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Making money while decluttering? Yes please! Interview with "Toss Keep Sell!" author and blogger Leah Ingram

by Meagan Francis on February 11, 2011

Toss Keep Sell: The Suddenly Frugal Guide to Cleaning Out The Clutter and Cashing In, by Leah Ingram

Okay, show of hands: how many of you have stuff you don’t need lying around the house, causing clutter and mess–but you haven’t done anything about it because: you’re pretty sure that heirloom pie plate might be kinda valuable (but you have no idea how valuable, nor how to find out, nor where to sell it,) or you think you might be able to use that extra bookshelf one day, or you just aren’t sure whether it’s better to toss that pile of old socks or try to recycle them?

Today’s guest can help. Leah Ingram is the author of several books on saving money and the creator of the Suddenly Frugal blog. She’s here today to tell us about her new book Toss Keep Sell! The Suddenly Frugal Guide to Cleaning Out The Clutter and Cashing In, as well as share some tips on getting rid of your stuff–and maybe making some cash in the process.

Meagan: Tell us about your book, Leah!

Leah: Toss Keep Sell! serves a dual purpose: to help people get their homes organized, and to get cash for their clutter. This book grew out of my earlier book Suddenly Frugal: How to Live Happier and Healthier for Less, which grew out of my blog Suddenly Frugal (www.suddenlyfrugal.com). That book was designed to help recovering spendthrifts, who suddenly found themselves needing to live frugally, figure out where they could cut costs without sacrificing the quality of their lives. It’s the plan my husband and I had to take back in 2007.

But here’s the dirty little truth about living frugally: after a while, there’s nothing left to cut. And when there’s nothing left to cut, you’ve got to find ways to bring in more money. Short of getting a second job, I started thinking about ways my readers could up their income, and I realized that most of the posts I’d done on my blog that talked about getting cash for my clutter or cash for my trash were the best received. So I looked into a book’s worth of ways not only to make this extra money but explored how in doing so, you would end up with an organized, neater house.

Meagan: I love that your book divides clutter into three categories: “toss” “keep” and “sell”. Do you have a checklist or set of criteria for what gets tossed, kept, or sold?

Leah: Each chapter of the book includes a “Toss, Keep, Sell” chart that relates to that chapter’s topic. Within that chart I give a brief criteria that would help readers figure out if something is trash (toss), worth keeping (keep), or might be worth some extra cash (sell). Some of the criteria is obvious, such as that you should toss stained, torn, or worn out clothing. And I know what some people are probably saying in response to this. “My kids need play clothes.” Or, “Those make perfect rags.” Or, “Shouldn’t I just donate them to charity?” So let me answer those questions.

Yes, children need play clothes or adults need gardening clothes. But at some point you need to set a limit. Five pairs of pants and five shirts as play clothes are plenty. If you have more than that, then you get into storage issues. Or play clothes getting mixed with good clothes. Or you end up with 12 pairs of old sneakers as I did, because I kept holding on to them in case I needed them for gardening or painting. You know what? No one needs that many old shoes. So I kept a few and got rid of the rest.

Yes, old clothes make perfect rags. But how many rags do you need? We have two of those drawstring laundry bags filled with clean rags. I used to have four. I know I’m saving myself money by using rags rather than paper towels, but four big bags of rags quickly became a clutter problem. I ended up donating those two bags to a local organization that was holding a charity car wash.

Yes, you should donate clothes you no longer want to charity. But it’s not fair to hand down clothes that aren’t even in good enough condition that you and your kids won’t or can’t wear them anymore.

Meagan: I don’t think most people think of decluttering as a moneymaking activity. Can you give an example of a way either yourself or somebody featured in your book has made money while getting rid of stuff they no longer need?

Leah: The interesting thing about decluttering is it isn’t just about the little stuff. For example, when we renovated my daughters’ bathroom, we removed the “vintage” 1960s vanity and listed it on Craigslist. A couple of days later someone came by and gave me $30 for a vanity I no longer wanted or needed, and likely would have just brought to the dump. When I started purging files from my file cabinets and ended up needing fewer file cabinets in my home office, I listed them on Craigslist and got $20 each. When my daughters outgrew their Polly Pocket and Bratz dolls, I helped them put together an auction on eBay, and then ended up making about $80 on toys they no longer wanted to play with. Last month my youngest daughter (age 13) brought four bags of clothes she just didn’t like anymore to Plato’s Closet. While they bought from her only two bags worth of clothing, she walked out with $42 in her pocket. (We donated the remaining clothes.)

Meagan: Give me a little more info about the kinds of selling you cover in the book: eBay, Craigslist, yard sales, all of the above?

"Getting cash for your clutter is great, but having a clutter-free home is even better."--Leah Ingram, SuddenlyFrugal.com

A: I’ve given you some examples above about how I’ve successfully used Craigslist, eBay and consignment shops. A lot of people think that their only or best bet is to have a yard sale. But I’ve always found yard sales to be more work than they’re worth. So I offer advice in the book about finding high-traffic opportunities for a yard sale-like experience, such as buying a table at a local antiques market or a community yard sale that will be heavily advertised and draw lots of shoppers. I did the latter example last year and made about $200 in four hours selling my things. I’d never taken in that kind of money from a yard sale.

Meagan: I purge a lot, but I admit I usually just give things to Goodwill or the Salvation Army because I’m afraid trying to sell stuff will take up a lot of time (or worse, it’ll end up sitting around forever as boxed/bagged clutter or worse, somehow wind up mixed back in with the regular stuff!) Any simple tips for preventing these pitfalls?

Leah: I hear you on this. I still have bags of clothes sitting in my family room from the last clothing purge that I’ve been meaning to take to Goodwill, so I know how that stuff can pile up. I think the best way to think about selling your own clothes is to let someone else do the selling. Bring your clothes to a consignment shop or one of those “U Sell It” locations that list items on eBay for people who want the money but don’t want to spend the time online. Also, when you’re using a consignment shop or eBay, you won’t be able to sell everything. You need to weed out the clothes with designer or recognizable labels or that come from stores people want to buy clothing from (Gap, Banana Republic, Ann Taylor, for example). If you don’t have items like that, then you know not to waste your time trying to sell them for big bucks and donating is likely your best option. Remember: getting cash for your clutter is great, but having a clutter-free home is even better.

Meagan: Do you feel like having a less cluttered house makes you a happier mom? How so?

Leah: You read my mind! Actually studies and surveys have shown that people who live in clutter spaces are more stressed out. I know that I used to be. When you feel like you spend half your time looking for things, because you’ve lost them in the mess, how can you not end up stressed out and unhappy? On the flip side, when I walk into my bedroom closet and see the few pieces of clothing I’ve kept in my wardrobe hanging there neatly, it makes me so happy. And when I’m happy, the rest of my family is happy, too!

Thank you, Leah! I’m feeling inspired to pull out that glassware I’ve been holding on to for over a decade and sell it…but where? I guess I’ll have to read Toss Keep Sell! to find out.

I would love to hear your inspiring stories about ways you’ve cashed in on stuff you no longer need. Ever run a booth at a flea market? Gotten a bundle by selling clothes to a consignment or second-hand store? Had a really successful yard sale (tips, please!) Or used Craigslist or eBay to bring in a nice chunk of change? Please share!

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Alison Alfredson February 11, 2011 at 7:14 am

I just recently sold some table linens on Ebay and it was my first listing ever. It was only $20 worth but man it felt awesome. I also have a china service place setting that I listed but didn’t sell. Doesn’t mean I can’t re-list it. It is worth about $400 so the incentive is there. I look up the items first on Ebay to see what else is out there that is similar, if they have sold or not, and for how much. This is a great strategy that I learned from my husband who sells tons of music equipment. Why list something if no one has sold a similar object. I donate so much stuff, too. Primarily clothing. Sometimes I realize I haven’t bought enough new clothes to make up the difference! : ) Another way I eliminate clothes clutter is by putting the kids’ clothes in labeled bins by size/age and then rotate them with friends and family. Because so many people in my family have had girls (I’ve had three) what comes around goes around and back to me. In the end, after all the babies are born, the bins are donated.

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Suzanne February 11, 2011 at 9:22 am

Actually, my husband has had a lot of luck with a couple other options: trade-in programs and pawn shops. He’s an electronics hoarder and video game junky so the deal is for every new gadget he brings in one has to go out. He had a set of GIANT speakers (I called them Stonehenge) that we wanted to get rid of but since shipping something that large is cost prohibitive and I hate spending my days fielding phone calls from Craigslist he took them to a pawn shop and walked away with $100. It was a great return on 10 year old speakers. I know a pawn shop sounds sort of sketchy but the people we’ve dealt with have always been helpful and willing to compromise.

He also frequents places like GameStop that will give him cash or store credit for his old game consoles or games. Maybe we could get more on Ebay but it’s so much easier to do it all in one trip instead of running to the post office every day for shipping. I will do anything to avoid the post office.

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Cathyhaden December 6, 2012 at 7:37 am

Great ideas about how to make money by de-cluttering useless stuff. Old clothes are definitely perfect for making rags. My grandmother too used some of my very old clothes to make sitting mats, bed covers etc.

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