Hidden Funds

By Chandra Orr

January 7, 2011 6 min read

Jamie Novak sees hidden cash in surprising places -- that junk drawer in your kitchen, for example.

Those expensive rechargeable batteries are buried in the back somewhere, but you can't find them, so you just buy more. What about the gift card you got for your birthday last year? That's in there, too, but it's expired. Don't forget the necklace you got on sale a few months ago. It's still in the box because it's just not your style, but someone else might snatch it up on eBay.

Get organized and you'll save money in the long run; you even might make a little extra cash in the process by uncovering hidden gems that fetch big bucks at resale. The key is to keep only what you need, sell what you don't, reuse when possible and make sure everything has a home.

Sound overwhelming? It's not.

"Organizing is simple. It may not always be easy, but it is always simple," says clutter buster Jamie Novak, author of "Stop Throwing Money Away: Turn Clutter to Cash, Trash to Treasure -- and Save the Planet While You're at It!" "Even if you were born without the organizing gene, you can do this. The trick is to stop planning to get to it."

First things first: Forget about perfection. An organized home is a work in progress. Setting impossible standards leads to procrastination and disappointment, so don't strive to get it right; just get it done. You can go back later and refine the "rough draft."

"It's easy to become discouraged if you promise yourself you'll de-clutter the entire basement in one weekend. No one has that kind of energy," Novak says.

Instead, set a timer and work in short, focused bursts. Commit to just 18 minutes at a time.

"Ten minutes sounds too short to make noticeable progress, and 20 minutes sounds like too long to cram into an already busy day. Eighteen minutes is doable," Novak explains. "After the buzzer sounds, if you still have time and energy to spare, reset the timer and go for another 18-minute round."

Focus on just a small portion of the project, and ignore distractions. In other words, don't pull everything out of the linen closet at once. You might not get it all sorted and put back before the time is up, and you'd be left with an overwhelming mess. Don't leave to put something away in another room. Don't take a quick break to let the dog out. And don't stop to answer the phone; you can return the call in 18 minutes.

"Stay put! Once you leave, the chances of your coming back to finish are slim to none," Novak says. "Instead, while working, make a to-do list of tasks that come to mind, and make a pile of things to take with you when your time is up and you leave the room."

You may not complete the task at hand, but if you do a little bit each day, the results will add up.

Start with the kitchen. It's the heart of the home, the area in which you're likely to reap the biggest results and, emotionally, the easiest place to begin.

"The kitchen is command central. When the kitchen runs smoothly, all the other rooms take shape," Novak says. "It is much easier to recycle an expired grocery coupon than it is to let go of the jeans that are just one size too small or your now-college-age child's favorite stuffed animal. Plus, the most money is wasted through disorganization in the kitchen; think forgotten leftovers or buying another of an item already in your cluttered pantry."

When sorting, group similar items together, and label them. It makes it easy to find the things you need and return stray items to their rightful places, saving you money in the long run.

"You can make a shopping list by looking at what's missing, and when you shop from a list, you spend significantly less," Novak says. "Any time you can see what you have, you're likelier to use it, and you're less likely to re-buy something you already own, which saves you money."

There's also plenty of money to be made. Unused cookbooks, collectible glassware or space hogs, such as that chocolate fountain, likely would fetch a few extra bucks online.

*Make Some Money

Making money from unused items need not be a major project. Just focus on a few items at a time -- and do it while you're thinking about it. If you spend hours organizing your bookcase but never take action to sell or donate unwanted books, you're left with another pile and another item lingering on your to-do list.

"Many of us are pros at sorting items into piles, but we never take action on the piles," Novak says. "If you pick up a book you've decided to sell, go directly to the computer and list the book for sale. That's making real progress."

If you're not yet ready to tackle eBay, Craigslist or Amazon Marketplace, check the phone book. There may be a store in your area that specializes in creating online auctions. You won't see all of the profits in your pocketbook, as the store will take a seller's fee, but it's quick and simple. Just drop off the items, and the store does the rest.

"If you never try, you won't make a dime, but if you commit to placing even one item up for sale per month, you'll be surprised to find your clutter can make you cash," Novak says.

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