Stash or Trash? 5 Tips to Decide Whether to Store, Sell or Discard Belongings When You Move

by Ryan Yates

Working for a self-storage company gives me a great opportunity to meet all kinds of people. One species of human animal I run into all the time is the breed in the process of relocating. From talking with people planning to move and hearing their stories, I’ve come to gain an appreciation for the dilemmas they face, particularly when it comes to deciding what to do with all their “stuff”. Should they sell it? Take it with them? Or just trash it altogether? The decision is never easy, but there are certainly ways to make it less agonizing than it needs to be. You may find yourself faced with this decision someday. If so, here are five tips that might make things easier on you:

Think things out ahead of time.

Don’t wait until a just a few days before the move to start thinking about the fate of your belongings. If you do that, you’ll either end up taking a lot more stuff than you really need or you’ll go into panic mode and start trashing stuff you really should keep. Instead, start planning far in advance. Take careful inventory of your belongings. Start in a corner of your basement and then deliberately work your way across and up, going through every room of the house up to and including the attic. Make a list of everything. And don’t insist on doing it all yourself. If you find yourself overwhelmed, enlist the help and advice of a professional in helping you take inventory and even helping you make your decisions.

Follow the “three category” sorting rule.

Make a first pass by assigning each item to one of these three categories: (1) Definitely keep; (2) Definitely throw out; (3) Undecided. If you notice after doing this that category 3 (Undecided) is about ten times as large as the others, don’t panic. This is to be expected. The main point is of this initial drill is to weed out the no-brainers first. The items in category 1 will need to be packed and/or stored. The items in category 2 should be further broken down into “trash”, “sell”, and “donate” categories. Items that are in bad or unusable condition should be trashed. Those that you know could fetch you some money should be sold. The rest you should probably consider donating. As for the category 3 stuff, consider a few other factors (below) before deciding.

Consider the size of your new home.

Is it larger or smaller than the home you are moving out of? Analyze the dimensions of your floor plans and start thinking about what can fit where. Make sure you have identified a place for every item you are considering moving into your new house. If there is not enough room for everything, then you know you will have to cut down further. Prioritize what is most important to keep and then you will know exactly what needs to be discarded.

Take your future lifestyle into account.

Envision what your life will be like in your new home. Will you be making significant changes to your routine; e.g., traveling more? Entertaining more guests? Spending less time at home (or more)? Factor any lifestyle changes into your decision. If you know, for example, that you won’t be spending as much time at home as you do now, you may not need to hang on to as many things.

If you still can’t decide, it should probably go.

Remember that there is a cost involved in transporting. For a long-distance move, that cost is usually proportional to the total weight of the stuff you are shipping. If you have something sitting around not getting used, don’t fool yourself into believing that it will suddenly get used in your new home. Instead, give it the old heave-ho. Getting rid of things can sometimes seem like a more difficult decision than it really is. Once that decision is made, you often feel good about it. A load has been lifted off your shoulders.

Moving is never easy. Things can be stressful enough without turning yourself into a walking mound of indecision. But if you approach things the right way, you can turn that indecision into decisiveness. And you can be smart about choosing whether to stash your stuff or trash it.

Tim Eyre works in the self storage industry, regularly traveling to see locations like County Club Hills self storage. In locations like Chicago self storage, Tim helps midwesterners store seasonal equipment when its not being used for outdoor activities or construction projects.


krantcents May 4, 2011 at

Good ideas! I often wonder how there can be this many people requiring public storage.

Dana May 6, 2011 at

It’s amazing how fast stuff can accumulate. We try to regularly declutter and downsize – basically if it doesn’t fit in our house we don’t need it. Having said that, we did use storage when we built our house and had to live in an apartment for 6 months – all our furniture didn’t fit into the tiny apartment we rented so it had to go somewhere.

Jacob @ My Personal Finance Journey May 9, 2011 at

Moving is an odd thing! It can be very stressful, not only physically, but has been on my wallet as well. Every time I move, it seems there are always new items to buy. I have made the mistake before though of throwing away things that I could have used in my new place. This is a good reminder!

Miss Moneypenniless May 23, 2011 at

Very useful- thank you. It’s remarkable how much junk seems to go unnoticed, filling up the house only to be discovered when it’s time to leave. A particularly ruthless culler of clutter friend of mine recommends the ‘use in the last six month rule’. If a piece of furniture/utensil hasn’t been used within the last six months, it’s time to throw it out. If an item of clothing hasn’t been used at least three times in the last six months, same rule applies. Very effective way of ridding yourself of excess junk.

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