Are you ready to pull up stakes and head off on your next adventure? Then you may have to declutter. Whether you want to hit the road or move into one of those tiny houses everyone’s talking about, there’s decluttering in your future. But it’s hard to say goodbye to a lifetime of collected stuff. Objects have memories attached. In addition, simply tossing usable things is wasteful. As a result, a lot of us keep things around that we will never use or even look at again.
But it’s easier to declutter than you think. Technology gives us space-saving ways to preserve memories. Plenty of organizations need your gently used items. And it’s a lot easier to let go of treasured objects when you know they’re going to a good home. So, let’s get started.
1. Ditch the Papers and Go Digital
Paper takes up space and weighs a lot. Letters, photographs, greeting cards, and children’s art projects use up valuable real estate. Why not turn them into digital images? There are a couple of ways to do this.
If you’re confident with a digital camera, you can photograph the documents you want to save yourself. Apps like CamScanner can turn your documents into versatile .pdf files. Voila! Declutter an entire file cabinet down to the size of a USB drive. Even better, you can shrink it down to nothing if you want to store it on the cloud.
If you’d rather trust the job to someone else, a photo scanning service can help. Professional scanning is a good way to preserve precious family photographs, documents, and even film. You can store the originals somewhere safe, and keep the digital copies as a backup. In addition, you can share your photos online, which you can’t do with paper photos.
As for children’s art projects, why not turn them into a different kind of art? Many companies will bind your digital photos in hardcover or softcover books. In addition, you can choose the number of pages, the format, the binding, and even add text. As a result, when you declutter your present, you will give your precious memories a new lease on life. Turn them into something you will look at and treasure, rather than something that takes up attic space. Walgreens can help you create a photo book that you can pick up from your local store. Other services, like Snapfish and Shutterfly, allow you to create books online that will arrive through the mail.
2. Give those Toys to Tots
If your kids have left home, chances are you have an attic full of their favorite toys and games. Declutter that attic! First, check to see if your kids want their old friends. If not, why not pass them on to someone who will love them just as much? Thrift stores are often overstocked with toys. But there are plenty of other organizations that will welcome them. Here are a few:
- Stuffed Animals for Emergencies accepts new and gently used stuffed animals. They give them to children in traumatic or emergency situations, such as natural disasters. They also accept baby items. As a result, things your children cherished can have new life comforting others.
- Hospitals. Many hospitals accept gently used toys and games. Make sure to check first to make sure your hospital is one of them.
- Second Chance Toys distributes gently used toys to children in need.
- Many state foster systems maintain a toy bank for the children they serve. Check for specific needs in your area.
- The Vietnam Veterans of America happily accept donations of toys, games, bikes, clothing, and more. In addition, they will even pick it up! VVA sells your items and uses the proceeds to support services for veterans. Therefore, when you declutter, deserving veterans win.
3. Book it!
For some people, books are like old friends. Other people collect them like trophies. But how many of those books are you actually going to read again? First, when you declutter, measure how many square feet your books are taking up. Next, calculate how much you’re paying for each square foot of your house or apartment. Finally, ask yourself how much is it costing you to hang on to those books? Is it worth it? Of course not! Finally, choose a few favorites and find a new home for the rest. If you want to re-read something badly enough, ebooks take up no space at all. Now, are you ready to see who might benefit from your generosity?
- Little Free Libraries are springing up all over the world. Build one of your own for the books you’re finished with. Or take a stroll around the neighborhood and leave your books in other people’s libraries. LFL is a terrific way to share books and meet your neighbors.
- Friends of Libraries. Most libraries have a Friends of Libraries group. FOL holds book sales that help to support local libraries. Check with your library for details.
- Books for Africa sends books, including textbooks, to students of all ages in Africa. You will have to ship your donations to them in Indiana.
- Better World Books sells books online to raise money for nonprofit literacy organizations around the world. They have drop off boxes around the country.
- Hospitals, nursing homes, homeless shelters, and dialysis centers often appreciate donations of gently used books. Check with any organization before donating, to determine their needs.
4. Close the Door on Unworn Clothes
You know which of your clothes fit, and which will never fit again. Why are you hanging onto things you don’t wear, when there are people who can use them? What good are those clothes doing anyone, pushed to the back of the closet or the bottom of the drawer? When you declutter your dresser, here are some organizations that can use them.
- Local organizations serving the homeless. Shelters and clothing banks are often happy to accept clothing donations. Check with your local shelter to see what their needs are.
- Give your gently used women’s professional attire to Dress For Success. Dress For Success provides interview suits for women looking for work. As a result, when you declutter, you help women to become economically self-sufficient.
- The Bridge to Success is a similar group that provides professional clothing for men and women alike. Especially relevant when so many people are looking for work.
- Or you can make some money by selling your barely or gently-used clothing to ThredUp. Simply go to their site and order a “Cleanout Kit.” When it arrives, pack up all your stuff, drop it off at a Fed-Ex. They pay for shipping and handling. They’ll sell the items they accept and send you the money if someone buys them. The rest, they’ll donate to charity.
5. Yes, Electronics Too
Who doesn’t have an old camera, obsolete laptop, or unused phone sitting in a drawer? You might even have a tottery old laptop or even a CRT monitor in that attic with the kids’ toys. Don’t toss those things in the trash. It may be illegal, for one thing. Most importantly, you can donate or recycle them. So go on, declutter that desk drawer!
- The EPA has a list of places where you can take your old electronics for recycling.
- Cell Phones for Soldiers recycles old cell phones through Recellular. The money is then used to buy talk time for deployed soldiers to call their families.
- You can support Shelter Alliance, which raises money for domestic violence shelters, by holding a cell phone recycling event. Get your friends and neighbors to declutter as well.
- Consumer Reports has another excellent guide to recycling and donating your electronics.
6. … And Craft Supplies
It’s fun to buy craft supplies, even if, maybe, you don’t need them. Maybe you’ll use them in the future. When you’re not so busy. While you’re finally taking that vacation and have time to really give a project some attention. And what about leftover supplies? Surely one can’t just throw them away. As a result, craft supplies pile up, and before you know it, there’s a drawer, a closet, or even a room bursting with clutter. Declutter that craft area! Because there are people who can use it, even if you’re not! Who can use your craft supplies? How about:
- Neighborhood centers that run after-school programs can always use craft supplies to keep their charges entertained.
- The same goes for daycare centers. Always check with the center first, to make sure your donation matches their needs.
- Adult day care centers and nursing homes may also be interested in your craft supplies. Better yet, if you have the time, you could also offer to teach a simple crafts class.
- Project Linus is happy to take your leftover fabric and yarn. Project Linus crafters make blankets to comfort hospital patients and others. Another such organization is Binky Patrol.
- Beads of Courage provides arts-in-medicine to children with serious illnesses.
7. Start Early
The more time you give yourself to declutter, the easier it will be. First, you will have plenty of time to consider each item carefully, and decide if you really need it. Second, you will have the time to make sure your valuables go to the places where they will do the most good. Finally, you will have enough time to say a proper goodbye to each item and wish it well on its journey. How much time is enough? That depends on you. But if you’re downsizing for the first time, or decluttering for the first time in many years, consider giving yourself at least six months. As a result, you can let your possessions go with a happy heart.
8. Don’t Play It Safe
A lot of times we hold onto things because we might use them in the future. If something looks useful, our instinct is to hang on to it. Consequently, we accumulate piles of things that we do not, and will probably never use. But the important question is not ‘is it useful?’ The important question is, ‘will I use it?’ or even ‘will I use it in the next week?’ If the answer is no, out it goes. If you need it, you can buy it again when you’re ready to use it.
To declutter is to make room for the things that really matter. And when you’re suiting up for adventure, whether that’s a trip, a new dwelling, or a new phase in life, what really matters is the freedom to travel light. Don’t think of it as throwing your things away. Because if you’re donating, you’re not discarding. Rather, you’re passing valuables on to someone who needs them more. As a result, you, and they, and the planet, will benefit.