Spring Cleaning Tips to Stash, Cash or Trash

A friend has scheduled a garage sale and I agreed to help sift through her house and decide what items to stash, cash and trash. We'll be scouring every square inch of her not-so-small home, cleaning as we go. (I must be insane!)


Kathy asked for my help because I'm known for two related skills: Cleaning and keeping crap to a minimum. Several years ago, before moving to Europe, I sold my house and downsized all my belongings into a 5x10-foot storage unit. The majority of the space was filled with family heirlooms, my bed and personal items. The rest I sold through Craigslist and at a massive garage sale.

It's a decision I've never regretted. Not only did it greatly reduce my overhead, I was able to live out of a couple duffel bags upon my return while housesitting for a year. When the time came to move into my own home, I'd learned to live with a minimum of stuff and do quite well, thank you.

While Kathy, a recent widow, isn't planning on going to this extent, she owns a lot of extraneous stuff that weighs her down. I'm confident she'll feel better and lighter after reducing her inventory. My roll is to help her let go of unneeded extras, and that's my job here today: To help you decide what to do with all that stuff you keeping moving out of the way during spring cleaning. Let's get down to it.

1. Memorabilia

Sit down for a moment and go through all those old photos, love letters, ticket stubs and other items you've hung on to over the years. Eliminate duplicates, stuff that no longer means anything to you, and items you don't even remember. I recommend you buy a fireproof safe for the photos; These are irreplaceable and deserve special care. To store the rest of the memorabilia, buy one of those big plastic tubs from a discount store.

You can recycle the rest of the paper items -- just make sure you don't pare things too close to the bone or you'll regret it in the future. If you're not sure, place such items in an "undecided" pile then go through them a second time when you might feel more detachment.

2. Family Heirlooms
These include grandma's rocking chair, a bookcase built by your father, unusual items like a fire screen or long-loved paintings and prints. If you haven't hung artwork on your walls since college, put it in the "cash" pile. Heirlooms you've stored for years but never use might go to a relative who would better appreciate them more. Items in truly bad shape you realistically won't repair need to head to the trash or cash pile.

3. Books
Some books you'll want to stash, particularly those you'll reread in the future, current reference books and first editions. That old set of encyclopedias, however, can be dumped into the garage sale pile. If the books don't sell, bring them to your local library. If your encyclopedias are particularly interesting, bring them to a thrift store for those who collect such things. (Personally, I've always wanted to paper a wall with pages from an antique encyclopedia.) Books are a pain to box up when moving and take up a lot of space, so be ruthless here.

4. Clothes
It's time for the dreaded chore of emptying out your closets. Take out each item, examine it for tears, stains, etc. and, if necessary, try it on. When was the last time you wore it? Does it even remotely fit? Are you realistically ever going to fit into your skinny jeans again? Clothes you'll truly wear can go back in the closet. Those in bad shape can be used as rags or should go into the trash pile. Clothes you won't wear but that still look good can go into the garage sale pile.

Don't forget the kids clothes. Does your daughter really need that dress she wore at age 10, now that she's a full-grown teenager? Can you talk your seven-year-old son into trashing his most tattered t-shirt? Go through the process with them so they can't just toss everything back into the closet.

5. Furniture
How long has that chair with the broken seat been in your basement? Do you really have room in your bedroom for all that extra furniture? How's your garage looking these days? Since almost any furniture will sell at garage sales, particularly if you have a fairly young population, it's worth dragging these pieces out on the lawn or posting them on Craigslist or Freecycle.org. If you still can't get rid of the junky stuff, leave it at the curb with a "Free" sign. I bet it'll disappear within a day. A friend did this with a couple mattresses and they were gone within two hours.

6. Kitchen Supplies
Live long enough and you'll end up with several duplicate spatulas, mixing spoons and pots. Anything decent can go into the garage sale pile but the rest should just go in the trash.

7. Small Appliances

I only drink espresso at home, so it seemed pretty lame to take up valuable counter space with a standard coffee maker. Same with the rice maker I never used because it didn't cook rice to the consistency I liked. Those went for a pretty penny last summer at a neighborhood garage sale because everyone uses these things. A girlfriend has a kitchen full of small appliances she never uses that just make my hands itch. I want to dump them into the next sale so she'll have cupboard space again.

8. CDs and DVDs

Why are you still hanging on to these Neanderthals? Unless you find downloading music and movies beyond your capabilities, there's little reason to hang on to them. Some will sell at garage sales to those without Internet service or the wherewithal to download. If not, trash them (or make pretty coasters out of them.) We'll allow you to keep all your Monty Python movies and CDs, however.

9. VHS Tapes
Unless it's your wedding video, the trash pile is just calling out for old tapes, particularly if you no longer have a VHS player.

10. Vinyl Records
Musicians are beginning to sell records again because of the sound only vinyl can create. In addition, actual vinyl stores are beginning to pop up again, meaning you might have a place to resell your old Bobby Sherman album. Check the records out for major skips, then bring the good ones to a record store for an estimate. If you don't feel they'll give you a fair price, check on eBay for price comparisons and try selling them there. Vintage album covers also sell well, so don't toss out the cardboard if the vinyl is flawed.

11. Knickknacks
Oh heavens how much I love to dust, particularly all the nooks and crannies of knickknacks like the Statue of Liberty bank I bought on a misguided trip to Staten Island. Go through all your little chatkas and decide if you really need to hold on to them. This includes the pile of flower vases, which seem to breed while in hiding.

12. Linens 'n Things
I find it difficult to let go of old sheets and towels, figuring I'll use them as plant tarps or shoulder wraps when drying my hair. Which explains why I still have an old sheet with a tear straight down the middle. It's time to turn it into a rag or dump it in the trash, because nobody else will have a use for it.

Good linens, like your mother's embroidered tablecloth, you can stash if you use it. If not, give Craigslist a try or stick it on the garage sale pile.

13. Jewelry
Is your jewelry box filled with necklaces, earrings and bracelets you never wear? I have a gold ankle bracelet that never made it out of the gift box that's going straight into Kathy's garage sale. It's difficult to give up some of these mementos of previous relationships but once you do, it'll be easier to find the stuff you actually wear on a regular basis. Any extra pearls you can send my way.

14. Power Tools
If you don't refinish furniture and never use that power sander, maybe it's time to clear it out and make more room in your toolbox. Power tools sell really well at garage sales, particularly in the early hours, so don't cave in and sell them for less than you want. Antique tools do particularly well, so you might try selling them elsewhere, if you don't get your asking price.

15. Your Husband's Old Clothes
Don't touch.

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1 Comment

Great post!
Posted by Bre