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Cash in on spring cleaning

© / Wendell Franks © / Wendell Franks

By Andrew Housser

Something about the arrival of spring and the promise of sunshine often encourages people want to organize and tidy up their lives. This year, do not focus your spring cleaning efforts solely on chores like cleaning window screens and wiping down baseboards. Here are six ways that purging and organizing clutter can boost both your mood and your finances

Make money. In any room in your home, you are bound to find belongings that you rarely (if ever) use, whether it's a lamp you don't like, books collecting dust or racks of barely worn clothing. Determine which items are sellable at a yard sale, a consignment shop, or online at a site such as eBay or Craigslist. Donate the rest. While you will not make money from a donation, you can earn a tax deduction. Use an online guide such as the one provided by Goodwill to determine the estimated fair market value of your donations. Remember to write down the value immediately and save the receipt for tax-filing purposes.

Save on late fees. Nearly a quarter of people pay bills late because they misplace the bill, according to a Harris Interactive poll. Signing up for electronic statements and online automatic payments is the best way to keep this from happening. You also can sign up for payment reminders via sites like WhatBills?. To keep track of bills that arrive in the mail, open all mail immediately. Then set up an accordion folder with slots for "to pay" and "for taxes." Make it a practice to go through these documents weekly, review your finances and pay bills.

Organize receipts. It can be more than frustrating to be stuck with a purchase you do not want because you cannot find the receipt to return it and get your money back. Try a smartphone application like Shoeboxed to photograph your receipts and then store and categorize them digitally. You can even tag the receipts as reimbursable or deductible for tax purposes. If you prefer to hang onto paper, designate another slot in the above-mentioned accordion folder for receipts.

Cut food costs. Americans waste 25 percent of the food they buy, according to a report from the Natural Resources Defense Council. For a family of four, that amounts to an average of somewhere between $1,365 and $2,275 a year. While cleaning out your kitchen pantry, take stock of items you have on hand and write these down so you can use up food on hand and avoid buying unneeded multiples. Group similar items together so they are easy to see. Check expiration dates, and try to use up foods before they go bad.

Stop splurging. Paring down to only the things that you truly want, need and use can provide insight into frivolous ways. Perhaps you do not really need 50 pairs of shoes or five pairs of black pants. Or maybe your obsession with certain collectibles has gotten out of hand. The next time you are tempted by a purchase, stop and think about the bags of clothing and housewares that you gave away. Before you buy, ask yourself if you really need the item and whether you will put it to good use – or if you would rather have the feeling of freedom from debt or the ability to save for retirement or a paid-off vacation.

Protect your home. When you begin decluttering, start an inventory of your valuables that you would want to have replaced or be reimbursed for in the event of a theft, fire or other home damage. (It is a good idea to take photos of items as well.) This will make things easier should you ever need to file an insurance claim. Store this list outside of your home, such as in a safe deposit box, or use a smartphone application to link photos and descriptions. Update the list any time you make a big purchase.

It might be called spring cleaning, but to stay on top of things, it's a great idea to do a clean sweep of your home each season. Letting things slide for too long can cost more than you might think.


Andrew Housser is a co-founder and CEO of, a free one-stop online portal where consumers can educate themselves about personal finance issues and compare financial products and services. He also is co-CEO of Freedom Financial Network, LLC providing comprehensive consumer credit advocacy and debt relief services. Housser holds a Master of Business Administration degree from Stanford University and Bachelor of Arts degree from Dartmouth College.
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