How to Get Rid of All the Stuff in Your Home

Sustainable options for clearing out mattresses, books, furniture, art and all the random bits and bobs in your home.

Illustration by Jarett Sitter.

Years ago, or so the story goes, friends of friends purchased Leonard Cohen’s childhood home in Montreal. Upon taking possession, the buyers discovered the house hadn’t been emptied and Cohen’s bedroom was exactly as he’d left it decades earlier. On the dresser they found a note: Please enjoy my things, 
I don’t need them anymore.

While I’ve no way of verifying this story, I don’t doubt it; Cohen was a Zen Buddhist monk for a time, and non-attachment is a fundamental teaching of the faith. A picture of him in his early 70s in the bedroom of his home (saved, aspirationally, on my cluttered computer desktop) shows him sitting on the bed, the only other furniture in the room being an old floor lamp.

I, too, once lived spartanly; someone once described the bedroom of my art-school apartment as looking like the dorm room of a nun. (Ironically, in the basement of the house was a tunnel that led to the Catholic church one street over, should the wiseguy son of the woman I rented from need to make a hasty escape.) Since that apartment, I’ve moved 11 times, including twice between countries, yet, somehow, I’ve still managed to acquire a whole lot of stuff. This was made no more evident to me than during the COVID-19 pandemic, when, for more than two years, I lived and worked amongst that stuff 24-7, often wishing JustJunk would come over and just haul it all away.

A partial list of the things in my house taking up space includes: my mother’s Limoges china that hasn’t seen a dinner party in 20 years; my adult sons’ vast collection of Archie comics, stored in boxes under a bed; my high school tennis racket, despite not setting foot on a court in decades; two plastic milk crates of record albums (I don’t own a turntable). There are shoeboxes of photographs of people whose names I no longer remember; shoes with three-inch heels that cost a mortgage payment that my hobbled feet can no longer wear, and vintage clothes, lots of vintage clothes. Media passes from every event I attended in my past life as a journalist hang on lanyards off doorknobs. There are stacks of vintage Artforum, Vogue Italia and The World of Interiors magazines that Pinterest boards have replaced in usefulness. The girlfriend who once asked me to leave her the Vogues in my will has since moved to London and recently told me I could recycle them.

Then, I made the mistake of looking at what those copies of Italian Vogue sell for on eBay. One, from February 1990, featuring a double image of Linda Evangelista grimacing on the cover, is selling for 250 British Pound Sterling (about $426.45 Canadian!) — not including shipping.

Turns out that eBay listing was from a vintage fashion magazine shop in the U.K. that has an archive of more than 100,000 titles. I sent them an email inquiring what they’d give me for my copy, acknowledging I knew it would be far less than what they’d sell it for. They never wrote back.

And herein lies the rub: You have all this stuff, and you think it’s worth something, because it’s easy to find what this stuff retails for on the thriving resale market. Thriving, because the planet, like you, is being buried by stuff, and an increasing number of people, concerned about over-production and consumption, are buying and selling second-hand. It’s called the circular economy, and I’m all for it. But, unless you want to open an Etsy store, or spend half your day on Facebook Marketplace fending off scammers, lowballers, and buyers who never show up, you’re not going to get $426.25 for that Vogue Italia. Or maybe you will, but it will take weeks, months, even years to find a buyer who loves Linda Evangelista that badly. And you want it gone.
So where does a person in this corner of the world concerned about their carbon footprint get rid of their stuff?

Here are a few suggestions…

 

Mattresses

You’ve probably not given much thought to the environmental impact of hauling an old mattress to the dump, but you should. It takes years for a mattress in a landfill to decompose, or else it’s burned, which is equally bad for the planet. Rest easy by taking old mattresses and futons to Re-Matt, a mattress recycler located right here in YYC. (For $20, they’ll also recycle expired car seats.)

 

That Beater in the Back Alley

I’m holding onto my car until the Green Line is built. But, if I had one to dispose of, I’d probably call Donate a Car Canada. (Note, the name is something of a misnomer, as they also accept RV’s, boats and motorcycles, no matter the condition.) The process is painless — simply complete an online form and they come and tow it away. Depending on the condition, they’ll auction, sell or recycle it. Your chosen charity gets the proceeds, less Donate a Car’s commission, and you get a tax receipt. The Food Bank, Meow Foundation and Alberta Theatre Projects are just three of the many, many Calgary non-profits who will thank you.

 

Metal

If you really need the cash, a metal recycler will also give you money for your car — though you’ll have to drive or tow it to them. There are numerous metal recyclers in Calgary — most are located in the southeast — and they’ll also take things like refrigerators, patio furniture, pots and pans and filing cabinets. (Nobody keeps files anymore, so nobody wants your old metal filing cabinets. At the time of writing, one recycler, Recon Metal, was paying nine cents a pound for them.)

 

Books

Did I mention I have books? I have many, many, books. Entire walls, in fact. (They do help keep heating costs down in my 1912 heritage home insulated with shredded newspapers.) I stand by the position that you should buy books because you love them and want to support writers — full disclaimer, I work for a literary festival — and not because they’re going to fund your retirement someday, or even your contentious divorce, as I heard one writer/book reviewer discovered when he tried to sell his library to pay his lawyer. Despite owning hundreds of books, many signed by icons of Can-Lit, he couldn’t get more than 2K for the lot. That’s not to say some books aren’t valuable; my signed copy of The Philosophy of Andy Warhol, bought at a Baptist church rummage sale in Texas for 75 cents some 30 years ago, is worth anywhere between $200 and $5,000 when I last checked abebooks.com. But there were 40 copies, so I suspect it wouldn’t exactly fly off my shelf anytime soon. If you don’t have the patience to sell your books to a reseller like Fair’s Fair or Pages, Books Between Friends will take your books off your hands. Located in the northeast, it’s a volunteer-run bookstore that gives profits to a variety of charitable organizations. There are also two charity book sales happening in May that will accept donations of books you want to pass on to the next reader: the Calgary Reads book sale and The RESET Society of Calgary’s book sale. Or, stock some of the many Little Free Libraries scattered throughout Calgary.

 

Ikea Furniture

Despite some vintage IKEA furniture items commanding big bucks on furniture resale sites (Instagram’s @geniusbones has a corner on the local market), your now-emptied Billy bookcases aren’t worth much, and some thrift shops won’t even accept them. But, IKEA now has a sell-back program: you email them pictures and they email you back with what it’s worth in store credit. (Just remember, you don’t need any more stuff!) Note that the item needs to be brought into the store fully assembled — not very convenient if you don’t own a truck.

Illustration by Jarett Sitter.

 

Art

Loathe that painting your ex gave you one Christmas? Does the twee landscape inherited from Grandma not fit your mid-century-modern decor? Donate art you no longer enjoy to the Rotary Club of Calgary Heritage Park Second Chance Art Sale. Proceeds support community programs such as Calgary Seniors’ Resource Society and Hull Services.

 

Bits, Bobs & Batteries

New Calgary company, Tricky Trash, will take away the stuff you can’t give away — old batteries, old paint, expired medications, used razors, to name just a few pesky items — and make sure they’re delivered to the proper processing centre or recycler. Tricky Trash supplies you with a “Bits, Bobs, and Batteries” box, and, once full, bikes it away for a $5 collection fee (whatever doesn’t fit in the box costs an additional $2). And no, that’s not a typo, Tricky Trash does all its pick-ups and distribution using an Urban Arrow electric cargo bike, no matter the weather!

 

Craft + Sewing Supplies

From that quilt project you started but never finished, to 
the sewing machine gathering dust in your basement, the Ujamaa Grandmas Fabric and Yarn Sale will gladly take it for their annual spring fundraiser for the Stephen Lewis Foundation Grandmothers to Grandmothers campaign. All monies go to support grandmothers and community-based organizations in African countries hit hard by the AIDS pandemic.

 

Electronics

Electronic Recycling Association will take all your old electronics, and either fix, recycle or donate them to schools and charities in need (laptops are always in high demand). As part of a pilot project with Alberta Recycling Management Authority, The City of Calgary will also accept most anything with a power cord or battery — even solar panels — free of charge. See the full list of acceptable items at armaepilot.com.

 

Everything, Including the Kitchen Sink

Altruism can often feel much better than the hassle of trying to sell stuff. And Value Village, as they often remind you over their P.A. system, is a for-profit organization. While they will give you a 20-per cent-off coupon for use in their store (good for purchases up to $50!), remember: You don’t need more stuff! Instead, donate your clothing and household items to an organization like The Kidney Foundation or Diabetes Canada which sell your cast-offs to Value Village and use the proceeds for research. They’ll even come pick the stuff up.

Lately, I’ve been donating unwanted clothing and small household items to the volunteer-run Good Neighbour, whose retail model is one I can get behind. Good Neighbour will either distribute the items at their pay-what-you-can store, or sell them at their thrift store, which gives all funds raised back to the community. For larger items, like bedroom sets or kitchen furniture, The Calgary Drop-In Centre’s Free Goods Program provides low- and no-income Calgarians all the things needed to furnish a home. They take almost anything clean and not broken, and work with more than 120 agencies to distribute the goods to those in need, including new Canadians, refugees and victims of natural disasters. Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore will take new or gently used furniture, home decor, appliances less than 10 years old or building materials, with the proceeds going towards affordable housing projects.

If all of this seems overwhelming, call YYC Junk and let them do the work. While not a free service, YYC Junk will clear out your entire house, then make sure they either donate or recycle whatever they remove, with a trip to the landfill the last resort.

Illustration by Jarett Sitter.

 

How to Sell Stuff Online

If you have the time, here are a few tips provided by my friend, Mike, who has taken an almost scientific approach to figuring out how to optimize the process of selling stuff he no longer needs.

1. If the price is firm, say so. Otherwise, you’ll have buyers showing up trying to dicker and getting peeved you didn’t put price firm in the listing.

2. Price it right. Mike believes you get more action when things are priced higher than they should be, and once conducted an experiment to prove it. He and his wife posted the same item — a very ’90s wrought-iron wine rack — on Kijiji. His wife put it up with no explanation, at half the price he posted; his listing included dimensions and a cheeky story about what a workhorse of a wine rack it had been. His wife got no inquiries and only five looks; his received over 30 and it sold for the list price. Mike says good copy makes all the difference. “Buyers need to feel they are buying something you valued, not just something you’re trying to unload,” he says.

3. Find your audience. “There are people out there who collect really weird stuff,” Mike says. “Do an online search and connect with them.” To Mike’s point: the guy in Brooklyn who trolls eBay for copies of The Velvet Underground and Nico, no matter what the condition — he owns 800 copies. Perhaps he’d be interested in mine, an original copy with the banana sticker half peeled off, bought in 1977 at a thrift shop in Providence, R.I., for a dollar. During one of my many moves, I left my record collection in a box in a humid basement and the corners were eaten by mould, but I just can’t toss it in the black cart, which is where all my other scratched, dog-eared and mouldy records will go: Record albums are not recyclable, and there’s only so many oven crafts you can make out of them.

4. One last tip (from me): Let it Go. Be prepared to see some Gen X or Z’er selling your old crap at your next neighbourhood night market (it’s happened to me) for 10 times what they paid you. Remember, they’ve had to haul the stuff there, pay for the booth and stand around while people haggle over the price. Be thankful it’s no longer in your house, but didn’t end up in a landfill.

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This article appears in the May 2024 issue of Avenue Calgary.

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