The Joy of Decluttering

14 Aug 2008


In 1995, just before leaving the D.C. area (we lived in Alexandria, VA, at the time), we held a moving sale. By then, we lived in a "semi-detached" townhome. (Semi-detached, for those who don't know, simply means that you live in what appears to be a standalone home, but you only get half of it -- the other half going to a clutch of Section 8 alcoholics and illegitimate rugrats.) Ours had a basement, main floor, and upstairs -- three levels full of stuff to move.

We hung enormous signs simply everywhere within about a half-mile radius. The response was almost overwhelming -- like some sort of Great White feeding frenzy you might see on the Discovery channel. It was so insane, the prices we got for things sometimes surpassed what we paid for them in the first place. I recall thinking my wife was nuts for pricing a small magazine table at $25, when we paid only $15 or so at a local Ames. Still, it sold. We made a small mint, which carried us to our next destination.

Fast forward several years to Pittsburgh. Five years or so ago, we held our first attempt at a garage sale. It tanked. And, I know this kind of thing is subjective, but I always like to believe that our crap is quality crap. Still, it didn't sell. Much of it went back into our garage. Until last weekend ...

Since we're trying to move out of state as soon as possible, we of course need to sell our house. We asked our realtor what needed to be done. "Get rid of the clutter," she advised. Of course, we already knew about this problem. But, prior to around a year ago, we really had no intention of ever leaving our home. So, the accumulation of "stuff" never seemed like that big of an issue, other than a certain background awareness I suppose one has about one's general inventory.

So, we staged another attempt. Things came from out of every nook and cranny we have -- the basement, the garage, the attic knee-walls. We spread shit out across the front lawn, down the driveway, and into the back. No reasonable offer refused. In fact, we'd decided to pretty much accept ANY offers, reasonable or not. You want a breadmaker for a quarter? Take it home!

I didn't screw around when it came to signage this time. I took a couple of saw horses and taped giant pieces of white cardboard ($0.39 each at the local crafts store), lettered with huge "YARD SALE >>>" messages readable from at least 150 yards in either direction from the main road near our house.

I'd estimate that we put enough crap out to fill a 20-foot truck. Traffic was decent the first day. We unloaded things so cheaply, it almost hurt a little -- sometimes giving away things for which we'd paid $50 - $100 for a buck or two. (For example, I sold a mint condition 25" color TV for $20!) We just tried to remember that the whole point was to jettison this baggage that, while nice, was holding us down. We'd been accumulators, my friends. In a major way. (Should be one of the 7 deadly sins, IMHO.)

Again, the money wasn't so great. I think we netted $350 or so over the two days. Day two, we were so desperate, we hung a sign that said, "Any item $1, all you can carry in your arms $5, fill a box with anything $10." We also offered the ability to fill your entire car with stuff for $15. Seriously, this wasn't just crap. Remember that breadmaker? It was a perfectly good one, in perfect shape, just like all of the other household items we had out there. NEVER SOLD. Not even for a buck. Not even when offered to people for free.

Day two, an ancient man showed up in a beat-up van with a brown plastic moosehead (antler rack at least 18" wide) attached as a hoodpiece. He did a lot of browsing and mumbled weird things the whole time like, "Ohhh, baloney dickens, I have to take this." I was fairly certain he was insane, in an friendly kind of way. He browsed for quite a while, taking two enormous loads of board games into the van.

Before leaving, he extemporized a no less than five-minute inspirational oration. Within the first 30 seconds, my head nearly exploded to think of how priceless this would have been if captured and placed on YouTube. I can't recall the whole thing, but it was far-reaching, deep, meaning-of-life kind of stuff -- no one really knows the inner you, your family is all you have, life is fragile. I think maybe he even quoted a Heart song at one point. Something about planting a seed and creating new life.

In the end, we had a pile of stuff leftover about 8 feet wide, 5 feet deep, and 5 feet tall. So, we called the local Veterans association, which picks up second-hand items to resell. They came and looked it all over. Oddly, they only took about 90% of it. Among the items they left: the breadmaker, a pair of perfectly good hockey skates, miscellaneous board games and books, a wooden chair.

One more weekend of work and cleaning, and I think we're ready to list our home, now thankfully a bit lighter and less cluttered than it was. Maybe we should keep the breadmaker and have it running when people are looking at the house? They say certain smells help sell homes.

Original Comments

Below, are the original comments on this post. Additional comments may be made via Facebook, below.

On August 14, 2008, Leonesse wrote:

I, too, was impressed with Baloney Dickens and will have to find something I can name that. Do you think they will allow me to name our next grandchild that?

On August 15, 2008, Leonesse wrote:

Speaking of other peoples crap ... Do you think you could possibly whip something up for the new digs? I will even take that breadmaker off your hands.

On August 15, 2008, M@ wrote:

Why not just ask top price for a couple of days and then give everything left over afterward for free?

On August 15, 2008, JBanholzer wrote:

My friends Steve and Mike lived in half of an Alexandria standalone home, where their next-door neighbors came to be known as “The Swiss Family Slobinson”

On August 15, 2008, yllwdaisies (aka "D") wrote:

The breadmaker woulda sold if you baked bread & the smell of freshly made bread was in the air.

Like how they say you're supposed to bake cookies just before ppl come to an open house?

On August 26, 2008, Chris wrote:

Ha! We sold our breadmaker (given to us by inlaws when they moved) at our garage sale. It had never even been plugged in.

Come to think of it ... .we probably got a dollar for it!

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