What I Learned While Helping at a Moving Sale

house-stuff 2David McGrievey

Last week I helped a friend organize and sell at a two-day moving sale. Her house had been sold and she was emptying it of all the contents, taking some of it with her and giving other things to friends, but selling what she could. Here’s what I learned.

• Do your homework. Researching prices ahead of time really helps. Original packaging enhances an item as does having the manual for small appliances. My friend was selling big items like furniture and it helped to have original receipts to establish provenance, manufacturer’s names, and age of the item.

• Organize and stage. Grouping like items together makes sense for customers who are looking for a particular item or even for those just browsing. But we also staged some areas, putting decorative pillows on chairs and lamps on occasional tables so people could see items in a more living-with-it context. We also grouped outdoor furniture under a backyard umbrella to make an inviting setting.

• Price appropriately for you. Pricing each large item is a must. But grouping smaller ones in a carton and labeling the cartons $1 each or $3 each makes sense. Offering a discount for multiple items also encourages sales. Be willing to negotiate, but it’s your choice to stay firm on prices of things that you feel are priced fairly or on those items you don’t want to haggle over.

• Advertise. My friend listed both large items of furniture and a notice of the moving sale on Craigslist a week or two before the sale. She also put ads for both in the local paper. From Craigslist she got buyers interested in specific items of furniture and was able to sell some of those before the day of the sale. Having both ads in the paper also brought serious buyers as well as people who simply like to amble through yard sales.

• Think about your start time. No matter what time you put on the signs and in the ads, people will show up early!

• It’s good to have friends. All the work involved in a moving sale is too much for one person to handle. Even though my friend did an astonishing amount of work ahead of time, and on the day of the sale, she was so grateful for helping hands.

• Sharing your story is awesome and humbling. The teak backyard table and chairs was sold to a disabled Iraqi war veteran who had a blade for a lower leg. He had moved with his family (wife and three kids) to a town nearby and was furnishing their new house. A woman with a cane bought one of the bikes, vowing that she was going to heal sufficiently to ride a bike again. A man who spoke little English and didn’t know the word for ‘blender’ had his very young daughter translate for him: “We need something like that,” she said. We are all so human.

• Think of others. My friend is incredibly generous person and she gave large items of furniture as well as small decorative pieces and kitchen items to friends and relatives before the start of the sale. She had also arranged with Habitat for Humanity to come pick up everything that didn’t sell at the sale.

Helping out at my friend’s moving sale was a great deal of fun; organizing, staging, pricing, selling, and hanging out with friends made for an enjoyable few days. And something else I learned: It’s a lot more fun and so much easier to get rid of someone else’s stuff!

Linda Hetzer is an editor and author of books on home designcrafts, and food, and coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home

Back to School, Back to Downsizing: Selling and Donating Books

Getting Rid of Books

Bye, bye, eight more boxes of books! Thanks for all the great reading!


It’s back to school time, and for me for the past few years, that has meant buying and selling used books.

Late August and early September are prime times for selling books, especially textbooks, as everyone goes back to school (including to college). As before, I’m using Amazon to get rid of the textbooks my sons no longer need. We have also been buying many of the textbooks they’ve needed in high school and college through Amazon used books, as well.

The system is quite well-organized, user-friendly, and easy to set up. Anyone who is used to using the Internet can do it quite easily, but here are a few of the most important things to know:

  •  Sellers are expected to ship their orders promptly once received. So be sure not to list books for sale, and then go off on vacation. You have to be ready to ship within a few days when the orders roll in.
  • Check competing offers. If the book you want to sell has more than 100 copies being offered for a penny, yours is not that likely to sell, unless it is in pristine condition and you still want to sell it for a penny. It may make more sense to just give the book away, to a school or library. Or maybe (if you’re really lucky) you could sell it in a yard sale for 50 cents or a dollar.
  • You have the best chance of selling a book if you “match lowest offer,” especially if your book is in better condition than most of the others ones listed.
  • Consider the weight factor. Selling a very light book for a penny can work out fine, because the way the cost is structured you will still be able to make a decent profit on the book. (This is because you may get more of shipping allowance from Amazon than you need to pay for shipping at the media rate). But for heavier books, you may end up actually losing a little money on some sales, if you haven’t priced the books high enough. (This sounds more complicated than it is. If you have as many books as I do, you’ll quickly see how it works, and when it doesn’t.) I’ve had to send one or two books where I lost a little bit on the deal (never more than a dollar). But I’ve more than made up for that in the money I’ve earned from all the other books I’ve sold–for an amount that would be hard to get for used books anywhere else.

This year, in addition to selling my son’s textbooks from last year, I’m also continuing the process of “proactive downsizing” of my own huge book collection. Although I have no immediate plans for a move, I know that my days in the place I am currently living are probably numbered. As I have previously discussed here, many of the reasons I wanted to keep books I had already read on my shelves no longer exist. So, although I know I will always have plenty of books with me wherever I go, I really do want to minimize the number I take with me in my next move, whenever that is. I’d much rather do it now than under duress and in the midst of all the chaos of moving. As I give away books I know I’d really rather keep (but at this point in my life shouldn’t), I remember that question my mother was always asking me as a child, in the early days of my book-buying ways: “Why don’t you just get it at the library?” (Finally, though sadly she’s not around anymore to hear my answer, the answer is: “You’re right, Mom!”)

Here are a few more tips for good ways to thin your book collection:

  • After my brother died, my sister and I shared the task of emptying out the storage locker where he had stored hundreds, perhaps even thousands of his books. We ended up selling most of them at Half Price Books. If you live in one of the 16 states where Half-Price books operates, that can be a great way to get cash for your books. The system they have organized is efficient, and feels pretty fair too. You bring the books in and wait while they evaluate them. Then they pay you–cash, on the spot! (Note: my sister and I cannot swear this to be true, but we do think that maybe you get a proportionately higher cash amount when you bring in just a couple of stacks of books, rather than a truckload, as we did once. :-) And that would kind of make sense, wouldn’t it?)
  • If you’re not moving right away, but you want to start getting rid of some of your books, you might want to consider building a Little Free Library, a way of sharing used books with others. The concept is simple: you place books you don’t want anymore in your Little Free Library: others take them out, and leave books they don’t want anymore for you. Some Little Free Libraries are very simple, and some are wildly creative. That’s up to you! But all of them function sort of like placing your books outside on the stoop or sidewalk for the taking–with the added benefit of offering the books protection from the elements while they’re waiting to be read again.
  • Libraries and schools are excellent places to give away the books you don’t want anymore and can’t, or prefer not to sell. And think beyond the obvious: churches, preschools, nursing homes, hospitals, homeless shelters. Most of these places have libraries, reading rooms, or at least some open bookshelves–and most of them welcome donations. Prisons are also an excellent place to donate books. You can find out how to go about doing so here.
  • This post, by my coauthor, has some great tips for other places that welcome used books, many of them places that share books with people who can really use them.

Finally, remember that you don’t have to give away ALL your books. I certainly didn’t. Before loading the eight boxes of books I just hauled off to my local library’s used bookstore, I plucked out a few I decided I just wasn’t quite ready to part with yet. I may be ready to let them go when I really do move. For now, they’re not taking up very much space, and seeing them makes me smile.

Books I Kept


And there are still plenty of books left in my home. I think there always will be. :-)

Still Got Books 1still got books 3

Janet Hulstrand is a writer/editor, writing coach, travel blogger, and coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home.



Today we share this lovely meditation written by a friend, author of the blog “The Sober Heart: More About Life, Love, Recovery,” who has recently been through the downsizing process. We think many of you will draw inspiration and/or comfort from her words.

Originally posted on The Sober Heart:


Today my genial and graceful moving man came to pick up the last of the boxed possessions that I have jettisoned in the past six months in an effort to downsize my life.

In recovery we talk a lot about “right sizing” ourselves. Grandiose dreams and expectations, whether realized or ruined, are not a part of sober behavior. Chasing rocket fantasies tends to make us want to get higher any way we can. So I am trying to make my life more manageable by reducing the number of things I must tend on a daily basis.

As I write this my sinfully adorable dog, Kirby, has parked himself on my shoulder, reminding me that I only need to care for one precious creature to be joyously fulfilled.

Here is what I learned in the process of emptying half a dozen overflowing closets, a dozen giant bookshelves, eight rooms of furnishings…

View original 333 more words

Reaching Beyond The Clutter

marcia_clutter free

We are so pleased to have Marcia Muskat (marciany@me.com), a personal organizer and founder and owner of ‘section by section,’ a home organizing business, as our guest blogger this week. Marcia shares with us lessons she’s learned from working with older people.

As a personal organizer who has worked mainly with older people, I have found that seniors have a particularly hard time separating themselves from their belongings. But cleaning out does not have to mean losing what they value most. And while satisfaction with life, especially in our golden years, is very much about looking back with pride, it is also about living well now. Seniors I have worked with, who have embraced the process of separating the essentials from the expendables, find that they can accomplish more with less.

Excessive accumulations that threaten health, safety and quality of life add an extra urgency to my role as a personal organizer. Case in point is a client of mine. A reporter for a big city newspaper, she tackled challenges in domains usually reserved, in her day, for driven men with strong resumes. Today, a young 80-something, she easily navigates the stairs in her fifth-floor walk-up apartment (kudos to her muscle memory) while carrying groceries in a sturdy knapsack. An ardent literary and art fan, she makes her way downtown to the renowned Strand Book Store or uptown to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. But at home, she has lost her bearings.

She has outlived family and friends, neighbors and doctors. She sits captive in her only available chair among a dusty, toxic avalanche of professional news clippings, art books, brochures and the like.  And while she will be the first to tell you that she would love to live in a comfortable, safe and productive home, she agonizes over even more loss, especially the things that are so critical to her personal identity and integrity: the loss of her papers and books. Each bit of memorabilia feels like a piece of herself.

But my client, always a high achiever, is not to be underestimated. The more she trusts that our organizing process protects her valuables, the more she is able to part with what’s not important, and the more apartment space she gets back to do more of the things she has wanted to do. With her newly cleaned off desktop and more walkable floor space, she can now entertain her dreams of critiquing a local art exhibit, adopting a cat and staying relevant to her life today.

What Lessons Have We Learned?

house in b-w

Having emptied our own family homes of decades’ worth of accumulated stuff, we are well aware of how much work it entails and what an emotional roller coaster it can be.

After having had a chance to sit back and ponder the experience, we are very glad our parents saved all the family stuff they did, but we also know in our hearts that the most valuable thing in the house was the lives that have been lived there.

Working with multiple generations to empty a much-loved home does present issues, however. How one deals with those issues differs with each family and with each family member.

How do we assess the process? Was it a job well done? Were there issues that were resolved? Or was the process fraught with problems? What did we learn from downsizing?

Here’s a checklist of questions to ask ourselves.

  • Are our parents content with their new living arrangements? Do they feel surrounded by a few favorite things? Were they happy, or at least able to come to terms with, what they let go of?
  • Are we still on speaking terms with all of our siblings? If we are, then we can feel, rightly, that it was a job well done. If not, what can we do to mend fences?
  • What have we taught our children as we worked through the process of emptying our parents’ home? About the process of downsizing? About working with others? About the importance of possessions? And about the importance of family?
  • What are we doing about our own accumulated stuff to make things easier for our children when we are no longer around to help them?
  • What have we learned about the value of stuff? Has it made us grateful for what we have and, more importantly, for our families?

Things to ponder. What would you add to the list?

Linda Hetzer is an editor and author of books on home designcrafts, and food, and coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home

The Paper Chase: Decluttering

paper cartoonhttp://www.digitalbloggers.com

Having too much paper is a common complaint. It’s something that we all have too much of.

I have a pile of papers next to my computer that needs to be sorted and I decided it would be helpful to take a look at this paper in a somewhat different way: by hierarchy, subject matter, and filing system.

We all impose a hierarchy on paper, often without realizing it. When we buy groceries with cash, the receipt goes in the trash. When we use a credit card, we save the receipt until the end of the month to reconcile it with the credit card statement. When we sort mail, the junk mail goes in the trash but the bills get top priority. How can I create a hierarchy for the items in my pile of papers?

It may sound like a no-brainer that we need to divide our paper by subject matter to make the pile more approachable and the sorting more doable. Yes, it’s easier to sort through and prioritize the papers, if we separate them by subject: health, financial, credit cards, insurance. How many categories and subcategories do I need?

Filing systems are good. But everyone’s brain, their memory, the intuitive way we understand things, works differently. A system that works for a professional organizer might not be right for me, my system might not work for you, your system might not work for your sister. How do I create a system that works for me (so I’ll be more likely to actually use it)?

Here are a few articles that offer help for paper clutter.

Curb Paper Clutter at Home This article has a very helpful way of going about curbing the buildup of paper clutter in your home, depending on whether you are a “filer” or a “piler.”

How To: 4 Steps to Less Paper Clutter Here organizing expert Carol Keller shares her four-step plan for having less paper: analyze, sort and purge, classify and label, create a regular decluttering routine.

10 Best Tips for Organizing Paper Clutter This article has some good suggestions for how to approach the problem proactively by choosing to go paperless for bills, and getting yourself off the junk mail lists.

What Documents to Keep, What You Can Toss This is a helpful list of what household papers to keep and for how long and, most importantly, when you can toss them.

The takeaway:

* Get rid of as much paper as possible (don’t bring it into your home at all, toss before you enter, go paperless).

* Create a system for keeping the papers that works for you.

* Declutter regularly.

* Revisit your system, as needed.

Linda Hetzer is an editor and author of books on home designcrafts, and food, and coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home

Letting Go of Some Favorite Things


As I began to write this post I thought of it as another in our occasional series “Getting Rid of…” but with a twist. But then I realized it’s more than that. It’s not about finding places to donate usable items we no longer need, rather it’s a look at the process I went through to get to the point where I could get rid of things that were important to me. And the items seemed dear to me partly because they helped define who I am.

I was prompted to embark on this bit of soul searching by an essay I had read about one woman’s journey to let go of mementos from a failed marriage, or more accurately, mementos from the good times in a relationship that ended with a split. At first, I thought she held onto things that brought her pain and that seemed counterintuitive to me. Then I realized that she held onto things that reminded her of the good parts of the relationship but when she looked at them, lived with them over the years, they brought her, not joy, but sorrow. And she decided that she needed to move on from those feelings.

My exploration was less dramatic that the essay-writer’s journey but significant to me. Here’s what I got rid of.

My collection of Playbills. I have always loved going to the theater, starting when I was a teenager, and I go as often as I can, more often to off-Broadway than to Broadway shows because the tickets are more affordable. When I was in my early twenties, I saw an apartment where the bathroom was papered with Playbill covers. It was a small guest bathroom but, still, I was so impressed that someone had been to see so many plays. I never papered my walls with Playbills; I kept them on a shelf. A couple of years ago, when they started to overrun the shelf, I put them in shopping bags, a first step, perhaps, to moving them out.

Why were the Playbills so important to me? I’ve always been a reader – there are family stories about my reading at the age of four, I have several degrees in English literature, I’ve worked in publishing for most of my career, and I love reading books and going to plays. Having tangible evidence of my love of literature helps define the reader and playgoer part of me.

I came to the realization that I have the memories (or maybe not so much now as I age since sometimes I have to ask a friend to remind me what a particular play was about!) but could get rid of the items. So I sent the Playbills on to paper recycling…to serve, one hopes, some better purpose.

The response cards and envelopes from my wedding. I’ve been married a long time and for years I have kept a sturdy box from the printer filled with the extra response cards and the matching small envelopes addressed to me. I’m not sure why we had so many extras and I’m not sure why I kept them, except it felt somehow sacrilegious to just discard them.

Certainly the wedding was a seminal event in my life and the marriage helped define me as a wife, and later as a mother. The marriage has been a good one, or to paraphrase Jim Dale’s comment in his one-man show, we often have opposing points of view but end up seeing eye to eye. Do these seemingly useless items enhance the relationship in any way? Someone, a good organizer and declutterer I’m sure, once said that all you need to keep as a memento is one invitation, complete with all its parts if you like. So the cards and envelopes went out to paper recycling…perhaps to become the recycled paper that a current, environmentally aware bride will choose for her invitations.

Old videotapes. I have several shelves of old videotapes of movies and children’s shows, films my children enjoyed or videotapes of popular movies they were given as birthday gifts. (Although it may seem odd given today’s media, a videotape of a favorite movie or an old classic was an enjoyable gift when my kids were young.)

Even though the tapes do not speak to me in any particular way, the fact that I kept them helps define me as a clutterer because clutter is, as someone once defined it, postponed decisions. So I sorted through the tapes. I donated still good ones to a local thrift shop, sent damaged ones to electronic recycling, and put aside the tapes of my children’s performances, plays, and concerts to be converted to DVDs…a task that is now high up on my to-do list.

All of these things brought back happy memories for me. And I know that I can remember the pleasures without having the objects to look at, which is another way of expressing the mantra of our book and blog: “Keeping the memories, getting rid of the stuff…”

Linda Hetzer is an editor and author of books on home designcrafts, and food, and coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home


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