Feeding the Urge to Purge Your Stuff

Have you ever taken a look around your home and thought about all of the stuff you have that you don’t really NEED? Then keep reading for hot tips on purging these items while adding a little bonus cash to your wallet.

I’ve written of Dave Ramsey’s book Total Money Makeover in a past column and while I don’t necessarily agree with all of Mr. Ramsey’s advice, I have tried some of his suggestions. One of my favorites was his chapter about ridding your life of extra “junk” by selling things you don’t need or use on craigslist. Guided by William Morris who said, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful,” I took Mr. Ramsey’s advice and satisfied my urge to purge.

To date I have raised over $700 by selling items such as an old TV stand from three apartments ago and the water fountain that my cats shunned for three years in favor of standing water in a ceramic dish. This experience has taught me a few things about engaging in commerce this way, so I’d like to share some of those tips with my readers.

First, be prepared to bargain. I learned this lesson the hard way right off the bat when I made my first sale. I had listed some furniture at a certain price as a set, but a buyer came by to purchase just one piece. We had agreed upon a price ahead of time, so when he arrived to pick it up, I was unprepared for him to request the rest of the set. As we stood in my dining room negotiating, I was intimidated by his cajoling and anxious to get the furniture sold. Regrettably, I ended up accepting less than half of what I had listed the furniture for. Even worse, the next day I received an offer for the entire set at my asking price.

After that, I listed everything for a higher price than I hoped to receive, and that has worked well for me. For example, when I wanted to receive $20 for an item, I listed it for $23. The buyer inevitably arrived without correct change, so when I accepted $20, we both felt good — I received the price I wanted and the buyer left with a bargain.

Second, remember what craigslist really is: an online garage sale. You will probably not be able to sell your crystal candlesticks that would earn you a decent price at an antique market or on eBay. The items that I’ve been able to sell quickly and without hassle include furniture and small appliances. That iced tea maker that you received as a wedding gift ten years ago that has only brewed three pitchers of tea? You can sell that for about $10 on craigslist. And that wooden nightstand from your first apartment that you’ve dragged through three moves but doesn’t really match any of your furniture now? Twenty bucks, easy!

Finally, as you’re preparing to sell your treasures, make sure the listing maximizes your chance for a sale. Use descriptive titles, including key words that someone might use to search for your item and always try to include as many pictures as you can. Be prepared to suggest a central meeting place when someone does want to buy an item — I’ve met countless strangers in the parking lot of Rookwood Commons to exchange goods. Larger items may require buyers to come to your home, so if you’re a single gal like me, try to have someone there with you when your buyer arrives.

You will also have a fair share of scammers and spammers trying to get you to click on their links. Do not click on any links from response emails and be wary of anyone asking for your home address to send a check. In my experience, any email that comes with the subject line: “Re: ,” is a scam. Emails from real buyers have a legitimate subject line, either referencing your item or with your listing title. It is the “Re:” that gives the scam away. In fact, I don’t even open those messages.

Remember that you probably won’t recover the price you originally paid for any item, even if it has never been used, but my philosophy has been that it is much better to have that cash in my wallet now than to continue to tote stuff that I MIGHT need someday from place to place. Good luck!

A version of this post was published in the Cincy Chic column “Cents & Sensibility” on March 29, 2010.

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