Operation Clean Sweep

Spending Diet update! You can track how my own savings are progressing here.

So here’s the deal:

I have a LOT of stuff.

I have four bookcases full of books. I have a closet overflowing with clothes (although strangely, nothing to wear). I have drawers full of unused electronics, knick-knacks and trash. I am currently residing in my childhood bedroom and, as a result, I am dwelling amongst 25 years of accumulated junk.

A lot of it needs to go.

wall 'o' books
Creative Commons License photo credit: SarahInDisguise

Philosophically, it just feels wrong to go out into the world with all of this stuff weighing me down. If I truly believe that
everything I need to survive can fit into a 65L backpack, what is the point of owning so many things that I won’t use, or probably even think about for an entire year?

Lately I’ve been contemplating how attached people become to the things they own.  We live in a very consumer driven culture where we are constantly told that our possessions define us as people. We buy iPhones and leather jackets and even cereal because it embodies the lifestyle we want to lead. As a result the physical things we own start to become not just our goals but our responsabilities. There are costs to owning things, both big and small, which we never even stop to consider.  Without going TOO obnoxiously preachy on everyone I have to ask if getting so caught up in the possesing of stuff distracts us from what’s really important in life?

From a more practical standpoint, if I have all this stuff that I literally never use, doesn’t it just make sense to convert some of this into cash?

Cleaning The Attic
Creative Commons License photo credit: Joe Shlabotnik

There are a lot of great online resources for liquidating your things. It’s pretty much a right of passage in the online backpacking community to sell all your belongings in a short time. One of the most useful articles on this subject that I’ve found is this three part series by Never Ending Voyage (parts two and three).

In a nutshell, the internet is your best friend for turning stuff into money. There are niche websites for selling everything from your CD’s to your used underwear (I mean, if you’re into that). For everything else under the sun there is Craigslist. Some people have good results with eBay as well but that is more effort than I’m willing to put in.

Now, I’m not going to get all high and mighty here. I want to get rid of stuff, but I am NOT one of those people who can just let go of everything. For example: I am a book hoarder. I don’t care if I’ve already read them, or even if I never want to read them again, I still love them. I will do my best though. It won’t be easy, and I probably won’t be able to part with all (or even most) of them. But the effort is what’s important here.

So I’ll be getting rid of everything from paperbacks to, eventually, my car. I’ll be starting as soon as I get back from Oakland mid-month. I hope it will be a nice bump to my travel savings but even more so I hope it will be liberating.

What are your tips for cutting down on stuff?

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36 thoughts on “Operation Clean Sweep”

  1. This post is eerily apropos, as I’ve been trying to rid my small studio apartment of all that is silly and sentimental =) I also try to do some form of spring cleaning on a quarterly basis. I found myself hesitating on whether or not to keep class notes from an exam I’ve already taken (“it COULD be useful later down the line…”), as well as clothes that have been gifted to me that I don’t even like. Did I mention I live overseas, so it’s not like my mom would even notice if I gave that ugly sweater from the last package directly to charity? =( So yeah, if you can free yourself from all these material trappings (and in the end, it’s so true, we don’t need most of it anyway!) then you’ll be so much freer when you leave for the RTW.

    1. It’s hard to let go of stuff- even the stuff we don’t want or like! it seems like a routine dumping is hte way to go.

  2. I’m starting to offload a lot of my items in prep for a uk working holiday and I’m quite attached to my stuff especially some of my dresses. But alas I’ve started selling on eBay for the very first time. On more expensive items I hope to make a profit.

    Allison I definitely will be giving my books away – they’re meaningful “gifts” to giveaway.

    In terms of clothing though – I find its easier to go through your wardrobe in steps and assess items you need (ie work clothes that can be donated to charity just before your leave), clothes that you regularly wear (keep!) and items that you haven’t worn in years (ditch!).

    1. I weed a lot of stuff out of my closet yearly but I’ve got all sorts of things I’ve been hanging onto for silly sentimental reasons (like prom dresses) that I’m pretty sure I could easily live without.

  3. My tip – instead of selling or offloading all your books to strangers, pick some of your favorite ones and give them to friends or family. 🙂

  4. I’ve been big on donations to get rid of clutter the past couple of years as I broke free of my original inclination to hoard. The tax deductions made it well worth, and it was for a good cause.

    Having just been through a yard sale yesterday (unabashed plug for my link below), I was pleasantly shocked at how much stuff people are willing to buy.

    Like you, ebay is a bit more trouble than I want to go through, but I’ll craigslist the more valuable items that I didn’t sell yesterday.

    The rest of my stuff will go in June via a month long “apartment clearance sale” – again through craigslist. Anything that’s left at the end will be fair game – you pick it up, you keep it. If my bed goes in week #1, so be it. I’ll sleep on a sleeping bag and air mattress – in my apartment, that’s still more comfort than I’ll have at some stops on the road!
    .-= Joel´s last blog ..Come Sale Away =-.

    1. Everyone should check out Joel’s post, it illustrates the next step after this post which I’ll be working to do this spring/summer.

  5. We like to try to spend ten minutes a day decluttering. It doesn’t sound like a lot of time, but it quickly adds up. Pick a time slot and stick to it every day so that de-cluttering becomes a part of your regular routine. Bottom line—find a time that works for you and stick to it!
    .-= Daniel´s last blog ..What We’re Reading: April 2, 2010 =-.

    1. Yeah I’m a pretty sloppy person in general so 10 minutes a day of even tidying would make my life mucheasier!

  6. It’s funny how we hang on to things we don’t need or even use. I was looking through my closet and saw a t-shirt I had from a science project in grade 5. A shirt I’ve kept for 15 years and have worn maybe twice. The ridiculousness of it dawned on me and I put it and some other clothes in a donation bag.

    I’m horrible for feeling guilty when donating or getting rid of items I’ve gotten as gifts. I have to tell myself it’s okay to part with it if I’m not using it or if it’s broken/empty/doesn’t work, etc. I can understand your hesitation to part with books, I feel the same way plus I’ll read my books over and over (I also have trouble parting with my movies). But if I haven’t used it or wanted to use something in the past year I’ll donate it.
    .-= Alouise´s last blog ..List #2 – Canada Vs The US =-.

  7. Have a friend handy is the best advice I can offer. When I was doing my packing to move back home she was there with me for hours sorting the sell/goodwill piles.

    There were knickknacks and items that she put into perspective for me when I claimed a ridiculous level of attachment to what I now know were silly little possessions.

    I also did my sweep in two stages. One before my RTW, and then I really was able to attack it all with more gusto once I was back – it’s going to be hard at first! (oh, and I carted at least 6 boxes of books back across the country to store at my parents house when I moved home before my RTW, so I totally get the attachement to books…they don’t fetch much of a price online, so besides the ones that should be clearly donated, keep the rest 😉
    .-= Shannon OD´s last blog ..A Little Photo…Semana Santa Celebrations in Antigua =-.

    1. I always find that when I get back from traveling it is much easier to let go of all the stuff I didn’t even miss.

      1. Same here! It wasn’t until I got back, that I realized I could live without most of my stuff. A great way to earn money for my broke-ass once I returned and trying to sell it filled my unemployed days. A win all around!

  8. One thing that was secretly a blessing, was moving during my senior year of highschool from the house that I’d lived in my entire life. (holy crap I had alot of crap) Since it was a quick move, I realized I had to just sort fast, and pack light. I still managed to hoard too much stuff to the new location.

    Blessing number two, was spending a year away at college- having only necessities with me. That following summer when I came home I realized I had not missed practically anything (except for a few books and stuff). So I just threw most of my crap in a box and sent it to the salvation army. (For example- did I need the dollar store perfume that someone had given me in 2nd grade for my birthday? No. Did I need the 5 year old magazines? No. Did I need the clothing that I didnt even like, but maybe wanted to wear someday? No.)

    Here are some junking tips:
    1. If you havent seen it in a year, or needed to use it -throw away or sell
    2. If you havent touched it in six months, throw away or sell
    3. If it is half emtpy something or other, and you havent used it in the past month- throw it out
    4. Throw out/donate All old magazines and newspapers- cut out articles that you realllly want to keep around. But better to just get rid of
    5. If someone compliments you on something you own- give it to them. You dont need it. Unless its your laptop or phone =)
    6. If you havent worn clothing in the past 9 months, donate it.

    I think I am more inclined to just junk things or donate them. Selling them just keeps everything around longer.


  9. I’m currently going to the same situation. Moving out of my parents’ place, I never realized how much junk I’ve accumulated in the past 25 years. One of the things I’ve done is go through all my drawers and closets and pull out everything I know I don’t need. I then threw it all in the trunk of my car for two weeks. If I didn’t end up needing any of it (and I didn’t!), then I gave it to a charity.

    I found the two weeks that I had it in my car was comforting. It was out of sight and out of access, but I didn’t feel like I lost it. It helped me realize that I really don’t need that stuff (and it made the packing/moving much easier!)

  10. My tip? Don’t buy it to begin with. 🙂 It’s pretty easy for me, because a) I’m frugal and b) I hate clutter anyway. I used to be like you about books (hey, I’m an English major), but I’ve gotten ruthless in recent years and winnowed my collection down to one bookshelf. Once a year, I go through my house and ID everything that needs to go, and just give it away. I gave up trying to make money on yard sales a long time ago. Everyone seems to want something for nothing, so they won’t even give you a fraction of what something’s worth. Maybe I’d have better luck on Craiglist.

    1. The don’t buy stuff tip is one I could have used about three years ago! Hopefully once I get the volume down I can manage to keep it that way.

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