With baseball delayed and the Olympics canceled, it was inevitable that decluttering would become the hottest sport this spring. Unfortunately, it looks like we are going to be in lockdown for months, not weeks. If you don’t have the organizing impulse now, you might have it very soon. While someday has finally arrived and you might have the time to organize, you don’t necessarily have all the tools and resources you would have had just a month ago. So what’s different about decluttering your home during a pandemic?
Cut Back on Consumption
Cutting back on what you buy now is the first step in decluttering. This lockdown is bizarre because some households lost jobs, security, and normalcy in an instant, while many white-collar workers just moved into their home office and are carrying on pretty much as normal for the moment. If you are in that latter group, there might be an impulse to buy things and toys to keep you occupied. Sooner or later you might get bored and feel like you deserve to order a little treat. I’m feeling it myself, to be honest.
But as the situation evolves, we are going to need to get creative with what we already have instead of adding more boxes to the already stressed US Mail, FedEx, UPS and courier delivery systems. With permission, I shared thoughts from an acquaintance who is a manager at one of those shipping companies, and you can read his comments here. In summary, he asks, “…if you can reduce the load on the system by skipping this or that, knowing that maybe you’ll buy it in a few weeks….. I’d really appreciate it.”
My concern is also for your wallet, the buying hangover that follows a recreational buying spree, and the clutter that ends up in the corners of your home consisting of returns that never quite get returned. Now more than ever, less is more.
During the World Wars, our grandparents learned a little chant that helped them become good stewards:
Use it up
Wear it out
Or do without
Please understand this: The damage to the earth and environment is done when those consumer goods are made, not just when they are discarded. If you are concerned about global warming and environmental impacts, you should worry more about what you buy than what you throw out.
Your favorite professional organizer is probably under a stay-at-home order. Where I live in PA, my team and I can’t drive to your home, but that doesn’t mean we can’t help you. In fact, we’ve done virtual organizing for years, with you on one side of your smartphone, and us on the other. Many of our virtual organizing clients are executives who prefer the shorter 1-hour appointments, accountability and focus on creating systems. Contact me directly for glowing testimonials, as not all clients are willing to post those publicly. If you are ready to finally get some help with your organizing project, you can contact us today for your appointment.
What to Do with the Stuff to Donate
During normal times, my clients end up with anywhere from a garbage bag to a van-full of donations each time we meet. We also arrange pickups for furniture and large loads. We do our best to keep things out of landfills if we can, but these are not normal times.
Local donation centers are NOT open to accept your donations. To comply with state orders that non-essential businesses close, donation centers and pickup services are also closed. Please DO NOT leave bags of discards at their door. Charities will have to trash those items when staff returns. That will be expensive for the charity you are donating to, as they will have to pay dumpster fees for disposal. Not to mention, leaving donations outside could potentially be dangerous, possibly passing on the virus to treasure seekers. YIKES!
**Edit as of 4/15/2020 Some Goodwill in NJ/Philadelphia are reopening. Please call your donation center before leaving donations.
If you have decluttered and items can be passed on immediately to family or a neighbor, here’s an idea. The NIH believes that the virus can live for 2-3 days on hard surfaces, although I’ve read as long as 5 days elsewhere. (Maybe less on soft surfaces? The CDC recommends that you can clean some items to remove the virus by washing with soap and water.) If you have something that can be used by someone else, clean it as best you can, then package it and leave it for them in a safe spot (porch, garage, etc). They should be able to safely retrieve the item in 3-14 days (I’ll let you decide the timeframe that you are comfortable with), as the virus cannot live indefinitely without a host. This is actually a bit more caution than the CDC calls for right now, but caution won’t hurt anyone. Keep in mind that this is a new virus and we are still learning the particulars, so this information will likely need updating.
I myself have asked neighbors to lend me puzzles, but I’ll quarantine them in my garage for a couple of weeks before touching them.
If you cannot safely package and pass donatable items to another owner, then please store them inside your house for the time being. Package donations in a box or a bag. Label the box CLEARLY and with LARGE LETTERS that these are TO DONATE. That way, when this is over (and this, too, shall pass), you don’t mix your donations in with your keepers and have to start organizing all over again.
Although donation centers are closing down, some churches may still be open. If you are associated with a church with an in-house thrift store or mission service, there’s a sliver of a chance that they might still accept donations of things that they immediately use to serve their populations, such as clothing and food, but you must call and ask!
There is another option, and I almost hate to mention it because it puts more packages into the shipping system than need to be there right now, but I’ll give you the options and let you decide. I’ve mentioned GiveBackBox before, which is a service that lets you fill any empty box with donatable goods and ship it to a donation center. The charity has been around for at least a few years, and as of 3/26/2020 was still operating. You can find out more about how the service works on this 13 minute video about Give Back Box posted last week. The owner mentions the golden rule: when you are packing the box, please ensure that the contents are things that you would be willing to pass on to your best friend. Caution: I would definitely check their website daily to ensure they are still accepting donations.
Can You Sell Your Clutter During the Pandemic?
Please be smart about selling on people-to-people sites like FB Marketplace and others. Yes, theoretically you could quarantine your items, but since we don’t have true safety protocols right now, do you really want to risk it? This 10-minute video on how germs spread is excellent at explaining why the risk is real and how to protect yourself from germs of all kinds, not just the COVID-19 coronavirus.
Maybe the item itself that you are trying to sell or donate is safe and virus-free, but so many things have to be touched to go from one home to another. Keys. Car door handles. House door handles. Cash. Maybe your contact stops at a convenience store on the way to your house and picks up the bug. Maybe your shipper/courier is doing everything right, but they are infected and they don’t even know it yet.
I checked on FB Marketplace (no visible Covid-19 info), CraigsList (no visible Covid-19 info) and eBay for info on selling and shipping during the pandemic. Expect this to be updated.
Is it worth transferring an invisible, deadly virus from one home to another? Can you wait for a few weeks?
As with so many things these days, the solutions aren’t black and white. Decluttr.com is a ship-to-sell company that will recycle and resell your old electronics, CD’s and DVD’s, books and textbooks, even Lego toys, and you can make a little cash in the bargain. As of this writing, they are still accepting items in their warehouse. Is it better to send your sellables to a company like this and keep their warehouse workers employed? Definitely maybe. I’m just here to give you information.
There are plenty of ship-to-donate and ship-to-sell models out there. You can check for companies and organizations on the Donate and Recycle directory and the companion article, “Where Do I Recycle My….” Please let me know of other companies and resources that you find are still operating by commenting below, and I’ll add them to these resources. But I can’t say this enough…please check with your charity or recycler before shipping or leaving items with them.
Should you Put Donations in the Trash?
Municipal trash and recycling services are still operating where I live, and I believe that is the case for the entire US. This is actually a great time to declutter your paper files and other recyclable items. The recycling market has changed in recent years, so it’d best to look up your municipality’s website and be sure you are only putting the right things into your bin. But I don’t recommend trashing items that could be valuable donations, like on-trend clothing, household goods, and working appliances.
A Pro Organizer’s Recommendation for Decluttering During the Pandemic
Here’s where I land on this. Your clutter problem did not happen overnight. That stuff has been in your house for a long time, maybe years. Be a good steward to the earth, those things, and our communities, and store them for a bit longer.
Heed the experts like Dr. Fauci on this; please ACT LIKE YOU HAVE THE VIRUS right now. That means keeping your discards to yourself at least until we are past the critical period that the federal govt has set in the USA. On Sunday 3/29, social distancing guidelines were newly extended to April 30. My spidey-sense is guessing that it might get extended even longer, at least in some parts of the country.
Package donations in stackable boxes. Label the boxes CLEARLY and with LARGE LETTERS that these are TO DONATE. Plan on hanging onto those boxes for six months or more, and place them where they will not block access to your attic, basement, seasonal items, or critical utilities. Put them out of the way, like in a garage or basement storage space. Then you can re-arrange the rest of your newly organized rooms and finally have an organized home that you’ll be enjoying Every. Single. Day.
It’s a bit of an inconvenience, sure, but it’s just not worth the risk to accidentally spread the coronavirus when you don’t have to.
You can plan ahead to where your goods can ultimately be donated by consulting my continuously updated list of charities and organizations that take all kinds of donations at other times.
Look, none of us has ever been through a pandemic before. This is all new, and I’m sharing the best practices that I’ve been able to come up with, in consultation with my peers at NAPO.net. If you have any additional thoughts, inputs or questions, I’m all ears.