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Funny Money: The Finer Points of Getting Rid of Your Junk for Profit

A garage saleSince you read awesome personal finance blogs like this one, surely you’re aware of the mystical powers of compound interest. But did you realize that the same principles apply to stuffed animals and squeeze bottles?

It’s true. When you’re not looking, unwanted knick-knacks that clutter up your house have a way of multiplying, quite possibly as part of a diabolical plan to take over your living space.

Scientists aren’t quite sure how stuffed animals and squeeze bottles multiply. Maybe when we’re asleep, they invite friends over for wild parties, and are too polite to ask them to ever leave. Perhaps they spawn like so many puffballs burstin’ forth from a wet Mogwai. Or possibly it’s because you forget you have so many and keep on buying them.

In any case, even avowed minimalists end up with unwanted stuff that just sits there taking up space when it could be out there earning you some money. Since stuffed animals and squirt bottles don’t often go out and get jobs — even when they promise you that’s what they’re about to do — it’s on you to hock the stuff for cash in one way or another.

Let’s explore the finer points of various methods of freeing up space and stuffing your bank account:

Garage sales

The hope is that you’ll simply round up all the stuff you want out, throw it out on your front lawn and passers-by will not only haul it away from you, but shower you with cash for the privilege. The reality, though, is that most of your stuff will remain unsold, and what little does sell will be at a greatly reduced rate of whatever sticker price you set, thanks to the determined negotiations of dogged bargain hunters. If your profits divided by hours spent sitting there give you more than minimum wage, consider your sale a rousing success.

The downside to the enterprise is that you will be humiliated in front of your friends and neighbors, who will shuffle through your stuff, judge you for various ill-advised purchases, then refuse to buy any of it, leaving you there sitting bored. The upside is that you’ll finally get some time to sit there and finish reading Moby-Dick. On second thought, maybe that’s another downside.

Selling online

Taking your chances via eBay or Craigslist has a certain hermit-friendly appeal. Instead of spending too much time — as you would with a garage sale — pushing your stuff outside and babysitting it for hours, you spend too much tine taking pictures of your items, typing up cute little write-ups about them and then checking your screen every five minutes to see if you’ve got any takers. Come to think of it, what you’re actually doing is setting up OkCupid profiles for your stuffed animals and squeeze bottles.

And just as in the perils of online dating, you amplify your failures because you’re constantly facing off against the competition. It’s so easy for shoppers to compare your prices against others, your only hope is pricing your stuff so low that, after factoring in shipping costs, you’re practically paying people dowries for having the privilege of accepting your junk in unholy matrimony. But at least you’ll never have to look the people who are exploiting you in the eye.

Pawn shops

Slouching into a seedy, windowless puddle of depression to swap out your wares for depressingly tiny amounts of cash does carry the appeal of instant gratification, but the act isn’t quite as romantic as the 14 million pawn store-based reality shows make it seem. Instead of gregarious shop owners engaging you in zany banter, you’re more likely to receive wordless denials of not only the value of your items, but your self-worth in general.

Odds are your unfriendly neighborhood pawn star will turn away everything you dare to present him. In the unlikely event you actually are able to sell him something, you’re forced to suffer the indignity of filling out paperwork that forces you to swear upon all your ancestors’ graves that the 19-inch dorm TV is not stolen property.

Retail trade-ins

Many used book and game stores, big box electronics retailers and online sellers like Amazon are willing to hand out trade-in credit in exchange for stuff you ended up regretting buying rather than renting. There’s usually no negotiation involved, since clerks just sift through your stuff, matching it with pre-set prices concocted by evil computers meant to offer you amounts of credit so small that it will make the other evil computers at the evil computer convention in Vegas chuckle when they’re swapping stories at the bar in between panels.

The most depressing thing of all is when you’re trading in a game for $8 in credit and see someone at the cash register next to you paying $55 for a used copy of that same game. You feel the urge to yank your game away, tug your fellow customer by the shoulder and cut a deal, but lose your nerve, drop your head down and accept your pittance. After all, you need that $8 to pay for a $55 game that you’ll be back there next month to trade back in for another $8.

The moral of this story

Either donate your stuff to charity or become a hoarder.

Have you had any successes selling your unwanted stuff?

Published or updated on May 9, 2013

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About Phil Villarreal

Phil Villarreal writes Funny Money weekly for Money Under 30. He lives in Tucson and works for the Arizona Daily Star. He's also an author, blogger and Twitterer.


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  1. aleena says:

    Yes!! I was hesitant to read this article because I didn’t want a reason to hold onto my crap. In the end, you further strengthened my need to let go and completely GIVE it up. I’ve got one better though- I’m gonna put all the crap curb side with a big “FREE” sign so I don’t have to lug it to goodwill. I don’t get a tax benefit and my nearest goodwill robs its shoppers with their outrageous prices ($2 for an empty used binder?!! $3 for an old tin dog food bowl?!) THANK YOU!

  2. brian says:

    Another option (if you are/were a hoarder at least) is to get a booth at a local flea market to sell your items.
    This is better than a yard sale because you’ll likely have a more patrons who regularly visit the flea market.
    Plus, you’ll get the added pleasure of getting away from your neighbors who were going to browse through your items and likely have only strangers sifting your shameful purchases.

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