There’s a scene I’ve come to expect when helping people declutter their homes: a client will finally make the decision to let an item go, only to insist that it can’t be put into the donation pile because they could sell it online and make back some of their money. While this sounds like a smart idea, it almost never actually happens. And when it does happen, clients often regret doing it. Here are some reasons why:
First of all, it’s a lot of annoying, difficult work. You need to set up the item in the right room with the right lighting and take a bunch of pictures until you think you’ve got a good shot. You have to draft the posting for it, possibly looking up specifications and details that you know will be important to potential buyers. If you don’t already have an account on the chosen site, you have to create one, potentially waiting several days for confirmation. Once your item is listed online, you have to answer questions, negotiate prices, arrange for pickup, or package and ship the item. Each individual task doesn’t sound that bad, but put together they are a lot of work. What’s worse, the work will be drawn out over several days or weeks.
Second, it’s expensive. Shipping costs money, not only in the materials to ship and the actual cost of shipping or postage, but in the time and effort to package and send items out. Even if you’re selling locally, you may end up having to drive to a specific meeting location to avoid giving your home address out to strangers.
Third, it’s probably not worth what you think it is. No one wants to buy a used item from a stranger for the same price as a new item from a store, which means you aren’t getting all your money back. Additionally, very few goods retain anything close to their original market value over time. The ones that do are high-end specialty or collectible items, like fine art, diving watches, and original Star Wars figurines.
Finally, you will almost never get enough money to make it worth it. To make selling an object worth doing, your profits need to be in excess of the cost of shipping plus the 2+ hours you personally spent making it happen. Even if you only value your time at about $15 an hour, we’re looking at $50 just to break even (and that’s assuming you’re not shipping something large or heavy). Which means you can really only count the money someone pays you in excess of that $50 as profit. Unless you are personally struggling a lot financially, anything you sell for less than $100 is unlikely to feel worth it.
So when IS it a good idea to sell things?
Here are a few factors that make selling items preferable to donating:
1) The items are high-end or luxury goods that are in good condition and are known for retaining their value
2) There is a collector’s market for this specific type of item (think Jackie Robinson’s rookie card, not “my grandma always said this type of china was very popular”)
3) You personally are used to selling things online, so you have your own eBay store already, you’ve got all your packing materials, and you’re confident in your ability to appraise your items correctly.
4) You have a lot high-quality items to sell, allowing you to batch the work and make the total setup cost worth it in the long-run. I would suggest a minimum of 10 items that you are positive will sell for more than $50 each. Being “positive” of your price means you’ve done research on what similar items have sold for.
If you are dead-set on selling an item, you have 30 days to get it out of your house. If you’ve been holding onto an item with the intention of selling, your 30 days starts now. If you can sell it in that time, great. If not, you need to donate it. If you’re trying to sneak around the system by saying that you have a big thing you’re working on right now and you couldn’t possibly focus on selling something until afterwards, then your due date is 30 days after whatever thing you listed as your excuse. Put it on your calendar. Busy with finals until April 3rd? Get it sold by May 3rd. Getting married and won’t be back from your honeymoon until July 20th? The stuff needs to be out of your house by August 19th. If you still want to hold onto it after that, try writing me an email explaining why you should get more time (firstname.lastname@example.org). See if you can get all the way to the send button before deciding you’d rather put it in the donation box.