In the months leading up to our move from a 3,000 square-foot house with a walk-up attic to a home nearly half that size, I was on a mission:
Purge the clutter we had managed to collect in the course of 30 years of marriage and see how much cash we could raise for an anniversary trip.
If we didn't need it, love it or use it on a regular basis, we put it up for sale.
There's nothing like an impending move to speed the emptying of the closets, the far recesses of the attic and the frozen-in-time bedrooms of children who have left the nest.
But even now, a full year after our down-sizing, the purge continues. Beyond the cash toward our trip, we've found that less clutter has fringe benefits. There's less to dust, less to organize, less to haul to and from the attic.
Among the unwanted, unloved and no-longer necessary items we have sold:
a bookcase, an antique jelly cupboard, an antique wardrobe, a dining room table, two pieces of Ben Owen III pottery, a graphing calculator, dozens of books, Christmas decorations, old appliances, out-dated iPods, toys, clothes, broken jewelry and even a used rain barrel.
The kitty for our trip is hovering at $2,500, and counting.
Mostly, we've sold things online, but we've also toted items to consignment shops, sold unwanted gold and silver at a local jewelry store and rolled our "stuff" onto the driveway in the wee hours of a Saturday morning for a yard sale. We even made a trip to the junk yard.
One of the biggest lessons we learned along the way is that it's a lot easier to purchase things than to purge them -- a huge deterrent to buying more clutter, by the way.
For all those reasons, cashing in on your clutter is a smart financial move. Like coins you find in your sofa cushions, it's found money.
Why not put it to work financing a vacation, shoring up the family emergency fund, adding to a child's college fund, boosting a Roth IRA or bankrolling a cash-only Christmas.
Here are a dozen places that will give you cold hard cash for your clutter:
Electronics retailers: Your old-school technology is worth more than you think. My daughter recently sold her well-used iPod Touch for $62 in cash at Game Stop, which has a generous electronics trade-in program that allows you to choose store credit or cash. Target and Best Buy have similar programs, though both pay you in store gift cards.
Craigslist versus eBay: For the casual seller, craigslist is probably your best bet. The Triangle has an especially vibrant site. In fact, we have received offers within minutes of posting an item. Take advantage of the fact that it's free to post your items, there's no sales commission and you don't have to worry about shipping.
Tip: Be sure to post photos because most buyers won't even click on a listing without a picture. Be honest if your item has any flaws. Include measurements for pieces of furniture. And be prepared to negotiate.
Half.com: Incredibly easy to use, Half.com is great for selling books, DVDs and CDs. Type in the ISBN number and rate the condition of your item using Half.com's rating system. Within minutes you can easily post dozens of items. Emails alert you to a sale and when money is deposited in your account. Half.com takes a 15 percent cut on items up to $50. The seller is also reimbursed for shipping.
Recently, we listed 15 books and DVDs, sold nine of them and made $50. Not bad for an initial half-hour time investment and an occasional drop-off at the post office.
Tip: Be prepared with padded envelopes and ship your items promptly. Before you set your price, check your competition on Half.com and price your book, DVD or CD for a bit less.
Etsy.com: Known more as a virtual craft fair where vendors sell hand-made goods, Etsy vendors also sell vintage items -- everything from pearl-studded clip-on earrings from the 1950s to the 1974 Fisher Price toy record player.
I haven't sold anything on Etsy yet, but I have a few small vintage pieces that are perfect for the site. The price is definitely right. It costs 20 cents to list an item. Once it sells, Etsy collects a 3.5 percent fee.
Tip: Your vintage items must be at least 20 years old. You may also sell your unused craft supplies on this site.
Used bookstores: There are several shops in the Triangle that will buy your used books, but don't expect to make a lot of money. Shopkeepers will make you one offer in store credit and a more modest offer in cash. Over the years, I've sold to three shops in Cary and Apex but have found All Booked Up on Salem Street in downtown Apex to be the most generous.
Tip: Try selling your titles on Half.com first and selling the leftovers to a shop. Don't waste your time with outdated John Grisham bestsellers or old romance novels. Most shops want newer fiction and non-fiction and popular and classic children's titles.
Resale shops: If you only wear a third of what's hanging in your closet, why not sell the rest while the items are still in style? Resale clothing stores in the Triangle, including Plato's Closet, Kid to Kid, My Girlfriend's Closet and Uptown Cheapskate, are counting on your cast-offs. Once again, don't expect to strike it rich selling your clothes this way, but you will be rewarded for popular labels.
Tip: Inspect your clothes before you bring them in to be sold. Be picky because store buyers will reject anything out of date or stained. If you have a Coach handbag or a pair of brandnew Uggs, you may be better off selling them yourself on craigslist.
Antique stores: Try taking your vintage clutter to an antiques dealer for consideration. Some will pay you cash while others will agree to sell your items for a percentage of the sales price.
Debi Kuszaj, a dealer at Father & Son Antiques in downtown Raleigh, said the shop gets four to five inquiries per day but has to turn most folks away.
Father & Son buys only vintage items from the '50s, '60s and '70s and specializes in Danish Modern mid-century furniture.
"Sometimes we refer them to other places ... or we recommend craigslist," Kuszaj said. And, sometimes, they have to break the news that their possessions "are more sentimental than valuable."
Tips: Do your homework before you try to sell. Know the age and history of your items and a ball park value. Be realistic. Dealers are in business to make money so they aren't going to pay you book value.
Consignment sales: If your house is drowning in toys, baby equipment and kids' clothes, the Triangle's seasonal parade of consignment sales is a good way for parents to purge and raise some cash.
"I have a four year old and a 15-month-old and that's it. We're done," said Diane Willeford, an organizer of the KidzStuff sale scheduled for Sept. 20-22 at Hayes Barton Baptist Church in Raleigh. "I'm trying to get this stuff out of my house."
Tip: If you're interested, start organizing now. There are sales scheduled nearly every weekend in September. Search for sales by ZIP Code on consignmentmommies.com.
Jewelry stores: You jewelry box could be a gold mine. While gold prices have come down a bit from their all-time highs, your broken chains, lone earrings and the high school boyfriend's class ring could be worth hundreds of dollars, depending on weight and gold content. My mother, daughter and I have each sold unwanted pieces of jewelry for cash, making well over a thousand dollars on jewelry we knew we'd never wear again.
Tip: Take your gold and silver to a trusted jeweler in your area and they will make you an offer. If you're not satisfied, get a second opinion.
Replacements Ltd.: Located in Greensboro, Replacements specializes in selling china, crystal, flatware, and collectibles. Make an appointment or just show up with your boxes of wedding china or your dead aunt's porcelain dog collection.
Employees will unpack your possessions on large tables, inspect them and make you an offer on the spot.
Over the years, we've sold a set of dishes, a Christmas village and miscellaneous knick-knacks, making several hundred dollars.
Tip: Allow yourself time to spend wandering this massive space, which is the size of eight football fields and is home to more than 13 million tea cups, saucers, dinner plates and the like.
Also, be sure to do your homework before you go. The Replacements website will give you a good idea of what your items are worth. You can also request a written offer.
Junkyards: Instead of paying your appliance dealer a fee to haul away your old dishwasher or broken stove, consider taking it to the junkyard and having them pay you. If it's made of metal, it's worth money.
We've actually taken two trips to Raleigh Metal Recycling on Garner Road to get rid of scrap metal from home repair projects. Most recently we brought in a broken garbage disposal, along with a few other metal scraps, and made $15.
Tip: Bring your driver's license. An ID is required in order to sell metal scrap.
Yard sales: Don't discount the idea of the lowly yard sale, the ideal venue for purging lots of miscellaneous "stuff." Items worth $5 or less probably aren't worth your time to sell individually on craigslist, but can add up quickly at a yard sale with proper marketing.
Tip: Advertise your sale well. That means putting up multiple signs in your neighborhood, especially at entrances and major intersections. That also means using craigslist to market your sale in the week leading up to your sale. Post photos and a detailed list of what you'll be selling. Be prepared to open early and never turn a shopper away because early birds are typically your biggest buyers.