How to Turn Your Clutter Into Cash

Even though I can't peer into your closets or surveil your garage (or can I?), I can say this with certainty: You have a lot of Stuff. And as the proud owner of a lot of Stuff, you should consider two things:

  • Your Stuff could get stolen or destroyed, and then you'd have to prove to your insurer that you once owned it, and
  • The Stuff you no longer want can be turned into cash.

I can personally attest to the latter. As I wrote previously, the Brokamp family kicked off 2010 by moving into a new house, so over the past few months we've sold all kinds of things on Craigslist. We also held a couple of yard sales — one in below-freezing weather. The total take was more than $2,000 in extra cash.

Of course, you probably want to keep most of your Stuff, and if you're smart, you have homeowners or renters insurance to protect it. But if your residence is burgled or burns, how would you prove to the insurance company what you once owned?

The answer is to take a home inventory — going room by room and documenting everything you own. As you're looking at each possession, take the opportunity to evaluate whether you still want it. Once you've completed the inventory, you'll not only have proof of your possessions — which, beyond its insurance purposes, will help you determine your net worth — but also a pile of items to sell, trade, donate, or give as presents. (Re-gifters aren't judged here in GRS-land.)

Ready, Set, Inventory!
Are you raring to see how much you really own, de-clutter your house, and make some cash? Here's how.

    1. Designate a place for the Stuff you no longer want. Clear some space in the garage or guest room where you'll put your trash that will become someone else's treasure.

 

    1. Choose a method and start inventorying. You have a few options when it comes to providing proof of your possessions. Perhaps the easiest is going from room to room with a video recorder, opening drawers, closets, cabinets, armoires, safes, floorboards, and false walls along the way. Another option: Use the Insurance Information Institute's online inventory tool at KnowYourStuff.org. Or just write it all down, using digital photos and receipts as evidence of ownership. Remember: As you're recording all your possessions, you're also identifying Stuff you no longer want.

 

    1. Note important information. Take video or photos or detailed notes to record identifying information such as brand, model, serial numbers, engravings, and unique attributes.

 

    1. Give special attention to expensive items. Consider getting a written appraisal for jewelry, family heirlooms, rare collectibles, and other pricey Stuff. Contact the American Society of Appraisers or the International Society of Appraisers to find an appraiser in your area. You also might want to take extra steps — such as buying a fire-resistant safe or renting a safe-deposit box — for these items. And make sure your insurance actually covers them. Some policies specifically exclude jewelry and other big-ticket items or only provide coverage up to a limited amount.

 

  1. Scatter copies of your inventory. Keep a few copies of your inventory outside your home, such as in a safe-deposit box or buried in your office desk. If your inventory is in a digital format, email it to yourself. If you use KnowYourStuff.org, the information is stored on secured servers that will be up and running even if your house is down and smoldering.

Turn Clutter Into Cash
Now that you've combed through your worldly possessions for things you no longer want to possess, you need to decide the best way to ditch them. Here are your options:

    1. Donate your Stuff. If you itemize your taxes, you can deduct the fair market value of items you donate to qualified organizations. Make sure you document what you're donating, get a receipt, and follow the rules — and there are many. For example, any donation of used clothing or household items that's more than $500 requires that you file Section A of IRS Form 8283. Consult IRS.gov for all the gory details.

 

    1. Hold a yard sale. This is the best option if you have a lot of Stuff of modest value. You won't get top dollar, but you will get rid of a lot of Stuff in a single morning, assuming you price it right and live near a lot of people.

 

    1. Sell items online. If you have items that will sell for $50 or more and you're willing to put in the time to list them online, websites like Craigslist or eBay or Amazon.com's Marketplace can help you find sellers miles — and even countries — away. Just make sure you take steps to protect yourself and your Stuff, such as using a payment service like PayPal or dealing only in cash. There are a lot of people in cyberspace trying to scam online buyers and sellers.

 

  1. Use a consignment store, auction house, or specialized seller. For unique and expensive items — such as rare collectibles, antiques, or jewelry — enlist a professional who knows the market and can help you get the most money.

Voilá! You've now documented your possessions, cleaned out your house, and maybe even made a buck or two. Congratulations!

J.D.'s note: More great stuff from Brokamp. It's as if he reached into my mind and plucked out a piece of my book. Your Money: The Missing Manual has material covering this subject, though it's spread out over a couple of chapters instead of compressed into one concise article like this. Photo by Phillip Stewart.

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basicmoneytips
basicmoneytips
10 years ago

I have had a lot of success selling unwanted items on Craigslist. I think a lot of people are starting to use the service. With no fees, you cannot beat it.

Originally I used EBAY, but it got to be a hassel so I stopped. The fees, feedback policy, paypal, etc were just too much. Plus having to ship stuff was a pain.

Craigslist all the way.

Joseph | kickdebtoff
Joseph | kickdebtoff
10 years ago

About two years ago when we got married, when we mixed our stuff together we realized how much good but unused stuff we had. We went through our closets and gave away all those clothes we haven’t worn in two years. we have did it again last year and hope we can make it an every year thing.
I am a fan of craigslist i have bought a guest bed, twasher & dryer and also sold some electronics….”with no fees you can’t beat it.”

Mary
Mary
10 years ago

Thanks for this timely post. A coworker lost his beautiful home to fire last month – house and contents were completely gone. His kids were grown and out on their own, and he and his wife had been contemplating selling and moving to a smaller house. Now that they have recovered from the initial shock, they are making an inventory, after the fact, for the insurance company, by memory and by sifting through the remains of the fire. His loss has given me the impetus to update our house inventory and make sure certain documents are secure. KnowYourStuff.org looks like… Read more »

Adam
Adam
10 years ago

I’m embarrassed to ask this, but do you have to pay taxes on the income generated from selling old stuff on Amazon? It doesn’t strike me as income, but I can see the argument that it is…

Kent @ The Financial Philosopher
Kent @ The Financial Philosopher
10 years ago

Yard sales are a win-win-win: The owner gets cash for an otherwise “non-working” asset; the buyer gets something at a deep discount (saving money); and some or all of that cash returns to the economy.

Allison
Allison
10 years ago

What great timing! My husband and I are moving in June, so we spent last weekend taking pictures of everything for a home inventory. Our goal is to have two printed copies of the inventory – one with us and one mailed to my parents – and one digital copy.

Another thing to consider adding to the inventory is a list of all the financial institutions you use (banking, loans, investments, etc), plus copies of birth certificates, wills, power of attorney, etc.

Tyler
Tyler
10 years ago

@Adam: Only if you sell the item for more than you paid for it (i.e. you earned a capital gain), which could happen with something like a piece of artwork. But for something you are selling for less than you originally paid, then no.

Mark G.
Mark G.
10 years ago

Another quick home inventory option is to make a detailed 360 degree video of every room and then store it outside of your home. Make sure to clearly label the video and email yourself and one or two trusted others a note about the video’s content, purpose and where it’s located.

Frugillionaire
Frugillionaire
10 years ago

Great post! When we moved overseas, we sold almost all of our furniture, tools, and electronics through Craigslist. It was actually fun meeting the new owners of our Stuff! 🙂

Ebay is also useful as a reality check. If you’re holding onto grandma’s china because it “might be worth something,” take a quick browse through the listings. If you find out it’s selling for little to nothing, it can be a lot easier to declutter!

Wearsunscreen
Wearsunscreen
10 years ago

http://www.knowyourstuff.org/iii/login.html

I found this inventory database helper website on lifehacker, and have been using it in preparation for my move from N.C. to Or.

Laura @ PARING DOWN
Laura @ PARING DOWN
10 years ago

We have a neighborhood garage sale yearly, and, although we have donated a ton of stuff to Goodwill, we plan to participate this year after the big garage and shed cleanup.

Thanks for the article!

David/Yourfinances101
David/Yourfinances101
10 years ago

Amazon’s marketplace worked out particularly well for me. I started out selling old textbooks and an old digital camera that I had, and it has blossomed into quite a nice secondary income for me.

ebyt
ebyt
10 years ago

I’ll just make a comment that my insurance company does not require an inventory for the contents insurance. I asked them specifically. I don’t own anything like a diamond engagement ring or any rare antiques, so I don’t have to get any separate insurance either. Since I err on the side of caution, I have taken photos of my apartment (including all furniture, drawer contents etc.) so that I have some proof if worse came to worse and the insurance company didn’t cover me for replacement of the things I need… plus it would help me figure out quicker what… Read more »

Eric
Eric
10 years ago

If you want to add to the challenge of turning your clutter into cash you can do what my wife and I did. We did the eat from the pantry challenge that many of the other frugal/coupon bloggers encouraged their readers to do a couple of months ago. Not only did we just try to eat stuff that was packed away in our pantry, but the only money we could spend at the grocery store was money that we earned from selling our unwanted stuff. It also gave us two months saving on groceries. It also created a lot more… Read more »

Jackie
Jackie
10 years ago

Craigslist has worked well for me in the past, particularly for bulky items. You can turn your stuff into cash, that’s for sure. Usually though I don’t have the patience for that if my main goal is just to get rid of the stuff, so Goodwill gets a lot of stuff.

elisabeth
elisabeth
10 years ago

I’ve been doing an inventory just of our books for over a year now (well, I don’t work on it all the time, energy for this waxes and wanes). We have a lot of books, most of which aren’t worth much at all, but some of which are worth a lot… Some sorts of inventories can be done more quickly, or with pictures alone, but for real collections (like JD’s comic books) more detailed records are probably called for.

kelle
kelle
10 years ago

…and remember or learn to keep the green in the first place.
Less stuff in, less money, time, hassle, waste and space needed.
It gets really old taking care of stuff, you get no hugs or appreciation from it.

Lauren
Lauren
10 years ago

What a great post! As a Professional Organizer, I work with clients that are looking to do exactly what you are describing. Some are looking to inventory what they have for vairous reasons, and others are looking to de-clutter and either donate or sell some items. Many times I help clients find items that they thought they had lost or did not even know that they owned. Sometimes the best is not the money you make selling an item, but just bringing that special item back into your life!

LiveCheap.com
LiveCheap.com
10 years ago

@Adam: Generally, you are going to take a loss on anything that you sell since it will be less than what you bought it at. Technically, if you have a gain, you are supposed to declare income. My guess is that unless the person is in the business of collectibles, it rarely happens since there aren’t going to be records for most of these transactions (almost always in cash). We’ve done garage sales and we donate quite a bit. From an ease standpoint, donation is much better. Financially at high income, I have found that donating is also more beneficial… Read more »

Katy Wolk-Stanley
Katy Wolk-Stanley
10 years ago

What a timely post. I helped a friend clean our her basement last week and she’s coming over today to help me go through some stuff at my house.

I’m holding a giveaway for Annie Leonard’s “The Story of Stuff” book over at my blog, The Non-Consumer Advocate which ends on Friday.

Here’s a link:

http://thenonconsumeradvocate.com/2010/03/story-of-stuff-book-giveaway/

Katy Wolk-Stanley
“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

Cely
Cely
10 years ago

I would add that you can sell quite a lot at consignment stores. Usually clothing, but furniture as well. Women often have hardly-worn items that sit in the closet…make sure they are clean, pressed, and in good condition (polish shoes, tighten loose buttons) and take them to your local consignment store. I do this every few months and pocket $20-100. I still donate items to Goodwill, but save upper-end brands for consignment.

RJ Weiss
RJ Weiss
10 years ago

So far this year my wife and I paid for a vacation to Florida by selling stuff on eBay.

You can easily make the argument that we would have better to just not spend the money in the first place, but everything we have sold we have gotten value off of. For example, I sold used textbooks for about the same price as I paid for them.

Tyler Karaszewski
Tyler Karaszewski
10 years ago

“I can say this with certainty: You have a lot of Stuff.” I’m imagining a Tibetan monk reading this site from high in the mountains, using his monastery’s sole communal computer. Even I personally don’t have *that* much stuff (I have a video tour of my house if you want to see it). “Your Stuff could get stolen or destroyed, and then you’d have to prove to your insurer that you once owned it.” This is not true at all. If you have stuff that you don’t use, and you don’t need to sell, then you could let it get… Read more »

Jennifer
Jennifer
10 years ago

Great reminder. When my parents lost everything they owned after Hurricane Ike shoved more than 5 feet of water in the house, they had quite a time trying to “prove” to all the various insurance agencies (FEMA, Windstorm, Homeowner’s) what they owned and it’s worth. When they were asked to provide receipts to prove value, mom almost sent a wad of soaking, stinky, molding paper, just to prove a point. She didn’t. What ensued was a long, arduous process trying to remember and literally itemize on a spreadsheet the contents of their home. I’m not talking just clothes and knick-knacks… Read more »

Melinda Farrar
Melinda Farrar
10 years ago

My friend and I have been removing clutter from our homes by having “Everything is a $1 or less” yard sales. No matter the size of the stuff, from training equipment/furniture to candles, it’s priced at a $1 or less. We’ve had better response from this than from the traditional yard sale. The big plus is there is no wasted time spent pricing everything. Our goal was 1) not to haul stuff to Goodwill (let other people haul it away) and 2) to have a great time. We do this every few months and have repeat customers that asked to… Read more »

Kate
Kate
10 years ago

Thanks for this article. I have recently been thinking about going through all of my clothes and taking what I don’t wear to a consignment shop. I am very lucky that my new job has a casual environment so my work and play clothes have become the same. However, I still have a ton of business casual clothes that are in great condition and generally a sought after brand. I am going to do some closet cleaning this weekend!

Rod
Rod
10 years ago

Great article. I use both Craigslist and Ebay – Craigslist for the stuff that is too large or heavy to ship, and Ebay for the smaller items. You can normally get more on Ebay for your smaller items than you would in a garage sale. The drawback is the time is takes to photograph the items, find packaging, weigh the package and finally list the item. Then of course there are seller fees, paypal fees etc. It makes a big difference how you photograph your items also. I had a road bike on Craigslist for about 2 months with some… Read more »

Brandon
Brandon
10 years ago

Am I the only person who’s a little tired of the “sell your extra stuff” advice? It’s been my experience that there are many more people selling now and far fewer buying.

What do we do next, now that everyone else has figured out this albeit good but, imo, worn-out advice?

Budgeting in the Fun Stuff
Budgeting in the Fun Stuff
10 years ago

We’re decluttering now. Craigslist is very helpful. For anything you are willing to give away, Freecycle is awesome too. I only use Ebay for easy-to-ship items like Magic: The Gathering cards.

myfinancialobjectives
myfinancialobjectives
10 years ago

Craigslist>Ebay. Much less hassle, easier to manage, FREE, simpler set up. I have sold quite a few things on Craigslist, and considering selling my drum set on their soon (thought I reallllyyyy don’t want too!!)

Squirrelers
Squirrelers
10 years ago

Good article. The advice that I have is to avoid accumulating junk in the first place. Move it on as soon as possible. Why? Aside from cluttering space, it costs money to keep. Assume that a family keeps a room for storing things such as old kids toys (that they never use), old furniture, outdated electronics, etc. The room is 200 aq feet. At a rate of, lets say, $100/sq foot, this comes out to $20,000 per year. When you think about how much you are paying for this space with your mortgage, you can see that there are costs… Read more »

Meghan Fife
Meghan Fife
10 years ago

Thank you for the reminder that I need to inventory my belongings. I am about to move living locations and am going to take this transition time to do just that as well as clean out old stuff I don’t need anymore!

It makes life so much more simple and freeing!

Rani
Rani
10 years ago

I’ve never been successful selling anything on Craigslist. I appreciate the tip about having nice photos, but can anyone else who’s used it successfully please post tips for selling your Stuff there?

Sarah
Sarah
10 years ago

@Brandon

It may depend where you live. Are you in the suburbs or a small town? Generally any place that has students or poor people, you’ll find someone willing to buy your microwave for $15 or shopping at thrift stores.

A nice boy with a backpack just came and paid $30 for my kitchen cart not 30 minutes ago and I’ve also sold a tv, vcr, desk, hutch, end table, bookshelves, 4 chairs, and (another) desk on craigslist just this month.

Patrick
Patrick
10 years ago

This is a great way to de-clutter. Last year we found the “30 Things” project or challenge and had so much fun clearing out stuff and getting some cash that we kept going. Also, check out your local news media sources for additional outlets for listing your items. Our local TV, newspaper conglomerate had a superior classifieds system online that was free that we used in conjunction with eBay and Amazon. It was nice because we could leave a note in the ad that there were multiple items for sale besides the one listed and thereby sell more. That project… Read more »

Joe M
Joe M
10 years ago

What are the state sales tax implications of selling your items at say a garage sale?

Rod
Rod
10 years ago

@33 Rani I have sold a few items on Craigslist – bikes, kayaks, old freezer, kids toys etc. I think the main tips are: 1) List your item in the most appropriate category. 2) Make every word count in the title of your posting – think about what someone searching for your item might key in. 3) Keep the body of the listing short and accurate. Be 100% accurate about the condition of the item. 4) Price it competitively – check Ebay completed listings for examples of what your item might sell for, but expect to get slightly less on… Read more »

Shailesh Ghimire
Shailesh Ghimire
10 years ago

This is a very timely post for me. I put in new storage shelf recently so I’m more organized, but that hasn’t helped. I’m been staring at the stuff in my garage lately and wondering how to get my money back. I like your suggestion to do an inventory. I’m certainly going to have to do one. I just think selling one by one on Craigslist would be a pain, but if I organized things a bit more then I might be able to pull it off over time. Lots to think about.

MommaBee
MommaBee
10 years ago

I like to donate my items to non-profits who come and pick up the items from my home. They leave a tax form that I fill out and submit with my yearly income taxes. I take photos of the items being donated and price them according to the IRS guidelines. The Disabled American Veterans (DAV) and Goodwill will drive to your home for a free pick-up. I also have garage sales/use craigslist/ebay to sell items. But it’s alot of work to do those. If my children are up for it and want to help, then I will do it. Last… Read more »

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