One sure-fire way to de-clutter: Take a trip around the world

by Betsy Herbert

You can find lots of books and blogs offering advice about how to de-clutter your house. But even after watching George Carlin’s brilliant stand-up comedy routine about "Stuff," most people still need an incentive to get started.

Stuff!!

Stuff!!

Incentives to off-load stuff

Until last year, I’ve always found that moving to a new space was the best incentive to unload unneeded stuff. Most of us beyond college age have to pay someone else to move our stuff, so it pays to get rid of the stuff you don’t really love or need before you move. After you book the movers, you’ve got an actual deadline. You’ve got to—“Get ‘er done.”

Last year, I decided to take a trip around the world and lease my house while I was gone. That rent money would give me a very nice, dependable travel income. My property manager advised me to put my stuff into storage, because most tenants would want to move their own stuff into the house.

In Santa Cruz, storage space is expensive. I found that if I could squeeze everything I own into a 10’ x 15’ storage unit, my cost would be under $200 per month. But I’d have to get rid of some big items first.

When I decided to take a year-long trip around the world, I had a great incentive to get rid of stuff. First step...eat this cake!!!

When I decided to take a year-long trip around the world, I had a great incentive to get rid of stuff. First step...eat this cake!!!

The joy of off-loading stuff

Seriously, I took some time to assess my stuff and decide what I dearly loved and what had outlived its usefulness...every item tells a story:

• An old, but still good king-sized bed in my guest room hadn’t been used much lately. I donated it to the Center for Farmworker families, a non-profit based in Santa Cruz County, California [www.farmworkerfamily.org/]. Dr. Ann Lopez, the organization's executive director, had told me about a local farmworker family who was sleeping on the floor and would most appreciate the bed. Easy decision. . . Within two days, someone picked up the bed and delivered it to the family in need.

• A big sectional couch that I had bought for my previous house was actually too big for my existing living room. It was a pricey item, so I advertised it on Craig’s list for a third of its original price. I sold it in two days for the asking price. I would use the proceeds to buy a smaller couch after I returned home from my trip.

My old couch was too big for the space...so I sold it on Craig's list.

My old couch was too big for the space...so I sold it on Craig's list.

• I had a powerful air purifier in my garage that I had bought after the too-close-for-comfort Lockheed Fire several years ago. The smoke from the fire was extremely irritating long after the fire had been extinguished. I had kept the air purifier running 24/7. When I didn’t need it anymore, I moved it to my workplace. The building where I worked was over 100 years old and there were skunks living in the basement. So the air purifier worked a second round of magic. After I retired, the air purifier sat in the garage unused for two years. I put it on Craig’s List.

Within hours, a man who lived in Shanghai, China contacted me. Shanghai is one of the world’s most air polluted cities. He was looking for this particular brand of air purifier to put in his family’s apartment. He needed seven of them; one for every room. He had made a special trip to the USA just to locate good ones. He bought mine for full asking price. I smiled, thinking about his baby daughter who would now be breathing clean air in Shanghai.

• Some really good stuff didn’t move on Craig’s List. I had a beautiful conga drum that sat in my living room collecting dust for years. Finally, I was contacted by a local elementary school principal who wanted the drum for his school’s music program. I donated it. He gave me a receipt for the asking price of the drum. Nice little tax deduction. I enjoy thinking about budding young musicians learning to play on that drum.

• My fashionable friend Sue came over for a visit and relentlessly went through my closet with me. By making snarky faces at each piece that didn’t pass her sniff test, she got me to offload at least half the clothes I owned. I parked most of them at local consignment stores and then donated the unsold items to the Goodwill. How liberating!! I dreamed of shopping in Paris to compensate myself.

How could I part with any of these old clothes?? My friend Sue made it easy.

How could I part with any of these old clothes?? My friend Sue made it easy.

• Sue also helped me with a garage sale. I sold lots of stuff, mostly kitchen items, tools, and small furniture. We used the proceeds to enjoy a nice organic dinner that night, including a fancy bottle of sauvignon blanc.

• Perhaps one of the hardest things, sentimentally, to offload was my mother’s china. It was a service for 12, not worth much, out of date, heavy, and hard to pack. I offered it to my niece, but she politely declined. So, I donated it to Grey Bears in Santa Cruz. I know someone will use it. That’s enough for me!

Somebody somewhere will really like this old china!

Somebody somewhere will really like this old china!

• My old Singer sewing machine was a workhorse that had served me well for many decades, butit was heavy and I hardly ever used it anymore. My friend Jeannie bought it for her grand daughter, who had just taken up sewing. She was delighted with it.

My friend Jeannie bought my old Singer sewing machine for her grand daughter.

My friend Jeannie bought my old Singer sewing machine for her grand daughter.

• I did lots of shredding. I had 15 years worth of files and correspondence that I would never need again. No brainer.

• I sold my car. I have a colleague who owns a car lot and he made the job of selling my 2008 Subaru Legacy a piece of cake. I was glad to see it go after all the repairs it had started needing. I could use the money to buy airline tickets! I also saved money by not storing the car for a year.

• A big old chest of drawers that I had used since childhood had great sentimental value, but it was too big for my bedroom. I wanted someone special to have it, so I gave it to my friend Jen. She had a baby girl who needed a dresser. Perfect.

Moving day April 10, 2015

The movers finally arrived to take my stuff to my 10' x 15' storage unit. At the end of the day, it all fit, but just barely...

Above, one of the movers gets ready to close the door on my 10' x 15' storage unit.  I was really glad that my road bike fit into the space!

Above, one of the movers gets ready to close the door on my 10' x 15' storage unit.  I was really glad that my road bike fit into the space!

Because I loved and/or needed all of the things that made it into the storage unit, it was a joy to think that when I returned, all of these things would be waiting for me. I also liked thinking that my offloaded stuff was now being appreciated and used by someone else.

While I was on the road for a year, I hardly accumulated anything. I bought new clothes as I needed them, but not more than would fit in my suitcase. I also bought jewelry, my favorite souvenir. It’s made by local artisans and takes up almost no space.

 . . . Fast forward: One year later:

I returned home as planned a year later in April 2016. My rental income had allowed me to travel the world without tapping my savings. Lucky for me, my tenants left my house in good shape. After I moved my stuff back in, it was great to be surrounded only by things that held personal meaning for me.

To replace some of the too-big furniture that I had offloaded, I bought a new bed for the guest room, a new couch for the living room and a new dresser for the bedroom. . . each piece now fits the space. I also bought a new car. . . a tiny one.

Shortly after I returned, Dr. Ann Lopez took me to visit the farmworker family that received my old king-sized bed. They thanked me over and over for it, saying what a big difference it has made in their lives.

Bottom line: Offloading rocks!