I’ve posted previously about our liberating decision to start living with fewer possessions (The benefits of subtraction – the freedom and happiness gains of owning less). This has involved not only buying less, but also reducing the number of number of things we have in the house. Letting go of stuff is a process. Even when we are are ready emotionally to let things go, deciding what to do with the stuff is important.
What we’ve discovered in the process of decluttering and selling over 100 items in the last six months (in addition to everything we have donated or thrown away), is that the old adage “One man’s trash, is another man’s treasure” is true. We have managed to generate almost $7,000 in cash by selling unused and unwanted items including sporting equipment, comics, books, kids toys and some furniture. Old LEGO has been especially popular.
This wasn’t an emergency cash grab, but rather an intentional process of donating, selling and discarding superfluous stuff. Less physical clutter, creates more mental space and gratitude for the things we keep and value.
How to decide what to sell, donate or throw out as rubbish?
Firstly I think it is important to be realistic about what actually has value. Our assessment of what things have value changed over time and with experience. We better understood what items sold quickly and were in demand. We better understood where to pitch pricing to attract potential buyers and leave room to negotiate. Some things that we thought would attract lots of interest flopped miserably, either because they were overpriced or perhaps people just didn’t want them. Do your research, and just because you have emotional attachment to something doesn’t mean people will be willing to pay what you consider a fair price.
Your time also has value. Is the value generated worth the time and hassle involved in selling, packaging and shipping an item? We found that for things like clothes and kitchen items, it was simpler and better to donate to charity.
Things you donate should still be in good working condition and decent quality. Don’t give them your junk, as this creates more work for them as they will have to throw it out themselves. If in doubt, toss it out yourself.
If you are selling or donating items to charity, they get another life and don’t end up in landfill. Some clutter, however, is simply rubbish. Clear it up and get that junk out of your house. Keeping it is unnecessary and impinges on your physical and mental space.
Tips on selling your stuff
- Take clear, quality photos: It is worth taking some time in this step. Your photos attract customers, and if presented well, give people the confidence to click buy. Make sure your items are clean. Take the photo in good, uniform lighting with an uncluttered background. Also make sure to present the item honestly, including taking photos of any damage. Your photos (yes, have more than 1) need to provide potential buyers with all the visual information they need to make a decision. You want them excited about buying the item. You also want to ensure that they don’t have any excuses to back out of the sale when seeing the item in person. Think about being in their shoes, so present the item well, but also show any flaws. Your photos are key in managing expectations and ensuring you have happy buyers.
- Source missing items online: People typically don’t want broken or incomplete items. The kids’ old LEGO sets were consistently big sellers. Before listing them though, we checked that every piece was found and accounted for. Where a piece was missing, we ordered it from the official LEGO site at minimal cost. This took a lot of time but meant we could market the Lego sets as complete and also resulted in a number of repeat buyers because they trusted us as sellers. We could also ask for more money.
- Setting the price: This can be difficult to estimate and will ultimately depend on the item and its condition. In our family, we generally look after our things well, so, while used, they were in pretty good nick. Our starting point for determining value involved firstly looking at what the item sold for new and whether is is still available for purchase. Our rule of thumb was that it shouldn’t be sold used for more than 50% of that price. The exception to this was rule was for discontinued, and therefore rarer, items, which could be sold for more. Also consider up front whether you are willing to negotiate on price and add some extra margin in accordingly, because you will get lots of low ball offers.
- Understand your competition: A key question to ask is how your listing price compares with similar items, of similar quality being sold. A quick search on eBay provides a nice reality check. Check sold listings using the Advanced search option, so you understand what people are actually buying for, rather than what sellers hope they will buy for.
- Where to sell your items: We stuck primarily to Facebook Marketplace and local tag sale groups, which were great for local sales and cost nothing. We used eBay occasionally for items that were easy to post, but there are fees involved on eBay. There are obviously lots of other apps and website options. Some are category specific, some aren’t really marketplaces but rather resellers. It all depends on what you are selling, where you live, how much time you want to put into the process and what fees (listing / commission) you are prepared to pay. Our main driver for selling stuff was decluttering, rather than maximizing returns – although that was motivating and encouraging, once we got started! We decided to keep things simple and use platforms we knew were well known and had big audiences. Facebook Marketplace also didn’t charge if the item didn’t sell.
- Spend time on the listing: Your listing needs to include all the necessary information required for a potential buyer to make a decision. This includes measurements, condition, and identifying any damage.
- Get the listing title right: Make sure people can find what you are selling. Research and anticipate what they might type into Google or market place platform searches. The keywords you use are important! Clearly describe your item in the listing title, including its condition. Be as specific as possible, including any model identifiers. Make sure you post items in the correct category too.
- Consider when is the best time to list items: Research and experience suggests the best times to sell are typically weekends and if you are using an auction format try to make sure it ends on Sunday. We also found that when listing items, especially things like toys, it is best to do so in the lead up to a major holiday, like Christmas. Think about when there will demand for your stuff, especially for seasonal use items. For instance, there probably isn’t any point listing ice-skates in the middle of summer. The final consideration, when listing, is to consider your own availability. When will you be able to respond quickly to questions and be at home for pickup if you get an instant response to your listing?
- Decide whether the item will be Pick Up Only or if you are happy to Ship: For the majority of our stuff, we decided to sell locally. This meant our potential market was much smaller, but we also avoided the hassle of packaging and shipping the item. People could inspect the item before buying and we got cash in hand, without the stress of worrying about whether the item arrived safely or got damaged in transit. If we did post, we tended to stick to the USPS flat-rate boxes, so we could quote the shipping cost up-front and there is some insurance included.
- Communication is a priority: Part of our success was being hyper responsive. Getting back to people quickly is important. Sometimes these are impulse purchase or sometimes they are considering multiple sellers. Ultimately fast communication is good practice, as everyone appreciates their questions being answered promptly.
- Be patient: The last item we sold had been listed for a couple of months. To be honest we’d forgotten about it and then out of the blue we got an offer. Eventually buyers will come, if you have positioned your stuff realistically and present them well.
How to get the whole family on board and involved in the process of decluttering and selling unused stuff?
The first thing to say is that you can’t and shouldn’t force this. Lead by example and concentrate on your own unwanted things first. Show the benefits of decluttering and share your successes in selling or donating unused stuff.
For us, the process quickly became gamified. It was fun seeing how quickly things sold, sometimes within seconds of listing. My wife kept a jar of growing cash in the kitchen and shared our successes with the family each night over dinner. Things were flying out the door and it was an exciting process, not a traumatic one.
Eventually the kids asked what they could get rid of too. As well as unused stuff in their rooms, we had a lot of their old toys and LEGO in the basement. They embraced the family decluttering process and appreciated the extra space it created. Getting money for things they didn’t want anymore, or knowing certain items were going to charity, helped too.
Minimalism and the benefits of this decluttering process go beyond the money raised
Our family is trying to live simpler and more fulfilled lives. The last six months have seen us donate bags and bags of goods to charity, and as noted above, also sell over 100 unwanted items for almost $7,000.
The biggest benefit though, is the example we are setting for our kids. Having less stuff has allowed us move into a much smaller home and spend less time cleaning, organizing and maintaining our possessions. It has highlighted for everyone that personal belongings are not the key to happiness. Having got rid of so much, we are all much more conscious about bringing more things back in, also helping towards our aspiration of financial independence. All in all, it has been a great process.
Thanks for reading
Mr Simple Life