Smarter: How to Throw Out Stuff You Don’t Need

Donation box of clothing and personal items Photo: Getty Images

Breakups are never easy, even when it’s just breaking up with the things in your home. This week I’m sharing tips on how to amicably split from the stuff you never use so that there are no hard feelings. Also in the issue: how to get the most out of a tank of gas, and can you guess how many times the average person moves in their lifetime?

THE BIG STORY

"Let It Go"

A few years ago, a friend visiting me in New York City for the first time marveled at my apartment. Not because it was spacious or beautiful (it was neither), but because of the few things I had there. “Did you just move here?” she asked, slightly agog.

“No,” I told her, my feelings somewhere between sheepish and proud. “I’ve been living here for three years.”

To say I like my stuff to be uncluttered would be an understatement. One of my greatest pleasures is pruning possessions like dead leaves. The endorphin rush some people get from buying new clothes or a tech gadget, I get from rooting out stuff I’m not using from the dark recesses of my home. 

For those who want to declutter and clean their space this spring but are at a loss about how to begin, here are some steps to follow, according to CR writers and editors who’ve reported on the process.

Get Smarter About Organizing & More

Step 1: Should it stay or should it go?

If you’re paralyzed by the question of whether you should throw something away, ask yourself these questions first, says Kevin Doyle, CR’s enterprise editor, whose reporting on how to get rid of stuff in your home has led him to stop keeping items he’d been hanging on to for too long for no good reason.

Do you really need it? If you’re not using it now, will you want it in five to 10 years? Let’s be real here. Anyone who has ever said, “Oh, but I might use it in this X scenario in the future” is lying to themselves. Present company included.

Can you easily replace it? When in doubt, consider the $20/20-minute rule recommended by professional organizer Amanda Scudder: If it fits within your budget, something that costs $20 or less and takes 20 minutes or less to replace can probably go if you’re considering throwing it away.

If you still have trouble letting go, here’s the best piece of advice Kevin says he got from interviewing multiple organizing experts: The fewer things you have, the more you’ll value them.

Step 2: Thank u, next

Once you decide to get rid of something, there are three ways to say goodbye: sell, donate, or dispose.

Don’t underestimate the things you can sell. No matter how used an appliance or furniture might be, someone is likely to be willing to buy it. Take it from my friend, who was able to sell a couch that was covered with pet stains for $60 on Facebook Marketplace.

But consider the time and energy it’d take to sell it. For instance, if you must dispose of your books, do not do what I did, which is carry more than 20 books on a 50-minute subway ride to a bookstore that forked over $12 for my efforts. Compared to other items, books are hard to sell, and you’re better off donating to your local library or organizations that accept used books. 

When you don’t have that much time, donating may be the way to go. If you want to donate to charitable organizations, make sure your items are clean, safe, and in good condition. And if you want to donate to your local community, consider groups like the Freecycle Network and the Buy Nothing Project, Kevin says.  

Make sure you throw away things properly. Not everything should be tossed into the garbage. Earth911 has an extensive database that directs you to programs near you that collect household hazardous waste, and the Environmental Protection Agency’s Responsible Appliance Disposal program lists groups that will pick up and recycle refrigerated appliances such as freezers, fridges, and window AC units.

Step 3: I’m ready for my glow-up

Decluttering isn’t just about throwing away things, though. It’s also about organizing your space so that it looks less messy. 

You can consider following these general guidelines when organizing your home, says Anna Kocharian, a CR shopping editor who has reported on home organization and interior design for the last eight years.

Focus on the problem areas of your home. A great exercise to try is to scan your place for areas that seem to be overwhelmed with odds and ends or pieces that don’t belong there. 

Once you do, find manageable storage solutions that work for you. Avoid any methods that you know you’ll have a hard time sticking to. For example, if your entryway lacks a closet, your coats, shoes, and bags might end up scattered around your home. Instead of finding different storage places in other rooms, you can get an entry rack or a shelving system for your entryway, which is an easier, more pragmatic solution to cut down on clutter.

Declutter first, before you buy storage bins and baskets. If you declutter your space prior to purchasing storage containers, you might not need as many as you’ve anticipated.

What are some organizing hacks you use that have made all the difference in your home? Let me know!


BEHIND THE SCENES

Friends Lol GIF By HBO Max

Source: NBC/“Friends”/Giphy Source: NBC/“Friends”/Giphy

It’s often only when you move that you realize just how many things you have. And moving it all can be even tougher in cramped apartments. So I asked three moving companies in New York City about the most unusual thing they’ve moved. 

A 7-foot sculpture: It was moved for an artist and weighed approximately 1,500 pounds, according to Rabbit Movers. It took five to six people to move because it was so heavy.

A dough machine: It was moved down the stairs for a restaurant, and weighed 1,000 pounds, according to iMove NYC.

A six-person hot tub: The customer failed to mention it was part of the move, thinking an outdoor hot tub was nothing unusual. “We managed to move it,” says Alex Weiss, the sales manager of Dyno Moving, “but we will never move it again.” Gotta set your boundaries, I get it.


QUIZ

Speaking of moving, I’ve moved probably close to 20 times so far. How many times do you think a person in the U.S. moves, on average, in their lifetime? (Answers at the end of the newsletter.)

A. 5-7 times

B. 10-12 times

C. 15-17 times

D. 20-22 times


THE GOOD STUFF

How does slugging, a viral skin care trend that has been used by Black people for generations, work?

@consumerreports Shine on, friends! ✨ #Slugging is not only the latest skincare fad—it legit works. Learn more at cr.org/slugging. #treatyourself #skincare #moisturize #skinbarrier ♬ original sound - Consumer Reports

THE SHORT ANSWER

Can a burglar jam your wireless security system? Technically, yes.


MISADVENTURES AT HOME

Here’s a small mystery for you: In the first issue of Smarter, I talked about what happens if you never wash your dishwasher filter. A reader, JoAnn Gleeson, wrote in, saying that one time she pulled out her daughter’s dishwasher filter only to discover that it was covered with “white stuff” that wasn’t grease. 

What do you think that white stuff could be?

Answer: The peanut butter jars filled with overnight oats in her daughter’s fridge helped JoAnn crack the case. The white stuff was paper. Her daughter had been washing her peanut butter jars in the dishwasher to remove the labels, and the labels were clogging the filter.


QUIZ ANSWER

The answer is 10 to 12 times. Or to be exact, 11.7 times by the estimations of the U.S. Census Bureau. If you’re 18, you can be expected to move 9.1 times in your remaining lifetime, but by the time you’re 45, the expected number of moves you will make drops to 2.7. And if you’re me, you might never stop moving, despite me saying to myself every time I pack up for a move, “I’m getting too old for this.”

For those who guessed five to seven times because they’ve probably never moved that much, I only have this to say: How dare you.


Smarter Owl Icon

“Dear junk, I think we should start seeing other people.”



Headshot of CR Author Pang-Chieh (BJ) Ho

Pang-Chieh Ho

I'm a newsletter writer who likes looking into the different ways we can live smarter. The topics I cover typically explore unanswered questions we have about the products we use every day and bridge the gaps between what owners' manuals advise and what we actually do. In my spare time, I like to take photos, critique movies out loud while I watch (at home!), and take care of my ever-increasing plant "children."