Thursday, January 27, 2011

Five Helpful Tips for Purging Crap

We think the winter purge has replaced spring cleaning. Mostly because right after the holidays, our houses are so crapped up with the junk that a big clean-out simply can’t wait until spring. I am truly terrible about things like laundry, cleaning and organizing. But guess what? I overcame my lack of ambition and my incredibly low standards! I recently cleaned, purged, organized and moved stuff around. And my house looks so much better. The first time Kate walked in after the transformation, her eyes got wide and in an awed voice she whispered: “It finally looks like grown-ups live here…

So I thought in the spirit of being helpful, I would share some of my newfound knowledge.

Tip #1: Ask a military mom
I have a bunch of good friends who are military mommies. Here’s something I’ve noticed about them. Every year (whether they receive orders or not) they start getting twitchy. Like they know a big move is coming and it might be someplace like Okinawa, where you can’t bring anything that weighs more than 60 pounds unless you have its birth certificate. So they start paring down. And they’re really smart about it. Some stuff gets sold, some donated, some tossed. So when I needed help on what to get rid of and how to get rid of it – those were the first calls I made.

Tip #2: Assess your level of desperation to get rid of stuff on the time/money spectrum
The whole cleaning out process – whether it’s one room or your whole house – represents a big chunk of your probably non-existent free time. So you have to figure out up front how much of that time you’re willing to invest and what you really hope to accomplish. Some examples might help.

I had a friend named Charlotte who had a closet full of fancy shoes in size 7 that she could no longer wear because no one told her that if you get pregnant twice in two years bizarre things happens to your body. Like your feet swelling to a size 8 and then staying that way. She also had an enormous collection of hideous ceramic people that she hated and were under constant threat from the grubby fingers of her two small children. So she took her time and carefully sold all her old Jimmy Choos and large eyed ceramic collectibles on eBay and a month later got a check for almost $3,500.

I had another friend named Kate who had one day off of work and had to get her house cleaned out or else her head would explode. So she filled up twelve hundred garbage bags and hauled them out to the curb and then had three glasses of wine and two Advil. The end. [Editor's Note: It was awesome. -Kate]
Can I get WOOT WOOT for Mommyshorts? She took this chart from whack to mack with her mad skillz.
She wrote all about "The Gift of Awkwardness" & the Bugaboo stroller.  So you already know she's bad ass.
Tip #3: “Just get it all out of my house today or I will lose my Schmidt”.
If your priority is getting rid of unwanted stuff as fast as possible, I have a couple of suggestions.
  • Put it on the curb for Big, Enormous Crap Pick-Up Day.
  • Call your friend with the pick-up and offer him (or in my case her) a case a beer (or in my case keg of beer) to haul it to the dump for you.
  • Call or click on a charity (like that will come pick up your stuff ASAP. Sometimes they can get there sooner than the garbage man which is an epic WIN as you get rid of it all super fast and you get to feel all warm and fuzzy and tax deduction-y.
  • Or failing all of that you could just start a fire. To be clear, that was a joke.
Tip #4: “I want this stuff gone but I hate to just throw it all away.”
If you’ve managed to glean some things that you think someone else might want from your piles of recently purged crap, but you’re short on time and you’re torn about wanting to toss them - you have a couple of choices.
  • Donate it to a group that will come pick it up. Kind of a no-brainer.
  • Throw it all in your mini-van and drive to the closest thrift store. The big win here is that you can get all out of your house the same day and then you’re DONE. In the good way, for once.
  • . It’s free to join and pretty straightforward to use. You list everything you want to get rid of and people come and take it. Just put it on the corner so they can’t be sure which is your house – because of the creepy unknown factor (yes, I am paranoid – we’ll get to that later).
Tip #5: “If I can make some money from this stuff, it is ON like Donkey Kong.”
  • Yard Sales are tricky. The pro’s: you don’t have to move anything, you don’t have to pay a commission to sell anything and you don’t have to photograph each piece like you would if you tried to sell it on-line. BUT yard sales can be a multi-day process, getting permission, setting them up, promoting them, the actual sale, and then getting rid of all the crap that didn’t sell. And there are yard sale people (I’m related to some of them) who troll around for sales on Saturdays and they will not to pay more than $5 for your kid’s old bike, even if it’s worth $50.
  • Local kids consignment stores will buy stuff directly from you for about half of what it’s worth. But it’s easy – pack it up, drive it there, they look it over and buy what they want. And you leave with a check and less crap.
  • Consignment sales are great but more work for you because you have to go through each item you want to sell and tag it. You have to make careful lists of what you’re sending to the sale and fill out paperwork, and half the time I end up buying more stuff than I’ve sold. But if you have a high end item like a Bugaboo stroller, you can sell it for what it’s worth and not have to worry about shipping (eBay) or creepy strangers coming to your house (Craig’s List).
  • Craig’s List or eBay. If you have something that’s valuable– you can earn the most money by doing it this way. Craig’s List is good because it’s local, but then you have to deal with strangers from the internet. Please meet them in the Starbucks parking lot or something, or I’ll worry. eBay is good because its impersonal and there’s a much bigger market for what you’re selling. Just don’t forget to factor in shipping costs. Shipping a Thomas the Tank Engine Play Table is about as much fun as getting oral surgery. And maybe more expensive.
Hopefully these tips have been helpful. As far as my house is concerned, I don’t shoot for keeping up with the Joneses or having it look like the Pottery Barn catalog. I shoot for not embarrassing. And having met that goal, it feels pretty good.

xo Lydia

P.S. Both Kate and I saved something for the other one to burn. We're planning an evening for the Hideous Item Ritual Sacrifice. We'll tap a t-box and then get out the matches and the video camera. There's a good chance it'll be an Oscar-worthy film. There's also an equally good chance we'll end up in a burn unit.
A little note from Kate & Lydia:
This post is being simulcast on parenting column "Maternal Ammunition" @ the Washington Times communities. If rotten weather doesn't keep us trapped in our houses with our children rapidly devolving towards becoming howler monkeys, we'll also be chatting about this on Let's Talk Live (11am on Channel 8 if you live around Washington, DC).  We tend to be pretty idiotic on live television, so please tune in?

(c)Herding Turtles, Inc. 2009 - 2011


  1. DUDE.

    A couple of years ago we were preparing to move, and the mover said that in order to stay within the moving policy for the University that hired my husband, we needed to get rid of LITERALLY a TON of stuff.

    I told every friend I had what I needed to offload (old giant dining room furniture, old china, kids' toys, cleaning supplies). THen told them to tell THEIR friends.

    Got rid of a lot that way.

    Then called Goodwill and set up TWO separate pickups, a week apart.

    Got rid of about 50 boxes of KRAP that way.


    Put stuff out in front of the house on a Friday evening (under a convenient fir tree) with a sign saying "FREE! ENJOY!" so the garage salers would see the stuff on Saturday morning.

    It was All. Gone. By 9a.m.

    I am lucky someone didn't dig up the tree.

    It's time for me to call the junk hauler again. Every 6 months or so. It's worth the $100 to get rid of the random schmidt hiding everywhere. The old bag of cement, the weird rusty pipe hiding under the utility sink, the bizarre old window blinds I found in the closet. GONE.
    --kate in Michigan

  2. I'm more of a "donate it to charity and take the tax deduction" kind of gal. I figure once you factor in the time and effort that goes into trying to sell my kids' old clothes, I'm probably coming out ahead. And the crap is magically GONE! Yay!

    Also, after this latest move, I actually came across a box labeled "Boys' Room" that contained nothing but pieces and parts of long gone or broken toys. I actually threw the whole damn thing in the bin. It was liberating and magical. It was also the middle of the night when everyone was sleeping so I couldn't get caught and subjected to the whines. Ohhhh, the whines....

  3. Before my move to New England I sold all my huge furniture on I couldn't meet people at a Starbucks. Instead I just arranged for them to come by when my husband was home. And he answered the door holding a baseball bat. (He is scrappy as hell--he didn't really need the bat. It was just for show.) Anyway, by the end of the weekend we had, like, $650 in cash! It ROCKED! I felt like a bootlegger's wife!

    Also, I love you ladies even more for putting PBR on your yard sale poster. I heart PBR.

  4. Consider You can trade for more clothes that your kids may/may not need.

  5. A large truck from a local charity thrift store just came last week and picked up all of our winter purge. I coasted on that high for the rest of the day.

    Another suggestion- if you have something nicer and want to give it away, snap a pic of it and put it on your facebook wall. I gave away a Mickey Mouse TV to a friend of a friend who is a huge Disney fan. It was great!

  6. Something else to consider is, they are a swap site where for every box you send out, you get $5 towards a box you want to buy. You can put money towards it as well if you want, but it's a nice way to get rid of the clothes that do NOT fit anymore, and get some that WILL fit this coming summer when you know all of last years summer clothes are.never.fitting.again! Good grief, my kids grow too dang fast!

  7. I need to get my hubby on this too - a lot of our crap is his. :P

  8. Thanks for the inspiration ladies! ;-) Just took a vanload of clothes, toys, book, etc. to a wonderful charity in Portland last night, and as a bonus got to spend some time with my gal pals volunteering at said charity (Northwest Children's Outreach, for those of you in the Portland or Vancouver areas). Now I am in the process of bagging up the CRAP. Trash day can not come soon enough! :-) Now, time for some wine... Cheers!

  9. I find I'm constantly looking at various objects and thinking about the day they can leave. Mainly the excersaucer. Darn you excersaucer! So handy but so space-eating!

  10. How did you all know what I was doing today?! Awesome stalking! I literally spent EIGHT HOURS purging crap today (all the while my lovely husband was out snowboarding and my toddler refused to nap-even awesomer). As an Army brat and the daughter of Army brats, I've basically got this down to a science. i.e: wait until husband is gone all day and older kids are outside playing in the snow then go through the house and trash half of their junk. My house feels so much lighter, now if only I felt the same....

  11. We are not a military family, but my husband is a music teacher. So we have moved every 2 yrs or so because evidently a lot of schools think the arts are not important enough ... anyway, we've gotten good at going through our things & purging. Btw, that sounds like a bad eating disorder reference ... oh that was gross, wasn't it? ;) We have thrown stuff, donated it, given things away, you name it. Most of our kids' clothes have gone to younger cousins or friends with younger kids. We've also found that church rummage sales are a good place to donate our unneeded things. Anything that didn't sell was donated to our local thrift store. So it's a win for everyone & we have less junk laying around!

  12. You need to address what happens when, despite your best efforts, your beloved continues to fill the voids you've created with more Free-Crap-from-Craigslist. It's like climbing out of quicksand over here, people!

  13. I started the purge after Thanksgiving; I figured we needed to ditch as much stuff as was coming in the house for Christmas. It was a good start, but finding a mouse or two in the house really gave me a kick in the hiney to go full on code red... Though I held back on the fire! $-)

  14. never underestimate the power of the industrial strength black garbage bags. Stuff goes in, and kids, moms, dads, teens can't see inside and have tossers/donator's remorse. Out of sight, out of mind, and out of my house!

  15. Thanks for the chart love, ladies. I have one tip to add— Putting stuff in your mother's basement when she isn't looking. Oops— how did that exersaucer get there? Might as well keep it at your place till we have a second kid— THANKS!

  16. Excellent advice all around! We're in the middle of a purge right now. The source? Impending move some time this year, enough toys for 5 kids more than we have, and a general feeling of dis-ease from the piles that have infested the house. We're lucky that we live in an area that goods placed out on the front lawn with the "FREE" sign usually disappear within hours of deposit. Got rid of a small sectional sofa, a buffet table, and a daybed (just yesterday!). The rest of the junk goes to Goodwill tomorrow, and we start putting the playroom together for DD. Let's hear it for breathing room!

  17. I just spent the day in 100+ degree temps clearing out my shed. There were spiders. Huge spiders, small spiders, black widow spiders.

    I took it in short chunks of time so I did not pass out and become spider food, but it is mostly done! YAAAYY! All I have to do is call a friend who has a booth at the flea market and tell them they can have whatever they want as long as they haul the rest to the Good Will for me.

    Now I am wondering if it is a smart idea to take a leaf blower in there to get rid of all the dust and such that has collected in there....

    The shed was the final fronteer...I spent the last few weeks going room by room filling boxes, throwing the boxes in the car and ordering hubby to stop by Goodwill.

    It is so wonderful to have all that crapola GONE! My living room has been mostly neat for a whole week!

    Now to get the crapola I have left organized...and figute out how to make the shed a non-spider haven.

  18. freecycle is the greatest thing EVER!! get rid of the stuff, they come to your house and take it away!! and you get to help people and see who it's going to :)

  19. I'm re-reading your blog for, oh, the third time. I'm a military mommy who is currently pregnant with my second child, due right around my son's second birthday. I've found I'm a master at when to get rid of things, when to keep them, and how. In the past 5 months I have made almost $1,000 by selling stuff locally. Most of that on the same day I posted it. Here's my thing: if you know you will have a future purpose/need for something, keep it until such time as you will not. If you are keeping something "just in case," get rid of it. It's less heartache to just find a new one online or on Craig's List should you need one again. Sentimental picky. That stuff can pile up FAST.

    My friend has an issue with purging clothing. She has 4 CLOSETS FULL of clothes, 75% of which she never wears. I, on the other hand, have a dresser and about 1/2 of a walk in closet...more hangers than clothes. My rule here is: If you haven't worn it in a year, even if you have had the opportunity to (AKA event, weather requiring it, etc), get rid of it. Chances are that the next time the opportunity arises you still won't wear it because a) you're pregnant (happens to me), b)your size permanently changed or c) it's completely out of style and you now wouldn't be caught dead in it.

    I'm thinking I need to stage an intervention for my friend...she claims she just can't do it. I think she's just overwhelmed.

    Oh, and try not to end up like my grandmother. When she passed my dad found 20 years of papers in her house, including bills with the envelopes they came in and all of the little flyers that come with them. She saved them. Major headache.




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