Money-smart Ways to Turn Clutter into Cash
Whether your downsizing to new digs or just clearing out clutter, we found tips to help your cleaning spree pay off.
We all tend to accumulate extra stuff over time. In fact, 78% of us admit we’re overwhelmed by clutter and aren’t sure what to do with it, according to a 2016 survey by the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO).
Educators are no exception and often face unique pressure to get organized between school years. Whether you’re downsizing for a move or to take a new job, or just streamlining your regular home and classroom overflow, there are financially savvy ways to declutter—and potentially pocket some cash in the process. Use these tips to help sort through your options.
Donate for a tax break
Sometimes, it really is better to give than receive—because charitable donations made to qualified organizations could lower your tax bill. If you itemize on your federal income tax return, the IRS lets you deduct the fair market value of your giveaways if they are in “good used condition or better.”
Put a value on your donations with valuation guides of popular charities, such as Goodwill and the Salvation Army. These guides give average prices of items sold in their stores. Most tax-preparation software also can help with this task. With TurboTax’s free tool ItsDeductible.com, for example, you can value your itemized list and keep track of donations online or through a mobile app throughout the year so that all the data is ready come tax time.
In any given tax year, you can deduct charitable contributions worth up to 50% of your adjusted gross income. Just remember to always get a receipt as proof of your generosity. And if your noncash donations total more than $500, you’ll also need to attach IRS Form 8283 to your tax return.
Sell and pocket the cash
You’ve heard it before: One person’s trash is another person’s treasure. If you think you have some potential moneymakers on hand, it may pay to explore online sellers, trade-in deals, consignment outlets or yard sales.
On online-auction site eBay.com, for example, do a keyword search for listings of “sold” items by brand, product type or description. That shows you final selling prices, which helps you decide whether an item is worth posting for sale. You can list up to 50 items a month free and pay 30 cents per item thereafter (unless you already have an eBay store). When you get paid, eBay gets a 10% cut of the sale, and PayPal takes 2.9% plus 30 cents per domestic transaction to process payments.
Too complicated? Consider enlisting eBay Valet to sell for you. With this service, you’re trading money for time. Mail in your stuff with a postage-paid label, or drop off at a FedEx location. The greater the sale price, the more you earn. And if your items don’t sell within 60 days, Valet will return them to you for free.
If you’d rather stay local, you can list your castoffs on one of Craigslist’s 415 free local sites in the U.S. This may be a good choice for big things, like furniture, that you’d rather not ship. Another option is to use a neighborhood listserv, if you have one.
Inundated with a bunch of used electronics, technology, DVDs or CDs you no longer need? Several sites (and their mobile apps) will trade them for cash or gift cards. Among the most reliable and easiest to use are Amazon Trade-In, Best Buy Trade-In, Decluttr, or Gazelle.
If time isn’t a priority, consider consignment. Resale shops often specialize in certain merchandise, such as clothing, furniture or sporting goods. You’ll have to call to verify that a shop wants what you have and make an appointment to bring in your consignments. A growing number of online thrift sites also cater to the secondhand market, such as Swap.com and Poshmark. Online or in-store, most consignors display your items for 45 to 60 days, and mark down the price as time passes. You’ll earn between 50% and 80% of the price of anything that sells.
Have a little bit of everything? Well-planned yard sales can get the job done in a weekend. Sorting and pricing takes time and effort, however, and you’ll need to know if your neighborhood or homeowners’ association enforces any rules about such sales. To build traffic, you can advertise your sale a week in advance for free at websites such as gsalr.com or yardsales.net. These listing services post details and maps to thousands of sales each week. Check out other yard sales the weekend before yours to see how items are priced. Then, set prices slightly higher than what you expect to get and be prepared to negotiate.
Recycle and repurpose
Give your stuff a second chance and help your peers by checking into whether your region has a local marketplace for surplus or gently used teaching materials. In Maryland, for example, Baltimore Teacher Supply Swap takes donations of school supplies, classroom materials, curriculum supplements and arts and crafts items. The nonprofit organization then redirects the goods to local teachers, students and youth programs in need.
Another source: HootofLoot, a free, online classified ad website for secondhand teaching supplies. Launched by a fifth-grade teacher in Oklahoma, the site operates as a resale hub with 36 product categories in which to post ads. Buyers contact you directly via email and work out payment and shipping.
There are several other online marketplaces where teachers buy and sell original educational materials as well (Teachers Pay Teachers is one of them). However, with these types of sites, take note: If you are a teacher under contract, make sure you know who holds the copyright to the works you create before trying to sell them. If your employment contract assigns copyright ownership of materials produced for the classroom to the teacher, then you probably have a green light. Absent any written agreement, however, copyright law stipulates that materials created by teachers in the scope of their employment are deemed “works for hire” and, therefore, the school owns them.
Give away, toss and don’t look back
Still can’t find a good home for some of your castoffs? You might try The Freecycle Network, which matches people who have things they don’t want with people who can use them. This nonprofit online community has 9 million members; local groups can be found in towns throughout the U.S. Membership is free and everything posted also is free. When you’ve got a taker for an item you list, just put it on your front stoop for pickup.
Once you’ve parted with the bulk of your discards, check the condition of what’s left. Items with excessive use or wear, things that are broken beyond repair, or even materials that are just vastly outdated are prime candidates for the trash bin. Still have a lot to unload? Junk haulers such as 1-800-Got-Junk or Junk King take almost anything and donate or recycle much of it. You pay by the fraction of a truckload that your junk occupies, and you can get online estimates of cost by zip code.
Reap the ‘psychic’ rewards
Now that you’ve figured out the rightsizing moves that suit you best, get ready to enjoy another payoff. According to the NAPO survey, most of us (82%) strongly believe that if we are more organized and have less clutter, our quality of life would be better.
In other words, winnowing your possessions comes with a powerful added bonus: It can simplify your life and refocus your priorities.
See more information on your NEA Member Benefits website.