Selling vs. Donating: Get the Most Out of Stuff You Don’t Need

It doesn’t matter if you’re schlepping boxes across the country or down the street — your useless stuff takes up space and drains your energy in a move. We all want to pare down the packing load and start fresh in a new place by selling or donating your stuff. So we’ve outlined the selling versus donating argument, and hopefully you’ll walk away a little lighter:

Guide to Selling

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Photo by Ryan Fanshaw/Flickr

Pros:

One man’s trash is another man’s handful of cash. You can easily pocket a grand or two grand by selling your unwanted stuff, according to Carolyn Schneider, author of “The Ultimate Consignment & Thrift Store Guide.” Plus, there are dozens of websites that make it easy to sell your stuff. Here are a few of our favorites:

Amazon
This popular online one-stop shop offers the Amazon Seller program, which has a huge customer base. And the product catalog highlights your used stuff on its site next to the new stuff Amazon sells. Listing fees are 99 cents per sale and an additional cut based off final sale price and product category. You are in charge of shipping and setting shipping rates.

eBay
The original site to sell your old stuff, eBay’s online marketplace is especially great for high-value collectibles, like antiques, electronics, and missing parts. You will have a global reach of millions of customers, but you are in charge of shipping. Each item is charged a final value fee based off total sale amount, while insertion prices and reserve-price auction fees vary.

Craigslist
This online classified ads site is paradise for bargain hunters. There are no fees to list or host photos, but there’s also no accountability from Craigslist if the sale goes bad. Since ads are divided into region, buyers pick up the items themselves. This is especially great if you are selling bulky items that aren’t easy to ship.

Facebook
It may not be the first place you think of when trying to sell your stuff, but the community of online yard sale groups is huge. Just search for your state, city, or region and add the word “sell” or “buy” to the search. Many of these groups are private and have a set of listing requirements to avoid spammers and con artists. Facebook doesn’t charge additional fees for these groups, but they offer no accountability if anything goes wrong.

Cons:

Though sites like Craigslist and Facebook are free, using them can be risky. You can’t control what kind of people will respond to your item through a public site, and letting strangers into your home to check out an item can be unnerving. Many cities, however, have started creating buy and sell zones, often near police stations, to make exchanges safer for both parties.

Don’t downplay the time it takes to sell an item online. Consider that you’ll have to take at least these steps, if not more:

  • Cleaning the item to maximize your sale.
  • Photographing it in a well-lit, clutter-free area.
  • Uploading information to your chosen site, including writing a detailed description with the item’s condition.
  • Handling multiple requests from potential buyers.
  • Shipping the item or waiting for interested buyers to come over and pick it up (and hopefully not turn into a no-show).

If your items aren’t worth the dollar amount it would take to organize a sale or if you’re moving in a hurry and don’t have the time to list it, skip selling and move on to donation.

Guide to Donating

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Photo by Fred Hsu/Flickr

Pros:

Your donation can help others — and give you a nice tax deduction. Big-ticket items offer big paybacks on your tax return — like $1,000 for a bedroom set and $250 for appliances, according to U.S. News and World Report.

Oprah’s website shares an entire state-by-state guide of where to donate your stuff. Goodwill and the Salvation Army are both national thrift store chains that accept donation drop-offs. If you don’t have time to drop off, you can even schedule donation pickups with nonprofits like Big Brothers Big Sisters and local veterans groups.

Make sure you choose a registered charity. The IRS shares tips on making a charitable donation that can be written off on your tax return. Before you donate, be sure to itemize or list out every item you’re donating – you have to have this list to estimate the retail value of what you donated. When you drop off your stuff, ask for proof of donation for your contributions; this usually comes in a little half sheet that you sign for. Claim your donations on your tax return as non-cash donations that have been assessed at fair-market value, meaning the price they are sold for on eBay or at local thrift stores. (Goodwill has a great donation valuation chart to help with adding up all the items’ value.)

Cons:

You won’t see an immediate cash return on a donation. Though donations provide a tax kickback, it’s often not the huge reduction people expect. Savings are not dollar-for-dollar. It depends on your tax bracket and rate. And the taxable donations guidelines can be a pain to follow. And donations have to be in before December 31 to count towards the current year.

Note: Not everything you’re trying to get rid of should necessarily be donated. If it’s too ratty, is broken or doesn’t work, or is the tiny odds-and-ends flotsam that we all find in drawers, it’s probably better to just toss it. Donating such items ends up making more work for the charity.

Whether you decide to sell or donate your unwanted items, you can pocket money off your move. And if you meet a few simple criteria, your whole move can be tax deductable, too!

Featured photo by Mike Mozart/Flickr

About the author

Jonathan packed his whole life into a backpack and two years later needed an entire moving truck for everything. He enjoys traveling, getting lost and laughing way too hard. Contact him at jonathan.deesing@imove.com.

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