What To Do When Your Stuff Doesn’t Sell

posted by Andrea | 07/28/2014
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what to do when your stuff doesn't sell

Almost every day, I take the kids for a walk. Out of habit, I usually walk the same route — which means we always pass the same homes.

There are 3 houses on our “walking route” that had garage sales way back in the beginning of May — almost 3 months ago now. And for 3 months, their garages have all been stuffed full of the leftover items from their garage sale. They can’t park in their garages, they can’t use their garages, and the stuff they were trying to sell is probably getting somewhat dirty after 3 months of sitting out in their garages.

I realize that I don’t know any of these people personally, I’ve never even talked to them, and I don’t have all the facts; however, I wouldn’t be surprised if the reason they still haven’t cleared out their garage is because they just can’t bring themselves to purge. After all, they paid good money for the items, the items are still in great condition, they might need these items again some day, they could still try to sell the items and recoup part of the cost… and all those other silly excuses we make to hang onto our clutter.

But we all know that the vast majority of times, we never miss our cast-offs once they are out of sight.

Right?

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I personally have never had a garage sale — mainly because I purge all year long so I wouldn’t have enough stuff to make it worth my efforts. I prefer to sell larger items on Craigslist throughout the year and then donate smaller items to charitable organizations or to friends and family who want/need those specific items. Another reason I don’t care to have a garage sale is because I know how stressful it can be to deal with all the stuff that doesn’t sell.

I can’t tell you how many emails I get from people asking, “What should I do with the stuff that didn’t sell?” Often, they are referring to items that didn’t sell after their garage sale — but many times, they are referring to items that didn’t sell via Craigslist, Ebay, or a consignment shop.

I think deep down, they really do just want to purge and be finished with it all… but for whatever reason, they just can’t (and yes, I totally understand the excuses. I make them myself some times!)

garage sale

photo source

Although each email comes to me from a different situation, I almost always reply with the same simple response…

I start out by asking about the purpose of their sale.

Were they looking to declutter or was their primary goal income related?

I have come across a few people who were only selling items for some much needed cash, but the vast majority of sellers are simply looking to declutter their home. Maybe they are moving and want to purge before the move. Maybe they have a new baby coming and need more space. Maybe an adult child is moving back in and taking over the basement. Whatever the case, these people need less stuff in their home.

Then I begin “pushing” them a little 🙂

If their goal is truly to declutter, I encourage them to think about how they would feel if their home and garage were completely free of the stuff they were hoping to sell. I play ‘devil’s advocate’ and oppose all the excuses they give me for why they should keep their stuff.

Finally, I share a few ideas of what they could do with their unsold stuff — here’ s what I suggest.

Stuff that doesn’t sell on Craigslist or Ebay:

Without even knowing what item is being sold, I can very confidently say that there are usually only 2 or 3 reasons why an item wouldn’t sell quickly on Craigslist or Ebay.

1. It’s a very unique item and needs to wait for the right buyer

2. It’s a poorly written ad lacking enough description and quality photos

3. It’s priced too high

If you’ve been unsuccessful selling items on Craigslist and Ebay (and it’s not a unique item) I’d first suggest rewriting the post to include a detailed description of the item with at least 3 quality photos.

If that still doesn’t work, then drop the price by at least third. If that still doesn’t work, then I’d suggest significantly dropping the price again or posting it for free.

I personally try not to hang onto anything for longer than a month. If it’s not gone in a month, I post it for free, donate it, or figure out a way to repurpose it into something I could actually use in my home or life.

Stuff that doesn’t sell via a consignment shop or garage sale:

I’d first try selling a few of the larger or more expensive items on Craigslist, but I’d honestly suggest donating the rest.

Better yet, call a local donation place BEFORE you have your garage sale and schedule a time (preferably the day after your sale) for them to come pick up anything that didn’t sell.

Yes, it might be difficult to get rid of everything.

Yes, I realize this might sound very “final”.

Yes, I know this probably isn’t what you want to hear.

BUT… if you were hoping to sell something, then you don’t want it anymore. And if you don’t want it, then why would you bring it back in your house again?

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For the record, I have personally brought unsold consignment and Craigslist items back into my home after making various excuses as to why I should just hang onto it for a little bit longer. I totally understand how difficult it can be to part with your stuff — even if it’s unwanted, unneeded, unused, and unloved stuff.

However, almost every single time I brought those unsold items back into my home, they sat there taking up space for several more months until I finally broke down and donated them. All the while I was annoyed that the items were still cluttering up my home, I was beating myself up about the fact that I brought them back into my home, I was mentally calculating how much money I could potentially get if I tried to sell them one more time, and I was thinking about how I probably wouldn’t make the time to try to sell them one more time.

In each and every case, it would have been SO much better if I had donated the items immediately after not selling them! 

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So as the summer garage sale season begins to wind down, take a look at your unsold items and be honest with yourself.

Will you really need or use this item ever again?

Will you really make the time to try and sell it again?

Is it really worth the extra space it’s taking up in your home?

Is it really worth the extra irritation it’s causing you as you pass by it every single day?

If you answer “no” to any of those questions above, I’d guess that you too will be much happier if you simply donate those unsold items ASAP!

What do you think?

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25 comments

  1. Heinz Faber

    05/22/2016

    I would like to add as another way to dispose of Nice unwanted left-over Garage Sale stuff is to put it on consignment at an Auction House. My daughter and her Husband operate the Ubid Auction House in Haltom City. (www.ubidauctionhouse.com) . However, they generally do not take clothes, or articles that are broken or incomplete.

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  2. Diana

    07/30/2014

    Yes! Post garage sale we consign clothes, sell books to Half Priced Books, and then everything else is donated other than maybe a small handful we try to sell on eBay or Craigslist (which are then donated if they don’t sell). The goal is nothing comes back in the house! I like making some extra money as much as the next person but also despise clutter!!

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  3. Teresa

    07/29/2014

    I totally agree with this post. We have made arrangements before the sale and other times we have just taken it to our local Goodwill. I’m all about that purging of “stuff”…….such an uplifting feeling for me 🙂

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  4. Colleen

    07/28/2014

    We have had 3 garage sales – 2 were “rent a space” deals put on by a local church – 1 was a multi-family sale at my sister’s home. In each of these sales we were looking to make money – but especially wanted to eliminate clutter. We had an agreement going into each event that at the end of the sale unsold items would be donated to a Salvation Army Thrift Store on the way home. These items were out of the house & not to return! We allowed each other a couple small returns, but by and large this was a great method for us. Having the sales off-site also eliminated the concerns of people asking to use our bathroom, or go in the house to “try something on”, or “use the phone”… because we aren’t comfortable with letting strangers wander the house while we’re outside selling stuff…

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  5. Alyssa

    07/28/2014

    This post was so inspiring to me. I have so much stuff cluttering up certain places in my house, and I think to myself, “Oh, I’ll have a garage sale someday” or, “Oh, I’ll donate it someday” but those things never happen! So I’m going to go home tonight, list everything that I think will sell on eBay for $.01 and schedule a donation pick up for the rest (I live near Baltimore so unfortunately Craigslist isn’t an option). I’m so excited!!

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    Becky Reply:

    Alyssa, Craigslist in Baltimore is definitely an option! Check out baltimore.craigslist.org.

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  6. Jen B

    07/28/2014

    My absolute fav-or-ite part of being pregnant is that crazy nesting urge I get right around 18 weeks, combined with the sudden release from fatigue and nausea. One day, I just wake up, look around my house and start purging like crazy. All my excuses go out the window and I won’t even attempt to sell something unless I can get at least $20 for it. Everything else goes by the curb with a “free” sign or straight into the trash. Out of three pregnancies of hormone-induced purging, I’ve only actually missed one item that I tossed and was easily able to replace it.

    I wish I could bottle than motivation…

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  7. Melinda

    07/28/2014

    I love your post Andrea! A lot of great information in it.

    We’ve had lots of garage sales over the years because we used to move every 2 years or so. We have a great way of getting rid of the garage sale leftovers where you don’t have to load it all up, you don’t have to wait for the next truck donation truck to be in your neighborhood, and it’s gone within an hour or two!

    When the garage sale is over, we carefully move all of the leftovers out to the curb, sometimes in boxes if we have them. We then take a few pictures of the pile of leftovers. We take those pictures and put them in an ad on Craigslist in the free section. Our title for the ad is, “Garage Sale Leftovers.” In the ad, we might mention a few of the nicer items that are in the pile. We have specific instructions in the ad for the person that will be picking up the items.

    1. They have to take it all. (So no comes and just picks out the things they want.)
    2. We tell them the size of vehicle they’ll need in order to get it all to fit in.
    3. They have to respond to the ad by email AND include their phone number.
    4. We tell them in the ad that if you don’t get a response from us, someone else responded before they did.
    5. The ad will be taken down when the stuff is gone.
    6. When we get our first response by email, we call them to let them know they have first shot at it, and that they have 60 minutes to be here or we’ll go to the next person in line. We tell them that if they don’t have a big enough vehicle or can’t be here within 60 minutes that we have to go to the next person in line.
    7. We will offer to help them load it. (This ensures that they take it all.)

    If you have way too much stuff for one person, make 2 piles and ask them which pile they are interested in when you call them back.

    We’ve used this method many times after garage sales, and have always had the leftovers gone within 2 hours. We love it that the stuff will be used or sold by someone else. You have no idea how wonderful it is to see all of the stuff gone at the end of the day after working a garage sale for a day or two, with very little extra work on our part!

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    Andrea Reply:

    WOW Melinda — you have an amazing system here! So organized and well thought-out… I love it!
    If I ever have a garage sale, I’m definitely going to follow your advice for posting the leftovers for free on Craigslist!

    Thanks so much for sharing.

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  8. Sarah

    07/28/2014

    These are great tips! Thanks for sharing. We keep a bin year round devoted to baby/kid stuff and when it gets full we take it to the local resale shop. Sometimes a few things don’t sell, so we hold onto them and try again next time – might be overstocked. After a few tries, we’ll donate those items – must be unwanted. We can purge, get some cash, and some new-to-us items in one place!
    I have been so blessed by your blog!
    Sarah from VA

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    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks Sarah — sound like you have a pretty good system for dealing with your unneeded items!

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  9. Verity

    07/28/2014

    Great Post!

    I love how you have an objective system that you can apply to almost any item.

    I have several items that I’ve posted and reposted (a couple to Ebay, and a couple to Craigslist.)

    This post was timely! Thanks!

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  10. Raquel

    07/28/2014

    Great Post! I have just sold a few items via ebay and I have a bike that I am going to sell on craigslist sometime soon (as soon as I can get over to our storage place). I think your post might be right on time. I just posted a fairly unique and pricey coat on ebay. I priced it below the other one like it, but I know I may have to adjust the price and be patient for it to sell. I like the month deadline as well. If it doesn’t sell if I keep dropping the price, I may just give it away.

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  11. Heart and Haven

    07/28/2014

    Great reminder! I’m getting better at this 😉

    Just earlier this season I was decluttering our kids’ clothes. I decided to finally sell our girl’s clothes when I found out baby #5 (most likely our last was a boy.

    However, my items just weren’t selling this time and I don’t know why.
    – The items weren’t “unique”
    – I had very good descriptions (ie. spring/summer, fall/winter by size…and listed out types & qty’s of items) and took pics of every item (approx. 4-6 pic of each “lot” showing all the outfits)
    – Priced well (less than $1 per item on average)
    I decided to keep all the Rubbermaid bins of clothes (several of them, as I had clothes from 6 mo. – 4T) in the living room until they sold or were gotten rid of, not wanting to put them back in the garage to be dealt with later. After 2 weeks I just couldn’t stand having the bins in the living room anymore and donated the items (also the tax write-off was more beneficial than dropping the price any further as well)
    Although it would’ve been nice to have a bit of extra $$ to go towards this season’s clothes, it was more important to me that the items were just GONE.

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    Andrea Reply:

    Amen! I honestly have never tried selling kids clothing because it’s just too overwhelming for me. Everything is so small and I don’t want to take pictures of it and post it all individually. So I’ve just been donating it all (or gifting to friends with smaller children) and that works out really well for me. I’ve also gotten a BUNCH of hand-me-downs from other friends so it seems to all work out in the end!

    So glad you got that clothes clutter out of your home before the new baby comes! I’m sure it feels great 🙂

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  12. Jen

    07/28/2014

    We had a couple of yard sales a few years ago when we first started on our big decluttering journey. We had a couple of items that we decided we’d put on Craigslist if they didn’t sell at the yard sale, but aside from those, the rule was that nothing was allowed to come back in the house. It went straight from the yard to the trunks of our cars and off to the Goodwill. And even after that, some of the “Craigslist” stuff didn’t sell and we ended up having to just donate it, too.

    We’ve been at this pretty hardcore for about 2.5 years, and we moved in the midst of it. I still feel like we have some “hot spots” of clutter, but my husband and I have both commented about how weird it feels to be able to get the house tidy as quickly as we can now. We get the cleaning done and find ourselves looking around, saying, “There’s no way we’re done already.” Because a few years ago, we would not have been. But having SO MUCH LESS STUFF makes our cleaning routine noticeably faster, and it’s a great feeling.

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    Andrea Reply:

    Wow — sounds like you guys have done some major purging! I’m sure it feels so great! And yes, isn’t it amazing how much faster you can clean when you’re not constantly cleaning around clutter!

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  13. Shambray

    07/28/2014

    I couldn’t agree more. I think when you get rid of stuff that you no longer need or want there is a weight lifted off your shoulders. We don’t realize that weight is there until it is gone. Then it feels so good!

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  14. Carrie

    07/28/2014

    I remember reading a book where the author stated that holding on to a lot of stuff is a form of gluttony. If you are not using the items, they could be used by somebody else. Kind of an interesting thought.

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    Andrea Reply:

    Very interesting… thanks for sharing Carrie.

    I realize there are definitely things we might ned or want to hang onto that rarely get used (like only at holidays or special occasions) but the stuff the NEVER is used should most definitely be donated 🙂

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  15. Kellie

    07/28/2014

    Hi Steph! I think that selling items like this is a fabulous way to help your family generate more income! I doubt that Andrea would disagree. Not to speak for her, but I would assume that Andrea would still encourage families to purge items that will not sell after an amount of time simply because you can’t keep hanging onto it! Given, there’s probably some exceptions to this rule for different folk, but I would argue that by holding onto that stuff there’s still a lot of time, money, and effort being put into an item that you don’t want. Donating seems like you’re wasting money but I see it as a wonderful way to practically give to those who otherwise wouldn’t afford the purchase.

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    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks Kellie!
    I just responded to Steph’s comment as well, but I also wanted to agree with many of your points as well. Even if the goal of a sale is to make some much needed cash, I do still think there comes a point when enough is enough and the items that aren’t selling time after time after time need to be donated.

    Also, I tend to see donating the same way as you — a wonderful way to declutter my home and give to others who might not be able to afford it!

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  16. jacquie

    07/28/2014

    I have a annual garage sale. It forces us to do a massive purge, for two weeks leading up to the sale I chose a room and go through it. The last day of the sale, everything is half price. What is left over, which is very little, is packed into a couple of boxes and taken to our local homeless shelter, if it is good quality clothing or household items and toys. It has always been a way of making a little money and doing a thorough spring cleaning. I too, use craigslist to sell and buy throughout the year.

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  17. Steph

    07/28/2014

    While I understand and somewhat agree with your post, there are some people who use these type of sales as income so to speak. I personally know 3 different families who do this on a regular basis. They will collect or get items from peoples garbage or things others don’t want and then hold a sale several times a year. One family does this every quarter or season of the year. While I am like you and donate most everything we don’t want/use anymore, there are some who do this to help their families.

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    Andrea Reply:

    Hey Steph, Thanks for your thoughts! I wonder if you overlooked the paragraph where I talked about how I first try to figure out the “motive” for the sale. I mentioned that there are 2 motives 1. income related or 2. to declutter.

    If the motive is income related, then I don’t encourage purging as much — only if the motive is to declutter (which it often is).

    So YES! I totally agree with you — but I would also guess that the 3 families you know who are selling things for the income are somewhat in the minority when it comes to garage sales.

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