Sunday, September 25, 2005

Clear Your Clutter with a Garage Sale

Tip of the Week, September 18, 2005

Today, as we do once a year, my neighbors and I had a street-wide garage sale. I took the opportunity to cull unwanted and unneeded stuff from my closets, cabinets, and basement, as did my friend Dana, who joined me for the sale. Our efforts paid off: between us, we brought in over $300!

A garage sale is a great way to declutter, give your unwanted things new homes, and make some money in the process. To make sure your next sale is a success, follow these tips.
  • Pick a date and time. Weekend days tend to be best for garage sales, as most people are off work and out of school. If possible, steer clear of holidays and other major events in your area that might keep people otherwise occupied. Time-wise, it's a good idea to start early and end by mid-afternoon; crowds are thickest in the morning, and by the time 3 or 4 p.m. rolls around, you'll be ready for some respite.
  • Go on a treasure hunt. A sale can't be a sale without stuff, so the weeks before your event are the perfect time to go through your house, attic, garage, and basement in search of things to sell. Generally speaking, items that are in good, usable condition sell best, but don't be afraid to throw in a few things that seem like long shots; they really may turn out to be someone else's treasures.
  • Clean it up. Though most garage sale shoppers expect a bit of dust and some wear on the things they find, items that are excessively dirty, have mold or other damage, or are beyond repair are likely to turn people away. Take the time to run a rag over anything that needs a bit of brightening up before you present it for sale. The same goes for clothes: the cleaner they are, the better they'll sell.
  • Enlist help. Holding a garage sale is hard and tiring work, so you'll want to have at least one person around to help you out. Asking friends or neighbors to join in the sale with you means you'll not only have a wider selection for customers to choose from, but also that you'll be able to work in shifts, giving everyone the chance to take breaks as needed.
  • Price wisely. One of the biggest garage sale challenges is deciding what to charge for each thing you sell. Guidelines on pricing vary widely based on factors such as the item's condition and age and your location; generally, garage sale pros recommend charging between 10 and 40% of what you originally paid for the item. For example, I bought a stereo in 2001 for $220 and sold it today for $45, or 20% of the original cost, a fairly standard depreciation for electronics. However you decide to calculate your prices, remember that things that are too expensive are less likely to sell, while things that are too cheap won't net you enough to make the sale worth the effort.
  • Get the word out. The more people your sale draws, the more successful you're likely to be, so it's important to advertise. You might put a classified in your local newspaper, list your sale on an online bulletin board (such as Craigslist), or put up fliers around your neighborhood. If you do decide to go the flier route, be sure to check with your local town hall or police department to see what restrictions there are on posting notices; putting signs where they shouldn't be means at best that they'll be torn down, and at worst that you could face a fine.
  • Be prepared. A day or two before your sale, be sure to do three things: get change (singles and quarters are especially important), put prices on your items (to avoid endless "How much is this?" questions from your customers), and decide whether or not you'll be willing to bargain. My haggling skills got a great workout today during my interactions with some particularly bargain-minded shoppers; if you're not willing to bargain, say so up front to save yourself and your buyers some aggravation.
  • Have fun! Your garage sale will be hard work, but to make it truly worth the effort, it should also be fun. Put on some music, chat with your customers, and make time at the end of the day for counting your earnings and unwinding with whoever helped out at the sale.
  • Say a last goodbye. Finally, make time either at the end of the sale or the following day to deal with anything that didn't sell. I tend to sock away a few choice items that are in good condition and seem likely to sell at my next sale; everything else gets either boxed up for Goodwill or put in the "Free! Take Me!" box on the curb. Remember, one of the main points of your sale is to get this stuff out of your house, so be very, very judicious about what you let back in.

    Ready to get started? Pick one of the beautiful upcoming fall weekends and use the tips above to plan your own successful garage sale. Your newly decluttered house--and your fuller bank account--will thank you.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Change of Season Organizing

Tip of the Week, September 4 and 11, 2005

As summer starts to recede and fall approaches, why not take the time to organize for the season change? Use the tips and ideas below to make your home and family's transition from one season to the next easier, less cluttered, and more orderly.

Do an audit
Now's the perfect time to take a realistic look at the summer clothes, equipment, and supplies you've been keeping around because you thought, "I might need this some day." As summer winds down, you'll know for sure whether or not you put these things to use over the past few months. If those swim fins seemed in May like they'd come in handy but have been collecting dust ever since, toss them on the giveaways pile. If you never took that brightly colored Hawaiian shirt out of your closet all season, despite your best intentions, chances are it won't emerge next summer, either. Let it go.

Repair and care
Once you've weeded out the summer clothes and gear you have used and do want to keep, take a close look at each item to see if it needs any repairs. It tends to be much easier and more efficient to take the time now to patch up inner tube holes, clean the clumps of grass and dirt out of baseball cleats, sew up small tears in shorts, and make other simple fixes than to wait for the start of next summer, by which time the damage may have spread.

After you've made repairs, make a storage plan for your seasonal items to ensure that they stay safe and clean. Stash sports equipment, beach gadgets, and other outdoor gear in large, sturdy containers in a basement or garage. Put clean summer clothes in breathable fabric containers (such as nylon or cedar) with natural pest repellants, then store the containers in a dry, temperate place in the house. (See my Organizing Seasonal Clothes tip for more recommendations.) Clean any outdoor or patio furniture and place it in a shed or garage, using furniture covers as needed.

Gather your autumn items
Once you've stashed your summer gear in containers (labeled, of course!) and stored it safely, it's time to take out your fall stuff. Doing an audit on your autumn clothing, gear, and gadgets is a great way to start the season off right. Go through what you have and weed out anything that no longer fits, is broken beyond repair, hasn't been used for the past few years, or just is no longer worth keeping on hand. As you sort, keep a list of anything you'll need to replace, such as jackets, sweaters, or fall sports gear. Also, set aside anything that needs to be cleaned or repaired.

Since you've already cleared out your summer items, you should find that you have sufficient storage space for your fall stuff. As you put things away, make sure to keep the items you use most often in the most convenient locations and to stash those you use less frequently somewhere out of the way (such as a shelf in a closet or in cabinets in the garage).

Be aware of what you use
As you unearth your fall clothing and gear, you'll likely come across items that you know you didn't use last fall but think you'll use this year. Keep a list of these things, and make a deal with yourself that when you repeat your seasonal organizing process again come winter (or spring), you'll get rid of anything that's on the list and has gone through another autumn unused. Remember, the less extraneous stuff you keep around, the less you'll have to pack and unpack as the seasons change, and the more storage space you'll have for the things you really do want, need, and use.

Use the steps above to help ease yourself, your house, and your family into the change from summer to fall this year. You'll help mark the end of one season and the beginning of the next, and you'll be prepared for a more organized, less cluttered, more enjoyable fall.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

4 Quick Ways to Avoid Clutter

Tip of the Week, August 28, 2005

Generally speaking, the less stuff you have, the easier it is to get and stay organized. Of course, many of us find that things seem to accumulate in our lives almost effortlessly, and soon wind up as clutter to be dealt with.

But the battle against unneeded stuff doesn't need to be a losing one! These four tips can help you keep clutter from creeping up on you.

1.) Stay conscious. Often, we gather things without really thinking about whether we need them, whether we have a use for them, or whether they're truly appealing to us. This tends to be especially true of things that are free, are on sale, or seem to be great bargains. The next time you're faced with the choice of whether or not to take something home (or back to the office), pause for a moment and ask yourself, "Do I need this? Do I have a specific use for it? Do I really like it?" If you can't answer "Yes" at least once, chances are you're better off without the object in question.

2.) Practice "one in, one out." When you do find something you truly want, need, or love, aim to think of it as a replacement for something you already have, and get rid of the latter. For example, each time you purchase a new pair of shoes, weed out an older pair--perhaps one you haven't worn in a while, or that no longer matches anything in your wardrobe. And each time a new issue of a magazine arrives, toss an older issue into the recycling. This practice will help keep multiples of the same kind of thing from cluttering your space.

3.) Create "what to keep" guidelines. One of the most challenging things about sorting through stuff is trying to decide what to keep and what to toss. (This tends to be especially true of paper!) Having to make decisions over and over again can make organizing a tiring and unpleasant process. Give yourself a leg up by taking the time to create some guidelines before you start sorting: decide how long you'll keep papers and files, clothes, holiday decorations, toys and sports equipment, books, and so on.

For example, you might opt to keep only 6 or 7 t-shirts at any one time; when you reach your limit, you know that shirts 8 and up are destined for the giveaway pile. Once you've created your guidelines, keep them in a convenient spot (on the fridge, in the front of your filing cabinet, or on the computer, say) and refer back to them each time clutter starts to gather.

4.) Whenever possible, do it now. Clutter, like many other types of messes (such as a sink full of days-old dirty dishes), is always at least partly due to delayed action. What starts as a few pieces of mail each day, for example, quickly becomes an overwhelming pile if we don't take the time to sort it and weed out the stuff we know we don't need.

To keep clutter from taking over, aim to deal with it as soon as possible: spending one minute each day sorting the junk mail from the mail you want to keep is much easier than spending 30 minutes trying to find a bill, a check, or an appointment notice in a pile of mail that's gathered over an entire week. Taking a few seconds to put the newspaper in the recycling bin after you've read it means you'll have one less stack of things on the floor or the kitchen table to deal with at the end of the day. As a rule of thumb, if a task will take a minute or less and won't seriously interrupt something else, do it now.

Dealing with clutter will always be a challenge; new and different stuff comes into our lives every day, and some of it is here to stay. Using the four tips above, though, you can keep clutter from taking over.