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.
After being inspired by Becoming Minimalist to downsize from a home to a condo in late 2019, with only a few weeks to do it, my approach was to sell higher ticketed items (like a kayak, or fire pit, for example) and then go by room, set aside what I didn’t want/no longer needed, then invited friends and neighbors over to dig through and take what they wanted. While they were there, I’d ask if they knew of an organization that needed anything. Several people took boxes of items to donate for me, to places they had a connection with. Although extra money would’ve been nice, I made a lot of people happy, which made me extremely happy, and that was worth more than money.
This is something I’ve done for a while because of the satisfaction I get. Once I met a young girl and her grandma to give her books I had that my girls were too old for. I got an email the next day from grandma telling me the little girl was so excited and thankful for the books. Worth way more than the $2 I may have gotten trying to sell them ?
Definitely agree. I tried the consignment store and that was just tiresome. I tried a tag sale and my experience was the same as yours. I am 5 years into minimalism now and I donate to a Veterans organization and it feels so good. I am constantly inspired by your videos and articles. Thank you!
Jo-Neal Graves says
Thank you Josh!
This is exactly what I needed to read this morning. Although I am a retired teacher on a fixed income which is not huge I know that I have so much more than so many people.
Thank you so much for your continual inspiration.
50 percent less says
eBay now has a feature where you can directly donate the money from your sale to the charity of your choice. For really big ticket items I’ll go to the effort of listing it – cash is a blessing to most charities – otherwise I’m giving it away.
Good Morning, I read your blog regularly Especially those regarding decluttering and to just give away. What we are seeing is that due to the the recent pandemic, many organizations are overwhelmed and items are just being tossed for the sake of trying to organize. Can we find another Avenue to give.
Pat Ponce says
I would rather give away then hold a yard sale. Where I live there are hundreds of yard sales every weekend. I would be competing with each of those yard sales. So I find a need out there and try to meet it without selling. What’s left over does go to the thrift store.
I love our community FaceBook page. Often a thread will begin with things to give away. Free. Or post a need. It is beautiful to watch. The positive responses. Granted our community is relatively small and fairly rural with a small college. This may not be practical, or feasible in other communities. For us it is a positive generous expression of support for others.
JoAnne H says
My Community has a Swap group on Facebook where people list items, with a small price or completely free, and we do porch pick ups. It’s so nice knowing someone will get use out of an item you no longer need. It’s especially wonderful with children’s clothes and sports paraphernalia like soccer cleats, Karate gear, snow pants, rain boots, etc.
What I liked best: Asking WHO could use things before giving them away. ?
But here in Germany, some people want to give away things that are just trash. Trash is trash. Nobody needs it. Too bad.
Hard disagree. Selling things isn’t about recouping money (or needing the money) it’s about putting the things you don’t want into the hands of people who do want (or need) them. Instead of just dumping them at a thrift store. Many donated items never make it onto the shop floor, they get destroyed or worse, sent to another country and dumped there for someone else to deal with.
Minimalism isn’t just about getting rid of things you don’t want. We need to do it responsibly and sustainably. Dropping donations at the thrift store without first trying to give or sell them directly to the people who need them is crucial to avoid making your problem someone else’s.
Caroline McKinnon says
You may have a point regarding how the donations are handled once they’re received. It broke my heart recently to see books in good condition being dumped instead of stacked into a huge bin at the local Goodwill. I asked the guy handling the received items about the books storage method and he said “we’re just makin’ space ma’am”. How many of those books will be saleable is doubtful. The pandemic has created a unique problem with a glut of donations. Says a lot about our lifestyles.
The item was made for the landfill. It’s going there eventually whether you like it or not, you’re only prolonging the inevitable by a year or so, and it’s causing your house to be filled with trash. It’s actually a common excuse used by hoarders.