Want to save a fortune? Get rid of your junk!

One of the toughest things about moving to New York was adjusting to the change in space. In Southwest Virginia, my wife and I rented a two-story, three-bedroom house with a huge living room and kitchen, a work area in the basement, a washer, dryer, dishwasher, and about a quarter acre of yard. While I was glad to say goodbye to mowing and assorted household maintenance tasks, I was a little worried about the loss of space. Simply put, our lives easily filled a big house; how could we squeeze them into a two-bedroom apartment?

Some of the decisions were easy. The washer and dryer, king-sized bed, and gargantuan kitchen table all had to go. So did the workroom tools, the two couches, the treadmill, all the basement shelving, a couple of the bookcases, and a lot of the little knicknack tables. My big desk went into storage and some of the carpets went to Goodwill. Getting rid of this stuff was relatively easy: in most cases, I put advertisements up on Craig's List or the thrifty shopper. I offered the items for about two-thirds of their replacement value, then worked my way down until I had a buyer. I saved all the revenues from the sales in a special moving fund. It added up quickly.

Having gotten rid of a lot of the big stuff, I directed my attention to the little things. I started by selling off most of the seasonal items that I rarely used. I got rid of about half of my fans, a couple of air conditioning units, two electric and one kerosene heater, and an impressive collection of Christmas tree stands that had congregated under the staircase. Everything with dust on it went into a questionable pile. If it didn't have sentimental value, out it went.

My biggest vices are books and kitchen supplies. By careful weeding, I managed to get rid of about half of our library, most of the glassware, and a whole lot of kitchen gadgets that I never used. I took most of these items to used book stores or listed them on eBay or Craig's List. The leftovers went to Goodwill. My moving fund grew quickly.

I expected to feel a lot of pain when I culled out my possessions. Instead, I felt relief. When I finally moved everything to the city, we had plenty of space, but my wife and I continued to get rid of things. We quickly discovered the major benefits to clearing out our junk:

Less Cleaning: Books, tchotchkes, furniture, and carpets collect an awful lot of dirt. They have to be regularly swept, vacuumed, dusted, and polished. Added to this, possessions have a tendency to end up strewn over every flat household surface. By eliminating so much of our stuff, we also eliminated the time that we had to spend taking care of it.

Easier to Find Things: With fewer possessions, there are fewer places to lose things. Whereas our Virginia home had hundreds of nooks and crannies where things could hide, our New York apartment has only a few. This is very helpful when it comes to finding the car keys.

Smaller Utility Bills: In Southwest Virginia, we had a very reasonable energy company that charged a little less per kilowatt hour than our New York utility company. Even so, our electric bill is now about a quarter to a third of what it was last year. Simply put, we aren't paying to heat a lot of extra space.

Convenience: In Virginia, we lived way out in the boondocks, largely because we couldn't afford an apartment or townhouse near where I worked. However, had we weeded our possessions a few years earlier, we might have been able to cover the rent on a much smaller place much closer to my office. This, in turn, would have made it possible for me to walk to work, reducing my gas expenditure and greatly increasing the convenience of my life. Better yet, we would have been closer to the cultural life of the area, making it possible to listen to more bands, go to more concerts, and see more movies. Best of all, we could have gotten rid of my roommate, which would have made our home life a lot more fun.

Revenue: In the course of selling my stuff, I generated over $2000, which really helped out with the move. I soon realized that my packrat tendencies had left me with an easy choice: I could pay for storage and upkeep on a lot of junk that I never used, or I could sell the junk to people who were more likely to use it. Needless to say, this was a very easy decision to make.

I won't pretend that getting rid of your possessions is simple. It took us a few months, and involved some difficult choices. However, my life is now less cluttered, and I feel liberated by the loss of so much junk. I don't honestly remember most of the things that I carted off to Goodwill or sold on eBay, which tells me that they weren't really all that important. Having gotten rid of so many things, I realize that, rather than helping me, most of my possessions were just making my life more difficult and unwieldy.

Bruce Watson is a freelance writer, blogger, and co-author of Military Lessons of the Gulf War and A Chronology of the Cold War at Sea.

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