I'm not a hoarder, if you judge me against the colorful characters featured on A&E's Hoarders. But I do have clutter issues. When you have one car and a two-car garage but your mode of transportation is always parked in the driveway, there’s a problem.
But as I recently discovered, it isn't easy to clean out a garage with a lifetime of accumulation, filled with everything from unnecessary cribs to a broken push lawn mower and dusty computer equipment. You can't just grab a broom and begin sweeping.
It's a process that can easily cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars if you hire a professional. If you’re intent on doing the job yourself, you’re looking at giving up a whole lot of time — and you know what they say about time and money.
"Cleaning out the garage is a spring cleaning ritual when millions of people see all the junk they've bought over the years," says Paul Golden, president of the National Endowment for Financial Education, a nonprofit dedicated to educating Americans about personal finance. “For many of these products, impulse spending was the main culprit.”
Fortunately, cleaning your garage is a little easier than it was for your parents and grandparents. Franchise businesses have popped up with the sole mission of helping people with the task and there are even apps that can offer an assist.
If you’re gearing up to tackle spring cleaning for your garage, here’s my guide to three alternative strategies, with the pros, cons and bottom line of each:
Hire a Professional
Pros Obviously, the big plus here is that you don't have to spend so much time doing all the work yourself; the pro can come in and simply remove everything that needs to go. You may have to first organize or sort your items if you don’t want to empty out the entire garage, but you’ll avoid the heavy lifting and filth.
The best-known national service is 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, a 24-year-old company that recycles most of what it removes. (The company says it has saved more than 2 billion pounds of junk from the landfill.) Two other national haulers (though they don’t necessarily offer pickups in every state) are College Hunks Hauling Junk and Junk King. You’re likely to find local or regional outfits in your area, too.
If you have aging parents with an out-of-control garage, it’s worth noting that the senior moving and relocation service, Caring Transitions, partners with 1-800-GOT-JUNK? to help families sell items and recoup some of the cost of the garage garbage removal.
Alternatively, you could have a professional organizer drop by your home and guide you through the cleanup, helping you decide what to toss and what to keep. There's some wisdom in this approach, because even if you hire a junk remover, you’ll first need to go through your mess to avoid throwing out the working riding lawn mower or great garden tools.
(MORE: How Much More Stuff Do We Really Need?)
You can find professional organizers through the National Association of Professional Organizers website, the directory on FindMyOrganizer.com, your local phone book or an Internet search.
Cons There’s really just one: the cost. The price for hiring a junk removal service varies widely and, complicating matters, many of these services won't give you an estimate until they show up to see what they'd be taking away.
Your tab will depend not only on how much stuff you have, but also what it weighs and how far you live from the junk hauler. More often than not, you can expect to pay a minimum of $100. But if you have a full truckload to cart away, expect to pay at least $500.
Professional organizers typically charge by the hour ($30 to $150, on average), although some bill by the project or offer a day rate. Again, it's impossible to pinpoint exactly how much you'll pay since the fee will be based on the amount of clutter and your location.
Bottom Line Junk haulers and organizers are great if you have the money and want your garage cleaned out quickly. If any of my books ever become best-sellers and my garage again looks anything like it does now, I’ll hire one of these pros.
Sell Your Junk Yourself
Pros With this strategy, you won’t spend money — you’ll make money.
You could hold a yard or garage sale or put your stuff up on eBay or Craigslist, especially if your junk isn't really junk at all, but just remnants of your earlier life. For instance, you might have moved into the garage a perfectly fine bookcase or cuckoo clock you no longer need.
I’ve stashed quite a few things like this in my garage, including an antique cabinet my ex-wife didn't like and a perfectly fine, but unnecessary, table.
As long as the cold weather or other natural elements haven't taken their toll on these belongings, you might find that other people will gladly pay for them.
(MORE: The Art of Shedding Possessions)
Craigslist and eBay will let you see what others are charging for goods similar to the ones you want to want to unload. Consult the guide on eBay to learn how much you’ll pay the company to sell there. Craigslist doesn’t charge to post items or take a cut of the price you get.
Cons Cleaning out your garage through a yard sale, eBay or Craigslist can take a lot of time.
But here’s a tip that could curb your need to hold a garage sale or at least reduce the number of items you put out: The free Rumgr.com app (for the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch) lets you snap and post photos of what you want to sell. Then, people in your community can see what you’ve got.
Last year, a CNET journalist described Rumgr.com by saying: "It could turn out to be the best thing to happen to garage sale goods ever."
The Rumgr.com people say the items that sell the fastest with its app are electronics, kitchen appliances, furniture, designer purses and jewelry, home décor and knickknacks, tools and baby equipment. What doesn’t sell as fast? Outdated toys, T-shirts and pants, watches, textbooks, magazines, DVDs and collectibles.
Bottom Line Selling your garage junk yourself is a wonderful route to take if you’re entrepreneurial or have time and patience.
Putting Your Garbage Out on the Street
Pros It's cheap or free, depending on how you pay for garbage pickup.
If you have hard-to-move items, like an old riding lawn mower, you may want to consult your sanitation company or town's sanitation department first to learn its rules for hauling away heavy garbage. You might be charged a special fee or find your garbagemen won’t take away the goods at all.
Where I live, I’d have to pay $10 to have a large item, like an old couch, taken away. Some towns have "cleanup week" where (sometimes for a charge, sometimes for free) residents are allowed to put out on the curb large items they want the town to pick up. Often, local scavengers come by to take them before the municipality does.
Your local utility might also take away, for free, any old appliances you have sitting in the garage. You might even get paid by the company. For instance, Duke Energy, the country's largest electric company, will pay $30 to cart off a customer's old refrigerator or freezer.
Cons Disposing of junk piecemeal week after week is the slow way to go. If you have a pressing need to empty your garage and don't want spring cleaning to stretch into summer, this probably isn’t your best strategy.
Bottom Line This is an inexpensive way of cleaning out your garage, but it can be time-consuming.
The important thing is to do something. Trust me on this: If you do nothing, you may find that mice have made a home in your cast-offs and will eventually decide to upgrade their living quarters into your house. So, one way or another, whether you clean your garage or not, it's going to cost you.
Geoff Williams has written for numerous media outlets including Next Avenue, Reuters and U.S. News & World Report. His nonfiction book, Washed Away: How the Great Flood of 1913, America's Most Widespread Natural Disaster, Terrorized a Nation and Changed It Forever hit the stores in February. His book, C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race, comes out in paperback in May.