piles of stuff

You’re getting ready for a move. You look around your house or apartment and have a mini (or even maxi) freak out about how much stuff you have — how much will have to be packed up and transported. How far you’re going has little to do with the problem; whether you’re moving down the street, to a neighboring city or state, across country or across the world, it’s all pretty much the same. You’re stuck with deciding what to keep and then, just as tricky, what to do with all the stuff you don’t want.

Two versions of a 3-step plan

Linda Gatri, CEO of eMarket Boost, moved six times in three years. She’s lived in New Jersey, Florida, Boston, New York City and four cities in Pennsylvania. She’s getting ready for another move, but she hasn’t decided where yet.

When it’s time to go, she sorts everything into three categories:

1.To keep: “Things I can’t live without, even if they have to go into storage (files, books, photos a favorite pan).”

  1. To sell: “ I start by offering things to friends and family, telling everyone I know what’s available. When they’ve made their choices, I advertise furniture, electronics, good jewelry and designer anything online or in a local paper; I consign furniture, art, and antiques to a local shop; and finally I have a take-no-prisoners yard sale — I call it an ‘estate sale,’ which gets more attention from dealers.”
  2. To donate: “Whatever doesn’t go at the yard sale gets packed and taken directly to my favorite charities that same day.”

Julie Steed, who writes a relocation blog at juliesteed.com, is a military wife who has moved her family 10 times in the last 14 years and is getting ready for move number 11 this summer. She has her own version of a three-step plan, and it’s strikingly similar:

  1. Sell furniture or appliances. “I use Craigslist or a similar local outlet. I price each item reasonably and include lots of pictures with my ad. I move what I’m selling to the garage so that buyers can look it over without having to come into my home and it’s easier for them to load things quickly and easily without damaging my floors or walls.”
  2. Have a garage sale. “Saying it’s a moving sale spurs interest. Price items slightly above the minimum you’re willing to accept so that you have bargaining room. Put a price on everything.”
  3. Donate. “I give whatever is left to a charity.”

The Queen of Divestiture

If Betsy Talbot isn’t the queen of getting rid of stuff, then she is definitely a member of the royal family. Betsy and her husband (authors of the blog marriedwithluggage.com and The Step by Step Guide to Getting Rid of It) downsized three years ago to one backpack each for a trip around the world.

Two of her strategies that would work for an even slightly less dramatic divestiture are an “indoor yard sale” and a “reverse birthday party.”

The indoor yard sale: “This is a great thing to do when you know you’re leaving but not quite yet, and you need to know that your things will have a good home before you go.” Betsy has sold, among other things, her “tempur-pedic mattress, box spring and sleigh bed, our couch, a tree and 2 plants, baking pans and more.” Here’s how to do what she did:

  • Buy small stickers in bright colors. Pick one color as your “keep” color and tag every big item you plan to keep.
  • Invite a few friends over to “go shopping” at your house –”we had 5 to start because it made it easier in our small space.”
  • Give each friend a specific color sticker and a pen and set them free to roam the house, picking out whatever they like. They can write an offer price on the sticker or if they want a few items, you can wait until all the shopping is done and settle on a bulk price.
  • Negotiate payment and pick up terms that will allow you to keep the stuff until the last minute before your move.

“This method is perfect if you are too lazy to have a yard sale, have a hard time parting with your stuff, and have a lot of good friends. You don’t have to price anything, set anything up, or advertise beyond e-mails to friends and a Facebook post. You do, however, need to have a reasonably clean and organized space. If possible, offer some light refreshments. People will stay longer and buy more.”

What’s left goes on Craigslist: “I’m a big fan and we’ve made thousands of dollars downsizing this way.”

The Reverse Birthday Party: “When my birthday came around I decided to get a little creative and host a reverse birthday party for myself. Instead of guests bringing gifts, they take your stuff home with them. “

“Each item had a tag telling the story of how I had gotten it and a memory associated with it. Guests were then free to walk around the living room to ‘shop’ and write their names on the back of the tags of the items they wanted. …If more than one name was on a tag we had a ‘style off’ where each person had to model the items in a distinctive way that would earn them the most votes from the crowd.”

“Have finger food that’s not too messy (buffalo wings would be a mistake). Set up a start and stop time for the party — mine was 4-7 pm.” If you don’t want to price items, you can ask for donations. “I set up a small box that looked like a piece of luggage where people could drop their donations.” Take what’s left over to a consignment shop.

Giving your things to charity

As an alternative to selling items, giving them away or handing them over to a consignment shop, you can always find a charity that could use them. Some charities will pick up your donations, while others want you to drop them off. If you need help schlepping them somewhere and don’t have the time, consider Taskrabbit.com, a site that will match you up with someone who is willing to do it for you.

There are lots of places that can use what you don’t need. First, you will want to consider the charities that you or a friend may volunteer for —a domestic violence shelter, a refugee center, a church, even a local theater group looking for furniture for sets and costumes. On-line you’ll find a number of good options: Furniturebanks.org has a list by state or places that accept furniture and Freecycle.comDonationTown.org and Oprah.com/home/where-to-get-rid-of -your-stuff are others. Your local United Way should also be able to steer you to some local groups who would be happy to have your things.

If you plan to claim a deduction for the things you donate, David Bakke,moneycrashers.com, suggests checking first with the IRS database of qualified charitable organizations. And, for help figuring out how much the items you are donating are worth, check Goodwill’s valuation guide.

What do you do with leftover food?

And what about your leftover food? Whatever you do, says Steed, don’t throw it away. “Give unopened items to friends or neighbors. Host a moving party and prepare food from the hodgepodge of items you can’t take with you. Challenge family members to create recipes and meals using the strange items you have left in your fridge and pantry.”

Or, if you’re not in the random-recipe frame of mind, you can go to moveforhunger.org and find a list of relocation companies in 46 states that will pick up and deliver left over non-perishable food to a local food bank.

Haven’t decided what’s going and what’s staying? Here’s some more tips from Moveline on deciding what to keep and not to keep.