The War on Clutter - Save Money While Cleaning Up

Turn Your Clutter into Cash or Charitable Donations

Welcome to Saving Money with Andrew!

Stuff stresses me. Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up resonated because it helped me realize how few material possessions I truly cared about, and how many just cluttered our home. Similarly, much of Simplicity Parenting discusses how clearing clutter can make family life more peaceful, particularly for children.

But this wouldn’t be Saving Money with Andrew without ideas for how to reduce clutter in our lives…profitably. Some tips:

  • Like Marie Kondo, start by thinking about whether the item is something you love, truly need, or are ever likely to use. Probably 90% of things flunk this simple test.[1] As the Wall Street Journal aptly pointed out last month…Admit It: You Have a Box of Cords You’ll Never, Ever Use Again.

  • Next, assess its value. Most people make the mistake of anchoring to what they paid, or the price of a new item. This leads to unrealistically high expectations.[2] Instead, be honest with yourself and determine what it would actually sell for on the used market.[3]

  • The best way to value your items is to look at completed eBay auctions. Simply search for an item on eBay and then click on “Completed Items” on the left side of the page. This will show you what people paid for the item, rather than asking prices.

  • Then, decide whether the item is worth selling on eBay. Keep in mind that eBay charges fees (generally 10-12% of the sale price plus shipping), and shipping takes time and a little effort.[4] For me, the threshold is usually about $20. Anything less I donate or throw away.

  • For certain items, such as electronics, selling to a secondhand marketplace like Gazelle can be an easier experience, though you’ll usually net a bit less, even after taking eBay’s fees into account. Gazelle doesn’t charge fees, they pay shipping, and you don’t have to deal with buyers.

  • For Amazon items, I am a big fan of Amazon’s trade-in program, because they pay for shipping (particularly useful when selling very low-value items) and they give a 20% off coupon on a newer version of the item, which is often quite valuable.

  • If selling the item isn’t worthwhile, set it aside for charity. Goodwill and Big Brothers Big Sisters are great options. If you itemize deductions on your taxes (less common after recent tax law changes, but fairly likely if you have a large mortgage), TurboTax and other tax-prep software can help you claim a deduction, provided that you keep good records of what you donated, the date, and the recipient organization. This can be particularly lucrative for secondhand but high-quality clothing donations.

  • Then, finally, recycle or throw away anything that remains of the unnecessary items, which is hopefully not that much.

I hope this has been helpful. If you liked it, please share it with a friend! Also, please send me your feedback, requests, and success stories.

[1] For example, in the past year or so, I’ve sold or donated most of my books and limited the rest to a single, very narrow portable bookcase/shelf unit. I haven’t missed any of them. We’ve also embraced our local public library. At any given time we usually have about 30 books out, and if I don’t start reading a book we’ve taken out during the check-out period, it probably means I didn’t really want to read it that much in the first place.

[2] This concept (essentially, the idea that we attach excessive value to the things we own) even has a name in psychology and behavioral economics - the Endowment Effect.

[3] Many years ago, my dad and I would frequent garage sales, trying to buy things and resell at a profit (mostly for fun, though we occasionally would find something lucrative). At almost every garage sale we’d see so many items priced at absolutely crazy (high) prices, likely anchored to the original price paid for the item many years ago. By contrast, we’d occasionally find amazing bargains on things that the current owner placed little value, such as vintage video games (owned by a child who had long since grown up). I’m talking to you, original NES Legend of Zelda with Map!

[4] I’ve found the best deal for shipping small/light items is USPS First Class, or Media Mail for books, CDs, DVDs, video games, and computer software. For slightly larger items, I like flat-rate USPS Priority Mail using their free boxes rather than having to buy packaging. For even larger items I’ll generally try to reuse an Amazon box and send via Priority Mail.