Advice for Cleaning up During a Pandemic

Posted April 10, 2020


Stay-at-home orders in effect since March 23 have left many of us with unexpected time on our hands to obsess over the news, catch up on tv or movies, or maybe take control over one of the few things we can in this time of uncertainty: getting rid of items we no longer want or need.


Haven’t started decluttering yet? Our efforts to flatten the infection curve are paying off, but it looks like we won’t be going anywhere for a while, so there’s still time. Anne Blumer, owner of SolutionsForYou, Inc., and Hillsdale resident, notes that there are often two obstacles to successful decluttering.


The first is getting tripped up by the ‘keep’ or ‘let go’ decision-making process. As you consider whether to get rid of an item, try to separate the emotion from the object. “If you are having trouble making a decision, go with your first thought, 'keep’ or ‘don’t keep’ ” Blumer advises. Taking longer to think about each item allows more time for emotions to creep in, often resulting in more 'keep’ than ‘don’t keep’ decisions.


Feeling overwhelmed and can’t even get started? This is the second common obstacle--don’t let it put an end to your aspirations for a newly tidied space! Blumer suggests taking a day to get organized before diving in: Set up a space to sort your items (a table makes it easier if you have papers to sort). Gather supplies (bins, boxes, bags for trash, post-it notes and markers). Find the step ladder for reaching high items, locate gloves and mask (maybe you even have a stylish home-sewn one at this point) if you will be working in a dusty or dirty space. Will you have a lot to throw away? Order a dumpster or arrange for a rubbish hauler.


Once you’ve identified all the things you don’t want anymore, what do to do with them? Garbage and recycling are easy, as Metro, the agency in charge of Portland’s waste management, says there will be no disruptions to curbside pick-up and the Waste Transfer Station remains open. Unfortunately, social distancing and the mandatory closing of non-essential businesses have made it much harder to dispose of the contents of your attic, garage, or junk drawer that are not obviously garbage or recyclable.


Goodwill and Community Warehouse donation facilities are closed as are all the reuse resources on Metro’s list, along with consignment stores. Metro’s paint and hazardous material collections are temporarily closed. In normal times, Facebook Marketplace or CraigsList are good bets for selling your stuff, and FreeCycle and Buy Nothing can help connect people and free goods, but best social distancing practices and restrictions on non-essential travel put those options into the “file for later use” category.


Here are some options still available:

  • Curbside garbage and recycling

  • Garbage and recycling at Metro Waste Transfer Facilities (go to Metro’s Recycling and Garbage page for information on what’s accepted, hours, and fees )

  • GiveBack Box: free shipping, items donated to charities, cardboard boxes recycled. (Their label download link doesn’t work at this writing, but an email to them confirmed that they are accepting donations and included pre-paid shipping labels)

  • Transition Projects is a local non-profit that helps people transition from homelessness to housing in the Portland metro area. Their website says they are currently in need of donations of clothing and hygiene items.

  • Thredup Clean-Out Kit: They send you a package that you fill with items and send back. Right now if you choose a donation kit, Thredup donates $15 to Feeding America.


For now, the best option for reusable items such clothing, books, furniture, home appliances, etc., according to April Doll of Unstuff Organizing, is to store reusable items in labelled bags or boxes until donation centers open up again. As she says, “Not ideal, but still one step closer to getting those items out of your house.”


Need organization ideas? Here's what Anne Blumer has been working on while at home these past few weeks. She says it's surprising how little time it takes to do each of these projects, although they may seem challenging:


  • Scan personal paperwork, then shred.

  • Buy a fire-proof safe to store all important papers and vital records.

  • Document home improvements (receipts, etc.) for reducing capital gain when it comes time to sell.

  • Make a photo album to document home improvement projects.

  • Work with an attorney to update your will or create a trust.


Blumer shares: "I have one more on my list: I want to organize, chronologically, the cards and love letters my husband and I have shared with each other over the years. Right now they are in two separate boxes, those I gave to him and those he gave to me."

--Valeurie Friedman