Minimalist in DC

The Quest for Less "Stuff" & More Time

Tag: donate (page 1 of 2)

Feeling Lighter After Three Months of Minimalism

As I de-owned each room over the last three months, I threw away far more than I donated (who knew we had so much junk). Anything that was remotely useful, I gathered into a haphazard pile, waiting for critical mass before making the first trip to Goodwill. In mid-December, I took my first load. As I shook the volunteer’s hand and drove away, I was struck with the most amazing feeling.

I was lighter.

Good-bye Stuff!

Good-bye stuff!

I will never again have to pick through that stuff. I will never again have to clean it or ponder whether to keep it or rearrange it so that I can reach something that I actually use. My car was lighter and I felt lighter, like the proverbial anchor had been removed.

That feeling was addictive. I went home that same day and cleaned half of the scariest room in the house and quickly amassed a pile bigger than the one I’d just shed. What ELSE could I get rid of? I went upstairs to the closet where I’d turned all my hangers backward in September and grabbed a sweater, eight shirts, and a belt that hadn’t been worn in almost four months. I never really liked them anyway.

I drove back to Goodwill and happened to catch an NPR TED Radio Hour discussing the various perspectives on compassion in today’s world, which made me realize that minimalism, though it many times begins as a self-improvement project, is also an important vehicle to spread compassion. Old belongings – the excess – move on to help someone else. The products that we discovered we don’t need and have stopped buying never make it to the landfill so we save a small corner of the planet for the next generation. The time we save goes directly back to doing something we love or being with someone that we care about. We’re calmer, happier, and that’s contagious.

By changing a small corner of the world – our corner – we can ignite change throughout. Minimalism, so far, has been the Best. Project. Ever.

Decluttering the Scariest Room (Weekend Project)

I did it! After nearly three months of de-owning, I’ve finally finished every space in the house EXCEPT the basement storage room. I saved it for last because it looks like this:

Cleaning the Scariest Room

Storage & Craft Area

Cleaning the Scariest Room

Workshop & Exercise Area

It’s also holding the most memories, useless junk, and dust of any room in the house. My original goal was to get the clean sweep of the house done before the end of the year so I could realize the tax benefits of any donations I make. At this point, I definitely won’t finish, but this weekend, I felt like I needed to put in my best effort anyway.

I got halfway done with the room.

Cleaning the Scariest Room

Here are the steps I took to tackle this crazy mess.

Advice for Decluttering the Scariest Room

  1. Start with one shelf or drawer and move methodically from one end of the room to the other.
  2. Work in 90-minute cycles. I learned this trick by reading Overwhelmed by Brigid Schulte. 90-minute cycles seem to line up with your body’s natural rhythms. If you work for 90 minutes, then take a short break, you’ll be able to work longer and have higher quality output.
  3. Make a list of things to come back to. If you have all the time in the world, don’t skip things. However, I am specifically looking for items to donate before the end of the year. That being said, I skipped my box of childhood photos (which I know I want to digitize later – perhaps I’ll throw a photo scanning party!) and my file cabinet (I can come back to that in a few weeks). I also left my husband’s keepsakes alone. He needs to go through those himself.
  4. Clean as you go. Once you’ve pulled everything off a shelf or out of a tub, take a minute to clean it. It made me feel much better to remove two years of dust.
  5. Label, so you’ll be able to find the stuff you still use (which should be most of what’s left) without making the room explode again.
  6. Involve hot chocolate. Everything is better with hot chocolate.

Next weekend, I’ll try to do the other half and get our final batch of stuff to Goodwill — just in time for a relaxing week with family and the New Year!

One-Year Rule (Quick Tip)

I like rules or guidelines because good ones enhance your life, make you more creative and push you to achieve more than you would have without them.  There’s a great rule for minimalists that Janet Luhrs describes in her book The Simple Living Guide.  She dubs it the one-year rule.

One-Year Rule: If you haven’t used something for a year, throw it out.  

It seems obvious at first, but in practice it’s harder to do.  Take the one suit I own.  I got it in college and have worn it only to job interviews my entire adult career.  It looks good on me, but I don’t wear it to other formal events, it’s not high quality, and I haven’t worn it in four years.  I didn’t even wear it to my last job interview.  Each time I clean out my closet, I naturally leave it in place because I think, “I’ll probably need this for my next interview”.

The other day I asked myself: what am I waiting for?  I wear jeans every single day of the week (I do love working at Opower)!  I hope this doesn’t happen, but if I ever end up in an industry that requires nice clothing, that suit needs to be updated anyway.  Plus, there are plenty of new women’s start-ups for renting nice clothing.

One-Year Rule with a Box

One way to get around your natural inclination to think, “but I might need that someday!” is to place your ill-used items in a box, tape it shut, and label it with the date.  After one year, if the box remains taped shut, donate it (without looking)!  Chances are you’ve forgotten what’s in there and the date proves it’s not worth the space it’s taking up in your life.

One-Year Rule w/ the Taped & Dated Box Trick

10 Things Check-In

Remember the October Challenge? Finding time to throw out 10 things a day has been fairly easy. There are a couple days that I completely forgot, but most days I’ve thrown away far more than 10 items.  In fact, on average, I’ve found 23.27 items to throw away each day.

I’ve had to stop randomly walking through the house and have started systematically cleaning out drawers and closets. Based on these photos, the exact number of items removed from the house is around 420. I still have a lot to do, however. I think I’m going to need a bigger month.


Weekend Project: Selling Books on

I’ve found quite a few books around the house that need a new home, so I decided to try selling them using There are a lot of websites like and that will quote you a price for your books, allow you to ship them for free, then pay you a small amount upon receipt. Bookscouter aggregates the quotes from around 20 preferred vendor sites so you can see where you’ll get the best deal.

The buyback process varies from site to site, but in general works like this:

  1. Enter the ISBN of the book, located just above its Barcode, into Bookscouter. ISBN Entry

  2. Bookscouter will return a list of quotes from several online buyers, starting with the highest price. It also tells you whether the buyer cuts you a check, submits your payment to paypal, sends you a free shipping label, and pays for shipping.Bookscouter Buyers
  3. Pick a buyer. Read the reviews, buyer reputations vary widely. Also, most of these sites have a minimum sale of $5 or $10, so if you have a lot of paperbacks to sell, you may have to sell a few to the same buyer, even if they aren’t the highest bidder.
  4. You’ll now be sent to the buyer’s site.
  5. Print out your shipping label. Follow any special instructions.
  6. Box up your books.
  7. Drop them off at UPS or FedEx.
  8. Wait. Many of these sites take a couple weeks to get back to you.
  9. Profit!

Case Study: Does It Work?

The following is my experience selling books from start to finish.

First, I searched for each book and noted the top 2-3 buyers and what they would pay. Next, I checked the top buyer’s reputations and noted any issues. Most of the companies have a least one complaint saying that they either “lost” a book or received a damaged book and wouldn’t pay. In general, I decided to take a chance on companies that had around four or five stars, assuming that accidents happen, but that these ones are generally honest.

Research Results

 A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini


Some of the books came back with zero bids across the board. Those I’ll donate.


Quiet by Susan Cain – $1.77 – $1.77
Bookbyte – $1


Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv

Chegg – $4.05 – Chegg had a lot of recent low ratings, so I’m passing on the extra $.05. – $4 – $2.31


Under the Black Flag by David Cordingly

Chegg – $2.36 – $2.00
Powell’s – $1 – Powell’s is notorious for only taking immaculate books. I’m afraid to try them!


National Geographic Pocket Guide to Birds of North America by Laura Erickson & Jonathan Alderfer – $1.80
Powell’s – $1.75 – $1.65

One hour later this book was worth NOTHING. Weird! This one will be donated.


Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth – $3.60 – $2.24

There’s a $5 minimum to sell to, so I’ve decided to donate this book instead.


Conservation in the Progressive Era by David Stradling & William Cronon

Chegg – $2.02 – $2.00 – $1.16 – $1.16


A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants by Christopher Brickell – $10.25 – $8.86
Chegg – $8.70


The Verdict

Despite the somewhat lower review scores for, I decided to try selling my most expensive book to them, The American Horticultural Society A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants.

Many of my other books were worth money on and given the almost universal $10 minimum, I decided to aggregate and sell them Conservation in the Progressive Era, Under the Black Flag, and Last Child in the Woods. However, I needed $2 more and quickly ran downstairs to see if there was anything I’d missed.  Soon this book was on the chopping block:

Caring for your Baby and Young Child Birth to Age 5 by the American Academy of Pediatrics

Chegg – $3.03 – $3


Shipping the Books

After reading both websites’ specific instructions (Bookbyte had the easier process) and packaging all five books I am thoroughly questioning my choice to sell five books for a total of $21.25. The time it took me to get this far exceeds the total buyback rate, but I wanted to see this through.

The shipment method is UPS. uses FedEx. I did this on a weekend and so I went to both the FedEx store and UPS store on Sunday to drop-off my boxes, assuming they have a dropbox at each location. Business never stops, right? Well, surprisingly, FedEx was OPEN and it was easy for me to drop my first box off at the counter. UPS was closed with no dropbox in sight. There was a dropbox at a local business building, but it only accepted packages that were less than 16x11x3 inches. My four-book package didn’t fit. Now, I’m schlepping that box with me on my regular morning commute, which consists of one bus and two trains, so I can drop it off at the most convenient UPS center during its open hours. Sheesh.

Results: Getting Paid

I mailed the FedEx box to on Sunday (9/21) and mailed the UPS box to on Monday (9/22).


On Thursday (9/25), I received an email from saying that they received my books. Later that day, another email indicated which books and in what condition they received them. They said I would get a check in the next two weeks (which is interesting given that I requested a Paypal payment).

I never heard anything else, so on Thursday, 10/2, I decided to check my Paypal account. What do you know? The full $11 from was already there; it had been transferred on Monday (9/29). Funny that they wouldn’t take the opportunity to give their customers the good news (Congrats! Your money is available!), but they did pay the full amount promised. In total, it took them only 7 days from package send to money in the bank.


It took a full week to hear back from The following Tuesday (9/30), I got a text message from BookByte saying they received my book, processed my order and that I would be paid in 48 hours! Bookbyte delivered my $10.25 to paypal (as expected) on Thursday (10/2): 11 days from package send to money in the bank.


While the entire process of selling my books worked as expected, it wasn’t exactly hassle-free. For a mere $21.25, I spent an hour researching options, some time dropping off my boxes (en-route to other errands), and then several days waiting anxiously and fully expecting to hear some excuse for why they couldn’t pay me the money or that they hadn’t received the books.

Unless you have valuable textbooks to sell, donate the books. You can write-off the donation at tax time and earn back more in refunds than you can by selling most books ($1.50 for paperbacks or $3 for hard covers in good shape is the going book donation rate).  You can donate to your local library or many other charities.

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