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Tough Times Series: Sell, Scrap, or Give: Useful Ends for Your Useless Stuff

by Nick Heckman / March 31st, 2008

It's in our nature—for some of us, at least—to accumulate junk. Stuff that once was meaningful—if only for a few minutes in the store when we bought it—quickly turns to collecting dust in closets, attics, basements, and garages. Imagine how peaceful your home could be if you cleared out everything you don't need. How do you get rid of stuff you don't want anymore? Between the Internet and more conventional methods, there actually are quite a few options.

Set your goals

To begin, ask yourself a few questions:
  1. What's the value of the item I'm trying to get rid of?
  2. Do I want to sell this item or simply get it out of my sight?
  3. What's my time frame?
The answers will help you decide the most successful course of action: Sell, give, or scrap.

Sell your stuff

Many of us are familiar with the suburban junk pile, strategically placed at the curb with a FREE sign placed on top of the mess. All sorts of items reach this orphanage for the once-loved but now-useless: basketball hoops, bed frames, microwaves, televisions, and pieces of furniture. It's understandable that some folks don't have time to sit outside all day minding a yard sale. However, it's as if these people don't realize that someone, somewhere will pay for this stuff.
If you have the time, someone, somewhere will pay for this stuff.
Of course there are the tried-and-true local options for selling your stuff: pawn shops, swap meets, and, yes—yard sales. But the Internet also has created a brand-new market for making money off the things you no longer want.
  • EBay is perhaps the most widely known Web site for privately selling goods. From small trinkets to big things like cars and houses, you can find just about anything here. It also gets a lot of traffic, boosting your chances that someone will buy what you're selling.
  • Amazon operates a successful online marketplace that is linked to from each of its product pages. Think how easy it would be to sell your unwanted clothes if you were able to set up shop in the big-name department stores and sell for less than they do. The Amazon Marketplace works similarly in that, if you have used books, music, movies, or other things already found on Amazon, you've found a market to sell your goods. Amazon will take a cut of your profits, of course, so this is a better bet if you want to get rid of something quickly and you don't care about making as much as possible.
  • If you're looking for a local option, craigslist offers online classifieds for most big urban areas of the U.S. Post your items on the site, list your price, and wait for others to contact you. The best things about selling locally are that you can get paid sooner and delivering the goods shouldn't be as hard; you can request that local buyers pick up their purchases promptly.
    When you sell locally, you can get paid sooner and you can ask that buyers pick up their purchases promptly.

Give to a good cause

If you don't care about making profits off your clutter, consider the value of the items and that they might raise money for charity.
  • Organizations like Goodwill, the Salvation Army, and St. Vincent de Paul accept clothes, furniture, and small appliance donations at their stores. Call the local branch to find out what they will accept and if they will pick up the leftovers from a garage sale or large quantities of stuff you're removing from your home.
  • You can donate large items like cars and they can raise good money for charity. Outreach Center has a good step-by-step guide to help you donate your vehicle, even if it doesn't run, and at no cost to you. In fact, all charities that partner with Outreach Center are properly classified so that your donation will be tax-deductible. Easter Seals also has a car donation program.
    The Internet has created a market for making money off the things you no longer want.
"Unfortunately you can't just donate everything," reminds Christine Nyirjesy-Bragale of Goodwill International, Rockville, Md. "If you think of the time we need to take to sort things and dispose of them, you're actually taking resources and money away from us by giving us unusable items. A good rule of thumb is that you should only donate something you would be comfortable receiving as a gift."

Scrap it

Too often we use the trash can and the dumpster before we've examined the charitable and profitable options for getting rid of things. However, if the value and personal investment in the item are low and time is an issue, try giving items away or scrapping them.
  • Beyond selling your goods, craigslist is a good place to advertise your "free sales."
  • Freecycle also has created a network of groups on the Yahoo network specifically for giving things away for free.
    You should only donate something you would be comfortable receiving as a gift.
Freecycle and craigslist exist in most major urban areas. If you've exhausted your options—you can't sell it online and local charities have no use for it— you can try a junk removal service. "Many people get overwhelmed when it comes to the clutter in their homes," says Jennifer Maloney of 1-800-GOT-JUNK. These services often will take one more glance at what you're getting rid of to see if any of it can be saved. "Our No. 1 priority is to recycle or donate as much as we can," says Maloney.
  • 1-800-GOT-JUNK and similar services will take things from your home so you can take them off your mind. "We always advise to have a clear vision: Less is more. Our job is to come in and help make it easier to sort and get rid of your things," says Maloney. If you're not a big fan of physical labor, this may be a good option: These organizations will do all the loading and cleanup for you.
  • For big jobs, it may be more cost-efficient to look for dumpster rental companies in your phone book. You can rent a dumpster to put in your driveway, haul out your trash, and it all disappears when the dumpster is picked up. Remember not to scrap materials that are recyclable such as metals, certain light bulbs, computers, and other electronics. It may be in our nature to accumulate things. But it's also in our power to get rid of clutter and keep ourselves organized. With all the resources available, cleaning our closets, attics, and basements should be easier than ever before.
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