Illustration by Camilo Medina
She isn’t sure when having an antique cash register or 15 trash bags filled with old stuffed animals will come in handy, but Blayn Jeffers of Davie, Florida has kept them, safe and sound, in an air-conditioned storage unit for the last five years.“We thought it would be cheaper to pay a monthly fee for a climate controlled storage unit than buying a bigger house,” said Jeffers, who pays $160 a month for a 10 foot by ten foot unit. “At the same time I wonder what we are going to do with half of this stuff, like an old headboard we can’t part with or ugly heirlooms left behind by deceased relatives.”
Americans have crammed 2.5 billion square feet of storage space with their old couches, hockey sticks, clothes, and photos, among other items according to data from the Self Storage Association, a trade group representing the industry. To put that in perspective, that’s more than three times the size of Manhattan. And all that space doesn’t come cheap: We pay an average of $91 a month for the privilege, according to storage marketplace SpareFoot, while the industry brings in some $37 billion annually, according to research firm IBISWorld.If you took that $91 a month and invested it instead, you’d have $25,000 in 15 years, assuming a six percent annual earnings rate. How valuable do those stuffed animals look to you now?Of course you probably aren’t planning to keep your storage unit that long—nobody does—but there are few things less fun than cleaning one out. As a result, it’s easy to leave stuff for much longer than you intended. “We have half of a drum set, a sunroof and dead person’s belongings we haven’t even dealt with yet,” said Julie Harshaw, also of Davie, Florida. “There are so many stupid things in there that I can’t even wrap my head around!”
If you’re ready to start purging, it helps to have a strategy. Organizing guru Marie Kondo suggests focusing on the items you want to keep first by asking yourself if it sparks joy. As for the rest? If you don't love it, ask yourself if it's something you’d buy again today. If not, go ahead and get rid of it. Same for multiples of something that you don’t need.Once you've figured out what can go, you have three options: sell it, donate it or toss it. Here’s how to decide which route makes the most sense:
How to get rid of your stuff
Sell: Your nicer or newer stuff is most likely to sell for a good price. That includes things like a barely used couch, a brand new microwave or sports gear you only used a few times. Before listing your item, be sure to research what similar goods are going for to get the price right. Facebook Marketplace, Letgo, OfferUp, eBay, and Craigslist are all good spots to list your items. If you plan to sell clothing, consider Depop or Poshmark and always include a photo.If the item doesn’t sell fast, be prepared to lower the price. And when a buyer steps up, request cash cash payment if handing the item over in person. If you accept PayPal or Venmo, make sure the money is in your bank account before shipping the item to the buyer.Donate: For stuff you can’t sell like used pots and pans, cheap household gadgets or less stylish clothing, pay it forward by donating to a nonprofit like the Goodwill, Salvation Army, or Purple Heart. “We’ll accept almost anything with few exceptions such as hazardous material, weapons, recalled items,” said Kyle Stewart, senior director of donated goods retail from Goodwill.Some groups will even come to your house to pick up your old junk. “Just about everything we’re grateful to pick up—used furniture, home goods, electronics, books, clothing, shoes, musical instruments—even a car or boat,” said Lieutenant Colonel Ward Matthews, a spokesperson for the Salvation Army, adding, “It’s important to know our store sales fund social services, community centers and drug and alcohol rehabilitation across America.”Don’t forget your public library for old books, and if you’re in a rush, just set items on the sidewalk with a sign that says “free.” There’s a good chance someone will snap it right up!Follow Gina Ragusa on Twitter.