Alison Griffiths

With spring giving way to summer, it's the perfect time for a cleansing chore I call Purge, Pass-on and Present. I'm talking about digging into the huge piles of stuff that clog up our lives in closets, basements, drawers and garages.

I was forcibly reminded of this phenomenon by a septic backup (insert link) a few months ago while we were away. The insurance company swooped in, cleaned up and discarded what was soiled or damaged. Trouble was we couldn't remember what half the stuff was on their inventory list.

Item 325: Black table, 34" by 18" by 30". Huh?

The fact is we had dumped so much stuff down there over the years we had no idea what was there. And it's something I've seen happen many times over the years.

When I was host of the television show "Maxed Out", one of the episodes was about a large family with serious money troubles. When I snooped around their house I found a large room full of presents either never used and discarded or not even opened. There were also a considerable number of items purchased on sale and stashed for giving at a later date. Except everything was such a mess no one could be bothered to sort through it when a gift-giving event rolled around. A yard sale netted them $1,700.

Here's my solution to the huge-piles-of-stuff phenomenon. Divide it into three categories: Purge, Pass on, Present.

Purge
This is the get-rid-of stage and can be very exhilarating. Some of it will be garbage of no use to anyone else — but do take pains to recycle as much as you can. And don't forget that scrap metal, particularly copper, has value.

One caution: purging can be overwhelming if you try to do it yourself. But be cautious selecting a family member to help because the next thing you know you'll be going through old photo albums all afternoon — I know of what I speak.

Pass On
If you think something has value but selling it would be too much trouble, donate it to a good cause. Sometimes we put unwanted items at the end of the driveway with a "free" sign on them. They're almost always gone the next day.

Also, many communities have a freecycle.org site or something similar where you can post things to give away. I did this for dozens of my daughter's jigsaw puzzles and the new owner picked them up at my house so I didn't have to drive anywhere.

Present
This is better known as re-gifting — a term that became popular after a "Seinfeld" episode where Elaine accuses a dentist, Dr. Tim Whatley, of being a re-gifter when he gives a label maker which she had given him to Jerry.

According to a 2007 survey conducted by regiftable.com, 60 per cent of respondents considered re-gifting an acceptable practice. Fewer than 10 per cent said they'd be upset to be the recipient of a recycled present. And that survey was pre-recession, so I suspect the figures are higher now.

Here's a five step re-gifting process.

  1. Sort: Search for presents or items you don't need or want. Almost 10 per cent of Canadians admit that they buy presents they believe the recipient won't like, so I know you've got things to move along. Don't forget the kids' pile. Kids often end up with well-meaning but inappropriate gifts. Spirit them away for the re-gift express.
  2. Don't go there: Forget anything with a name on it, used or close to its due date. Also, today's bestselling whatever — CD, DVD, book — is a re-gift dead giveaway even a few months from now. I'd also avoid those old chestnuts such as candles and drugstore bath sets unless they are unique and nicely packaged.
  3. Identify: Don't risk the faux pas of boomerang gifting, label each present with the giver's name. While you're at it, list potential recipients if any come to mind.
  4. Store: Put all the presents together in a central repository like a plastic bin. Having them handy is a lifesaver when it's someone's birthday, anniversary or retirement the next day and you plumb forgot.
  5. Exchange: My daughter trades excess or unwanted adult and children's gift items among her Moms group. But again, just be careful about who gave you the item in the first place.

I guarantee that if you go through the purge, pass, on and present process you will feel much less oppressed by your stuff. And in the long run you should have some extra cash in your pocket.

Alison Griffiths' latest book is Count on Yourself: Take Charge of Your Money. You can reach her at www.alisongriffiths.ca, and on Twitter at @alisononmoney.