplifying" exercise of my life (and not just physical possessions) I now feel like I could walk away from virtually everything I own without a moment's regret. In fact, I have often thought that I wouldn't mind doing just that.

    In answer to your survey:

    I decided from the outset to donate everything to charity rather than having to make decisions about individual items, which would have slowed the process down and made it harder. In hindsight that was a good decision. At best, the amount of money I might have recovered would have been a few hundred dollars (in total) - not worth the time and hassle. And donating meant the stuff was gone without delay - I don't have a car so boxed it all up in a spare room during the process and had it collected at the end.

    I never feel pressure to sell something for money rather than give it away. I'm more likely to suggest those who can afford it donate their stuff to charity.

    Could I forgive myself for giving something away if I later need the money? I wouldn't have even thought of this. If I am ever in need of money in the future I do not expect that a few hundred bucks will make or break. In any case, the idea of ebay etc makes my head spin and I would rather do some paid work if I needed money.

    In all my years of getting rid of stuff I have never given another thought to whether I should have sold (or kept) a single thing.

    Spud.

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  5. Going through the decluttering process myself. :) Definitely do not underestimate the value of your time! I know my stuff would never be worthy of Sotheby's or Antique Roadshow, so I donate it. I see it as a win-win because someone else is going to be thrilled with a new treasure and Goodwill/Salvation Army can keep their other programs going. The hardest part is resisting the urge to browse after I drop of the stuff!

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  6. My parents are boomers but inherited the not-enoughness gene from their depression era parents. So, perhaps my non-attachment to stuff is a form of rebellion.

    I mostly give things away. It makes me feel good to think that someone else will benefit from something I don't need. Plus it's better for the environment. But every so often I'll sell something on ebay. Usually it's the sort of thing that will sell quickly and be worth the effort - something designer or that I think there might be a market for. It's not really about the money for me, it's more about finding a second home for something that I don't need/want.

    I don't think I've ever had a regret about purging old photos or notes or things like that.

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  7. I prefer to donate because the item is gone immediately. If I keep it to sell online or in a yard sale, I tend to second guess getting rid of it. Plus, donating gives others an opportunity to find a "treasure" at the 2nd hand store, benefitting both the charity and the buyer.

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  8. Consider if you can afford to replace what you are getting rid of. In most cases you can. Therefore, if you miss it in the future it can be replaced. You enjoyed all these items for the time you had them. If it is no longer fun, interesting, or useful , let it go. I sell occasionally on E-bay but I do it for the entertainment not the money.

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  9. Oh, lord - preach, brother! We're in the throes of this, and I'm grateful to you and the commenters here for reinforcing in my mind the possibility of donating much or all of the stuff currently filling our new little apartment almost floor to ceiling.

    I sold one thing on e-Bay, found it an amazing hassle, and made about $3 after postage (which I did an amazingly bad job of estimating - after all, it's been fourteen years since I lived somewhere that even had a postal system).

    I think, and soon, that we'll be dropping it off at some worthy place, and frankly I can't wait.

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  10. Dearest Peter---the universe has sent you to me with this issue at a time when I've been going round and round in my pea-sized brain about these very things. Cleaning out my mother's house when she went into assisted living has made getting rid of even sentimental objects I've had since Kindergarten (I'm 60!) easier, but I get stuck on the details. I too think I'm leaning towards the donating, except this sequined Chanel bag of my sister's, as time does seem the most valuable thing I have right now!

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    1. Send the bag to Cathy, the rest donate. ;)

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  11. I'm doing ebay (again) partly because I love seeing the last minute bids flow in. If something doesn't sell after posting it twice then I take it to our local Swap not Shop event.
    As to whether everything I own caught on fire no, as long as my animals were ok I don't care. BUT (and there's always a but isn't there), the stuff I had in my garage after I stopped designing costumes for a living kept us afloat when my husband was diagnosed with cancer and neither of us could work. It meant I could eat, pay the rent and keep up with the bills. Yes, my grandmother was an adult during the depression and I learned some of her skills but now I'm ok letting it all go. This time, instead of staying afloat, I'm going for a down payment on a house : )

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  12. My dear one very reasonably pointed out that I might feel a twinge of regret for one item out of every hundred that I get rid of, but that losing the other ninety-nine would feel great. And he was right.

    Having grown up in a hoarders house I know it can sneak up on you if you're not careful. It helps me to take an article of clothing that has gotten a bit shabby and turn it into a rag. Just today I was cleaning my very first treadle machine with a much loved old shirt. And it was nice that it was still useful to me. Thanks for discussing this.

    Judith

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  13. You have truly inspired me and I’ve been ditching a little bit each day.

    I have always struggled with sell vs. donate. About a year ago I had my very first yard sale. Items had been collected for months and were cleaned and displayed at the crack of dawn for the early pickers. Other than spending a beautiful day sitting outside with my husband where we actually TALKED, it was not worth the time. We made enough $ to get some takeout dinner.

    I’ve been scanning old photos so that I don’t have to think about keeping every single print that is fuzzy or too dark, but oh the memories of that trip. I started scanning the most cherished photos first (so many people lost photos during Hurricane Sandy) and do a little bit at a time.

    Keep up the good work and know that you are inspiring us hoarders.

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  14. We moved interstate ( in Australia) recently and we moved from a huge Queenslander house to a small two bedroom no storage beach hosue. We had a huge garage sale before we left... I have not missed anything we sold.

    Our new neighbours mother passed on a month ago and yesterday I went round to have a look at some fabric she had... more than 10 massive bags! The house was so full of stuff and her son and wife have been going through it for more than a week and not made a dent.

    Made me think of having another big clear out. It made me sad to see all that beautiful fabric not being made into something.

    I think that letting go is hard to do and making money seems to make it easier. Yet it is a lot of effort, as is acquiring a the stuff in the first place. It is a hard decision and not one I have solved yet.

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  15. I buy most of my things second hand and then wear them for years and I still hmmm about getting rid if things that are clearly worn ... sigh ...

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  16. And you salvaged another sewing machine while you are trying to divest yourself of clutter? I give away clothing and shoes to Eastern Farm Workers which has an office not far. I have a better idea of where it's going to end up than at the Salvation Army.
    I feel like I'm drowning when I have too much stuff around. I don't buy anything I don't have a place for. Of course my dh is addicted to buying tools at yard sales but I don't have to look at them of course I can't park my car in there either.

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  17. Twice in my life, I have lost everything all my clothes, except for one or two dresses. Once when I was 10 and when I was 17. It wasn't the end of the world and nobody took me out shopping to rebuild my wardrobe. I survived.
    When I give things away to Goodwill, I never miss them, I forget them completely. But I cherish the space in my house or garage.

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  18. Only rarely have I bothered to sell stuff rather than give it away. Partly because you don't really make much. The rule is you can either price it to move, or you can get more money for an item, but be prepared to sit on it for a while. I just don't have the interest.

    If I've enjoyed using or having something and now no longer want it, I'm happy to give it away so someone else can use and enjoy it. I've rarely regretted it.

    I've also done cross-country moves where we've stripped our possessions down to a few boxes. A few things I regretted jettisoning out of necessity, but for the most part I haven't missed anything I left behind.

    When you get right down to it, it's just stuff.

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  19. I've found the problem with selling items is it gives you money to go out and buy more stuff, which then fills the space made from clearing out.
    I like to put things in boxes write Free on the side and put them out on the street, sometimes i will place items in area appropriate streets, so clothes go near to where homeless people congregate, that kind of thing.
    How can you reach out to grasp the opportunity's of tomorrow if your hands are full of Yesterdays.

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  20. I recently got involved with two charities that are cake related. Cakes are not that expensive to make, but I am on a budget, so I figured I would turn part of my de-cluttering effort into a fundraiser. When things do sell, it will help to offset the cost that are involved to bake and decorate a cake for someone. If I don't think something will sell, and it is useful to others, I will give it away. Both options will give me space and also ensure the money goes to better things, than more stuff collecting dust in my house. ;-)

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  21. I live in a city where there are a fair number of immigrants starting over, young people struggling to get started, and people who are poor for any number of reasons. I almost always donate, either to a place that helps people directly with furniture and clothing or to charities that use yarn and fabric to make things that go to those in need. I almost emptied out the house this year as we were planning to move cities (can't find a house to move into that we like or we'd be gone), so your point about dragging stuff with your forever is well taken. Some things that went have been around for decades and moved with one or the other of us several times. We're down to what we use mostly now plus some ancestor china/ornaments, old pictures, and some sentimental bits. There are some things like the valentine my great grandmother got the year before she married that I'll never part with, but it's a small list.
    Oh, it's liberating not to have to look after so many things. The one thing I did sell was my knitting machine as it's one of those items that is a white elephant unless someone really wants it, unlike a good coat or fabric. As for money - every time we have a yard sale, I end up giving half of it away. I don't own anything that's so valuable (that I'd part with) that money enters into the keep or go decision.

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  22. I get the dilemma. For me, my time and a house in which I can breathe and have people over without them having to clear a space on the couch is worth more than the money I would make from selling it. Plus, selling it would indicate I have to organise a place, date... to sell everything. That sounds very complicated. In my situation, a lot of people need the stuff I am giving away more than I need it. + In Flemish there is this saying: "If my aunt had a beard, she'd be my uncle". Meaning: you can think about maybe and what if as much as you like, you never know what life will throw at you!
    You should try and to the best you can and don't look back!
    (+ donating = more free time for sewing!)

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  23. I almost always donate, both because I think it's a win-win situation for the charity and the people who buy from them and also because I'm too lazy to bother listing and posting most things. We also hand down good used kids clothing to younger cousins and friends' kids because I think it's the nice traditional way to do it. Some of my daughter's clothes have been handed down through three kids and that pleases me enormously for some reason! Other things I will sell though, big stuff that will probably fetch a decent amount of money - appliances, furniture etc, especially things I can make people come and pick up! I don't know what the tipping point is though, when an item becomes worth the hassle of selling, it would be an interesting study!

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  24. Along with most of the other commenters, I always donate. The hassle of selling and, most importantly, the time it takes makes it just not worth it to me. I already have too little free time for the things I like to do, and that time is worth more to me than the small amount of money I'll make from selling my (not intrinsically valuable) stuff. Plus, in London there are many people struggling to make ends meet under our current government, and hopefully both they and the charities I donate my stuff to will benefit more from my stuff than I would by selling it.

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  25. For me, it depends on whether I really care what happens to the goods in question. UK charity shops only keep items on the shelf for a few weeks, then clothes go to the rag man & books to be pulped. Sure they still make money, but sometimes I don't want things to meet that fate. I do donate clothes my sons have outgrown, & seperately-bagged offcuts from my dressmaking which go straight to the ragman.
    But I couldn't bear all my mother's vintage craft books & patterns to be pulped, so have set up an Etsy shop (AnniesBookshop) to make sure they find appreciative homes.

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  26. This isn't a topic I struggle with so I'm not sure I have any advice to offer. I'm a minimalist and I prefer clean, uncluttered, relatively open spaces and I don't believe in storing stuff just because. If I'm not using that item, it needs to go otherwise it is emotionally weighing me down, taking up valuable space, creating clutter that agitates my system, and stopping the flow of energy and preventing new things from coming into that space - especially creativity.

    When I no longer want an item, I give it away. If I know someone who would enjoy it, I give it to them and if not, I give it to a charity. I think of this as a way of tithing or contributing to the community or sending generosity around and what goes around comes around. Again, it creates positive flow.

    The amount of money I could earn from selling my unwanted stuff is not enough to solve whatever money issue I want to solve. Very rarely have I given something away I wished I'd kept and my philosophy is - that's life, what is, is.

    Not sure that'll help but I'd say keep going because less clutter is an amazing feel. So light and full of potential.

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  27. I'm thinking it's a mistake (at least for me) to look at ebay when decluttering. Finding out something is really worth some decent money and you were going to give it away or trash it - now there's another decision of "is it worth the time". And said item is still in the house while pondering that... I don't really want to start ebay sales, so I've been selling on Craigslist for a bit less than ebay prices. No shipping, cash only, "as is" only, less hassle. And no possibility of disputes.

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  28. Peter I didn't have time to read all the comments so forgive me if this has been discussed. But as someone who has issues with stuff (due to a love of thrifting similar to yours) I tend to declutter at least 2-3x a year so that things don't get out of control and always have a place. My suggestion is for the harder to decide stuff, put it in a black garbage bag and seal with a rubber band or tape. Give yourself a time limit, such as a week or a month. If you don't have any regrets in that time take it right to the sally ann without opening it up. You will find most of the time you can't even remember what is in it! Once in a blue moon you reconsider an item but you can take it out and ditch the rest of that hard to decide on stuff!

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  29. I have sold on Ebay & Craigslist, but now far prefer donating. We have SO much, that after a couple of years, we still haven't made a dent. But I have never thought back and regretted donating anything. The few items I sold were really big - nice french horns, or large sets of furniture that we simply couldn't even take to a Goodwill store ourselves. And as I said in an earlier comment, you can actually see some "profit" (if you want to call it that) by donating. Keep track of your donations, and you might be surprised what you can deduct from your taxes.

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  30. A month ago, our second delivery came after moving back from overseas. This was the stuff that we had put in storage for 4.5 years. Oy vay. I had just gotten things settled in and then such a depressing onslaught from the past. We live in a house, but it has no attic and only a crawl space. So there is great incentive not to put anything in "deep storage". Yesterday I had a garage sale -- never really an effective way of decluttering. But I got to sit out on a lovely day with my sister and gave our daughters a chance to have a lemonade and cookie stand with good traffic. We still have an enormous pile of stuff that AmVets is coming to get on Wednesday. Sigh. I do have a little box I held back for photographing and selling on ebay, too. Thanks for tackling this all-too-common issue in our stuff-filled world!

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  31. I have to comment on Patti Playpal. When I was a child I received one for a present from Grandmom. A few days later the arm fell off. My parents took her to a doll hospital for repair. But it wasn't a successful repair. She continued to have arm problems although I never was one to play with dolls much. I have no idea when or where she disappeared from the house. Funny to see one after so many years. Need less to say I never really missed her.

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  32. I think it really depends on whether or not there is some emotional event associated with a particular item. I saved pretty much all the baby clothes and things from all my kids. This was great because my oldest is a girl and we took really good care of her clothes, so her younger sister has worn them. I just had baby #4 and because I kept my son's things I'm able to avoid shopping for things for him, with the minor exception of winter clothing, since my older son was born in the spring and the clothes for 3-6 month size are summer clothes; the new baby will need winter clothing in that size. However, I already have a lot of gender neutral things that he can use that were worn by his sisters. Anyway, now that we're done having kids I've been going through the baby things and I've given away quite a bit of the girl baby stuff to friends/acquaintances who have baby girls. This makes me feel good, since I know the items will get use from their new owners. Things that are sized 2T or bigger are going to my niece, because my brother and his wife have a really tight budget and anything they don't need to buy is a good thing, and I get the added advantage of seeing clothes I have fond memories of worn by another little girl that I love. Allowing these clothes to leave was a bit difficult, especially ones I made. The solution is that I've kept a few garments for posterity so that if/when my girls have little girls they can wear them. I did this with a few select handmade dresses from my childhood and my daughters loved having that connection with me.

    When it comes to things like papers & such, I'm really bad at getting rid of things. I'm learning to do a monthly paper purge, which is difficult when you have a lot of children's artwork and they want you to keep it all I have them pick 2 or 3 each month that they want to keep and file them to be put in a scrapbook for each child. The rest goes in the recycle.

    Other items are a conundrum for me. My dad was born in the Netherlands in 1940; it was already occupied at that time and he had little in the way of personal belongings. He used to tell us stories about how someone had given him a toy truck and that he was afraid it would get taken away because it was made of metal (metal was confiscated and used to melt down to make weapons). I don't have this truck but I do have papers that have historical family significance: my dad's ration card, a letter of safe conduct for my grandmother and dad when they had to travel, the map my grandfather used to escape from the Germans when he was working with the Dutch resistance. I don't want to get rid of these because they hold so much value in terms of family history.

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  33. When I declutter, giving it away is more satisfying than selling. That's how I let go of 'stuff' including the feelings that I associate with it Peter.

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  34. Anybody recall the George Carlin routine "A Place For My Stuff!": "A house is just a pile of stuff with a cover on it...it's where you store your stuff ..while you go out and get MORE stuff!"

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  35. My hubby just spent a couple of hours in the loft looking for a lego ship he promised our son. It turns out we sold it on ebay in 2008! That was disappointing mistake, but trawling through my ebay records reminded me of the many things I am glad to be rid of! Decluttering can be emotionally draining, but often it feels great. And there are other lego ships.

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  36. My curent plan is to have a clean garbage bag on the go, and drop it off almost every week at "Filles", an abbreviated version of a charity shop's name. They sell very, very cheaply, are open only 1 day a week, and do not trash items given. On the other side, we are ardent charity shoppers ourselves, which is a sure way to save money, be green, and have fun. I sew almost exclusively with rummage items. Just now sewing a tangerine T, with apricot trim, and reading my 1943 Constance Talbot sewing book. Lots obout being resourceful there. So thanks so much for generous donators, and savvy charity shops, for helping so much! Cathie, in Quebec.

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  37. When we first bought our house and were doing it up, 90% of our belongings were in boxes for two years. When we came to unpack, I realised that if I hadn't needed to go hunting for something during those two years then what was the point of keeping it? The majority of the boxed up junk was then dumped or given to charity. Very liberating and I've far more ruthless since then. Good luck! x

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  38. I have the same struggles when determining what to sell and what to donate. I usually revert to if there is a label that would motivate someone to purchase it. In most cases I donate ... because it's easy, and why not give it to someone who is in need.
    Thank you for the motivation. Your posts have helped motivate me to clean my closet! :)

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  39. Obviously I try to sell things such as patterns and I do sell the occasional book on Amazon, but if things keep hanging around waiting to sell, it is THAT much harder to get rid of them in the end, so most of the time I just give them away as the spirit takes me. It's very freeing and really, nothing is usually worth the time to sell.

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  40. I'm enjoying your process of lightening your life. I give everything away. It is so much easier, and like Myrna said, it is a way of giving back.

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  41. I donate everything and the only time I even consider selling is with my books (which I still end up donating and usually just end up keeping). I live in San Antonio, which is physically larger than Rhode Island, and takes longer than an hour just to drive across, and there are a few places that will do drive by pick up. There is an organization that drives by my house every 3 weeks or so and I try to make sure that when they come by that I have given them a box full of anything we don't need, which is relatively easy considering I have three young girls that seem to grow out of things very quickly.

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  42. The thing about selling on eBay is that it is expensive - not just in eBay fees which are very high (listing fee, final value fee, paypal fees) but also the packaging materials to send the item in - bubble envelopes, bubble wrap, cardboard boxes. As the saying goes 'You have to spend money to make money', but at the end of the day you don't want to be spending money hand over fist. Sometimes you just have to cut your losses and just get rid of it otherwise you could be sitting on it for ages. eBay is very time consuming as Peter said - taking photographs (in some cases more than one), writing an honest description, listing the item. If you have all day to do this then great, but if you work full time the last thing you want to do is sit in front of a computer for a couple of hours every night listing stuff. Even though it's great when something sells and the money comes in, the time and effort it took to make that happen might not make it worth it in the end. I take my unwanted items to the local PDSA store (Peoples Dispensary for Sick Animals), a veterinary charity which helps people who are on welfare care for their pets by charging less in fees.

    From
    Cee Jay/Leigh on Sea, Essex, England, Britian

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    1. You're right -- eBay isn't always worth the trouble.

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