Anyone who’s known me for more than 10 years knows that I’m a recovering memento-aholic. I was the kid who had thoughtful and organized collections of bottle caps, sports cards, shiny rocks, keys, and things that looked like fossils. I’m quire sure I carry a genetic marker that forces me to hang on to things. This article is about simultaneously breaking these bonds of clutter and turning junk into liquid wealth.
Estimated reading time: 16 minutes
Assessing your crap
So… what kind of crap are you hanging onto? Early in 2016 I came to the realization that my wife and I were the unknowing landlords for an entire army of inanimate, unused items. Let’s review the typical reasons you may have come into ownership of such kinds of clutter:
- gifts you received many years ago, did not immediately assign a function in your household, and left to gather dust in its original box
- items that you long ago purchased a newer or better version of
- things that are slightly broken that you swore you’d figure out how to fix and never did
- items that you thought were going to be collectible but are today nearly worthless
- the leftover detritus of old home improvement projects (such as tile, wood flooring) that you kept in case something broke
- stuff you used to use, but your hobbies and interests have changed and now you do not
- furniture from three apartments ago that fit that particular space but you’ve never quite found a decent spot for since
- stuff you kept for your future children, but you left in a box and bought new things instead
- etc etc
For recovering clutterheads, it really is tough to consider an item you’ve owned for a substantial amount of time with the cold eye of objectivity. I think we all have that weirdo inside of us who gets attached to the clothing iron we bought in 2004, replaced in 2015, but could not bring ourselves to throw out on account of that second house in the mountains we might buy in 2046 that could very well need a clothing iron. Why get rid of a perfectly good iron!?
The first step is acknowledging we have a problem! Here’s a trick that I call the “One Year Rule” — it’s important enough that it deserves its own Maxim:
DadMath Maxim #5: Always follow the “One Year Rule” — if you haven’t used an item in your possession in the last 12 months, get rid of it
This really does work for everything — clothes, household items, vehicles, garden seeds, appliances…. whatever. If you haven’t used something in the last year, you don’t need it (or at least, the present-day version of you doesn’t need it).
So, how do we get organized to systematically account for all of the crap we own, sit in judgement of each item, and send the laggards straight to the guillotine? One way to rationalize such a silly process is to do it for home insurance purposes. A few years ago my wife and I literally sat in each room of our house with a spreadsheet open, documented every non-affixed item, took a picture of it, and estimated its replacement value. I then uploaded a copy of this Excel file to the cloud so that I could, you know, access it if my house was destroyed.
This process is not only worthwhile in case your house burns down and you need to account for all the stuff you lost, it also a) makes you realize that all the stuff you’ve bought in your life hasn’t been for naught, and b) helps to provide a relative reference in your mind of which items have value to you and which items do not. It’s hard to rationalize owning a kitchen appliance you’ve used once in 5 years next to the kitchen knife you use everyday.
DadMath Maxim #6: Invest in increasingly higher quality versions of the things you use increasingly more often
If you use that kitchen knife everyday, there’s a decent chance you bought it at Wal-Mart when you were 24 and have been suffering through a piece of crap, completely oblivious to a parallel life you could have led with a top quality blade that makes chopping onions feel like slicing through butter. Most people own the crap knife, but also own a Quesadilla Maker that they use once a year that costs just as much as the quality kitchen knife would cost.
In short, creating a list of your possessions gives you the ability to consider the utility you derive from each item in context to all other goods you own. Your goal is to own the best cost-effective versions of the things you use most often and to get rid of everything you do not use.
The Purging Challenge
I am going to personally challenge you to try to sell every item in your house you do not use. Hence, the $1500 Purging Challenge! Why $1500? It feels like the right conservative dollar estimate for things that most people have lying around in basements, storage rooms, closets, garages, and (God forbid) paid storage units. Here is the general sequence I want you to follow:
- Download the smartphone app for Kijiji or Craigslist (depending on which is most popular in your area)
- Make a list of all the stuff you own
- As you make the list, note each item that you have not used in 12 months
- Take a picture of the item, open the smartphone app, and create a posting for the item (this is free)
- Take three photos of the item. Stage them in a place of your house that looks nice, like a wood dining table or wood floor. If the item turns on, take at least one photo that shows the item working. If it’s still in original packaging, do not take it out.
- Pick a title that includes all the key words you would use to search for an item like this. I target about 4-7 words (not too long or too short).
- For the description, use no more than four sentences. These should be well-composed sentences so people know you’re an educated person and not a crackhead. There’s no need to add things like “or best offer” — this is assumed.
- If you can’t find a category you like, search Kijiji for the thing you’re listing and see what most people categorize the item as.
- To set the price, I typically search Kijiji for items that are closest to mine to find comparable prices. I’ll then decide what I would prefer for a final selling price, and then add 10% rounded to the nearest $5. This is now your bargaining room.
- Put all of these items into one room of your house. This is now your ‘store room’. It will take about three months to fully clear this up, so pick a space you can dedicate for this purpose. It should be preferably near your front door.
- Decide if you want people to come to your house or meet in a public area. I won’t comment on the safety of either approach, but I always just ask people to come to my house — your time is valuable and saving the time to meet them gave me a sense of time value. The default assumption of most people is that the buyer travels to the seller’s house. Though, I actually have delivered three items to people’s houses for an extra price I negotiate.
- If someone contacts you, simply let them know the item is still available and it will be sold to the first person who arrives to pick it up. If the person wants to bargain beforehand, gradually fall back to your desired price if necessary and let them know when you’ve reached your bottom price. Stay firm on this. If the person negotiates at your house you have more license to get a higher price, as the person has already traveled to your home. If they start saying “well this is all the money I brought” just be courteous and say that this is your bottom price. The person usually has the extra cash. If price literally never comes up, don’t worry — I would say that 30% of transactions just end with someone handing you your list price, which is why as the seller I never bring up price until the buyer does. Always demand exact cash — you do not need to have a money float to make change or need to accept cheques.
- Kijiji lets you re-list an item after two months for free. I’ve only had to relist about 10% of the items I’ve put up for sale — most items are gone by then. It’s actually insane how many people are looking to buy other people’s leftover crap. At this point, you may want to lower your list price, but not necessarily.
This initial process is a time investment, but you only need to do it once for each item — once listed, all you have to do is respond to questions and arrange pick-up times. A pick-up takes about a minute of your time.
Your challenge is to raise $1500 in cash by selling your stuff. You may have much, much more lying around that you can sell, but I will challenge most people who think they have much, much less. Really look at your stuff objectively — it doesn’t take much to get to the $1500. Here’s how I did it.
My journey to selling $2,105 of stuff on Kijiji
Over 2016, I listed 55 items for sale on Kijiji, sold 42 of them (so far) and raised $2,105 in revenue. This was all just stuff lying around our house. Since these are termed personal use property by Canada Revenue Agency and I’m not running this activity with the expectation of profit (I will not make positive return on these items) there are no capital gains or income taxes to declare. Each dollar I generate will be mine to keep.
55 things I listed on Kijiji in 2016
|Item||Age (Yrs)||Selling Difficulty||Status||Selling Price|
|Motorola Cable Modem||11||2||Sold||10|
|Motorola Cordless Phone||10||3||Sold||25|
|Tassimo (Broken)||4||5||Thrown Out||0|
|PS3 (Broken Controller)||4||1||Sold||60|
|Beatles Rock Band||7||4||Sold||75|
|32-Inch Dell LCD TV||10||2||Sold||100|
|Ikea TV Stand||10||1||Sold||20|
|Motorola Cable Box||4||2||Sold||30|
|Motorola Cable DVR||4||2||Sold||60|
|Framed Beer Poster||3||5||Given Away||0|
|Wall Photo Display||2||5||Sold||10|
|Antique Barn Window||7||4||Sold||60|
|60' De-Icing Cable||4||3||Sold||10|
|Tire Tote Bags||3||2||Sold||15|
|50pc Assorted Cutlery||10||4||Sold||25|
|Canon Printer (Broken)||5||5||Given Away||0|
|Huge Framed Art Print||7||5||Sold||80|
|Coach Leather CD Wallet||14||5||Kept||0|
|Clothing Iron (Broken)||11||5||Thrown Out||0|
|LED Keychain Light||4||5||Sold||5|
|Eddie Bauer Portable Speaker||5||4||Sold||5|
|LED Keychain Microlight||4||5||Thrown Out||0|
|Bluetooth Selfie Stick||2||3||Sold||10|
|USB Travel Charger||3||5||Thrown Out||0|
|iPhone 4S (Broken)||4||1||Sold||65|
|Pentax Digital Camera||12||4||Sold||10|
|Sony Digital Camera||10||3||Sold||25|
|Panasonic Digital Camcorder||9||3||Sold||65|
|Beatles Revolver LP||1||5||Active||0|
|Volvo SUV Accessory||0||1||Sold||300|
|25sqft Marble Tile||4||4||Sold||100|
|iPhone 5s (Broken)||3||1||Sold||80|
|Chest of Drawers||2||1||Sold||70|
|Business Card Holder||3||5||Thrown Out||0|
|Silver Ring||20||5||Thrown Out||0|
|IKEA Double Bedframe||0||1||Sold||25|
|IKEA Sheet Set||0||4||Sold||60|
|Denon Receiver (Broken)||4||2||Sold||20|
The above table lists all 55 items I listed, the average age of each item, how difficult selling each ended up being, the status of the item, and the final selling price. The selling difficulty is as follows:
1: sold within 48 hours
2: sold between 2-7 days
3: sold between 1-3 weeks
4: sold or active between 3-8 weeks
5: sold, thrown away, kept, or active after 2+ months
Here’s a table that summarizes what happened to all 55 listings and the average time I’d owned each item in years:
So I sold over three-quarters of the items I listed, threw away 6 items after a) finding out they were truly broken and not worth saving or b) did not sell and were small and worthless enough to throw away, gave 2 items away for free that were too big to throw away, and kept one item after it didn’t sell and I ended up using it again. Four items are still active.
You can see items that sold were generally younger than items that didn’t (though not substantially so).
The above table classifies the item by their selling difficulty, showing average age, average selling price, and total revenue raised by each selling difficulty classification. Perhaps paradoxically, the easiest items to sell were the more expensive items while the hardest items to sell were the cheapest ones. There’s a slight correlation to suggest that younger items are easier to sell than older ones.
You can see that 25% of my items were classified as Difficulty 5 to sell, while these items only generated 4.5% of my revenue. If I really wanted to optimize this, I probably would have defined certain price and item category thresholds in order to list at all. E.g. if an item has a 50% chance of getting $5 and a 50% chance of needing to be thrown out, is it actually worth the time to list in the first place? Probably not. But I needed data to support this assertion and listed basically everything I could.
It takes about 10 minutes to list an item and probably about 5 actual minutes per item to sell.
15 minutes * 55 items = 13.75 hours invested
$2,105 revenue / 13.75 hours = $153.09 per hour
Unless you can easily substitute an activity that generates $154 per hour for this activity, it’s absolutely worth it to go through this process to sell your extra stuff instead of throwing it all out.
Things that sell relatively easily on Kijiji:
- Apple products of any age
- most technology/electronic products of any age (if priced right). Caveat is obscenely outdated tech like crappy digital cameras or old blackberries.
- furniture – larger items seem to sell better, like beds, TV stands, coffee tables
- small kitchen appliances
- power tools or gardening equipment
- video game systems
More difficult to sell:
- household items
- anything you wear or come into contact with (headphones, mattresses, glasses)
- art or prints
- hand tools
- video games or accessories
Avoid selling on Kijiji altogether:
- CDs, DVDs, VHS, cassettes, or vinyl (I’ll write about these first two later)
- Clothes (I donate all my old clothes)
- Small or broken household items worth less than $10 (probably better to throw out). I do still list items that are too large to throw out for free on Kijiji — better to avoid paying a fee to take to city dump.
- Collectibles of any variety (much better to sell on eBay)
- Bizarrely specific tech, like old remote controls for DVD units you’ve thrown out or old factory car stereo units (these sell for hilarious prices on eBay)
Additional random Kijiji tips:
- Clean your items with a damp cloth before taking photos and clean the floor or table you’ll be taking the picture on
- Make sure that your photo shows no other items of clutter, lest the person thinks it’s included
- Take the picture in very high light — either in a good sunlit room or with high artificial light. Ensure the autofocus is training onto the item itself. These pictures will sell your item. Make the photo feel semi-professionally done. The image at the top of this article is one I took of an old iPod.
- If someone is giving you a bad feeling, you are not obliged to hand out your address. I’ve done this a few times if the person was pushy or schemey.
- It’s perfectly fine to sell broken items. Just clearly state its condition (say, add ” – Broken Screen” to the title and state what the issue is in the description). I’ve sold plenty of busted items and I’m not sure why anyone buys them, but whatever. However, I do draw the line if it’s getting pathetic, like my trusty old clothing iron that just didn’t work.
- It’s ok to play people off of each other. I have sold things for above list price if I get two offers fairly quickly for list. Just clearly communicate the offers you’ve received and see what happens. What’s the worst that can happen — selling to someone else eventually?
- Clearly state the item will go to the first person to pick it up for a particular price. I’ve made this mistake, giving people a day or two to pick something up, they no-show, and the other people are now off the hook. Keep the time pressure on — say if the item is still here tomorrow, they can have it, but there are no guarantees. I had one guy guilt me into oblivion when I said he could pick up an item two days from now, but then I received multiple later competing offers to pick the item up that day. Just always say ‘first come first served’. Done.
- I always use the pronoun “we” in my listings. I think it helps to disarm women concerned you might be a serial killer and it would likely make a woman listing an item feel like she’s giving the vibe that her scary husband will be present at the sale. Screw it — even use “we” if you’re single.
What this adds to your net worth
Think about what this process is doing. You bought all of these items in the past, likely directly transforming your labour into the items. Each time you sell a piece of junk, you’re reversing the flow, and recapturing some of the time and effort you invested into them. It’s like you’re recollecting the ghosts of your own labour.
Let’s make some assumptions — my favourite! Let’s assume you meet this Challenge and sell $1500 of old stuff in Year 1 that you probably would have either thrown out, sat on forever, or given away. Then let’s say you remain vigilant from now on and sell the equivalent of $150 of stuff in today’s dollars every year (assuming 2% annual inflation). Let’s assume that you do this for 30 years. This would result in an “in-the-pocket” addition of $7,435 to your net worth if you stuffed every dollar into a burlap sack over the 30 year period. But remember Maxim #4:
DadMath Maxim #4 – Invest 100% of every dollar you save
We’ll assume you can net an average nominal return of 7.5% every year using a balanced portfolio of financial instruments. Let’s see what the Purging Challenge will add to your net worth over 30 years:
Addition to your net worth over 30 years
By purging yourself of unused items, you could be adding over $30,000 to your net worth in 30 years. The more revenue you can raise from your junk in Year 1, the more this number will increase disproportionately higher.
Present-day money is huge — it’s the best money you’ll ever get your hands on. Many of the budget hacks I’ll propose require long-term adherence to gaining smaller amounts of money over time. The Purging Challenge is one way to get your hands on a bulk of cash in Year 1 and get it working immediately — that $1,500 all on its own will be worth over $12,000 in Year 30.
(Aside: I’ll be charting all of these tips to increase your net worth on the Financial Hacks Tracker page, which now has two entries! This page is also linked off on the main menu in the top right of each page.)
So what am I going to do for 2017? I’ve got 4 listings carried over from 2016, I’ve added two more this morning (an iPod from 2007 and a spinning shoe tree still in the box!), and I’m committed to getting to the next layer of unused goods in our house. My goal is to raise $500 this year to add to the $2105 in cash I deposited last year (which is already sitting in an investment account hoovering up financial returns). As long as this remains selling personal items only (and not buying and selling items on Kijiji for purposes of junk arbitrage) it’s all tax free.
The gauntlet is laid! Sell your crap! Raise $1,500 free dollars! Declutter your house! (This is my attempt to fire you up).
Get listing people…