How do we know when it is time to part with something? Once we
make a decision to let go, how do we know whether to donate or to
sell? If we decide to sell, do we consign, eBay, Craigslist or put
together a garage sale? Depending on what the item is, there are
also emotional and circumstantial elements to consider when dealing
with clutter and extra Stuff (with a capital “S”). No wonder we put
off making decisions about it all.

In past columns I’ve talked about parting with clutter that is,
for all intents and purposes, garbage. Broken, expired, stained and
other adjectives describe these items that need to be trashed, not
donated. In today’s column we are talking about clutter that
includes extra clothing and furniture in good condition; boats,
trailers and cars that are just taking up space; heirlooms and
decorative items that are perfectly fine but not your taste, etc.
These things have value, but how much? 

Each person facing these de-cluttering dilemmas should figure
out the hourly value of their own time first. Break down your
income into a rough per-hour figure. This is an objective way to
figure out if it makes sense for you to have a garage sale or spend
time listing items for sale on Internet sites. If you are an
executive working 60 hours a week, the tax write-off of donating
potential garage sale items is probably the best choice. Your extra
time might be better spent with family and friends. 

If you are unemployed, every extra dollar counts, and several
hours spent putting price stickers on your knick-knacks and
creating eye-catching street signs for your sale is not a bad use
of your time. 

You can figure out if something is worth storing much the same
way. All too often my clients have moved house or inherited items
and put a bunch of Stuff in a self-storage unit as a short-term
solution to dealing with the clutter. Two, three, ten years later,
they call me, desperate to get out of the storage unit, after
realizing that (for example) they’ve stored a $200 mattress, boxes
of old record albums and a second-hand couch for four years at
$120/month or more. Ouch!

So, do the math: What is the value of the stuff, what is the
cost of the storage unit and what is your time frame for keeping
the item stored? Your emotional attachment to the items can be
factored in later, once you see the naked numbers.

There are individuals and companies who will navigate eBay for
you these days, which is wonderful for those of us who have some
collectible or other valuable items to sell and don’t have the time
or interest in learning e-commerce or improving our pack-and-ship
skills. Twenty to 50 percent is the usual commission for these
services, so if you can afford not to receive 100 percent of the
proceeds, it’s a much less stressful way to go. Check out and

Consignment stores are wonderful, but you will only get 40-60
percent of the final sale price of your items. You should also do a
careful inventory of your items and be sure to check in with the
store at 30 days and 60 days (the usual sales cycles for consigned
items) to pick up any unsold items and to make sure that all sold
items have been credited to your account. Consignment stores deal
with tons of items, frequent turnover, and lots of consigners, so
things can fall through the cracks. I’ve never had a problem
collecting a credit as long as I had an original inventory of what
I brought in.

Craigslist is brilliant because it is community based and
there’s no shipping involved. This means large items like furniture
and cars are as easy to list as a Prada handbag. Listing on
Craigslist is free and it is easy to use, but ads need to be
replaced each week if your item doesn’t sell, so again, if you are
making enough money and your time is more valuable than your extra
Stuff, this selling option may not be for you.

If I had my way, all of my clients would be out of self-storage
units, and the Stuff they love or absolutely need to save would be
incorporated into their homes and offices. I do think storage
rentals are wonderful for transitional periods; we all go through
times we need extra space and some “breathing room” to figure
things out. But when we are ready to move forward, it’s time to
donate, sell or bring it on home.