The Big Sell-Off

One thing that frequently happens when people go through a personal finance and debt epiphany is a big sell-off of their unnecessary purchases. They look around their house at all of the unnecessary stuff they’ve purchased and want to get rid of it. The logic behind this usually comes from one or more sources, among them:

The stuff itself can be a mental block. The presence of a 2,000 CD collection can be a pretty blunt reminder of the foolishness of their spending ways, and it becomes a big mental weight after a while. You just want it out of there to get a fresh start.

The stuff has some cash value that can be turned into debt repayments. That 500 DVD collection has some cash value just sitting there, and now I more or less see it as a waste. Why not turn it into some cash and get rid of that debt a little faster?

It simply feels like a way to take action. When the sense that things really need to be turned around hits people, they often respond with a fervor and want to take action now. Selling unnecessary stuff off is one way to act on that fervor.

I did a big sell-off myself, getting rid of more than a thousand CDs, two hundred DVDs, three video game consoles, about sixty games, and a small mountain of baseball cards – and quite a few other miscellaneous odds and ends that I barely remember. This big sell-off was almost entirely channeled towards paying down my personal credit card debt, eliminating a sizable portion in one swoop.

Here are several tactics to consider if you’re looking at doing a big sell-off.

If you’re unsure, sell it. I started off with just the opposite attitude and I wound up just keeping stuff I didn’t use for very obscure and minor sentimental reasons. Only keep the stuff you’re sure you want to keep – if you’re feeling unsure, either directly specify your reason for keeping it or toss it. If you find that you miss it later on, buy it used – after all, you’re selling it used, right?

For most large collections, identify the individual items that have significantly higher individual value and sell those individually. For example, with my DVD collection, I separated out the box sets and sold them individually on eBay. With my baseball cards, I did the same thing, more or less – I sifted out singles that had obvious value and sold them individually.

My rule of thumb was this – if I felt I could get more than $10 for an individual item, I sold it individually – that’s profit, after all fees and such. My way of doing that was to search any items I thought might be that valuable on eBay. If they exceeded a sale price of about $12 or so, I took the effort to sell them individually.

Why? I estimated I would invest about forty five minutes per sale, all told, and I valued my time at about $10 per hour. I figured that with bulk selling I might be able to recoup a couple of dollars per item, so effectively I was deciding to make at least $8 for my 45 minutes of work for those items over $10 – about right, I’d say.

I almost exclusively used eBay for the individual item sales. eBay allowed me to get more for those individual items with some value than reselling ever would have, assuming of course that the individual items had value themselves. If you’re looking to sell a single film DVD or a single CD, for instance, or any individual baseball cards from the late 1980s, eBay probably won’t fetch you much at all as compared to the time invested, so focus only on individual items with significant value.

Sell the remainder in bulk. What about the mountains of stuff left over? The best approach in terms of time investment is to sell it in bulk. There really are two options – either create some bulk auctions online (like a specific number of DVDs per auction – say 10 – and collecting ones that might have value to the same buyer together) or just take them down to your local used media shop.

Bulk selling online can be tricky, as it relies quite a bit on multiple interested parties discovering and being interested in your small collection. Thus, if you decide to try to sell bundles of DVDs online, consider carefully how to label them. Make sure to include the most well-known items in the title of the auction.

For me, at least, I decided the time investment in selling DVDs and CDs in this fashion online was too much of a time investment and chose to sell them at a media shop. Although I’m sure I could have made more online, the time investment would have been significant.

Don’t just immediately throw that cash into debt repayment. Look down the road a little bit and ask yourself if there aren’t other moves that will pay off more, like putting that cash into items to make your home more energy efficient (like energy efficient lighting, air sealing your home, a water heater blanket, or a programmable thermostat), thus permanently reducing your home energy bills – items like these truly are an investment, as you put in money at the beginning but they pay a lot of dividends over the long haul. Then, each month, you can roll that energy bill savings into debt repayment and, over the long haul, wind up in better financial shape because of it.

Good luck with the liquidation! I’ve rarely missed all of the stuff I sold, but I’ve certainly enjoyed the freedom from oppressive debt.

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48 thoughts on “The Big Sell-Off

  1. Trent,
    This is an interesting thing that I have never experienced. I don’t buy things.
    I mean, I buy a few clothes (mostly for work) and I have purcahsed furniture for my house, but I don’t have a lot of random items.
    I own 2 DVD’s and about 10 compact discs; although I haven’t purchased one in about 5 years.
    I love being a minimalist with regard to gadgets, doo-dads and stuff in general. I detest clutter.
    I do, however, have a soft spot for books. I own many books and I think I will take your advice and pass them on so that knowledge can be shared with others.
    -Tyler

  2. Thank you for this post — I am definitely encouraged to do this. I’ve always been a really bad packrat (as a kid, my mom would have to come in my room every few months with trash bags to throw things out). I’m also one of those “just in case” people. Now that I’m a college graduate and living in my own apartment, the clutter is killing me. I’ve been thinking of cleaning out and selling a lot of my stuff, but haven’t had the will power to do so. But I think it’s time. Thanks for writing about this subject…very inspiring :)

  3. Andy says:

    I think this is great advice and something I’d like to do soon. I don’t have tons of stuff, but enough extra that I could sell some. I just want to freedom of knowing and using what I own.

  4. I agree that this can be a good idea. I would just make sure that you’re making a profit. If the end goal is to get out of debt or have extra cash, there may be other ways that can be more profitable. If the end goal is getting rid of the clutter in your life (which could create peace of mind, comfort, happiness, etc.) then I wouldn’t worry about how much money you will make. I often find that the more cluttered my space is, the less happy I am and the harder it is for me to get things done.

  5. Trent,
    What would you say are the best tips on talking to your wife/significant other about this? My wife is smart financially but if I was selling all of the DVDs, even if we don’t watch them, she would think I am cheaper than I have already shown.

  6. Dan R says:

    I’ve got a bunch of CDs, comics and books that I’ve been thinking of selling, but I was wondering how to get the best price. This is really helpful. And as for the advice about only keeping hold of the stuff you’re sure about – that’s where I’ve been going wrong. Cheers Trent.

  7. Ellis Benus says:

    Wonderful Advice!

    I personally sold off my whole DVD collection some years ago keeping the 10 that I actually watch over and over again…

    Also, I’m trying to start a business named Garage Sale Buyout where I will act like an “I Sold it On eBay” store, and/or someone who comes in and literally buys everything you’ve got and reselling it.

  8. Jules says:

    I tend to get very attached to the things I own. But then again, I don’t own very much.

    That tends to pervade almost everything in my life–I don’t have a lot of things, but what I do have is special.

  9. Joe T says:

    Great advice, though in my experience it takes closer to 5 minutes on average per item to sell CDs and DVDs on eBay, and you get more per disc when you do. A little over 2 years ago, I sold 99 CDs in one lot, and cleared around $2.50 per CD. Earlier this year, I sold about 70 others individually, and cleared close to $5 per disc. I used my first sale as a template for the rest. eBay fills in most of the relevant information about the disc for you if you use the UPC to create the listing.

    That said, I understand that sometimes getting rid of a bunch of stuff in one go is the best way to bust clutter. Before my CD sale, I gave away over 1000 books. If I had it to do over again, I’d sell them in one huge lot or put them on paperbackswap.com, but at the time giving them away made sense, and it was a relief just to have them gone. The strangest part of this is that I’ve never missed a single one of those books, so I know I did the right thing.

  10. Mike says:

    I feel your tip about selling most things off in bulk is a good one. I’ve got a whole ton of stuff I’ve been meaning to eBay for a long time, but creating a bunch of individual auction listings is way too much of a pain. I know I’d make more money that way, but worthless stuff is worth nothing as long as it continues to sit there. It’s best to get it out the door!

  11. Kate says:

    I am dealing with this question right now – I have two pieces of some fancy luggage sitting in my closet that I want to sell.
    I am contemplating whether it would be a better return on my time investment to take it to an eBay store or try to sell it myself on eBay. I do not have an Ebay account set up or even a digital camera to take pictures of it, though.

  12. Bob says:

    I sold about 50 CD’s a few months ago using http://www.secondspin.com They buy DVDs and games as well. You may be able to sell the items for more on EBay but there a no costs to use secondspin other than the cost to mail the items to them. I was very happy with my experience with them.

  13. clint says:

    I call this my 6 month NO. Anything I haven’t used in the last year I sell or through away every six months. It is a great way to look at all the crap I buy and stop doing it. I have been teaching this for years as part of the debt free lifestyle. If you don’t use it don’t keep it and if you don’t keep it don’t buy more of it just to through away later.

    Thanks for the Great Post. I think I will go and clean out my closet now.

    Clint Lawton

    http://www.a-debt-free-life.com

  14. DB says:

    I understand the need to sell off unused items, and the relief that generally comes with it. However, I’m uncomfortable with any six month or year rule as I’ve often heard mentioned. Many items (such as tools) may only come up for use once every few years, but I don’t want to run out and buy a new one when I need it. I’m fortunate to have a barn with excess storage.

    But I do have too many CDs, too many DVDs, and too many books…time for many of them to go!

  15. bakednudel says:

    I have a lot of magazines, CDs, and DVDs that I bought on eBay about 3-5 years ago and would like to sell them again, but eBay seems a much different place nowadays.

    Everything is ‘buy it now’ and looks to be shopfronts for businesses.

    Also, I live in a college town and am afraid the used media stores are full of stock sold by the students leaving last week.

    Anyone have tips who has sold items on eBay since the new year?

    Great article, Trent! Just at the right time since I got some bad financial news and am definitely looking at having a big sell off! You are reading my mind!

  16. Lisa says:

    I am clueless on selling on EBay. I think my music CDs would sell for 1-10 CENTS a piece and only the postal service would make money.

    Do thrift stores (eg: Goodwill, Veterans Thrift Store, St Vincent de Paul, Salvation Army) accept CDs? Can I get a tax deduction for that? That might be a better use of my time.

  17. MVP says:

    I disagree with your advice not to put the money made from selling your stuff toward immediate debt payoff. If you’re out of debt, I agree, put it into something that will make sense in the long run. However, I think many people who are looking around their home for things to sell are getting desperate and anxious to get out of debt (I’m speaking from experience). I’d advise people to first, get out of debt, whatever it takes. Then, worry about cost saving measures like the water heater blanket, etc.

  18. A.M.B. A. says:

    @Lisa – yes, in my area Goodwill, etc accept CD’s, etc. Go to your local one and look around or give them a call. As with any donation, yes, you can get a donor receipt. I’m also clueless on selling on Ebay. Trent – maybe a post on “Ebay for Dummies” for people like Lisa and me??

  19. Andy says:

    There are people out there that really buy baseball cards these days? Now you have me curious. I am gonna go blow the dust off of mine and see what I’ve got. Thanks, Trent.

  20. MoneyEnergy says:

    I love being able to get rid of things.

    This post has made me think of a box of certain collector’s items that I have. Years ago I thought about trying to sell it off (it’s definitely of value to that group of fans!), but I couldn’t think of the right outlet. Ebay might actually work for this. Thanks!

    I would definitely take the money and invest it in good dividend-paying stock.

    Clare @
    MoneyEnergy
    http://fluomundi.typepad.com

  21. Benjamin says:

    You’re right about attacking your debt with fervor. When I first got serious about paying off my debt (after reading dave ramseys book:The Total Money Makeover) I went through everything I had and made a list of what i didn’t need or want

    I then took that list and went to ebay and craigslist and found out what individual items were selling for.

    I was surprised at the amount of money that I got for certain things.

    I bought a guitar from a pawn shop a few years before and when I did a little research on ebay I found that it was a highly coveted guitar worth about $800. I was extremely happy!

    You never know, you might be sitting on a gold mine!!

  22. I just had a quick look around the house and can’t find anything I could sell off, other than five DVDs. Perhaps I need to cultivate an impulse buying characteristic so that I’ll have stuff to sell!

  23. Daniel says:

    I donated most of my things, but I did use E-bay to get rid of some things that couldn’t really be donated. It was pretty amazing the weight that was lifted when I got rid of a lot of my stuff. It’s hard to even figure out how I ended up with so much crap!

  24. KC says:

    I still sell stuff off and I’m out of debt and well on the road to a comfy retirement. But it just makes sense. I’m a big reader – mostly non-fiction. I buy books (that my library doesn’t own), read them, then resale them. Usually the book only costs me $2-$3 that way.

    I’m a baseball card collector. I like to build sets. But cards these days come with inserts that are valuable (have autographs on them). So if I buy a case of cards I’ll sell the inserts and usually make my money back (or come close) and then keep the base cards which I wanted in the first place.

    You don’t have to be in debt to wisely sell off things you no longer need. It’s a wise move for anyone just to get some of the clutter out of their life.

  25. KC says:

    Just read the comment by Andy about old baseball cards. Basically anything produced between 1988 and 2000 was grossly overproduced and has little value. But if you have some rookie cards of the bigger, non-steroid names, you might have a few bucks.

  26. Jeff says:

    Funny, I’m going thru this exact experience. Cleaned up my act financially just over a year ago, have curbed my spending since then, and more recently have begun selling off my stuff – I have about 15 listings on Craigslist as we speak!

  27. I am an obsessive/compulsive collector. For instance, over the last decade I have collected Jadeite Fire King Dishes. If you are not familiar with them, Martha Stewart maed the very popular on her show in the past. The dishes are a lovely shade of green and I had to have all I could find. That being said, I am also a compulsive purger… I now have at least 10 plastic totes of Fire King dishes that are for sale. I have contacted several antique dealers and a couple have expressed in interest. So, next week I hope to unload most of it. The money received will be split between debt and savings.

  28. Cynthia says:

    I love the post Trent. As the owner (with my sister) of two consignment stores in Northern Virginia for the past 20 years I’d like to suggest your readers also consider using services of stores like ours to help them divest themselves of their own under-loved ‘white elephants’! Why invest more time in your stuff doing the ebay thing? Take the whole lot of stuff down to your local consignment store, go about your business – come back in 30 or 60 days and pick up the cash.

    We also operate a thrift store to benefit small, local nonprofits – and like other shops, would love to have donations of CD’s, DVD’s – even VHS tapes (one of the biggest sellers as many people still have VCR’s).

    A great way to locate consignment shops near you is http://www.howtoconsign.com – gives you lots of hints and tips on how to clean out, de-clutter and cash in! If you haven’t been in a consignment shop before, or in a long time, you don’t know what you’re missing! As an industry, we’ve come a long way in the last 10 or 15 years!

    Consignment shops are also a great place to visit first when you are looking for something – why buy new when you can help ‘recycle’ something, save money and ‘Do Good’ for the planet too?

    We sell everything – even baseball cards!

  29. felix says:

    Trent, I completely agree with you that the proceeds from the Big Sell Off should be used in such a way that it will produce the most dividend over the long hual.

    I think that an energy efficient fridge or air conditioner is a better starting place. CFLs can be dropped in piece by piece when funds become available.

  30. Charlie Park says:

    I tried selling some books on Amazon’s used books store … mixed results. On the upside, no listing fees, which is nice. But they didn’t all end up selling, and the cut that Amazon ends up taking (if the book sells) can be surprising. I have a few more I’d like to sell … I think I’ll go back to eBay for those.

  31. KellyKelly says:

    WARNING WARNING

    My friend was audited by the IRS and had huge penalties for not paying taxes on his Ebay sales.

    The auditors told him that even garage sale proceeds should be claimed as income.

    SOrry to rain on the parade here, but if you are making any kind of “decent” money on this type of selling, you should think about the day the IRS truck pulls out outside. They look at EVERY SINGLE DEPOSIT you make in your bank account and ask where the money came from.

  32. Ryan says:

    Re: WARNING WARNING

    That is only true if you are making a profit on those items. But, you do need to maintain some sort of record for what you paid for these items to demonstrate that you sold them for the same or less than you paid. This should not be much of an issue for most folks if you buy things on credit cards (since you can pull old statements to prove it).

    I live in FLA and have seen many many garage sales recently. I’ve even seen homeowners stripping expensive items from their homes before the bank takes over (such as home theater systems, intercom systems, built in music systems, etc.) since many of these items “dopnt convey” in a BK. Kind of sad to see, but it will help many of these folks repay some debt.

  33. KC says:

    KellyKelly – you are right – the IRS can happen. It’s probably not bad to save receipts for things you purchase if you know they’ll end up being resold. A simple accordian file can do this fairly easily and efficiently (no clutter). They won’t discourage me from selling, but yes you are right – they can come knocking on your door.

  34. Mania says:

    For some types of items, you might also look at selling on the Amazon Marketplace. My husband and I sold off about a third of his unread books on Amazon before we moved coast-to-coast. In addition to saving moving charges on about 8 boxes of heavy books, we also made $3000 (net, after taxes).

  35. Richard Miller says:

    You are only taxed on your profit. If I buy a CD for $15.00 and later sell it on a yard sale for $10.00 that $10.00 is not taxable income.

    I am not a tax professional. So be sure to check with your tax professional before listening to what I say.

    Just do not get scared off by well meaning advice that does not give the whole picture.

  36. Luke says:

    RE KellyKelly’s comments:

    I’m not an accountant, but I’m pretty sure you only need to consider profit as income, so if you bought your stuff and are likely selling it at a loss, then it shouldn’t be considered income.

    From the IRS website:
    Did You Have an Online Garage Sale?
    If your online auction sales are the Internet equivalent of an occasional garage or yard sale, you generally do not have to report the sales. In a garage sale, you generally sell household items you purchased over the years and used personally. If you paid more for the items than you sell them for, the sales are not reportable. Losses on personal use property are not deductible, either.

    If you are selling many things that have appreciated significantly, then you will have to report it as income (baseball card collections may count, but be sure you don’t forget how much it actually cost to buy them all in the first place).

    Either way, I would say, for the average person, the tax liability of “The Big Sell-Off” is zero.

  37. Lisa says:

    I am amazed at the DVDs I find for $1-3 at yard sales. I only pay a dollar because I am sending them to Afghanistan for the troops. That way if they get lost in the mail, get broken, lost, ect. it doesn’t matter. I was surprised at the great titles, relatively recent, that I get for $1. I wonder if the ebay and craigslist aren’t making things so easily available that the values drop quickly? Just a thought.

  38. D.B. says:

    I recently read 2 books by Peter Walsh that I have found to be invaluable. “Does This Clutter Make My Butt Look Fat” deals with the links between living in a cluttered home and not having control over your health and weight. “It’s All Too Much” is a step-by-step guide to decluttering your space. I lived in clutter for most of my life, and now I am cleaning up my space both physically and mentally. It feels very satisfying to clean house both physically, mentally, and spritually. It leaves me time and space to focus on the important things, including my financial well being.

    D.B.

  39. clevelis says:

    So true! I attempt to purge at least every six months. Not to mention, I have moved around a bit and shipping “stuff” around the country each time is way too costly. Just yesterday I had a garage sale to lighten my load a bit more. Even considering the low price the cash is of greater value to me than just having stuff for the sake of having it.

  40. Slackbob says:

    Man do I know the feeling. I “collect” pieces of tech for times when I may need them.

    “Maybe I’ll use this extra length of cat5″ (reasonable)
    “Maybe I’ll use this old length of fiber” (Not quite reasonable)
    “Maybe I’ll use this ISA SCSI card” (Umm…)

    And yet, I still have them

  41. teeej says:

    For those freeked out by ebay, try half.com and amazon.com. way less intimidating than ebay.

    the wait can be kinda long, but if you list for the lowest price, items can sell relatively quickly. Maybe list for 2 months, then donate everything that doesn’t sell.

    Now I just have a shelf of books and CDs at home that I can read when I want, until they sell.
    This does require frequent trips to the post office and some time packaging books, but its worth it for me.

    Thanks Bob for the secondspin.com advice. I just made $33 on cds that were never going to sell on half.com

  42. 42 says:

    I sold all of my DVDs, nearly all of my CDs and a number of books on amazon. having a (free) bar-code reader helped immensely so it only took a minute or two for each entry. the ones that didn’t sell or were worth less than $3-4 I gave to Goodwill along with a bunch of other crap I didn’t need anymore.

    selling on amazon can take awhile, give yourself a good wide window and most importantly ship stuff out on time! your rating is valuable. I also think selling on amazon is a lot easier than dealing with ebay and you will probably find that at least one item you have is worth rather a LOT more than you thought! who knew that Blancmange CD I bought 20 years ago for a buck at the used CD shop would bring $45? I sure didn’t! I guess whatever doesn’t sell you could put up on ebay as a bulk buy but I never did that.

    downside is amazon take a healthy commission, but there’s no listing fee either, and you’ll become friends with the local post office clerks since you can’t put that stuff in a mailbox.

  43. Kate says:

    I took the plunge yesterday and took my luggage to an Ebay “I Sold It” store.
    The staff I dealt with were very friendly and helpful. As it turns out, they had a coupon offering a reduced commission cost from any sale. I didn’t have the coupon, but the clerk applied the savings to both my listings.
    I’ll let you know how it all turns out. The immediate result is I have a LOT more room in my closet with that extra luggage gone!
    Thanks for another great post, Trent!

  44. jimmi rehman says:

    I have a ton of Old liquor (sealed) from the 70-80′s it was given to my grand father as gifts when he was in the advertising business, well when my grandmother moved she was going to pitch it all, i asked for it because i assumed it would be of some value but i cant seem to find any “coin collectors” of Wine and sprits, does anyone know where i could find a resource for this?

  45. Niki says:

    We just started going through our closets & bookshelves two weeks ago and have been listing stuff on eBay. So it’s funny to come across this article now! :) Great job on your blog – just discovered it earlier this week and am currently addicted to reading it! :)

  46. Gordon Phua says:

    Dear Trent

    Your article, “The Big Sell Off’, on helping people to sell their unwanted purchases/stuff at home in eBay to help to pay off their debts is wonderful advice.

    Can I have your permission to use it to submit this article to various Article Marketing sites to help thousands of those who are in debts? I will submit this article in full (without any change in text) and I will mention that this article is written by you. Please give me your pemission to submit your article.

    Best regsrds.

    Gordon Phua
    Email: gordonphua@gmail.com

  47. jana says:

    Great article-I just love getting rid of stuff. I would love to someday have everything I own fit into a couple of suitcases…unfortunately my family doesn’t share my passion. Oh well…

  48. deRuiter says:

    Dear Jimmi #44. YOU CAN NOT LEGALLY SELL LIQUOR! You can sell the CONTAINERS of the stuff, and offer to the buyer the option of letting him pour it out if he doesn’t want it, or say you will pour it out if they wish or he can take it with him as is. ATF frowns on private individuals selling whiskey. They have no sense of humor about this sort of thing. Do not even contemplate selling the contents! All internet material is permanent, if you advertise the contents for sale there will be a record forever and the potential for prosecution. On the other hand, you could give a big party, serve whiskey, and sell the empties afterwards. Most of the figural whiskey bottles were mass produced and swamped the collector market, and have limited value today. You might be best off with the party and selling the containers at a yard sale after the guests go home. Look the bottles up on ebay “completed auctions” to see if they bring any real money and you will know what to do. Do not use ebay “active” auctions, completed auctions tell you if the item sold and for how much.

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