As you start the new year, you’re probably making resolutions and other plans for your fresh, clean slate.
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What if you challenged yourself to make 2014 your best year yet? As outlined in these seven steps to living your dream life, this is just what Betsy and Warren Talbot did when, in 2008, they decided to spend the rest of their lives traveling. After two years of selling almost everything they owned and saving with a single-minded focus, they embarked on a worldwide trip without end. Thirty-some countries, three books and thousands of readers later, the Talbots, publishers of Married With Luggage, are living their dream life.
Among the many steps they took, one key was decluttering — and not just for the purpose of having a tidier or better organized home. “Clutter gets in the way of being able to see the life you want,” says Warren. “It ties you down to what you’re doing now, and it’s difficult to see and envision the life you want when you’re surround by all the things about the life you have now.”
If you really want to make some changes to pursue a goal, one secret to getting there will be to let go of everything standing in the way. Plus, you could earn some extra cash that way. Here’s how to do it right.
1. Figure out why you want to declutter.
Don’t declutter simply because you think you should. Tie it to a personal goal you have to change an aspect of your life — whether it’s because you want to move, get out of a particular living arrangement, start a business or something else entirely. “Imagine how you want your home to function, so you can see how to declutter it,” says Betsy. You may want to park your car in the garage again, or to be able to peacefully read your newspaper in the living room without other things distracting you.
2. Determine why you tend to clutter.
The Talbots say people with clutter fall into three personality types: “the storekeeper, the person who keeps things because they might need it someday; the romantic, who holds onto everything for sentimental value; and the Pollyana, who takes in every broken, mismatched thing because one day they’re going to fix it and it’s going to be fabulous,” says Betsy. If you’re a storekeeper, if you end up not using something in a set period of time, it needs to go. Romantics, ask yourself whether your memories or relationships would go away if the items did, and remember that they exist whether you have a reminder or not. Pollyannas should put a deadline on revitalization projects — if you don’t repair something within a certain timeframe, out it goes.
3. Identify the items you’d like to get rid of.
Now for the fun part. Be smart about how you choose what gets the boot.
For the kitchen: Get a big box, and put all your utensils in it. Whenever you need an item, pull it out of the box and put it back in your kitchen. After two months, toss anything you haven’t used. (More on what to do with your discards in a second.)
For your closet: Turn everything in your closet backward on your hanger. As you wear each item, hang it back up face forward. After three months (for the clothing for each season), anything still facing backward is now one of your castoffs.
For your bathroom: Any outdated medicines should go. Same with dried up, old makeup. Use the kitchen box trick here, and discard whatever you don’t use in a month, but give medicines a few more months.
For your living room: Decide how you want to use the room. If you want to use it to watch movies, keep relevant items. If you want to use it to read and play games, keep your books and the games. But if you have games leftover from when your kids were young but no one uses them anymore, then it’s time to find them a new home.
4. Set up your staging area.
As you start to collect stuff on the outs, put them in a designated location. “It should be a place that you see on your way in and out of your home, so it becomes a motivation to get it out of there, and you can see progress as those things leave your home,” says Warren. This spot is now your “staging area,” and anything here needs to find a new home — just not in your home. As you start selling, people who come by to pick up items may find something else they’re interested in buying off you.
5. Start selling.
Decluttering is a big job. As you start to collect your unused, unnecessary items, start with the more valuable items to get your momentum going. “If you’re going to sell items, it’s nice to sell one quickly so you can start making money from your junk,” says Warren. This could also help you get started on your goal, if, for instance, part of the reason you want to declutter is to start your own business, put the proceeds toward that venture. Or, if your goal is to entertain more, use it to host a dinner party.
Identify your most valuable items, and figure out whether it makes the most sense to sell them via eBay, Craigslist, at a consignment shop or elsewhere. Designer clothing can do quite well on eBay and at consignment shops. The disadvantage for potential shoppers on eBay is that they won’t be able to try on the item first while, for you, a consignment shop will give you a much smaller audience for your items, though that group might be more likely to buy since they can try the item first.
Craigslist is good for a variety of items — the Talbots sold everything from large furniture to a box of random cords on it. It’s especially appropriate for large items, like furniture, for which shipping could be an issue and which the buyer will likely want to see in person first, though a consignment shop is best for vintage furniture items that could earn a higher price.
To sell on sites like eBay and Craigslist, “The key is in having a system,” says Betsy. “Clean it up, photograph it well, write an engaging ad, and price it competitively.”
Other items and their best-bet selling sites include: electronics (eBay and Craigslist), books (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Half.com, Powells, and your local used bookshop) and kitchen appliances (Craigslist).
When all else fails, have a good, old-fashioned stoop, garage or yard sale — just be prepared to get a lot less for your wares, and take whatever you can get.
6. Donate or recycle the rest.
For anything un-sellable, find out where you can recycle or donate the item. With donations to places like Goodwill and the Salvation Army, you can also take a tax deduction if you itemize.
Put out the call on social media: “There’s always someone in a state of transition in their life, whether it’s someone going to school or who has a kid going to college, someone just getting divorced, someone just getting married. Those people are always interested in things you might have, so it’s important to put a note on Facebook,” says Betsy.
Donate unwanted, unused toiletries to battered women’s shelters. Non-profit groups like Dress for Success also collect gently used professional clothing that lower-income people can use for job interviews. Meanwhile, unsold electronics and batteries should be recycled so as to keep their toxins out of landfills — you can find out where here.
Advertise everything else on Craigslist’s “free” section, or on Freecycle, a city-specific nonprofit movement that can help you find new owners for your unwanted goods.
“You want to do as much as you can to keep it out of landfills,” says Warren, so once your other options have been exhausted, you can put it in the trash.
7. Keep yourself decluttered.
If you’ve done a big push but still think you could streamline more, get rid of one thing a day. “If you do that, you’ll be at least 365 items lighter by the end of the year,” says Betsy.
But once you’re happily more minimal, follow the self-explanatory “one thing in, one thing out” rule. While this is obviously useful to the Talbots since they live out of their backpacks, it can also help anyone who has just decluttered stick keep themselves from accumulating more things — keeping your home light, and your bank account plump.