25: Increasing My Income by Getting Rid of My Junk

25: Increasing My Income by Getting Rid of My Junk

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Joy of Less


Increasing My Income by Getting Rid of My Junk

I am learning… that a man can live profoundly without masses of things.

~Richard E. Byrd

Each month it had become harder to cover my expenses with my retirement check. As I sat at the kitchen table with my manila folder marked “Bills” and began writing checks, I became angry with myself. I had been paying for a storage space in Detroit, Michigan for how many years? I looked at the statement start date: nearly fifteen years? Jeez! When I first moved to California, I thought I would soon be sending for all my “stuff.” Now here it was fifteen years later and I still hadn’t shipped my belongings to the West Coast.

I realized that I was hanging on to those things more for the sentimentality and not because I really needed that garage full of packed boxes and egg crates stuffed with record albums. It was time to get rid of it. I looked at the bill for my storage space and a chill ran down my spine. Over the years, it had quadrupled. When I leased that spot, I had no idea they had the right to increase my storage fees annually. What had started out as a reasonable rental amount was now costing me a third of what I was currently paying for my apartment. Ridiculous! It just so happened I had booked a flight to Detroit to attend an annual weekend jazz festival. So, I decided to use that trip to get rid of those things in storage.

A few weeks later, I stood staring into a garage sized storage space piled high to the ceiling with junk. My nephew and his teenaged son stood by my side.

“Wow, Aunt Dee,” they both muttered, overwhelmed by the magnitude of things stuffed into that storage space.

We started going through the boxes of knick-knacks, bathroom towels, bedroom sheets and comforters, kitchen curtains, pots and pans. I’m an avid reader and there were boxes of books galore; magazines that went all the way back to the 1950s; clothes I would never fit into again. We made piles to give away to a church that housed the homeless and protected battered women. Each evening, I drove to that church with a carload of clothing and household goods. They itemized the donations and I received receipts that I could use as tax write-offs. The eradication had begun, happily with some of my junk going toward a good cause.

One entire wall of the storage space was stacked with record albums. A friend suggested I contact a local record shop that sold collector items. When I reached the owner by telephone, to my surprise, he rushed over to the storage facility. His eyes grew large when he saw my collection of over 3,000 record albums including The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Malcolm X speeches, Richard Pryor Live and Motown icons, not to mention an incredible jazz collection from the 1960s and 1970s. He offered me $2,500 and I took it before he changed his mind. Honestly, I didn’t know how I would ever get rid of my precious record collection and I couldn’t afford to ship it back to California. Finding that record store was an unexpected blessing.

I donated some of the more precious things, like my Paul Robeson 78 RPM collection, to a mobile museum that features African American memorabilia. It made me feel good to know that some young people would be exposed to important historical items at that museum, like the music of Paul Robeson.

It took a week and a half to go through all those boxes of stuff. I worked it like a day job, arriving at the storage facility at nine in the morning and leaving at five. I couldn’t believe how much I had collected over the years. A lot of it wound up in the garbage bin, but anything usable was donated.

My nephew ran across an old jewelry box full of broken pieces of jewelry, most of which was fake. But he showed me a few single earrings without a mate that were obviously gold and some old gold chains I had forgotten about.

“You can make money selling this gold, Auntie,” he suggested. “I know a place.”

“Okay. Let’s go see what we can get for it,” I agreed.

One gold chain was broken and three earrings were stuffed in a soft, purple, velvet bag, but there was only one of each. I suppose I’d lost their mates years ago. I doubted I would get much. The next morning, at the gold redemption place, a woman weighed my jewelry and when she told me she could give me $1,500 for the pieces, I nearly fainted. Another blessing!

I took some of that money and paid my nephew and his sons for their help over the past week. I used some of the money to ship home a few precious things, ones I couldn’t bear to give away. I discovered that for about fifteen dollars you can ship a large USPS Priority Mail box, regardless of the weight, and it will arrive at its destination in just two days. That saved me a lot versus paying the airline for baggage charges.

When I returned to California, I was ecstatic. I had stopped the storage fees, found new homes for my usable items, and had even made a few thousand dollars, after expenses, by selling the gold and the record albums.

As a senior citizen, living on a fixed income and making extra money by writing features for magazines, it can sometimes be tough making ends meet. When I look back at all those years I was paying storage fees, I think about how I could have used that money to help put some of my grandchildren through college. As I write this, I wonder: what took me so long?

~Dee Dee McNeil


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