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What's worth keeping?

Don't let the stuff you own end up owning you.

By Donna_Freedman Oct 1, 2009 3:59AM

You never know how much stuff you have until you need to move it 1,500 miles. Just ask my daughter and son-in-law, who are heading to Phoenix, Arizona. Although they sold some items online, staged a yard sale, donated many other belongings to charity thrift shops and gave lots of things to friends, they still couldn't fit everything into a 6x7x8-foot moving cube.

I don't suppose anyone out there could use seven dozen plastic hangers and some ice cube trays? 

Or a bentwood rocker? A medium-sized pet kennel? Or how about a Brita pitcher, stone sundial, curtain rod, vegetable steamer, small gargoyle, chips-and-salsa tray, flashlight or cookie press? Any takers for the fabric-lined storage basket, bags of canned food, picture frames, coffee mugs, half a dozen saucers, two bowls, or a bunch of food storage containers?

My living room looks like a yard sale. Thank goodness for Freecycle.

Neither Abby nor Tim have ever earned much money but in the past 10 years they've acquired a ton of books, clothes, household items and hobby supplies thanks to Freecycle, Craigslist, thrift shops, free gift card programs and clearance tables. 

Funny how it all piles up -- or refuses to pile up in a moving cube.

In a post on her blog, I Pick Up Pennies, Abby noted that it is "humbling to realize just how many of your possessions are disposable." She was able to discard things she'd owned for 20 years or more. Frankly, I had a tougher time with that than she did. Watching her donate Christmas ornaments and stuffed animals left me feeling wistful. It was hard not to ask her to give them to me to keep.

Probably that's because I remember the feelings associated with a stuffed koala or a particular piece of clothing. Yet in the end, it's all just stuff. Even if the stuff goes away, the memories are still mine. 

All right, I admit it: I rescued a few small items. Sue me. But the most important thing I took from the experience was admiration at how ruthlessly Abby and Tim pared down their belongings. Sure, they kept enough to fill that moving cube plus the trunk and back seat of their "new" car (my former  Chevy Cavalier), but they jettisoned a lot, too.

Their ability to decide what was worth keeping inspired me to start looking at my own clutter -- specifically, at a lot of Alaskan and Western prints and paintings, baseball cards, a variety of magazines, and college and pro sports media guides and programs that came to me in the divorce. 

In a previous Smart Spending essay  I wrote that I planned to sort through these things in order to sell them, donate them or toss them into the recycle bin. I've made a stab at unloading some of the art, but haven't yet gone through the sports ephemera. In part that's because I'm pressed for time, and in part it's because I keep thinking somebody somewhere might want to buy some of it.

Maybe somebody does. But it would take untold hours to market and mail these items and most would only fetch a few dollars apiece. Do I want to spend that much time for that little gain -- and don't I want my apartment back?

No, and yes. My new plan is to tackle one box a month. If Abby can send her strapless black prom dress to secondhand heaven, surely I can consign the 1989 Gonzaga University volleyball media guide to the pulp mill. 

Published Sept. 4, 2009



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