Decluttering 101: To Sell or Not to Sell

Lately, I’ve received several emails from readers who are anxious to declutter their stuff. The problem: they don’t know whether to cart it to the charity shop, or painstakingly sell it piece by piece.

Oh, I’ve been there.

I know just how you feel: gazing at your mountain of discards, and seeing all the dollars that should be in your bank account. Hoping you can recoup even a fraction of the cost, to make up for your mistakes. Dreading the weeks (or months) of photographing your items, writing descriptions of them on eBay, answering emails about them, and hunting down boxes to ship them out.

And conversely…feeling the temptation to just pile it all in the car, unload it at Goodwill, and return home to a freshly decluttered space.

So what did I do? Well, a lot of both, actually.

In my early minimalist days, I was a fervent eBay seller. In fact, purging my stuff became a second job—I’d come home from work, power up my laptop, and patiently chip away at my pile of castoffs. It took a little over a year (yes, a year), but I sold three-quarters of my clothes, shoes, books, collectibles, and household décor.

My stuff didn’t disappear overnight—but I became a better minimalist because of it.

Why? Because in the following years, the threat of “having to sell something on eBay” loomed over me whenever I set foot in a store. My auction extravaganza had left me burnt out, with little desire to ever list another item. I was reluctant to buy anything I wasn’t sure I’d keep forever—because when I did slip up, I made myself pay for it. Ebay became my penance for ill-considered purchases.

For me, the mere thought of eventually selling a purchase on eBay was a powerful deterrent to shopping. Crazy, perhaps—but it kept my wallet full and my closets empty. :)

Fast forward to our overseas move: my husband and I had four weeks to whittle down a 3-bedroom household to two duffel bags. While we owned much less than most, we still had way more than we could carry to the airport.

We started off selling things on Craigslist, determined to extract some cash from the furniture, tools, electronics, garden equipment, and housewares we’d accumulated over the years. However, as our departure date neared, our generosity surged. We threw open our doors, invited all takers, and gave away our possessions with abandon—to friends, family, neighbors, colleagues, charities, and strangers on the street.

It didn’t make us any richer; but boy, was it exhilarating!

So, to sell or not to sell – that is your question, and here’s my advice:

If you have the time and inclination, give eBay a whirl. A little hassle is not necessarily a bad thing, and can actually be conducive to your long-term minimalism. But to save your sanity, I recommend the following:

  • Set a minimum threshold. In other words, sell only stuff that’ll net over a certain dollar amount (whether that’s $10, $20, or $50 is up to you). Make sure the reward is worth the effort.
  • Don’t expect to make a fortune. Start the bidding at the minimum you’ll accept, and regard anything higher as a bonus.
  • Limit the time. If an item doesn’t sell within 7 days, for example, send it to the donation pile. (Give only particularly valuable items a second chance).
  • Use Craigslist for large, heavy, and fragile items. Don’t waste your time and money on elaborate packaging or expensive shipping services.

Alternatively – if you don’t have the time, don’t need the money, and don’t feel compelled to suffer for your sins:

  • Be generous. Donate the things you don’t want; your discards may bring a great deal of joy to someone else! Consider it a wonderful chance to “do good” with your decluttering.

In summary: don’t let financial guilt bring your decluttering to a halt. Either grit your teeth and get thee on eBay—or support a good cause and move on with your life.

When your resolve wavers, ask yourself this: what’s more valuable, your stuff or your space?

Have you struggled with this dilemma? Let us know in the Comments.

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

84 comments to Decluttering 101: To Sell or Not to Sell

  • whisper

    I discovered (over the course of a few years) that no matter how good the intentions my partner or I had, we were never actually going to get around to selling the pricier “good stuff”. So now used books, cds and DVDs are taken to the appropriate used stuff store, and if they don’t want them then Goodwill is the next stop. More expensive things may go in a box for our church’s annual auction, or are offered to friends and family (I offloaded two Hummels I’d been intending to sell for at least 5 years to a friend who collects them, brighting both our lives). But if I can’t find a home for it in short order, Goodwill gets it!

  • Very timely post for me as well. Was thinking of starting to post items on Craigslist, but I’m debating if my TIME is worth it? I’ve had good luck with Freecycle in the past, quick pick ups, etc. and what doesn’t go heads out the door to the thrift store.

  • Jen

    In the past few years I’ve unloaded a lot of my possessions on friends, at Goodwill, consignment shops (Beacon’s Closet in Brooklyn is great) and I’ve also sold a ton of books, CDs and DVDs on Amazon. For Amazon, I first check what the used copies are selling for and usually only list them if the price is over $3 (otherwise they’re off to Goodwill). Amazon does take a cut of the profits but in my experience it is worth is to reach a large audience of buyers. Profits are deposited into your checking account. If you have a smart phone you can download a free Amazon app that lets you scan barcodes, which speeds up the process of going through your bookshelves. It has been a very long process but it was nice to get some money back in exchange for a less clutter-filled space!

  • Chelsey

    I only became a minimalist last year, just as high school was ending. As a seventeen year old, I had not accumulated that much as I only owned clothes and toys, rather than all the trappings of an entire household, so when it came time to deal with my excess possesions there wasn’t actually that much. A lot went straight to Vinnes as they weren’t worth the effort of selling, but my mum convinced me to sell some more expensive items I intended to give away. I think she remembered how much they cost her to buy me. I painstakingly took photos of all my mini castles and all the tiny figurines that came with them, but I never put them on line. For me I didn’t see the returns being worth the effort so I ended up giving them to neighbours and friends. The satisfaction of making friends smile ended up being worth more to me then a little extra cash.

  • Simple Zen

    Thanks for cheering me up Francine. Today I’m suffering from overwhelm.

    I paid good money for this stuff and now it’s worth next to nothing. Your right, I now consider how I’ll get rid of stuff before I buy.

    A Brilliant book by the way. I read it straight through twice.

  • Shasta

    I’ve been reading this blog for the past month, and I’m hooked. I have read posts and comments straight thru from the beginning, and it’s amazing the decluttering progress I’ve made! I had so many nice, new things that just didn’t work in my new place since I moved a few months ago, not to mention other stuff I’d bought but not needed along the way. (No way I was giving it up before the move “just in case.”) I made a big trip to the Salvation Army and held onto the “better stuff” that would probably sell quickly, but I didn’t want to leave it sitting in my house. So for the past 2 weeks I’ve ridden around in my rav4 with the seats down in the back, carting a carload of my “better stuff” around town with me until I knew what to do with it. I was thinking consignment, but wouldn’t commit. Every time I’d get in my car, I’d laugh out loud! Ridiculous! Yesterday on my way to work I heard on the radio a news story about the good that the Salvation Army does for our community, and I said aloud, “That’s all I needed to hear.” No more selfish behavior, which was the cause for the accumulation to begin with. The cycle stops now. So I’ll be making the drop after work this Monday, and now that the decision is made, I already feel lighter! The smiles on others’ faces at the deal they’ll find, and the joy of knowing those less fortunate will be benefited by the funds the thrift store will receive, is worth more than the few bucks I would make by somehow selling it myself. Thank you for reinforcing this with another great post, Francine!

  • Recently back to minimalism, we are right where this post is. I’m owning the statement “don’t feel compelled to suffer for my sins” and am just going to give it all away. That’s a big relief!

  • Lolly

    Just wanted to say that when I discovered this blog and read your book, I did not know how much my life would change for the better. Thank you so much for all your hard work.
    Also, I listed something on Ebay for the first time the other day and it was a real pain! No more purchasing junk :)

  • runi

    On the other hand, if you keep a summary of the pricier items you have donated in your wallet when you shop, your spending will decrease.

  • susanna eve

    fabulous post on a subject that faces everybody who is decluttering/downsizing etc. I have struggled with this. I have not been having very good luck trying to sell any of my books. I have been giving away stuff for the most part. I try to give toys and kids books to people I know will use them. Don’t forget about barter or trading if there is something you need to get, there may be somebody out there who wants something you want to get rid of in exchange for the item you need.

  • Maurs

    Carboot sales are a great way to get rid of stuff all in one go. (I’m aware these are not a thing in the states, but ye do have garage/yard sales!!). I’m not a natural minimalist so I getting cash for your clobber is a great way of ‘letting go’.

    Anyway, I was so frustrated at the lack of carboot sales in the west of Ireland that I organised a charity one to raise money for a local kids club I worked with. I also sold at it and made a few bob myself. Not only did the sellers make money but the price of the ‘pitch’ went to the club. In the last few years we’ve made a couple of grand for the club! I only organise one a year, but folk are so desperate to get rid of their junk that I still get calls and enquiries regarding the ‘next one’ all year round!!!

    • Sinead

      I do find that information really helpful,
      I’m emigrating in March 2013, I have a lot of stuff to sell, I have really good stuff, for example, clothes, shoes, boots, jewellery, books, household requirement. I live in a rented house, I have no space. I would give a lot of my stuff to charity but I need the money.
      In the past I have advertised on ‘on and gone’ ‘buy and sell’ etc. and had a car boot sale, it cost me more to do this than to sell anything. As I had to hire a van,
      I bought a brand new marquee for the backyard, and I had to pay someone to put it up and then take it down.
      What I’m looking for is someone to come to the house, take everything I don’t want and sell it for me. If you don’t provide this service could you direct me somewhere please?

  • Karen T.

    My oldest daughter was recently married, and wanted some of the furniture we were getting rid of (a dresser, a bed frame, the table and chairs from our kitchen). Eventually she will want to replace those with items of her own choice/style, so I told her to sell them or give them to a friend or the Salvation Army when that time comes.

    I’ve found that the whole yard sale/ebay thing is way more trouble than it is worth to me; I would rather just give things to the Salvation Army. Someone may need or want what I wasted money on, and the proceeds are used to make an important difference in people’s lives. Shasta is right — it’s selfish behavior that caused me to accumulate so much to begin with, so the unselfishness of just giving it away seems to be an antidote to that type of thinking. No more will I worry about the value of stuff! It’s valuable if I need it and use it all the time, or if it makes me smile when I see it (photos and some artwork), or if it’s helped change my life (a few books I reread every year or two, which will probably include your book, Francine). Otherwise it has NO value to me, and I’m not going to worry about getting money for it! This new attitude is totally freeing!

  • Vicki

    My family and I are planning on moving to Canada as soon as we sell our home. I have been ready to purge most of our stuff for a while now, my husband however is not convinced. We have decided to get rid of at least half and that’s a good compromise for both of us. I would love to just have Goodwill pull thier truck into the driveway and fill it up – however, with such an expensive move, every dollar we can bring in matters. We are planning to have an estate sale once the house is under contract and our goal is $2000. which will put a big dent in our moving costs. We’re taking that one shot and whatever doesn’t sell is going to charity.

  • […] of bags of decent quality items to take to the charity shop. As a side-note, even before reading Miss Minimalist’s fantastic article on ‘Decluttering 101 – To Sell or Not To Sell&… I’d made up my mind to not worry about selling any of […]

  • I use Craig’s List for big household items and my local outdoor flea market for everything else. I use the winter months to go through my house and come summer I pack up my van and go for ONE day or ONE weekend. Whatever doesn’t sell goes straight to a local donation center, before I go home. Last summer I made 1400.00 in a day and a half. That’s not including my CL sales.

    I still have much more to go, as I’m an artist/crafter with lots of supplies to unload. The best I can do is to focus streamline my studio with exactly the materials I have an attraction to. I’m getting there.

  • Patti

    I have so little motivation to sell OR donate my stuff that I find myself ENVYING those who lost all their possessions to fire (or flood). Sad huh?

    Most of them were families with kids too; why couldn’t their homes have been spared and my stuff wiped away, so that (1) I don’t have to deal with it one way or the other, (2) I don’t have to clutter other people’s lives with my mistakes?

    Right now I am seriously looking into the logistics of emptying the contents of my apartment in a pile, in an empty barren lot out in the middle of the desert, and set fire to it all. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, and I am free forever…

  • […] Miss Minimalist was there to pull me out with this post.  As she described her battle with the Ebay dragon, I couldn’t help but feel as though I could […]

  • I just linked to your blog from mine. I love what you have to say!

    In my own way, I am trying to live minimally. I just keep going through my stuff, over and over, always with the goal of getting rid of a few more things! I volunteer with a group that does consignment sales to raise money for a non-profit that benefits the community. That is where all of my stuff goes – good riddance!

  • linda

    I can see this blog was started awhile ago but it has helped me so much today. Glad to know I’m in good company with this de cluttering nightmare. I’ve been at it seriously for months and have made progress but there’s still more to get rid of. I start and stop. I’m in a small townhouse with very little storage and am going quietly crazy will all the stuff. I could certainly use the extra cash to sell items but my mental state is screaming at me to just give it away. Must say that since I started I have made no new insignificant purchases knowing I’ll have to dispose of it later on. This means no credid card bills.. yahoo! I’m getting my freedom and I love the feeling. Thanks to all who shared their stories.

  • Jess

    I have been decluttering for a long time now and I still struggle with the sell or donate question. I am wasting my time with indecisiveness. Selling my items would just be an attempt to feel better about the original pointless purchase. It takes too long. I am going to do as mentioned in an earlier post and just keep a mental summary of the items donated and hope that it deters future useless spending. Donating is easier with items I’ve purchased than with gifts given to me. The sentimental side of me complicates things. I am going to look for a face to donate my belongings to though, instead of just dropping of at Goodwill. Seeing a smile would make it all so much easier.

  • BD

    Growing up from humble beginings I collected a few things (GI Joe, baseball collectables, certain toys and books). When I start making a living college, I could buy a few more things. How cool it was…then you get married and start a family. Well I could still buy things but on a smaller scale. Finally, I realized after cleaning out some stuff …its time to donate to a sale to raise money for missions and worth causes. I would not buy to replace any of this stuff. It was great memories but I am finally letting go. My time is more valuable than ebay. I thought about my young ones but they have minimal interest in what I liked and this new generation is so interested in grown up technology. My neighbors have the same problem so they rent storage space for their collectables. My kids reminded me…why would anyone collect books when you can uploading to an e-reader.

  • […] Decluttering 101: To Sell or Not To Sell: http://www.missminimalist.com/2011/02/decluttering-101-to-sell-or-not-to-sell/ […]

  • Red Cent

    This seems to assume that everything most of us have is pretty much junk. It does not address the obviously more expensive items for which there is a probably some market. Witness the extensive exquisite sets of china, crystal, and sterling silver, and diamond jewelry that some of us didn’t buy, but inherited. I’ll never use it, but I’m not willing to donate that sort of thing to good will, for pete’s sake. Was hoping for better suggestions than the obvious. The useful, but not worth a whole lot, items will be given to locals in need. The other, sheesh .. some direction and help would be good here!

  • Tina

    I loved your column about the fantasy life. I gave away a lot of craft items and I’m currently filling a bag with gravy boats and other pieces of china I will never use. I also have some silver plate trays which are the smaller ones left after I sold the larger ones. My kids don’t want them. Jewelry doesn’t take up much room but I gave away a lot of wooden beads to make crafts with. You find that you need very little when your kids are grown and out of the house.

  • Tina

    I never had much and most of what I had was hand me downs or bought second hand. Over the last few years, I’ve given away 2or 3 bags a week to first Salvation Army and then when they moved away, Goodwill. We’ve also given a lot of books and magazines to the public library every week. We get our magazines free from the library in the first place. I would like to get down to maybe 20 books as the library is next door. That way, I can give away 2 bookcases.

  • Tina

    Right now, I am storing my mother’s books as she is in a nursing home. I am giving away more craft supplies today. I find art materials everywhere and if I don’t use them in a month, I pass them on. I like to make collages and small crochet and sewing projects out of second hand or free materials.

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