By Julie Ann
I had an epiphany recently about a major money drain in my life that I am currently taking steps to plug. This particular drain opened up a number of years ago when I moved to New Mexico. I had been living on my own but when I came back I combined with another household and therefore didn’t need a lot of my things. I didn’t plan on staying very long so I put my household goods and furniture in a storage unit. To make a long story short, weeks turned into months and months turned into years and I have continued to send in my monthly storage unit payment without thinking much about it. Finally I realized that if I would have gotten rid of all my household goods in the first place, I could have bought brand new things for less than I have paid to maintain my old things in storage.
Ah, twenty-twenty hindsight!
It may be too late for me, but hopefully I can help you learn from my mistakes by providing a few tips on how to manage your “stuff” – whether you are in between permanent residences or just need it out of the way for a while – without breaking the bank.
First, you should ask yourself if a storage unit is necessary and if the benefit outweighs the cost. If I had only stored my goods for a short period of time, say six months or less, the cost would have been less than buying new goods. So unless you are positive you will be a short-term renter or your goods are of extraordinarily high value, skip the rental space and find an alternative option.
However, before you store anything, take a hard look at what you’re about to stash away. The contents of my storage unit are quite varied. You can get a good glimpse into my childhood by browsing the boxes of Barbie and Cabbage Patch dolls and accessories, children’s books, school awards and artwork. You can find equipment for all the sports I tried in high school, college text books and dorm room decorations. And then there are the boxes of dishes, kitchen tools and furniture from when I lived alone.
Now the items from my childhood have some sentimental value, so I would like to find a place to store at least some of those memories. However, books, decorations and household goods could have gone long ago. Purging the un-needed items is the key. It may be hard to let some things go, so you may need a friend or two for support and to help you think through things rationally.
Once you have separated the proverbial “sheep from goats” you’ll need to decide on a course of action for each group. We’ll start with the easy pile – the stuff you want out of your life.
There are plenty of options for getting rid of stuff and the first one I would suggest is the good old garbage can. Toss anything that is broken, disgusting, unusable or valueless. Once you have trashed anything unworthy, try turning the rest into cash. If you have a lot of stuff that will appeal to the masses a yard sale might be the way to go. If you have a few valuable or rare items, you might want to give eBay a try to find collectors and people willing to pay higher prices. Craigslist is also a great way to get rid of big ticket items or collections. Be sure to research all these options beforehand to determine which would be the easiest and safest option and result in the highest yield. With enough hard work and a little bit of luck, you may be able to recoup some of the money you paid for the items and spent storing them. Personally, I decided to give things away to friends and to charitable organizations that can pass along to the needy. I may not make any sort of “profit” this way, but I can claim donations on my taxes and it saved me a lot of time. Be sure to get receipts and carefully track any donations if you plan to use the tax deduction.
Now here’s the real conundrum: what to do with the stuff you still want to hang on to but just don’t have the room for at the present time. I have decided to make room for my boxes in the house or garage. Unfortunately, this means more cleaning and clearing out. If you are storing things short term you may have an easier time finding a place to stash your stuff. One summer during college, my aunt let me store a few boxes in the corner of her guest room, so maybe you are also lucky enough to have a relative or friend with some extra space. If not, consolidate into as few boxes as possible and run everything through the “do I need to keep this” filter again. If you must utilize a rental storage space, opt for the smallest possible unit or consider going in with a friend or two to cut down your individual cost.
Of course the number one thing to keep in mind in dealing with your worldly stuff is this: “Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.” (Matthew 6:19-21)
Whereas you don’t want to toss or donate things you will soon have to purchase again because they really are needed and used items, purging your life of excess stuff can be both a practical and spiritual catharsis.