The Two Lost Weekends I Spent Trying to Find Joy By Selling My Used Stuff
Angela Colley — Good Idea/Bad Idea
A few months ago—after a closet shelf collapse sent me running in fear of an avalanche of synthetic wool—I finally accepted I have too much crap and too little storage. Trying to help, a friend gifted me a copy of Marie Kondo's The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.
If you haven’t heard of the book, it is the latest self-help release hailed as a magic cure for what ails you, in this case clutter. The premise is simple, if a little hokey. You gather everything you own, pick it up, and basically decide, “ joy,” or “no joy.” If it doesn’t bring you “joy,” you’re supposed to donate or throw it away.
So, I did. Room to room, I picked up everything I owned.
Red Converse sneakers: “Joy.”
Purple Converse sneakers: “No joy.”
In the end, about 35 percent of everything in my house was piled on the floor in my living room, not bringing joy. Instead, my mirthless crap mountain was bringing a fair share of panic. The next step in the book was giving or throwing it all away, but tossing stuff in the garbage is generally bad for the planet and giving away practically-new stuff is bad for my wallet. I couldn’t do it.
Instead, I came up with the brilliant plan to resell it all and make some extra cash. Shockingly, this isn’t as easy as it seems. Here’s what I tried:
I turned to Craigslist first because, well, it’s free and I figured I could unload a few bigger items—like a still-in-the-box coffee table from World Market I had to have because it had hairpin legs and a Nintendo Wii I bought on a whim and used maybe twice.
My first ad offered the Wii and assorted games for $80. Posting the ad took about 10 minutes, so I was pretty pumped at how easy this was going to be. I was wrong.
Within an hour, I started getting emails, but no one seemed to want to buy the damn thing, they just wanted to talk about it. I fielded questions about size and condition, got six trade offers for even older and crappier gaming systems, and had one person get very upset the Wii was white. The people who did seem interested got my phone number. And then it got worse.
One person texted 15 times before vanishing. Two more potential buyers set up times to meet me and didn’t show. One called twice after midnight. Finally, I found a sane person who showed up on time and paid full price.
No one wanted my sad little coffee table, but that may have been a good thing. Not long after I posted my second ad, a neighbor posted a warning on Nextdoor that several people had been posing as buyers on Craigslist in order to rob sellers. I chickened out and canceled my ad.
The Verdict: Craigslist can be a safe place to buy and sell things if you’re careful about it, but be prepared to deal with a lot of nonsense. Even after I deleted my ads, I kept getting obnoxious text messages for days.
Since I was now terrified of meeting strangers in person (three cheers for life in a major city), I opted for selling some remaining high-ticket items anonymously online through eBay.
Much like Craigslist, eBay has gone a long way toward streamlining their selling process in recent years. I posted 10 different ads in about an hour. Unlike Craigslist, eBay isn’t free. Under the current terms, you do get 50 free basic listings, but eBay still charges a 10 percent fee on anything you sell.
While a 10 percent loss right off the bat wasn’t filling me with joy, I’d come this far, so I went with it and finished my listings—10 different vinyl record lots all with a “Buy it Now” option. The actual auctioning part was super easy. I only had a few questions from potential buyers. Everything sold, and everyone paid quickly.
The hard part was shipping. Grouping and packing records took forever, and I ended up dropping about $20 on shipping supplies at the post office, cutting into my profits. And to make matters worse, I underestimated the shipping costs and paid another $19.85 out of pocket.
The selling fee also cut into my profits. After making a cool $245, eBay took $24.50. Added up, I only ended up making $180.65. The loss in profits did not bring me joy. Parting with a large chunk of my dear, if rarely-used, record collection and paying a fee to do so hurt down to my very soul.
The Verdict: For collectibles and rare items, eBay probably offered the best chance to make a decent profit, but I wished I’d paid more attention to the shipping costs and process. If I ever do this again, I won’t rely on spotty online shipping calculators.
Selling to Resellers
My two biggest “no joy” piles were comprised of clothes and books. Since nothing I own clothing-wise is name-brand and worthy of selling online, I opted for in-store resellers. On my first attempt, I dragged a massive pile of winter clothing into Buffalo Exchange, who—after a 25-minute wait—bought exactly two sweaters for $10. On my second attempt, I did a little better, local reseller Funky Monkey bought roughly a third of my pile. On my final attempt at national chain Plato’s Closet, I sold three more skirts, bringing my grand total to $95 with two trash bags worth of unsellable wears leftover.
For the books, I hauled two full boxes into a local bookstore, which bought the two semi-new releases I had for $5 a pop, plus a handful of older books for $2 each. I pocketed my $24 and lugged my box and a half of unwanted books back to the car. In the end, I’d spent five hours hauling stuff out of my car, dragging it down a busy public street, waiting in line, dragging it back down the street, and loading it back into the car. And the $17 lunch I bought just to get a break from the heavy lifting ate into my meager $119 profits.
The Verdict: If you’ve got a lot of small stuff in good condition that you need to unload and you don’t mind the heavy lifting or the waiting, this might be worth it, but don’t expect to make big bucks or unload all your unwanted stuff. For all my efforts, I still had dozens of books and sizable piles of cheap blouses and discount jeans cluttering up my living room.
In the end, I’d fielded 23 emails and 27 text messages (thanks, crazy texting man), spent two nights taking photos and posting ads, stood in line at the post office three times, bought boxes, paid for shipping, forked over an eBay fee, ate one really crappy, overpriced sandwich, and spent five hours schlepping my used items in boxes and trash bags around New Orleans all for....drum roll....$379.65 in profit. And I’m just not sure if it was worth it.
After all that, I still had four large garbage bags full of stuff I couldn’t sell. Instead of finding joy, I was mostly just tripping over the bags as I stumbled to the bathroom in the middle of the night. To finally unload it all, I took everything to Goodwill and got possibly the best deal of all—a signed donation sheet I can use as a tax write-off in April.
Maybe a couple of weekends not spent selling junk and a tax discount really is the most joy I could expect.