Home Downsizing: When to Sell, Donate, Or Consign

Home downsizing is an opportunity to make a little money; emphasis on “little.” Here are some tips on when to downsize, consign, or donate your stuff.


donation box consigment

(image: Judy Baxter)

Downsizing is a big decision and it’s time consuming. What’s surprisingly emotional in the process of downsizing is the concept of value you’ve associated with all your stuff.

From dishes to books, it’s easy to remember what we’ve paid but hard to understand how much of its value evaporates the moment it walks out of a store.

I had “nice” stuff, given that I inherited a lot and got rid of a lot of the crap over the last five years, but the little return I’ve had on things I’ve been offloading has been a rude awakening — and is a powerful lesson on just how much money I literally throw out when I buy things.

Like me, you’ve spent a lot over the years, so it’s natural to want to recoup those dollars when you’re downsizing. There are a few ways to deal with seeking the almighty buck, but you’ll need a reality check too, so let’s tell you what you need to know.

The first plan: A yard sale

If you have a good location, the time to throw a yard sale, and you enjoy that kind of thing, then go ahead and try to sell everything at a yardsale. Give yourself a weekend to run back-to-back sales and just get it all over with. Invite some friends for company, stock up on sunscreen and cold beverages, and have a good time.

Keep prices low so items fly out of your yard. When it’s a dollar or so, you’d be amazed what people are willing to buy. It’s not your problem that they have low standards and buy crap for $1. All that matters is it’s not longer in your home — and you’re up a buck!

If it’s not worth your time to sacrifice 10-20 hours to prepare for and have a weekend yard sale, then don’t do it, as it’s often not with the time for those who earn a good income. But if you go for it, then great! Just have a backup plan for whatever doesn’t sell, so it doesn’t come back inside.

The fancy/lazy plan: Consignment

Consignment stores work on the principle of selling your stuff so you don’t have to. They’ll know what can sell and what won’t, and they won’t take any junk. If you have nice silverware, crystalware, cookery, small furnishings, and other things that are under $50, consignment might be the best, easiest way to get yourself some money.

Picky stores are the best ones because they have a great sense of value, they price things well so they sell quickly for good turnover. You may want the most bang for your bucks, but really, the time you save in consignment is worth giving up some of the profit. You’ll write no ads, answer no calls, take no photos, and have no one flaking out on you for viewing items, and you won’t have to risk having a stranger in your home.

Appraisal process

Instead, you take things in for appraisal. They’ll take what’s good, but likely not everything. Most consignment shops give you a 30-day contract on the sale. If it doesn’t sell, usually they offer to renew the contract at a reduced price, meaning your cut drops. The terms change store to store — some taking as little as 30%, many taking 50%. They’ll pay out cash, usually, after the month closes.

You can consign clothes, shoes, appliances, dishes — anything you want, if you can find a store that handles what you’re hawking.

This is a great busy person’s solution for the nicer things you don’t feel like haggling with a granny to get $5 for at your yard sale, or getting stood up by flakes off Craigslist.

The moneymaker plan: selling privately

Private sales are a hassle because you need to know what the market will bear for your item, and being sentimental does you no good if it means you’ve overpriced the item and it doesn’t sell.

When you’re talking about a sofa/chair set you could conceivably get $1200+ for because it’s high-end and in great shape, like my leather combo I’ll be selling privately, giving up a consignment fee could mean hundreds of dollars.

If selling private is how you want to go, then get the most you can from the good items. Clean them up nicely, take well-lit photographs, write informative ads, be firm on your pricing, and maybe you’ll make some bucks to pay down bills or save for a vacation.

But be vigilant, too. I once had someone buy a bunch off me and pay some cash in counterfeit bills. It’s the worst feeling ever to discover you’ve got funny money in your pocket (especially since spending it is a crime).

Get what you can but expect nothing

Here’s a radical idea: Even if you get only 10% of what all your stuff is “worth” in cash as you dispose of things, it will be worth the loss.

Even if you got nothing, you would move past that initial disappointment and celebrate your new life with less. In the end, the outcome is the reward. A better home, a better life. Your new habits of buying less, living with less, will result in more money in your pocket before long and less stress to go with it.

Make whatever you can, but remember that it’s about what comes after these things are gone, and holding on for too long just because you want a better dollar, that gets toxic fast.

Remember your goal. You want an easier life. Sometimes, that’s easiler done by just walking away and expecting nothing. You might be surprised how little you regret just letting go of much of what you’ve so long thought you valued.

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