The journey to become minimalist can be hard work. It requires significant physical effort, personal reflection, and unexpected emotional obstacles.
Several times along the way, in fact, I wanted to quit. But then, inspiration would strike: a work appointment was scheduled near Goodwill, an inspiring article or blog post provided motivation, family would announce plans to visit, even the garbageman’s arrival in the morning could send me into a ten-minute decluttering spree to fill one more bag. Each, at different times, provided motivation for us to continue downsizing.
But maybe, more than any other, the most significant and recurring motivation to minimize our possessions came from the opportunity that our possessions represented.
Our excess could become a blessing to somebody else.
At first, however, this was not the case. Instead, our goal was to get as much financial return as possible from the things we were discarding. My thinking was, I paid good money to buy this stuff. I should get something in return.
I opened an account on eBay (at one point, even placing my entire junk drawer on auction—surprisingly, no bids). We scheduled a garage sale. We placed items on Craigslist. We took clothes to the consignment shop.
My wife and I began conversing and planning how we might spend the extra money we were about to receive: savings, dining, vacations, or maybe new carpet for the living room? It seemed, the possibilities were endless… until we opened the doors for our first garage sale.
On that summer Saturday morning, both our garage and driveway were filled with things we had decided to discard: old clothes, toys, dish ware, decorations, electronics, books, CDs, DVDs, just to name a few. Each with a handwritten sticker to signify the price.
We got up early and rushed through breakfast. We arranged the tables neatly. We put up balloons by the street. We played soft music—just like they do in department stores. And then we opened the doors.
Customers came. And then customers went. They’d pick up items and put them down. We chatted with each of them hoping to appear like a nice, sweet, trustworthy couple. We haggled and made deals. We marked down prices. We worked every angle to make more sales.
By the end of the day, we had earned $135… and we promptly spent half of it going out for dinner because we were both too exhausted to cook.
We were tired, frustrated, and discouraged. There are few experiences in life that make you question your taste in home furnishings more than watching some of your favorite decorations not sell despite being marked down to 25 cents.
We packed up the remaining belongings in the back of our minivan to deliver to Goodwill. But before we did, my wife made a phone call.
We had boxes of baby supplies left over from my wife’s most recent pregnancy—my youngest was two years old at the time. Kim called Care Net—a local organization in Burlington, VT that routinely supplied expectant mothers with maternity and baby wear to see if they had any need. To which they responded, “Yes, yes we do. We always have a need.”
Based on their enthusiastic response, we made another phone call. This time, we reached out to the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program which helps refugees and immigrants gain personal independence and economic self-sufficiency. They explained to us their desperate need for towels, linens, and cookware.
Our hearts were softened as we began to comprehend the number of men, women, children, and expecting mothers in our own community who could benefit from the items we had stashed in the back of our closet.
We found more joy in delivering items to those local charities than we could have ever found in money earned from selling our clutter.
This experience changed my view of minimizing and forever changed my advice to others embarking on the journey.
If you need the money, make the effort to sell your excess—especially when it comes to big, expensive items.
But if you do not need the money, just give your things away.
Reselling your clutter adds time and energy, anxiety and frustration to the minimizing journey. But giving things away, especially to local charities whose values align with yours, brings a joy and fulfillment to your soul that money can never buy. You will be reminded why you embarked on this journey in the first place.