Here’s what none of my clients wants to hear: You won’t get rich selling your stuff. But you will be able to get rid of clutter. That, after all, is what really matters. By keeping that ultimate objective top of mind, you can be done with the business of selling your overflow possessions and get on with the business of living.
The options for selling your possessions are numerous. I’ll go through the most important ones that I use.
Local online sales sites
The “for sale” classifieds in local newspapers have long since migrated to regional online listing sites such as Craigslist, Nextdoor, OfferUp or Facebook Marketplace (my personal favorite due to the high traffic volume). For all items that will sell for less than about $5,000, as well as for bulky items like furniture or fitness machines that can’t be packed up and shipped easily or cheaply, I turn first to these sites.
Be sure to search prospective buyers’ profiles to determine their trustworthiness. You can receive payment electronically and even organize pickup without coming face-to-face with the buyer.
Classified ads in local newspapers can seem an obvious way to sell possessions directly and quickly. My issue is that while they seem inexpensive, you have to wonder what you’re getting for that money. The local readership may be easier to reach in other ways.
Consignment shops can be worthwhile for selling clothing. You can make a good amount of money quickly by emptying an overstuffed closet and consigning all the clothes you’ll never wear again, or with those boxes and boxes of baby outfits in the attic that were worn only a couple of times. Vintage clothing does especially well on consignment.
I used to suggest that clients sell nice furniture at a consignment shop, but those days have passed. Most places don’t have enough foot traffic or an online presence to get your bigger or more valuable stuff the amount of exposure that would lead to a decent sales price. Shop owners usually have to move items as quickly as possible to make whatever money they can and free up room.
Over my 20-plus years in the business, consignment sales have consistently declined. What you’ll earn for your hassle (delivering the item and checking in regularly to see if it sold) is rarely worth what you’ll make on the sale.
People are sometimes surprised that I’m not opposed to pawnshops. They are tightly regulated, and most are reputable. With pawnshops, you get cash for an item and you’re done with it. Remember that your primary goal is to save time; your secondary goal is to profit financially.
This option can be a good outlet for specific categories of items. For example, you would think that jewelry is a natural for a pawnshop sale, but pawnbrokers tend to grossly undervalue jewelry. Ultimately, silver and gold jewelry is usually melted down, and the pawnbroker is looking for the best price per ounce. He or she is unlikely to consider the value of a vintage Tiffany piece. On the other hand, musical instruments (especially guitars), watches and firearms are hot items in pawnshops. Be ready to negotiate to get the best price for any item you take to a pawnshop.
Auctioning an item makes sense if it is worth a reasonable amount on the open market. Your 10-year-old leather ottoman? Not auction material. A grandfather clock? Perfect. I prefer local auction houses that have an online component; that way sellers get the maximum exposure for large items and reach their target audience.
EBay is an auction website that best serves commercial sellers who deal in new or collectible stuff and buy or sell as part of an ongoing business. I have found it a less effective marketplace for declutterers, who may only need it once.
I’m not a fan. I was responsible for downsizing my grandparents’ Colorado mountain home in 2002 and opted for an estate sale. Not even 100 people showed up during the entire day. I felt like a kid who invites everyone from class to his birthday party and hardly anyone comes.
At an estate sale, you’re dealing with local shoppers who are there to get the best bargain possible. I sometimes tell my clients, “You’re just having a yard sale indoors.”
Yard and garage sales
There is one good thing about a yard sale: Sometimes someone arrives at the end and makes an offer on everything. It will be a low offer, no doubt, but it’s a great way to remove everything you don’t want.
Otherwise, a yard sale sucks up time and effort. It usually takes about 50 hours to set up and execute. Estimating that your time is worth $20 an hour, that’s $1,000 worth of your time.
But if downsizing leaves you with a huge number of smaller items that retain a reasonable amount of perceived value (“perceived” by the person on the street, not you), a yard sale may be a decent option.
The trick is to make transactions as easy as possible. Still, yard and garage sales should be a last resort.
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