Donate or Sell? What to do with unwanted stuff?

Unwanted Items - Do I Donate or Sell?

One of the biggest sticking points many people find as they begin to declutter and simplify their homes is what to do with all this stuff?

We don’t want it. It’s in our way. We’re ready to let go of it. And yet…

And yet we get caught up in the value of our stuff. We probably paid good money for that end table/lounge/unworn jacket/toy of the moment/bike/treadmill and it doesn’t feel good to think we will just let it go. Bye bye, money.

So people get stuck. They decide to get money for their unwanted stuff, and look in to all the different ways of selling it:

  • ebay
  • Craigslist
  • local message boards
  • Facebook garage sales
  • real garage sales
  • consignment
  • Gumtree
  • market stalls

I’m not against selling unwanted belongings. I’ve done it myself, and in some cases made a little side money. But I do want to warn you against trying to sell everything you no longer want as I’ve seen it become a barrier to moving forward too many times to count.

Typically what happens when you decide to sell your stuff is this:

You do all the work of decluttering, collecting the stuff you no longer want or need in order to sell it. Then it sits in boxes or bags in the office or a steadily-expanding corner of the bedroom until you find the time to photograph it, list it for sale online, respond to buyer questions, organise a garage sale, find a consignment store willing to take your items… Then it actually needs to sell, you need to accept payment, organise pick-up or ship it to the buyer.

That’s a lot of work to potentially make very little money and often this stuff sits in a pile labelled “Waiting to Sell” or somesuch and languishes there, still cluttering up your space and still weighing on your mind.

My general advice on selling is this:

Try selling once, then donate – never to be thought of again.

I subscribe to the philosophy that unwanted stuff is emotional weight and getting it out the door as quickly as possible is more valuable than selling it, so I’m conflicted in offering advice on how best to sell. Also, if I’m being honest, I get tired of thinking about stuff all the time.

But ultimately what I want to see is you living a simpler, slower life and if that means helping you work out what to sell and what to donate/give away, then let’s do it.

Simple Tips on Selling Your Unwanted Stuff 

  • Items need to be in excellent condition in order to sell, particularly online.
  • Only trying to sell large items that are in very good condition or smaller items that are quite literally as good as new.
  • Try selling in batches rather than individually (lower-priced items and kids clothes sell well in small batches).
  • Vintage and designer items still need to be in very good condition. Unless it’s exceptionally desirable, don’t try selling anything damaged.
  • Unless what you’re selling is genuine vintage or very desirable you won’t get anywhere near what you paid for it, no matter how well you’ve cared for it over the years.
  • Look at similar items for sale and price accordingly.
  • Hobby-related items are easier to sell (for you) in batches. Look for message boards or Facebook groups related to the hobby and see if there are any interested buyers.
  • Be willing to accept less than you want for an item. After all, you just want it out of your home.

It can be difficult to accept that the stuff we’ve paid good money for is now virtually worthless. In fact, it can be depressing. But the bottom line and the reason you’re here is to simplify life. Before deciding to sell any of your unwanted items, ask yourself whether doing so serves to simplify life or add another complication.

Over the years I have given away tens of thousands of things (sold a few too) and some of the stuff I donated was valuable. When I closed down my jewellery business I gave the vast majority of my stock away, simply because the weight of it was unbearable.

Now that time has passed, do I feel regret at having not gotten some money out of that stuff? Not in the slightest. In fact I feel lighter just thinking about it.

While this post is about selling, I just want to offer a view of the other side because willingly letting go is such a delight. So by all means, try selling your stuff but also keep this mantra in mind when you do:

Try selling once, then donate – never to be thought of again.


30 Responses to Donate or Sell? What to do with unwanted stuff?

  1. I’ve been far too fixated on getting paid for my decluttering in the past. The first yard sale I had was a wonderful success. Every one since has been a total bust and waste of time.

    I recently decluttered a BUNCH of stuff – like many boxes and garbage bags full. I posted a notice up on the local buy / sell group on Facebook and asked $30 for the lot of it for someone to come load it and haul it off. Someone offered me $25 and I jumped on it. I didn’t take pictures nor did I allow them to rummage through it. The deal was that they got the lot for a low ball price. I gave them one week to collect it and they did. They were very happy with the items they got and said when I got more stuff together, they’d do it again.

    I liked doing it this way. I didn’t have to haul it to my car, to donation, etc. and I got a tad bit for it all.

    By the way, I live in a VERY small town.
    Just my take. :)

    P.S. I WON’T be having a yard sale again.

  2. I am literally going through this right now. I feel the same regarding it being worth more to me just to have it gone then to get some money selling it. But I’m going through a lot of my husbands IT stuff (he’s a closet hoarder). And I feel to justify getting rid of it I have to sell it (some of it fetches a good price, but with a lot of effort…).
    I dream of the day it’s all gone…

  3. I just find the next charity garage sale and donate the whole lot to it. I get rid of everything in one fell swoop, and a good cause makes some money. :) For rather specific items– e.g. when we moved into our house and took out track lighting and blinds that were still in good condition but not needed (or in the case of blinds, unsafe for small kids), I gave them away on Freecycle. I’ve never regretted not making money on these things– I just enjoy having decluttered.

  4. We used to think of it as “loosing money” as well… then we started asking ourselves 2 questions :

    1- When we bought this, did we ever thought we would resell it? If not, then WHY or we thinking we are loosing money?

    2- If someone would hire me to sell their stuff, how much would I get paid? That being determined, is the money I’ll be getting (maybe!) for my stuff worth my time?

    Since then, honestly, we have sold very little. My life is worth more than all that work, the phone calls, the emails, the pointless visits, the bargaining… I’m trying to simplify my life, wouldn’t all this go against what I’m trying to do?

  5. This post is such perfect timing.

    My husband and I have spent the last few weekends pulling everything out of every cupboard and shelf, throwing the rubbishy stuff out and putting aside things to be sold.

    He’s quite the salesman and loves holding a garage sale, which is a relief because I kind of cringe at the thought. Hopefully it’ll be a success but I made him promise that once it was over everything left over would be donated immediately.

    If it was up to me I’d donate the lot right now just to be done with it.

    Great advice as ever Brooke. xx

  6. I’m torn on this one. I understand where you’re coming from, but I’m not sure that advice (try to sell once, then donate) applies to everyone.

    In our family, we decided I would leave my job to stay home with our children. This puts a large burden on my husband’s shoulders as the sole provider for our family. One of the ways I try to lighten that burden is by regularly decluttering and selling as many of the items as I can. I will try to sell almost anything, and I often post something several times before it finally sells.

    This involves an investment of time, yes, and there is always a “sell” box taking up space in the basement closet…but it also provides money for many things that otherwise would have to be paid for out of my husband’s salary.

    In addition to paying for things we need, we also use this money to pay for spontaneous fun things, which makes us feel less guilty about treating ourselves once in a while.

    So in our case, the extra effort to sell these items actually makes our lives easier, both practically and mentally.

    Another bit of advice I’ve figured out from selling in my area is to post craigslist/kijiji ads on Friday in the early afternoon or evening. For some reason I always get way more responses at time of the week than any other.

    Thanks for maintaining this blog – I’ve recently come across it and gotten lots of great tips and things to think about!

  7. This so timely for me. I have some shoes on ebay and one pair has sold but the others are on the second automatic relist. They are sitting in my office waiting. I think I will just donate them. Thanks for the push in the right direction.

  8. I make a point of remembering that I work for $X/hour and that it will take a couple of hours to list, price, clean, make pickup arrangements and sometimes do it several times. If the item is not to that value it is actually cheaper to donate it. Plus I work fulltime and I have 2 small children. My time is more valuable spent with them, than the sell price of most things I want to sell xx

    Good luck everyone, my journey has been long, sometimes fast and sometimes slow, but the relief has made it all worth it.

  9. I rarely sell anything. Usually nothing I’m getting rid of is valuable enough to make it worth my time but I also look at it as giving aid to others. People have helped me so much over the years by giving me things and because lovely people donate great stuff to charity shops I’ve been able to find things I needed at a good price which also helped us out. Right now we are making it so I’m happy to give someone else these objects and hopefully give them a little sense of financial relief if they need it.

  10. Good article! Mobile phone ebay and Gumtree apps actually make selling items quite simple. Good for items that you’re not sure are worth anything. Take a photo, write an ad, and upload the photo all from your phone. I remember finding a couple of old footy calendars from the 70s. I posted them on ebay with the auctions starting at their cheapest rate of 99c. One sold for over $70 and the other just over $90.

    Here’s another way of getting rid of stuff.. I had a lot of old plates and other crockery to give away that wasn’t quite good enough for St Vinnies or any other charity. The solution? I had a fun time smashing the plates, and then buried the smashed pieces in the backyard.

    Although some stuff is really difficult to get rid of, like a set of encyclopedias. Someone suggested using a bandsaw to saw of the hard covers and then recycle the paper.

  11. I am so bad at selling stuff, I have the best intentions &, like you say, it sits somewhere for ages intead. I find it to be a most unpleasant task.
    I rarely make much money & have lost it on postage & time.

    Great article, thank you!

  12. This is a great post and it’s a tricky one as I am on both sides of the fence. One example of a Breville Cafe Series Juicer ($450 new) I wanted to sell for about $200. I listed it many times and eventually sold it for $125 so the people got a bargain. Sure there are juicers out there new for $125 but this was a commercial grade one my husband (now the ex of 7 years) had purchased and I don’t use it and wanted it out of my garage. I’ve donated quite a bit of stuff to charity in the last couple of months but items of bigger value I try and sell to get a little extra bit of pocket money. Kathy A, Brisbane

  13. We are about to sell our house so we have been decluttering for a while. Lots of people asked if we were going to have a garage sale I have said no it is all going to the local op shop. I have no interest in storing the items and having them hang around waiting to sell. I want them gone and I want them gone this week. I have also gotten rid of over 50% of my wardrobe and even now I still have too many clothes. It can be a bit addictive once you get going.

  14. I had this same dilemma just yesterday. I decluttered the last of my kitchen cupboards and a box under the bed. A lot of it would have sold well at a boot fair but that would have meant holding onto it for another 4 months so I boxed it all up to be donated and felt instantly better for it.

  15. Great post and timely too for myself and those I work with. Wanting to sell our items can keep us stuck because the stuff is just sitting there and doesn’t allow us to move. I am doing some major re-organizing in my home right now and I have a couple of those (wanting to sell) items sticking around. I need to give them a push in some kind of direction.

  16. Yanic wrote a very logical ? 1- When we bought this, did we ever thought we would resell it? If not, then WHY or we thinking we are loosing money? ”
    Plus, I hd years of use out of the item so its not like I didn’t get something for my initial cost.
    My possessions and for me to use and enjoy. My home is not a secondary market for strangers to pick through and low ball me for.

  17. Yes! I love this, thank you for putting this perspective out into a public space. I once tried to sell my unwanted possessions in a garage sale. I spent weeks collecting the items to sell, days tagging them, and got up at 5 am the morning of the big day to set up my stash outside. Shoppers started arriving at 6 am, and I grew so impatient for the stuff to just be gone that by mid-morning, I put a huge sign in my front yard that said “Everything is FREE!”

    I’m at the start of a radical de-cluttering of my home and this time, I’m not even considering selling one item. As soon as it hits a bag, it is out my door and not coming back. I don’t have the time or the emotional energy to second-guess these choices, and every item I’ve released has been exhilarating.

    This is my first time visiting your blog and I can’t wait to read more! I’d certainly take you up on that glass of red wine. ;)

  18. This is a great critical thinking article! I wish more people who were trying to sell items on sites would read it! Maybe there wouldn’t be soooo much junk out there to wade through when looking for a good item! Several times I’ve wanted to point out that what you paid for the item is irrelevant. You won’t get more for it than what the going rate for it is NOW!

  19. I definitely vote for donate. It makes me feel good to think other people will be using my stuff instead of it just sitting around, and donating instead of getting money for the items helps me think more deeply about my purchases before I make them.

  20. We donate most of it but sell things that we think are worth a significant amount. If we know we will get $50 or more, then we will sell it. This for us is the balance between getting stuff out and not giving it all away for free.

  21. I’m surprised VarageSale isn’t listed. It’s a really easy way to buy and sell locally and so much safer that Craigslist.

  22. We’ll be selling/downsizing this year, we’ve known it was coming for years now.I’ve used the time to declutter pretty much the entire house. The basement, attic and big outside shed are my husband’s domain. He’s definately into his “stuff” ( everyone needs 3 ride on lawnmowers-2 of which are broken and used for “parts”), and keeps on insisting we have a yardsale. I finally agreed buttold him to be realistic concerning prices and if it doesn’t sell it immediately gets loaded onto the truck and goes to Goodwill. Heaven help me….

  23. Depending on what you have you could donate to Collectibles With Causes. They accept things like jewelry, furniture, baseball cards, paintings, and a lot more. You may be able to donate some, if not all, the items you have that you no longer want. They’re experienced with donations of all sorts, and they can answer any questions you might have about the process. If you’re interested you just have to submit this online donation form.

  24. Hello Brooke! I googled “Will the Universe give back to me if I donate things to Goodwill?” and I found this website and was so relieved and packed up the clutter in the back porch room that has been sitting there FOREVER and finally took it to the Goodwill donation center. It was a lot of memories and hard earned money on so many good items that I either used or never used. It felt good to LET GO and feel good about donating and helping other people enjoy “stuff” I no longer need. I got rid of the old and brought in the new. I went on a shopping spree at Ross and splurged on items that I needed right now. So I guess it works out with giving back and then the Universe always gives back to me. Thank you for all of your advice and helpful tips. I agree with everything you offered and it is good to know I am not alone with this topic. It saves a lot of time, money and emotional energy to just give it away and be done with it all. What a relief and no more depression and confusion wondering what to do with everything. Life goes on I feel so much lighter and happier about getting rid of it ALL. Thank you again for your help. LIFE IS GOOD AND WE ARE ALL TRULY BLESSED!