The flip side of clearing out clutter

I’m delighted to welcome today’s guest blogger, Julie Sturgeon, national marketing director at Knowledgewebb and a business journalist for 25 years. She graciously offered to share her story about an organizing experience that had an unexpected ending and eye-opening consequences:

A few years ago, I sold a pair of basketball doorknobs in a garage sale for 50 cents. Two years later, I finally had the remodeling job in my house that was perfect for those themed knobs, and trotted back to K-Mart to repurchase them. But my luck had run out – they were now discontinued and I spent close to $30 to snag them on eBay.

My husband laughed and said that should cure me of my need to purge material items all the time. My response: It’s still better to spend $30 than to live with clutter.

But this spring, I learned there need to be boundaries even on the most practical cleaning urges. Our attic has long bugged me because it was basically a heap of boxes you had to move to clear a path to the one you wanted. Most of them were books we didn’t have room for on our shelves — I’m talking about those vast collection of book club hardbacks of every Johanna Lindsey title. I no longer like Johanna Lindsey.

So I convinced my husband it was time we hauled those boxes to Half Price Books for vacation money. Our friends did the same and pocketed $95 for nine similar size boxes. Therefore, we were sitting on a fortune of junk. We spent an entire day dragging those heavy things into the bedroom to sort through the contents. I ended up with 19 boxes in the sale pile, keeping only a handful of books that fit on existing bookshelves. In some cases, I kicked off books sitting there to make room for the older volumes.

My husband wasn’t so prolific. He ended up with two boxes for sale and started to put the rest back. I had a cow. “The idea is to get rid of things we have tucked out of sight, out of mind in the first place,” I told him. His shoulders slumped as he admitted I was right. So he started back through them again, taking photos and talking about where he had read this book and when he bought that one.

At one point, he wanted to know what happened to his Heinlein collection. “They’re right there,” I pointed to a pile. But one was missing, and he was like the Biblical parable characters searching it out in the attic. He found three more boxes in there, some containing my books, which shows how much I valued them.

The next day, we carried nearly 40 boxes of books to Half Price Books, where the guys at the buy counter removed them all, stacked them everywhere and gave us a total offer of $75 for nearly 1,200 books. We had flooded the market, bringing down the price, and they were club editions, not “real” hardbacks.

The look on my husband’s face will haunt me for the rest of my life. And my own reaction shames me: It was too much trouble to rebox his books, and, God help me, I was thinking of the space in the attic. I signed for the money and then watched my husband try not to cry the rest of the evening.

I’d just asked him to sell his best friends for an amount that wouldn’t even pay for our 27th anniversary dinner a week later.

It’s been one of the most valuable lessons of my marriage: I have the right to change my mind on my “treasures.” I have the right to clean out my stuff. Heck, I have the right to say, “We need to make room in the attic.” But I don’t have the right to dictate how to address someone else’s property. We could have solved this space problem in another way had I kept my eye on the goal and not the process.

So now every few days, I return to Half Price Books, trying to buy back as many of my husband’s books as possible when they hit the sale shelf. My plan is to bring a smile to his face on Christmas morning and erase a little of the pain in my heart from this mistake.


Like Julie, have you ever regretted letting go of something, either an item that belonged to you or someone else? Did you consider that experience an anomaly, or did it change how you approached decluttering?


About organizesf

Professional organizer June Bell ( combats clutter and chaos with sage advice, tested techniques and good humor.
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4 Responses to The flip side of clearing out clutter

  1. I am in the middle of a decluttering experience right now–tossing out magazines in my office I’ve gone through at least three times before, now deciding I don’t need them. I also cleaned out my bedroom closet, removing most of the clothes that don’t fit. I’ve kept a few things–a few pair of pants because they are so tiny I find it hard to believe I ever fit in them. Having them is proof. This isn’t changing how I approach this task. I dread it every time. But I’m trying to get better at doing it more regularly. We’ll see if that happens. About Julie’s story…I just think it’s good be open to lessons like this.

  2. Janine Adams says:

    The only thing I regret having tossed (and I know it sounds so silly) is a log I kept when I was housetraining my puppy. I occasionally wish I had it because it was funny. And also when friends are housetraining, I would love to be able to use it as an example of typical puppy behavior.

    Back in 1987, I convinced my husband (boyfriend back then) to get rid of his college notebooks full of class notes. He completely regretted doing that and brings it up about once a year. I learned my lesson then. People need to make their own decisions about their own stuff.

    The other lesson I gleaned from both these experiences (and one I share with clients) is to think very hard before parting with irreplaceable items, like handwritten noes.

  3. My husband’s the pack rack of our family, I’m the tosser. A few years ago after we’d moved to a new house – with all our old junk in tow – I gave away his Nintendo game system (I think it was a Nintendo 8), which I’d given him for Valentine’s Day one year and which our 3 kids played with for a while until graduating to newer video game systems. Nobody’d touched it in months but when they found out they freaked. Didn’t I know that old Nintendo systems were priceless? No, I didn’t. We tried to track the system down at Goodwill, but to no avail. Now, every so often, one of them will look on eBay and report to me how much similar Nintendo are selling for, which I’m sorry to say, is a lot. I came away learning the same lesson Julie did: when in the mood to toss, stick to your own stuff.

    Michelle Rafter

    PS Maybe I should take a cue from Julie and get my husband that old Nintendo system for Father’s Day?

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