Meditations on Cleaning the Garage: Four Insights

You’re Not Going to Use That Again. The question you need to ask is not “can I imagine a world where this might come in handy someday?” It’s “how likely am I to use it in the future.” Just because something could happen doesn’t mean it’s likely. If you do need it, how easy would it be to buy a replacement? Would it be easier than keeping up with the thing?

There are exceptions, of course. Maybe that framed picture would look good in the home office (it does!). Every homeowner should have a hammer, a few wrenches and screwdrivers, and so on. You will use them frequently. What about an orbital sander or a miter saw? If you’re not a dedicated hobbyist or a professional, you should probably donate them so they can find their way into the hands of someone who is.

Just Because It Was Expensive Doesn’t Mean It’s Valuable. Avoid the sunk cost fallacy. If you can’t undo it, learn from it and forget about it. Maybe you spent a lot of money on something that is now gathering dust and cobwebs in the garage. If you can’t return it for a refund, what you paid for it is irrelevant to what it’s worth now. Donate it, take the tax write-off, and enjoy the clearer physical and mental space.

Give It Away, Give It Away, Give It Away, Give it Away Now–To Someone Who Will Get It Into the Right Hands. Our recent overdue garage purge filled our 2006 Honda Pilot with stuff we no longer wanted. Instead of trying to find people who wanted it, I drove it all to nearest Goodwill dropoff. I’m sure we could have found someone who could have used our son’s old football cleats if we had looked hard enough, but we decided to leave that to the professionals and take the tax writeoff. This, I think, is not laziness. It’s good stewardship because our time is valuable. If you want to get a decent ballpark estimate of just how valuable an hour of your time is, check out the Occupation Outlook Handbook from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. If you enjoy trying to match your old stuff with people who want it, go right ahead. If you don’t, let Goodwill handle it.

Toss It. Leave It. Don’t Pull Up Quick to Retrieve It. I grew up in the heady days of 80s and 90s environmentalism that made everyone feel guilty for throwing things away. I also like to keep my options open. Therefore, I hate throwing things away–but I also hate being overwhelmed with clutter. The solution? Learn to throw things away even if I might use them. Here’s an example. I just bought a bunch of hanging folders. I’ve never used the little plastic label thingies on them as just use them to hold tabbed manila folders a la GTD. At first, I put them in the filing cabinet just in case I needed them. Then I thought a little harder. I have at best very dim memories of having ever used them, so I tossed them in the garbage. Parenthetically, I’ve stopped feeling bad about throwing things away because landfills are inventories.

Tidying up is pretty much always rewarding. Is it always life-changing? Maybe not–but at the very least, keeping your physical and mental space clear of stuff you don’t use or want is a pretty good way to keep a grip on your sanity.

About the Author: artcarden

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