• Declutterising

    I am a hoarder. Back at my parents' place, I still have boxes full of every exercise book I've had from prep until I finished university. My bookcase still has a shelf full of Goosebumps books; my desk has towers of music CDs and a significant part of my wardrobe contains things I can no longer fit into.

    All that clutter never bothered me until I moved out of home. Leaving all that clutter behind, I bounced around apartments and townhouses, only bringing things that I needed in the next week or so from my parents' place and making extra trips whenever I needed something.

    Through no plan at all, each place ended up being smaller than the last (the location did get better though, so that probably explains it). During the latest move, everything that I had with me didn't fit so I had to immediately start getting rid of things. It was only then that I realised 90% of the stuff I had back at my parents' place is stuff I don't actually need.

    I made the decision to let go and de-clutter my life. One would think that was the hardest step, but it wasn't. Actually disposing of things was. I didn't want to contribute to landfill if I could help it (yeh, warm and fuzzy feeling), so I set about trying to find new homes for all of my clutter.

    Selling items

    Making money from my clutter wasn't and isn't the primary goal, but hey, if I can make some money from it, why not.

    eBay and Gumtree were the logical starting points for me. Wow. Gumtree I can kind of understand given its roots, but eBay has a pretty horrendous user experience for such a large, well-known and well-used web property. From silly bugs, spammy looking UI elements, and update issues to incorrect error messages and unfriendly placement of elements, it had it all.

    Some more useful things to know about eBay:

    • After selling a few things on eBay and having some buyers try to be tricky, I discovered that eBay has a section called 'buyer requirements' that lets you restrict buyers to only those that meet certain requirements, e.g. have no policy violations or a feedback score of X or more. It is worth having a look at, particular when you sell more expensive items.
    • Know how much eBay will take in fees. Often the listing fee is free, but there is a final value fee which is a percentage of how much the item sold for. Also, if you use PayPal to accept payment, PayPal will take a cut as well.
    • It doesn't happen consistently, but I have found that items sell better when the auction ends at a time when people are free, rather than when most are at work or out. Unfortunately, scheduling an auction requires an extra cost (minimal though), so it is often easier to just list things later in the day (and hence they end at the same time some number of days later).

    Once things started to sell, postage was the next problem. Australia Post is bloody expensive, particularly for small or large packages. Sure we're a big country, but as many online shoppers will know, it is often cheaper to send something from other countries to Australia than it is to send something within Australia. Apparently this is because of the way international mail is charged between countries. (I wonder if local online retailers would be more competitive if our government subsidised the postage...) Because it is an effective monopoly (for good reasons, just not advantageous to me), there really isn't an alternative (courier companies roughly charge the same for small quantities).

    To make things worse, not all post offices seem to know all the rules. For example, if the parcel you're sending happens to be able to fit through the letter guide (e.g. an Xbox 360 game), it can be sent as a large letter, which is much cheaper than a parcel (starting at $6.95). Some however, don't bother checking and just assume it is a parcel. It is sometimes like going to a sandwich shop - you know you're ordering the same thing each time, but somehow, it never costs the same.

    Pick up is an alternative for buyers who live nearby, but unless I have to, I'd rather not have to wait around all day for someone to come. Plus buyers tend to try and convince you to accept cash on pickup, then try to bargain down the price when they see you in person. Ugh.

    All this of course takes time too - time to clean the item if necessary, take photos, type up an (appealing) description, determine a reasonable price, list it somewhere, hope it sells, package it for delivery, lodge it at the post office, write feedback etc. It took more time than I expected (at least 45 minutes per item), but unexpectedly, it is quite rewarding. There's a sense of relief, like a weight lifted off your shoulders when you get rid of something, reducing not only physical clutter, but also that mental clutter in the back of your mind.

    That sense of reward is addictive. It pained me initially to let go of things, even though I hadn't used it for ages. One trick that I found effective was just to keep things that I was undecided about and revisit them in a week or so. I found that over time, maybe after mentally digesting the idea of letting it go, it was easier to make a decision on what to let go and what to keep.

    Although making money was never a goal for me, I was surprised at what people will pay for and how much they will pay. I managed to sell a broken Xbox 360 for $20 excluding postage (it was somewhat fixable I guess) and a couple of working 2TB hard drives for $60 each excluding postage (over 50% of today's purchase price).

    Besides eBay and Gumtree, Cash Converters may also be worth trying.

    Donating things

    For things that probably won't sell or aren't worth the effort, there's always the local charities. Besides clothing, the Brotherhood of St. Lawrence accepts books which they resell on their website. I'm planning on donating a boxful of books next week. They don't take encyclopedias, dictionaries, textbooks or ex-library books though. has a neat list of charities and what they accept. It isn't complete though; for example, The Salvation Army is mysteriously missing from the clothing section. Google will also help.

    I was hoping there would be a charity that would take old textbooks, maybe for students in third-world countries, but I haven't been able to find one yet. I suppose the content may be a bit dated, but mathematics or physics hasn't changed that dramatically in the past decade.

    Keeping the clutter down

    After doing this on-and-off for the past few weeks, I'm definitely happy with the stuff I've gotten rid of and haven't regretted it at all. As others have mentioned it is seriously therapeutic. Plus the freedom of knowing you are much more prepared to be able to leave and move elsewhere at the drop of a hat, even if you never go through with it, is pretty refreshing. I haven't gone all out and pared my belongings to a list of 100 things or a backpack, but I'm definitely going to try and keep the clutter down.

    One of the strategies that I have for that is to keep storage spaces to a minimum. I could easily get a few bookcases and chests of drawers or cabinets to maximise the storage in my place, but that just invites hoarding. Plus a perceived lack of storage (there's still plenty of space in the cupboards I already have) allowed me to use the excuse of not having space when friends and family try to give me things (my kitchen would be overflowing with gadgets and pots if I had said yes to everyone).

    Another strategy is to get rid of things sooner rather than later. If there's a computer that I no longer need, getting rid of it sooner means there's a higher chance that someone else would want it, which also means you might be able to get more for it. Worse case, you'll just have to buy something similar back from someone else.

    Others go further with rules about having to get rid of something before being able to buy something else, or have days set aside every so often to de-clutter. I've just decided to be more conscious of clutter whenever I'm about to get something new. This approach also causes me to think twice about buying cheap 'disposable' things, in favour of better quality, longer lasting things too.

    I still have all my exercise books though. One day...



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