One of my guilty pleasures is the TV show Hoarders, which shows professionals trying to help people who’ve buried themselves under an avalanche of stuff. It’s generally not pleasant viewing, and hoarding is a very real mental health disorder that can’t be cured with four days of tough love and a dumpster.
One of the types you see on the show is the person with delusions that all of their garbage has value, that one day they will sell it and recoup all the money wasted buying it. Economists call this the “sunk cost fallacy.” Once you buy something, very rarely can you sell it for more than you paid, despite what you think it’s worth.
Most of us aren’t hoarders (though the show claims 19 million Americans are). But almost all of us have things in our closet, our basement, our garages that we aren’t using but that DO have value. And if you find yourself having a cash crunch, or are just tired of full storage, do yourself a favor and sell it. I’m betting that if you’re an average American, you can make at least $500 in a week or two.
This is especially true if you’re paying for storage. Listen, if you’ve got stuff in storage, the likelihood is that you don’t need it, and probably never will.
There are a few easy ways to lighten your load that can benefit your bottom line.
Craigslist / eBay / OfferUp, etc.
If your item is in good shape, sell it online. You can reach a huge audience with eBay, or restrict it to just your neighborhood. I sell online, and one of the things I like most about it, aside from the money (which can be minimal), is knowing that my extra stuff is going to an eager buyer. Someone who buys an item online, even for only a few bucks, is probably going to really enjoy that bike part or book, and I like that. You need to describe your item really well, and take good photos. But once you do it a few times, the process becomes pretty easy. I find that sometimes I think something that won’t sell does, and for good money. Other things I think are pretty nice will sit and sit. Don’t take it personally. The market is telling you what your item is worth, and it may be very little.
If you have something really nice, a consignment shop can be a good option. They take a big cut of the sale price, but the process is generally painless. Again, I will caution that having a stranger give you a price for your treasured items can be a little tough sometimes, but these people are professionals, so trust their judgement.
Yard / Garage / Tag Sales
If you have a lot of stuff, and want to get it all out in one big push, have a yard sale. I’ve had a few, and am always surprised at how there are buyers out there for pretty much everything. You won’t get top dollar at a yard sale, but the items also don’t need to be in pristine condition like they do online or at a consignment shop. A little bargaining is expected, and can be part of the fun. But my motto is: No reasonable offer refused.
If it doesn’t sell online, or at a yard sale, consider donating. The economic benefit to you is generally just relieving yourself of unwanted items, and feeling good about helping a charity. You may also get a tax deduction if you itemize your taxes, so save that receipt. One of the fun things for me when donating is browsing the thrift store; I often find a gadget or piece of clothing I can use.
Selling is Only Half the Battle
A couple final notes. First, I find that getting rid of old stuff to be really satisfying. It may seem a little weird or awkward at first, but it makes me feel free. Second, and most importantly, if you’re selling for extra cash, another important place to look for money is by not buying in the first place. A penny saved really is a penny earned. Many of us use shopping as a leisure activity, or to relieve stress, or as therapy. Don’t. Go for a hike. Have a dinner party. A great way to reduce spending is to institute a 7-day rule for small purchases, and a 30-day rule for large ones: if you want to buy it, wait; if you still want it after the waiting period, go for it. Economic research (like this article from Prudential) shows that people who spend their money on experiences like travel, or on friends, or a charity, have a MUCH higher satisfaction than people who just buy stuff. So use your hard-earned money wisely, and in a way that will bring you the most happiness.