First, a confession: I’m a huge offender when it comes to useless stuff. Our garage in chock-full of too-small bicycles, kid-friendly wagons, snow paraphernalia and Christmas decorations that have long since been updated and replaced.
Then there’s our unfinished basement, filled with old furniture, well-used but outgrown kid toys, reptile tanks and accessories (Yes, we were the owners of four lizards and a snake at the same time) and lots of bursting-at-the-seams boxes full of my late parents’ old stuff. China, crystal and collectibles — all worth a pretty penny to the right buyer — and certainly not ready for the trash heap.
Though I haven’t cleared out the house yet, I’ve done a ton of research on my options. I will get there.
But until I’m ready (which is soon, according to my husband), why don’t you take advantage of all I’ve learned.
Do as I say, not as I do.
Here are 10 tips on how to not suck at getting rid of junk.
1. Don’t do it all at once
Set a timeline to go through your old stuff. Telling yourself you can do it all in a couple of sittings is probably very unrealistic.
And that will make the task a job, and an unpleasant one, at that.
Book your time on your calendar over the course of several weeks (depending on how much stuff you have), and have specific goals for each session. Then divide your basement, garage or whatever living space has the junk, and schedule exactly what you plan to hit at any given time.
2. No maybes — only yes or no
Before you tackle a single item, pledge to make a yes or no decision about everything. There are no “maybe” items. (That’s probably part of the reason you’ve accumulated so much; thinking you may need it again someday. If you’re like me, you’re probably mistaken.)
As you go through your stuff, take photos. You may want them later if you plan to sell your items (see No. 4 below).
Also, if you have any high value items, considering getting a professional appraisal. You’ll need it if you plan to deduct any big-ticket donations on your tax return, and it can help you set an appropriate selling price.
3. The garage sale option
If you’re willing to put up with nosy neighbors and you’re not intimidated by negotiating, you can make a pretty penny by selling your stuff at a garage sale. (Apartment dwellers, you can do this too.)
But the truth is, it’s a lot of work. If you take the plunge:
• Start prepping for your sale months in advance. Try to organize your stuff in categories, and put a price tag on each and every item.
• Use boxes, coat racks, tables or blankets on the floor to display your items and make them easy for customers to see.
• Advertise via signs on local high traffic roads a few days before your sale, and look into online yard sale listing services.
• Ask a few friends or family members to help, including a few muscle-heads for security and heavy lifting.
• Don’t put out items you’re not sure you want to sell. (See No. 2)
• Be sure to have lots of small change and petty cash, and protect your cashbox at all times.
• Offer a “free” box with giveaway items. Shoppers will be more likely to browse around if they feel they might get something (else) for nothing.
• Have a policy for “early birds,” those people who show up hours or even a day or so ahead of time, hoping to strike a killer deal. Post a sign saying “Prices are doubled for pre-8am shoppers.”
• Negotiate. Don’t intentionally overprice your goods, and be prepared for bargaining. Everyone feels better if they think they’re getting a deal. Plus, if you’re really trying to get rid of your stuff, will a couple of bucks really make a difference? Consider offering a discount for shoppers who buy multiple items.
• Watch out for scammers. Perhaps one member of a criminally-minded tag team will try to distract you while the other shoplifts. Also, never let anyone into your home, no matter how much they desperately need to pee. Even if you escort them inside, it’s possible a ne’er-do-well is casing your house for a future unwelcome visit. Direct them to the nearest fast food joint instead.
If you don’t want to go it alone, ask your neighbors if they’d like to participate with a block sale. Or use the multi-family idea as a fundraising pitch for your kid’s sports team or school. Whatever stuff is left over after the sale, donate.
4. Posting online
When my parents passed away, we were able to sell a lot of quality furniture items through listings services like Craigslist, where you can post a description and a photo of the item. You can do the same through sites like eBay and Amazon.
This can be time consuming if you have a lot to sell, and you still have to watch out for scammers.
Freecycle (freecycle.org) is a network where you can post items you want to give away for free. Takers would make arrangements with you to pick up items. This might be an attractive option for those of you who are eco-friendly and want to keep your stuff out of landfills.
6. Go local
Contact local organizations to see if they might be interested in a donation of your items. Assisted living facilities, for example, may be interested in your books, electronics or gently-used furniture (but check under the cushions first). Day care centers and pre-schools might want your kids toys.
7. Donate to charity
Many charities take all kinds of items. Some distribute to the needy, while others may sell your items to make cash for the charity.
Contact your charity of choice to see what kinds of items they’re willing to take. Some will even come to your home to pick up the donations.
And remember, don’t give away stuff you personally wouldn’t want to wear (just toss those stained shirts and holy pants) and any really ratty furniture. If you wouldn’t want to use it, don’t assume someone else will just because they’re less fortunate.
Finally, don’t forget to get a receipt so you can get a tax deduction.
8. Other ways to sell
Or if you have some oldies-but-goodies, consider visiting an antique dealer (but remember to have an independent appraisal to make sure you know the true value of your items). And you can always try a pawn shop.
9. Free at the curbside
If you simply want to get rid of stuff, place it near the curb with a “Free!” sign. You’d be surprised what passers-by will pick up.
10. Toss it
When you’ve exhausted all your selling and donation possibilities, or if an item is not worth giving away, just toss it.
If you have massive amounts of stuff and you’re willing to pay a little, consider calling a junk removal service to help.
Have a topic you’d like to see covered in How To Not Suck? Or maybe you’re an expert who would like to share your insight with Consumerist readers? Send us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can read Karin Price Mueller’s stories for The Star-Ledger at NJ.com, follow her on Facebook, and on Twitter @kpmueller.
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