As my great-grandmother used to say. She said it, apparently, while preparing to move. Somebody else (dunno who, but probably not a relative) said that three moves are the equivalent of one fire in terms of loss of personal property. Well, I’m not moving, and not planning on having a fire. But I am (as my brother-in-law puts it) downsizing—trying to get rid of roughly one room’s worth of stuff so I can rent the room out and AVOID having to move. I am also trying to assure myself that the stuff I give away will find a good home, and not just end up burdening the planet in a landfill. In the process, I am discovering or maybe slowly formulating a system.
You start by deciding which items you want to sell and which ones you just want to give away. For giveaways, there are places to donate and then there’s Freecycle, and then there’s your friends and colleagues. Freecycle is like a no-cash version of craigslist, operating in all major urban areas and lots of smaller places. Places to donate can be googled, and you can also just ask your friends about their favorite places to donate.
Make a list of the giveaway items, or take digital photos, or both. Ideally, pair the photos with the items on the list. Give, or send, the list to your friends and colleagues whom you run into on your daily rounds. Be clear about whether you are trying to sell this stuff or give it away. If you donate to a non-profit, it’s worth your while to get receipts for the estimated value (which the non-profit will probably take your word for) so you can deduct it from your taxes later on.
I’ve done a lot of the donating already, but I just discovered that my newly-adopted credit union has a place to donate used eyeglasses, so I’m going to pull those together one of those days. You will continue to stumble across this kind of thing for a while now. Just carry a notebook to take the information down, and collect it together every so often.
If you are trying to sell an item, you may want to get some idea what people more experienced than you think it’s worth. I got suggested prices on our audio and video equipment from the guy whose store sold us most of it. Research in craigslist and eBay may also be helpful. If you’re listing furniture, you may want to pay a call on the Salvation Army and price similar items there. You will discover (I found this out while working on a case involving destruction of a tenant’s furniture by a landlord’s broken water pipe) that “used furniture” is no longer worthless. In fact, these days, it can be worth a fair amount. The same goes for used clothing—check it out in various resale shops, maybe both upper- and lower-tier. Ditto used books, although a lot of stores just use the rule of thumb of ½ of the original price on the cover, which saves a lot of time. You may want to post lists of items for sale (with or without photos attached, and with or without suggested prices—I’m trying it several different ways, and will gladly report on results as I go along.)
Bear in mind that, if you have kept your stuff long enough, it may have magically transmuted from used furniture (or whatever) into “vintage”, or even antiques. The Immigration and Customs people classify anything older than fifty years as “antique” for purposes of assessing duties. At that point, you need to check antique and vintage stores for prices, which should be somewhat higher.
If you resort to eBay and craigslist, take a look at the ads other people have posted, to get some idea what kind of information people supply and how they price items similar to yours. In any case, a picture is usually worth at least a few hundred words, and even a snapshot from your phone will probably be useable.
Speaking of freecycle and craigslist, which operate on a local basis, you obviously don’t want to tell utter strangers, online, your name, address, and how many valuable goodies you have lying around. Most people provide emails for contact, or even have the email hidden by craigslist format. These days, landline phone numbers can easily be traced to addresses. Cell phones are probably safer. It helps to arrange to meet prospective buyers in a public place (like the Starbuck’s catty-corner from where I live), and preferably show up there with a large, physically fit-looking guy who can also, if necessary, help in carrying your stuff out to the buyer’s car.
Ebay, which (unlike craigslist and freecycle) operates nationwide and presumes that most transactions are not face-to-face, has its own systems for protecting your safety, including getting paid from a distance. Here are some links for dealing with them:
Sometimes the nicest thing about owning something is the opportunity to give it away to somebody who needs it more. Peace and light to you all.