← Back to All Columns

Columns

Donate, Sell or Store

How do we know when it is time to part with something? Once we make a decision to let go, how do we know whether to donate or to sell? If we decide to sell, do we consign, eBay, Craigslist or put together a garage sale? Depending on what the item is, there are also emotional and circumstantial elements to consider when dealing with clutter and extra Stuff (with a capital “S”). No wonder we put off making decisions about it all.

In past columns I’ve talked about parting with clutter that is, for all intents and purposes, garbage. Broken, expired, stained and other adjectives describe these items that need to be trashed, not donated. In today’s column we are talking about clutter that includes extra clothing and furniture in good condition; boats, trailers and cars that are just taking up space; heirlooms and decorative items that are perfectly fine but not your taste, etc. These things have value, but how much? 

Each person facing these de-cluttering dilemmas should figure out the hourly value of their own time first. Break down your income into a rough per-hour figure. This is an objective way to figure out if it makes sense for you to have a garage sale or spend time listing items for sale on Internet sites. If you are an executive working 60 hours a week, the tax write-off of donating potential garage sale items is probably the best choice. Your extra time might be better spent with family and friends. 

If you are unemployed, every extra dollar counts, and several hours spent putting price stickers on your knick-knacks and creating eye-catching street signs for your sale is not a bad use of your time. 

You can figure out if something is worth storing much the same way. All too often my clients have moved house or inherited items and put a bunch of Stuff in a self-storage unit as a short-term solution to dealing with the clutter. Two, three, ten years later, they call me, desperate to get out of the storage unit, after realizing that (for example) they’ve stored a $200 mattress, boxes of old record albums and a second-hand couch for four years at $120/month or more. Ouch!

So, do the math: What is the value of the stuff, what is the cost of the storage unit and what is your time frame for keeping the item stored? Your emotional attachment to the items can be factored in later, once you see the naked numbers.

There are individuals and companies who will navigate eBay for you these days, which is wonderful for those of us who have some collectible or other valuable items to sell and don’t have the time or interest in learning e-commerce or improving our pack-and-ship skills. Twenty to 50 percent is the usual commission for these services, so if you can afford not to receive 100 percent of the proceeds, it’s a much less stressful way to go. Check out www.auctionittoday.com and 877isoldit.com.

Consignment stores are wonderful, but you will only get 40-60 percent of the final sale price of your items. You should also do a careful inventory of your items and be sure to check in with the store at 30 days and 60 days (the usual sales cycles for consigned items) to pick up any unsold items and to make sure that all sold items have been credited to your account. Consignment stores deal with tons of items, frequent turnover, and lots of consigners, so things can fall through the cracks. I’ve never had a problem collecting a credit as long as I had an original inventory of what I brought in.

Craigslist is brilliant because it is community based and there’s no shipping involved. This means large items like furniture and cars are as easy to list as a Prada handbag. Listing on Craigslist is free and it is easy to use, but ads need to be replaced each week if your item doesn’t sell, so again, if you are making enough money and your time is more valuable than your extra Stuff, this selling option may not be for you.

If I had my way, all of my clients would be out of self-storage units, and the Stuff they love or absolutely need to save would be incorporated into their homes and offices. I do think storage rentals are wonderful for transitional periods; we all go through times we need extra space and some “breathing room” to figure things out. But when we are ready to move forward, it’s time to donate, sell or bring it on home.