Clear Clutter and Save Money Before the Holidays

Last Updated Nov 16, 2010 1:05 PM EST

Last weekend we cleaned out the toy shelf. It had overflowed its boundaries, spewing Legos, Felt Creations pieces, and odd limbs belonging to, best I can figure, Star Wars Mr. Potato Head. We found truck wheels, toy money, plastic food - and more than a few bits of petrified real food.

The kids were busy for more than an hour on a puzzle-evaluation mission, trying to figure out which ones still had all their pieces. Completing them one last time made them feel happier about selecting some to give away.

I figured I saved myself some money on three counts. First, I'll take a tax deduction of $10 for the toys and kids' clothing I donated to charity. Second, I realize how little I need to shop for the kids this Christmas. One toy from Santa, one from my husband and me, max. Otherwise it's a book or something to wear. (They have plenty, and they'll get plenty from their generous extended family.) Third, there's the psychic value. That's harder to put a price tag on, but having one neat room must save me some money on therapeutic adult beverages.

I spoke to Barbara Tako, author of Clutter Clearing Choices, on how paring down before the holidays can save money. Kids don't need endless choices of things to build with, she says. If you've got Legos, Lincoln Logs, Megablocks and wooden blocks, you don't have to buy them more. Keep their favorite and donate the rest. Same with art supplies, like Crayons, water colors, colored pencils, Color Wonder markers and glow in the dark paint. Get rid of some now.

Tako suggests setting up a shelf or closet in your house for items to be donated and leaving a notebook and pencil there, so you can record the "yard sale value" of the items and take the deduction at tax time. Call charities in advance to make sure they'll accept your goods.

Here are a few other ways clearing clutter before the holidays can save your sanity and your wallet.
Horizontal surfaces: You don't have time during November and December for closet clean-outs and drawer organizing, so focus on what's visible. "Make clockwise sweeps through each room of the home and deal with clutter that typically winds up on horizontal surfaces," Tako says. "That's counters and tables in the kitchen, and end tables, coffee tables and entertainment consoles everywhere else."

Knick-knacks: Put away everyday decorations before you put out Thanksgiving or Christmas decorations. When you're taking down the non-holiday items, do an evaluation. Can you give it away or donate it? "People keep a lot of things out of guilt or perceived loyalty to the person who gave them the item," Tako says. "Honor the intent rather than feeling like you have to hang onto the thing. If you know someone who collects those statuary or you want to take the write-off, do it."

Too many holiday decorations: "Build family traditions by using the same ones year after year. If you have a certain plate comes out every year, kids will remember that. Tablecloths and wall hangings are a great way to decorate without adding to the chaos, and they take little space to store. But multiple Christmas trees? Your kids really need one in their playroom?

Spice cabinet: Alphabetize and date your spices, and toss any that are older than a year, because they lose their potency. Wait to buy new ones until you know for sure what you need. "I thought alphabetizing spices was kind of anal retentive until one night I did it and found five jars, $20 worth, of five-spice powder for stir frying," Tako says. "It made a believer out of me." Share with friends. (I recently bought 0.9 ounces of McCormick ground cloves for $7.29 because a recipe called for ¼ teaspoon. Allentown-area friends, if you need cloves, I got 'em.)

Paper: "Paper is the number one clutter frustration for people," Tako says. "Be honest about what you're going to read. You'll always get a fresher catalog." Create labeled files for instruction manuals and warranty paperwork for electronics or major household appliances. Then you know where to go and where to access that information. Start files now and be ready to add with paperwork from gifts that might be opened this holiday season.

Do you have clutter-clearing tips for the holidays? Sign in and share them below.
Photo courtesy Flickr user Lenore Edman, CC 2.0
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