I have worked with individuals whose culinary interests range from those who love cooking to those who would rather watch paint dry. One commonality is their frustration with food waste.
Thankfully, a few doable strategies reduce food waste, lowering grocery bills. (I have added links to a few products as examples, but I do not receive a commission.)
-Label, Label, Label
My previous article listed condiments as refrigerators’ most easily forgotten food. They might sit for months or years before catching our eye. When they finally do, we waste precious time determining their age. I added silver and black Sharpies to my kitchen arsenal a few years ago. Immediately after opening a jar, I mark its “open” date. Since then, I have noticed less food waste.
Additionally, before putting leftovers into my freezer, I use masking tape to label contents and dates. This fifteen-second task prevents freezer-burned mystery meals. Additionally, it creates easy meal variation, which is nice. Case in point: I recently noticed three frozen mason jars of chicken stock. That is one too many for my freezer, so within a few seconds, the oldest jar was defrosting in my refrigerator. As a result, I had fun working with dried, not jarred, anchos for the first time and then tasting pozole.
Shopping lists save money by evading unnecessary duplicates. Labeling reduces the time needed to inventory pantry stock before creating those lists. Having to guess if a container is full of mashed potatoes or leftover cream cheese frosting might result in an overabundance of potatoes that turn mushy before being utilized.
I enjoy the simplicity of masking tape, but reusable labels might save even more time.
-Use airtight bins in the pantry
Decanting dried goods into bins takes time. It is possible to successfully eschew them entirely. Nevertheless, these containers have various benefits.
Clear bins make better use of vertical shelf space than amorphous bags of opened flour and beans, making it easier to identify multiple items simultaneously. We are likelier to check our pantries before heading to the store if ingredients are easier to spot.
My incredible mother taught me how to bake. I remember delicious chocolate chip cookies, coconut cake, and banana bread, among other treats. She showed me how to level ingredients with a knife, why that was important, and how to check incoming bags of flour for tiny but not-so-delicious weevils. They hitch rides in flour bags and chew through cardboard to reach other nearby food. You can avoid costly cross-contamination by decanting into bins. I have been happy with my OXO Pop containers, but there are plenty of choices on the market.
-Employ clean towels or produce bins in the refrigerator
Even in clear-front crisper drawers, it is easy to forget about produce. Wrapping it in damp towels extends longevity, but produce bins work even better. A few years ago, I moved many vegetables to the front portion of my fridge so I would eat them more frequently.
Clear BPA-free bins with moisture trays, date dial reminders, and airflow buttons have not only put healthy foods directly in my line of sight but also extended the life of my produce. My salad greens now last long much longer. Tomatoes do, too. They should live outside refrigerators, but my kitchen generates heat quickly, so tomatoes ripen too quickly. I was shocked that a bunch of cherry tomatoes lasted three times longer than usual when I dumped them into one of my bins.
-Pay attention to crisper dials
Many modern refrigerators have humidity controls for each produce drawer. You can use them to your advantage.
-Stock your pantry like the grocery store
Ever notice grocery store clerks rotating the oldest products to the front of shelves? It is worth the few extra seconds employing this tactic when unloading groceries. Even when canned, foods can lose nutritional value over time.
Moveable kitchen shelves come in handy. There is no need for cabinet envy if you have fixed shelves; you can purchase shelf risers to double the vertical space. It will also be much easier to see what inventory is on hand.
-Use the grocery store as your pantry
Even better than stocking your pantry like a grocery store is to use the grocery store as your pantry. Let those companies pay the monthly square footage for food storage so you do not have to. Of course, having the basics and backups for emergencies or chaotic days is helpful, but overall, the less you have in cupboards, the less time you will spend looking for ingredients. Often, kitchen space is more valuable than having multiple backups, especially if you live in an expensive part of the country.
One might argue that emergencies like the pandemic demonstrated the importance of having large food caches at home. Although emergency supplies are essential, I would make an educated guess that many American pantries still house unwanted food from the early days of the pandemic. Even during the pandemic, it took a year and a half to muscle through two cans of veggies I would not usually purchase but had bought during the uncertainty and chaos of early lockdowns.
-Avoid housing pantry items in multiple places
I have sung the praises of taking inventory before shopping. This task becomes too cumbersome if we must look in two different places before heading out. If we house ingredients in multiple locations, we risk finding duplicates and even triplicates long after the USDA’s recommended one to five-year mark has passed.
-Do not shop when hungry or tired
I thoroughly enjoy trying limited edition or less commonly seen snack foods at local grocery stores. The bag of lychee-flavored potato chips was fun. So were the banana bread Pop-Tarts, although I would rather have the real deal. My recent purchase of rose-flavored biscuits was a bust, but I blame that one on faulty advertising.
I recently ran across Lays Spicy Crab flavor and Beef Wellington-flavor potato chips. It was one of my more amusing culinary adventures because a man in the checkout line asked incredulously, “Are those Beef Wellington flavored chips? I know what I’m getting next time!” What followed was a short but enjoyable conversation about this complicated dish. I have never tried it, but he had successfully cooked it and sang its praises.
All this to say, I have to be careful with these little flavor adventures because the bill and the calories can add up quickly. So, I try to avoid certain grocery store aisles when I’m tired or hungry. This commonly known wisdom is a great rule to go by.
Which of these tactics do you already employ? Which will help you to save time and money each week? What other tactics have you used to avoid food waste and reduce your monthly grocery bill?
You may have read my previous article and determined that selling your discards is worth the time and effort. Additionally, after reading my second article in the series, you know which app(s) or website(s) you will use. Now for the fun part of cashing in! While the steps listed below are app-agnostic, they are valuable guidelines for selling.
Determine the Price:
Prep the Item:
Prepare the Post Description:
Create the Post:
Sign up for an account on the platform you will be using. Note if you need a follow-up step to verify your account, such as an email confirmation. Then, create the post. This typically entails:
Frequently Check for Responses:
The sooner you respond, the more likely you will capitalize on potential buyers’ motivation. You might receive an onslaught of responses or crickets. That is part of the fun; we assume we know the market but never truly know what will be popular.
If you enter the experience with the expectation that people will flake, the back and forth will be more enjoyable. You can also specify how long you will wait before moving to the next responder. If someone takes too long, move on to the next responder so that other responders stay interested. Base your timing on how long your post will be active. More buyers drop off than they did years ago. I no longer wait as long as I used to because of this.
Safely Arrange a Time and Place to Meet:
Communicate precisely where and when to meet the buyer. A well-lit, busy parking lot or police station is a safe option. If a responder’s communication sounds off, skip them and move to the next person. Spammers and scammers go fishing on these sites, so use your Spidey senses. Always make sure that you are selling safely.
Assign a Deadline:
Only post if you are willing to give yourself a deadline by which you will immediately donate the item. I have worked with many individuals whose posts expired, and the unwanted object continued to waste valuable real estate over weeks and months. A pile full of unsold clutter can be a mood killer. It is hard to admit that we cannot recoup costs on some of our purchases, but it feels liberating to donate unsold items and free up space.
Were you surprised by this one? Cash and selling apps are now required to report sales that hit certain monetary thresholds. Uncle Sam might come knocking, so familiarize yourself with new laws that have gone into effect. This article explains the basics.
Some details vary by platform, but following these steps will make your selling process more enjoyable. So go out and have fun selling your castoffs! Please feel free to share your enjoyable experiences in the comment section below. I know I have had plenty of them over the years.
Some readers are already familiar with body doubling and its outsized effect on decluttering. Others may ask, “What in the world is a body double? Is it like a stunt double?”
I was in the latter camp when I opened my organizing business in 2015. How could the simple act of quietly sitting in a room and reading a book or playing on one’s phone help another person tackle an arduous task more easily? The concept seemed too magical to be true. Yet, time and again, I have witnessed this tactic’s quiet effectiveness.
Body doubling is a strategy that you can employ to gain traction on tasks. It is most beneficial for onerous jobs that feel as if they take Herculean strength to start. It could be decluttering and organizing, bill paying, laundry, cleaning, you name it.
How it Works
Instead of white knuckling it through an arduous task, ask a friend or loved one to body double for you. They will bring a book, magazine, or something to keep them quietly occupied during the scheduled date and time. Believe it or not, your focus on that onerous task will increase, and it might even become effortless. Your guest does not need to say anything at all. Their presence alone reminds you to continue working on your specified task. You can also use this strategy via video or phone.
Body-Doubling in the Field
Clients frequently remark how much they get done when I work with them. Access to my guidance and organizing knowledge are significant pieces of the puzzle, but body doubling is often in effect as well. I might be working on an entirely different organizing task than a client, but as long as I am there, they more easily focus on their own organizing task.
This effect happens during virtual organizing sessions as well. From my office, I might research a product or potential price range for one of their discards. Simultaneously, from their home, they sort items into categories. They stay on task even without my prompting because of the body-doubling effect.
Many professional organizers and coaches in the ADHD community have used the body doubling technique for many years. I have recommended a few body doubling companies to clients so they can more easily declutter between our sessions. This practice saves them money and, more importantly, gives them a chance to practice their newly learned skills. They can continue using the skills long after we complete the organizing project. The tactic is successful enough to have gained increasing mainstream media exposure.
Give it a Go
The next time you find yourself procrastinating on that much-dreaded task, contact a friend or loved one. Ask them to body double with you for your most demanding jobs, such as filing papers, paying bills, purging extraneous objects, or paying taxes. I would guess that they have dreaded tasks of their own. You can body double with each other and share the joy and satisfaction of hitting those targets together!
You have passed the first gauntlet of selling your cast-offs by answering questions in my previous article. Congratulations! Now, on to the second one: deciding where to post items for maximum effectiveness and minimum effort. It is ultimately a personal decision based on various factors, but below are some of my go-to’s, along with those I tend to avoid. (I receive no benefit from any of these recommendations.)
The Platforms I Use Most Frequently
Yes, this website still exists! I love its simplicity and clarity. It just works. Plus, the owners have avoided the ever-present “upgrades” that many companies roll out ad nauseam. At one point, it had such a loyal following that it became the subject of a documentary about its users and their experiences. There are other prominent players in this space now, but I return to Craigslist because of its ease of use and popularity.
Sign-up is a breeze. With an email and password, you can immediately start your first post. The “Post” button guides you through the seamless process, advancing you from one part of the post to the next until you have completed your ad. CL will then email you a confirmation link to click. Once you have done that, the ad goes live. CL will then send a second email containing the web address for the public post and your personal link to edit or delete the posting.
It will automatically delete the ad after a specified period. Timing varies depending on the city in which you live. You can quickly repost the advertisement after it expires by logging back into your account. Most categories of ads are free. Some classes necessitate fees, such as Jobs and Cars.
I have had a great time over the years, meeting individuals and connecting over the items I sell. This includes my latest sale of a camp set up for a memorable camping trip. The buyer found my pack list and gear invaluable, and I made a tidy sum in the process. Plus, I had the pleasure of knowing someone was making great use of the gear and the pack list that resulted from years of research and experience. It was a win-win, thanks to the site.
CL now also has an app. Since I prefer to post on a larger screen, I cannot speak to its ease of use, but you might give it a go. (Note that the link above takes you directly to the San Francisco Bay Area site. On the right side of the page, you can use the “US Cities” list to find the one closest to you.)
This one is relatively easy to use if you already have a Facebook account. The interface makes it simple, with all the components on the left side of the page. You also benefit from showing your ad to the built-in Facebook audience. You can also opt to hide the ad from your Facebook friends if that is preferred. Marketplace is typically my backup to an initial craigslist ad. I have found that the “flake factor” is higher here than on CL, although that factor has exponentially increased across all platforms in recent years.
This company is a few decades newer than craigslist and Facebook. The process is clunkier and slower than craigslist, but that could be because I have thus far refused to download their app onto my phone. (The website states that load time is faster in the app.) It would be on par with Marketplace if load times were faster.
I choose my platform based on which demographic will most likely purchase my item. Sometimes Nextdoor wins.
I have used this website a few times. I sold a few items on the site, but only using the local option. I want to avoid the added complexity of determining shipping and going to a post office or UPS. There is an option to sell locally, but I found other platforms much easier for local sales.
Posting to Multiple Sites
I typically post on two platforms. Since I already spent time creating a description and taking photos, I might as well spend a few more minutes posting on other platforms. I am quite comfortable with the involved technology, so posting is fast. This is not the case for many others who become quickly overwhelmed while creating and managing multiple posts.
There are a plethora of phone-based apps that have cropped up over the years, such as OfferUp. I have tried a few but found the process more time-consuming due to the small screen real estate of the cell phone. Additionally, I did not get good returns on my time, but I know others who have successfully used these apps.
Some clients have enjoyed using consignment sites such as ThredUp for clothing and websites such as Poshmark and TheRealReal for upscale items. They do most of the leg work, and you reward their efforts by splitting your profits.
Start with whichever sounds most convenient. If you are already on Facebook, you can give Marketplace a go. If you prefer cell phones over laptops, try a phone-based app. If you are unsure, go with craigslist.
Next up, learn what it takes to post to most platforms. You will be on your way to pocketing some cash and meeting neighbors while you are at it.
Years ago, one of my most humorous friends and I discussed food when the conversation turned to expiration dates. I do not recall what I said, but I clearly remember his response: “Judith, didn’t you know that expiration dates are for rich people?” His wit amused me as always, but I was also shocked by the concept that expiration dates could be at least somewhat irrelevant.
I have witnessed the food expiration debate play out in more pantries than I can count. Some individuals discard all food as soon as the expiration date passes. I have also found canned goods that predate the birth of expiration dates and whose contents rattled when moved. Most clients fall somewhere in between. I err on the side of caution when making recommendations to clients, especially those who lack a strong sense of smell, vision, and taste or those who are immune compromised.
Expiration Dates in the News
This past week, the Wall Street Journal published an article about expiration dates. It is behind a paywall, so a brief synopsis and my impressions are below.
The author, Josh Zumbrun, explains the birth of expiration dates and how the public has misunderstood their purpose. He writes, “The dates originated as a coded system for manufacturers to communicate to retailers when to rotate stock. Consumers clamored for information on the freshness of food, and in the 1970s and 1980s consumer-facing dates became widespread, though never standardized.
Food manufacturers have tried, largely in vain, to explain that these are mostly general indicators of when food is at its peak quality. Most foods, properly stored, remain edible and safe long after their peak.”
He goes on to explain how much food the US wastes. Expiration dates share some of the blame.
The United Kingdom reduced food waste by altering its dating system entirely. The US seems to be catching up: “Since 2017, FMI” (Food Industry Association) “has encouraged members to coalesce around just two labels: “Best if used by,” which indicates the product might not taste quite as good after that date but is still safe, and “Use by” for those cases where the food might actually be unsafe, such as meat from the deli counter.”
One expert suggests keeping refrigerators no higher than thirty-seven degrees. To this, I add learning where the coldest parts of your refrigerator are and planning accordingly. After an unfortunate mishap with an unlucky can of Diet Dr. Pepper, I can attest that soda cans do indeed violently rip open when left in the back of the refrigerator. Their icy contents burst in every direction, resulting in a Tarantino-esque mess that is an absolute joy to clean up. Take it from me, it is an event to avoid.
Canned Goods and Non-Perishables Do Not Last Forever
The USDA shares significant data regarding shelf-stable foods and canned goods. The section under “Will commercially canned foods last forever?” is particularly informative, as well as the “Shelf Stable Food Chart” towards the bottom of the page.
Did you know that acidic foods will eventually leach into the container, affecting taste and lowering nutrition? Acidic canned goods last twelve to eighteen months, and low-acid foods last two to five years.
Storing Canned Goods
Toss cans that are rusty or exposed to temperatures above one hundred degrees. It is best to avoid storing food in non-climate-controlled areas of the home, such as garages. When working in kitchens, I inform clients of the hidden danger of storing food (even canned goods) in the same area as household cleansers. The chemicals can leach out over time, even if they do not leak.
Botulism: Not Quite the Bargain We Hoped For
My mother taught me that although dented cans sold at a reduced price seem like a good deal, they might not be the bargain we hoped for. Large dents, especially near the top or bottom, can compromise the seal. The same goes for rusty or bulging cans.
Botulism thrives in anaerobic environments. Although rare, it can result in paralysis, so I would much rather waste a few dollars than my health. Toss a can if anything spurts out when opening it.
Detecting Spoiled Food
Certain foods like nuts and flour contain oils and fats that can become rancid over time. Sometimes, the off-smell is subtle, but once identified, it becomes easier to detect again in the future.
I keep eggs past expiration since I eat them slowly. I have been using the egg water test to ensure that more “mature” eggs are still safe to consume.
How to Avoid Food Waste
The best way to avoid food waste is not necessarily to keep food around longer, but to staunch the flow on the front end. That is, curb the habit of purchasing unnecessary duplicates. Most of the food waste that I see results from duplicates long forgotten in backup locations outside the primary pantry and refrigerator.
With these recommendations, you have enough knowledge to start tackling your pantries and refrigerators. You might start with condiments of questionable age that typically sit forlorn in refrigerator doors for far too long because it is so easy to forget them. If your sense of smell is lacking, enlist a friend or loved one whose sense of smell rivals that of a bloodhound. You will be amazed how much easier it is to find what you need when questionable food no longer gobbles up precious space in pantries and refrigerators.
You did a great job of whittling down your unwanted items. Well done! Let us imagine you have a few cast-offs that are not auction-worthy but you think you could sell online. How do you determine whether it is worth the effort? Here are some questions to help you gain clarity.
Can I Do This Safely?
Are you willing to take the recommended safety precautions when selling to strangers? Nothing is more valuable than your safety. If you cannot sell safely, please do not entertain the idea. If you have a plan and have read literature regarding safe selling procedures, advance to the next question.
Am I Comfortable with Technology?
This is an important question. I find the online process easy enough to occasionally sell some of my cast-offs. Since the early days of Craigslist, I have enjoyed meeting buyers, hearing their stories, and making easy spending money. I am also comfortable with technology. Otherwise, I would find the process too frustrating to be worthwhile. I have worked with many individuals selling for the first time, only to discover that the process is overwhelming and time-consuming, even with my help. So, your first order of business is to decide whether you are comfortable enough with technology to give it a shot. If so, excellent, proceed to the next question.
Do I Have the Time?
What type of demands do you have on your time? Do you care for children or grandchildren? Do you have a household to manage, including home repair? Do you have hobbies that take up most of your free time?
Selling will likely take much longer than anticipated the first few times you post. We must also factor in time for back and forth with potential buyers. This used to be a cut-and-dry process, but I have noticed that the “flake factor” has exponentially increased in the last few years. You have to allow time for multiple rounds of communication with various individuals. To be safe, also allow extra padding for those who suddenly drop off contact.
This new dynamic means that I am now more picky about what I take time to post. I donate 99.9% of items I tire of or swap out to make space for a new purchase.
Honestly weigh selling projects against other goals and deliverables in your life. Then, you can avoid feeling bad about spending time on a process that might not get the expected results. You will also feel better when an item sells.
Am I Willing To Repost if Needed?
Sometimes, items are quite popular, particularly if sold at the right time. I recently sold an entire camp set-up because I knew when to post for maximum exposure. I was able to sell it to someone attending a unique event for the first time. I enjoyed sharing my knowledge, explaining why each item was helpful, and sending my multi-page Excel document that I had updated after each year of attendance. Often, though, the process takes longer. Sometimes, I am unsure whether an item has a viable market, and it takes additional time to repost ads.
Am I Willing to Stick to a Deadline?
I have sold many of my cast-offs over the years. I have also been unsuccessful in selling other items over the years. I need to stick with a game plan to make sure the process is short. If the item does not sell after a specified time, I donate, recycle, or trash it as needed. If you think you will be tempted to keep the item indefinitely, you are better off donating it immediately. Things that languish in corners can zap the motivation needed to continue decluttering.
Is There a Market for My Item?
A common refrain from professional organizers is that “no one values our stuff as much as we do.” It is a great rule to live by. There will be exceptions, but our confidence can lead us astray. We might look on ebay.com and think, “Awesome! This camera is selling for $300!” The key is to filter the results by “Sold.” We might find multiple posts asking $300 but only selling for $5 to $10. Conversely, we might be pleasantly surprised to find that others have sold their items recently for a tidy sum.
Did you answer a resounding “Yes!” to the questions above? If so, congratulations; you are now ready to sell your item and will hopefully enjoy the process as I have over the years. Stay tuned; next up, I will demonstrate how to sell your items online!
There are so many organizing myths and misconceptions that limiting my list to ten was difficult. Nevertheless, below are some of the most common and damaging to one’s journey from chaos to calm that comes from organization.
1. If it is worth doing at all, it is worth doing perfectly.
Perfection is sneaky. It can appear in subtle yet impactful ways. Sometimes, we struggle to differentiate between a job well done and perseveration. It commonly lurks about when we are finding “homes” for discards, creating organizational systems, or diverting items from landfills. (It is great to be “green,” but not at the expense of the ability to use space as needed on a daily basis.) The more you catch it attempting to wriggle its way into your process, the better chance you have of organizing in a more realistic and thus relaxing way.
2. I have finished once it is magazine-worthy.
This one goes hand in glove with Myth #1. Magazines display “normal” homes. The photo for this “normal” home probably involved a team of professionals who worked full days to get the right shot. Additionally, it can take thousands of dollars to recreate drool-worthy pantries filled with matching organizing products and decanted dry goods.
This is not to say that one’s organized space cannot look polished, but it is tremendously helpful to be realistic with expectations. We will lose if we measure our homes against a team of professional designers.
If this resonates, try a magazine and social-media diet. When you finish an organizing session, tell yourself, “Good enough is good enough,” celebrate your progress, and reward your efforts. Eventually, you will have a home with workable, calm spaces.
3. I need a bigger home or a storage unit.
One could rent a storage unit or move (and in some cases, like a growing family, might need to). That could be true for some individuals, but most people I meet are not hoping to move or pay monthly storage fees. They simply want to live a more relaxed daily life. Thankfully, the organizing process typically creates enough space that one does not need to move or rent outside storage units.
4. This is going to take forever!
The start of the organizing process can feel overwhelming and like it will take forever. Thankfully, there are a finite amount of items in any given home. You will see progress as you start to clear out drawers and shelves. Then, you will see light at the end of the tunnel.
5. I know myself: I will only finish if I do it all at once.
When the mood strikes, one’s natural inclination might be to conduct a whirlwind decluttering session. Behind the scenes, the individual might unconsciously wait until dopamine levels are high enough to light fires. These embers of motivation can be stoked by the thought of guests arriving in a week or receiving an audit letter from the IRS. Magically, it seems they have all the energy in the world to tackle the clutter.
The issue with this strategy is that it leaves one exhausted. The next time they need to declutter, they remember that marathon session and think, “No way!”
Instead, this individual can focus on doing fifteen minutes of daily decluttering. In this manner, they will maintain stamina, and the work will become easier as it becomes habituated.
6. I need new bins to stay organized.
It is logical to think new bins and containers solve our organizing woes. Advertising, TV shows, and media bombard us with images of beautiful new containers in decluttered homes. The truth is that bins and containers are a piece of the puzzle, but only one part. Brand-new bins and containers are not usually the answer to clutter. In fact, they can add to the chaos. Once we discard unwanted items, we know which type of container or bin will work best for the remaining items. As we empty existing bins and containers, we can repurpose them and save money.
7. I need to dismantle everything and start over fresh.
Sometimes, it feels like everything needs to be fixed because of the clutter. Fortunately, parts of spaces or organizing systems are typically working well. They might only need slight modifications to work as intended. As you declutter, look for those winning systems and leave them intact.
8. It is hopeless because I have read organizing books, and I am still disorganized.
Organizing books are great. They introduce us to helpful concepts and strategies. It is important to note that not every strategy will work for every person. If you have ADHD, many organizing books might not help because they are written for neurotypicals. You might be better off with Ari Tuckman’s More Attention, Less Deficit or Judith Kolberg’s ADD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life. (Click here for information on both books.) Sometimes, a home-grown, customized approach is needed. You might weave together various strategies to discover what works for the way your brain works.
9. It is hopeless because my space has been messy for years.
I am commonly the first individual a client has had in their home for years. It is absolutely possible if you are willing to learn, challenge assumptions, and practice. You might need individual or team support, but you can succeed.
Organizing is a soft skill that is not always explicitly taught. Additionally, challenges such as undiagnosed ADHD, depression, or anxiety can wreak havoc on the process before they are addressed. Many clients deal with one, two, or all three of these challenges. If there is support for symptom management, the organizing process is much more manageable than otherwise.
10. It is hopeless because I am still disorganized despite my friends' and family’s efforts.
Friends and family members are typically the first line of defense against the battle with clutter. Commonly, this team can do wonders. Other times, friends and family are well-intentioned but lack the skills to understand roadblocks and strategies to move around them. They might have excellent organizing strategies that work for their spaces, but everyone’s brain works differently. This could mean that their loved one needs a different system.
Hopefully, dispelling these myths leaves you feeling more energized and ready to tackle clutter. You can reach your decluttering goals with time, effort, and practice!
We Love Our Collections
Why do we hold collections so near and dear to our hearts? Maybe Gestalt is at play: “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” One or two photographs might be beautiful, but an entire exhibit can create an awe-inspiring experience.
This may explain why breaking up our collections feels difficult, even blasphemous, as we attempt to clear space for more essential items. It makes sense to keep the collection together in the case of Picassos or rare cars. More typically, individuals I work with have collections such as Hummel figurines, National Geographic, stuffed animals, books, records and cassette tapes, Beanie Babies, etc. Most of the value is in the emotions they elicit, not the dollars they command.
I am Not Immune to the Collection Bug
I have had my collections over the years. I believe it started with a sticker collection when I was a young girl, but I also had groups of stationary, stuffed animals, colorful pens and pencils, and erasers that I periodically pulled out to admire or display.
I also had a collection of Life Magazines. I enjoyed looking at all the fantastic photographs, and I was not immune to that perilous thought, “These will be worth something someday!” They sat well preserved in the dark recess of my closet for many years before I realized they were a dime a dozen. Additionally, I had kept them in good condition, but they were not pristine. Even if they had been, I probably would have had to live to the ripe old age of one-hundred-fifty to potentially reap any financial reward.
Why Would Anyone Break Up a Set?
If collections make us happy, why break them up? Collectively, we are taught to keep sets and collections together, and if we do sell or donate, we must do it in one fell swoop. To do otherwise might later feel like a mental itch that we cannot scratch.
Nevertheless, there might be times when it is in our best interest to undo the collection.
Collections can bring joy, but something has to give if we need space more than these notable groupings. It can feel challenging, but typically, we can find one item to represent the entire collection.
Breaking Up a Set
Take time to choose one or two items. Then, let the rest go. Nonprofits will be thankful for the incomplete set. Besides, you never know when a shopper will be overjoyed to find missing pieces to their own displayed collection.
Easy for me to say, right? Well, actually, no. As a child, erasers were one of my prized collections. I loved pulling the drawstring pouch from the drawer to lay them out and admire them. There were a bunch of bananas, a mini record in its sleeve, a cute pink cat, a six-inch chocolate-scented popsicle, and two more handfuls.
A Second Chance on Memories
I remember purging childhood possessions in school and again before moving to California. I thought I had discarded that eraser collection and nearly everything else from my childhood. Periodically, I would remember those overly aggressive purges and wince in a moment of sadness, then move on with my day.
Early in my organizing career, my parents discovered boxes tucked away in their near-empty attic. We had forgotten that they had graciously let me stash the "keepers" there since I was unsure how long my stint in California would last. As a professional organizer, I was somewhat embarrassed to discover skeletons in my closet. Still, I was ecstatic to learn that some collections had survived those downsizing efforts.
Imagine my joy when I came across that little eraser collection. I felt as if I had found buried treasure. I smiled as I admired them one by one.
Fortunately, there was space to temporarily store the boxes there as I whittled down the collections and ephemera at a relaxing pace.
One Mighty Little Eraser
Eventually, it came time to decide what to do with those erasers. I was able to take my most important items back to California, but living in a small San Francisco apartment leaves little space for nostalgia. It was clear that I should break up the eraser set because:
There was one rainbow-colored eraser, though, that erased cleanly. It reminded me of my love of the bright colors that were so popular at the time.
Its clear plastic container reminded me of a mesmerizing store I adored as a child. It had the most beautiful stickers, pens, papers, and colored acrylic containers. It was a special treat to go to go there. That memory led to another memory of carefree summer walks with siblings and friends to a nearby 7-11 to peruse the nickel candy. This eraser packed a memorable punch, so I kept it and parted with the rest.
I periodically pull it out to reminisce about that magical part of my childhood. I now value it as much as the entire collection and at a fraction of the space. It is a lovely little eraser: cute, practical, and easily retrieved.
Only on rare occasions do I wish I had kept a second one like that fantastic yet impractical chocolate popsicle. Nevertheless, I am happy with my decision for so many reasons.
I do not advocate the ruthless purging of sentimental items. I still have plenty from my childhood. A friend recently said on a Zoom call, “Hey, remember sticker books?!” I quickly retrieved mine, and we reminisced about our childhoods as I showed her my collection, complete with a great "oily" sticker and scratch-and-sniff stickers, some of which still smelled!
Clearly, a small eraser collection differs vastly from a special collection passed down through generations. Still, the same concept can be applied, especially if the collection is not rare or worth a tidy sum. If you find that only some items in your collection bring joy, feel free to use my strategy to create space of your own.
Author: Judith Dold
Musings from yours truly about all things organizing.