Paring Down

Drowning in Stuff…

I still feel like I have too much stuff.

For the past couple of months I’ve been finding stuff at every turn to shed… But I still feel like there’s too much here! Faced with once again moving across the country, I just want to get rid of everything! But I know that’s not a wise idea. It’s not like I have an unlimited income to be able to replace my possessions when I get back to the Midwest. But this is the first cross-country move that I’ll be doing without a big truck hauling my stuff on my behalf. It’ll be me, the dog and a U-Haul heading east in January. I’ve thought about getting a mover again… but I just don’t want to spend the money. I need to be super careful with what I have because I don’t know when the next paycheck will be coming my way. It would cost me AT LEAST twice, if not three times as much to do it that way. So I’m going the DIY route and renting a truck.

There’s an interesting book called “Material World: A Global Family Portrait” where photographers visited families around the world and took pictures of them outside their homes with all of their possessions. I’m sure you can imagine the difference between a family living in rural India or Africa versus a typical suburban American family. If you’re unfamiliar with this tome of materialism, NOVA (on PBS) did an expose on some of the families.

The most interesting thing about observing the items that families from other countries have is noticing that for the most part they’re all completely utilitarian things. Bowls, blankets, food, modest furniture…  Although, there are a couple TVs in there. And when looking at the location and the family, seems incredible peculiar to me. I don’t know why – and I’m not passing judgment – I just find it interesting that a family living in the middle of nowhere has a television set. Heck, I don’t even have one of those!!!

I’m glad I’m going through this initial cull of possessions now. I know even more will go when I start putting items into boxes in a few weeks. I swear, some of this stuff I just don’t even see until I eventually lay my hands on it. And I think that’s a problem indicative of our typical American society. We use possessions to try to fill the emptiness in our lives. But it never works. And then we end up with piles of useless stuff that seemingly becomes invisible.

Now, to be fair (to myself, anyhow) I certainly don’t have the amount of “stuff” that most typical American families have – but to me, it’s still way too much. The fact that I can find items – almost every day – to get rid of without batting an eye is enough to really bring me to attention. After reading Tammy Strobel’s book (I mentioned it a few posts back), I can’t imagine shedding enough stuff to fit into a 128 square foot house – with another person and a cat, no less! But they did take time to get to that point. This is just my first baby step toward a new life.

This morning it dawned on me that in addition to all the silverware in my kitchen drawer, I had two additional full sets in the house. My mother’s fine silver, and a second set of silver that’s of a lesser quality. This is just one example of the out-of-control materialism that’s striking me dumb right now. Three sets of silverware?  Three???  I live alone for Pete’s sake! And don’t do enough entertaining to justify three full sets of silverware! So I got rid of all the silverware in my kitchen drawer (I’m donating it to my office since we never seem to have silverware come lunchtime), pulled out the lesser set from the china cabinet and will be using that for my every day flatware. I’ve kept the good silver for special occasions – whatever those might be.

So onward I go, continuing to purge possessions at every turn. We’ll see where this gets me come the end of the year when I have to think about loading all this stuff into a truck. Perhaps I should take my own picture, inspired by the book, to see where I fit in with the world’s materialism.

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Making money from my junk…

I don’t have time to hold a garage sale. And honestly, I’d rather bring stuff to my sister’s house when she has one and let her deal with it… (sorry sis!). Basically, what it comes down to is that I just don’t have the patience to deal with hosting a garage sale for myself. So I end up donating a lot of stuff when I get the wild hair to dump possessions.

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been making some regular visits to Goodwill to get rid of items I no longer use or want. But there are some things that are just too good – or inappropriate – to donate. Telemark skis and boots will almost always bring a good price, as will other high end gear. Play It Again Sports is one company that buys good used sports equipment. I have some items that I don’t use anymore and will be hauling down to my PIAS when I make the trek into town. One pair of tele skis and boots will go (I’m keeping my good pair of K2s and Scarpas), a mag trainer for a bike and some climbing shoes that I haven’t used in years. Instead of Freecycling the equipment away, I figure I might as well get a few bucks for it and toss it in the savings for the future.

A couple years ago I realized that I could sell books on Amazon and recoup a little bit of my money. I have a book problem – like 12-step worthy. But I try to keep a reign on it by listing books for sale on Amazon when I bring more in the house. One in, one out. However, there are some that just aren’t worth listing for sale. I’ll admit I’m guilty of buying the used books that are priced at $.01 – but I just don’t think it’s worth it for me to sell mine at that price. My time is worth more than a penny. So when I get online and see that a book I want to list is only bringing a few cents, then it ends up in a paper bag to go to the library. But if I can get a few bucks or more for it, then I’m all over it like a bad suit. I pulled out a large stack of books from the bookcase and will be checking prices online – listing those that will sell quickly, and hauling the rest to the library.

CDs are another item to be taken in. Believe it or not, there are still music stores that will buy your used CDs. I haven’t purchased a physical CD in a couple years – I, like most people, have transitioned to downloading digital music on services like iTunes and Amazon. But there are a couple places in town that buy used CDs. I have several that I’ve already ripped to my laptop, so that’s a start – bringing those in, while I work on ripping more. Plus I have a pile of CDs I just haven’t listened to in years. Even if I garner a buck a piece, it’s better than using valuable space to store something I no longer use – and the extra money will come in handy for something I’m sure.

I also have a pistol I purchased a few years ago that I’ve hated since the first day I shot it. Being that this is Montana, there is no shortage of gun shops and pawn shops willing to buy used guns. This particular pistol – a .32 semi-auto – was purchased new and has only been shot twice. I don’t know the ins and outs of privately selling a handgun, so it’s a safer bet to take it to a professional and let them deal with the legalities. Long guns – rifles and shotguns – are a no-brainer to sell between individuals. But when you shorten the gun up to handgun size, the laws suddenly get a bit more complex. I could trade it in on a revolver or a .30-30, both of which I’d like to get, but at this point I think the easiest thing is to sell it off and worry about another acquisition at a later date. I’ll be stopping in at a couple shops in the coming days to get a quote or two on selling – whoever gives me the best offer will get the gun, and I’ll put the money in the kitty.

It goes without saying that items can be listed for sale in the paper, on Craigslist or auctioned on eBay. I’m sure I have items that could easily be sold that way; however, for my present circumstances and timeline I’d rather take the items I have to sell to an established store that will take them off my hands without hassle. My two exceptions at this time are the books that are being listed on Amazon, and my car that’s been listed on AutoTrader and Craigslist. I’m giving both of those the benefit of the doubt first. If the books don’t sell by the time I move, they will be taken to the library. If the Subaru doesn’t go by the end of December, I’ll haul it with me to the Midwest and sell it off to CarMax.

Next time you get ready to drop things at Goodwill, or worse yet at the dump, take a more critical look and see if there’s something you can make a little cash off of instead. There are easy options out there for turning your unwanted stuff into cash.

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