If we have stuff we neither want nor need, what should we do with it?
A lot of people save items for "someday," but Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, aka The Minimalists, advise against that. The Minimalists have a 20/20 rule, which states that if you can get an item within 20 minutes for $20 or less, you don't have to keep it for "just in case." Also consider that people buy just about anything, even broken, nonfunctional tech they use to repair other things. You never know what you can get if you’re willing to part with something you may otherwise trash or stash away.
So now that you have stuff you want to unload, we have solutions.
When Cash Would've Been Better Than a Sweater
It's sweet to receive a gift, but when it's the wrong size, color, or just not your style, it makes sense to not wear it and keep the tags on. That way you can take advantage of the opportunity to sell it as a new item—NWT (New With Tags)—which brings you the most bang for your buck.
The only game in town for online reselling used to be eBay, and for years it was the best place to find and sell sold-out, discontinued, or vintage items in multiple categories—clothes, shoes, electronics, sports gear, cars, etc. Many people have made jobs for themselves side-hustling on eBay.
If it's clothing you want to get rid of, there are sites dedicated to this, and they each offer something a little different.
ThredUp makes it easy for sellers by sending “cleanup kits,” bags with prepaid labels that you fill with new or gently used items and send back for the company’s secondhand experts to sort through. Once they determine what your stuff is worth, you can get credit to spend on the site or cash via PayPal.
PoshMark created an easy-to-use system where sellers download an app, take pictures of the items they want to sell—which can be fashion, beauty, or home decor—and create a listing. PoshMark shares the listing on its network, but the platform works similarly to a social media site, and sellers who share other sellers' posts and build a following do better than those who set it and forget it.
For PoshMark, it's also essential to take great photos and to be knowledgeable about the items you're selling. Items that are no longer available but in are high demand will sell faster. If you want tips on selling, YouTube videos can help with strategy.
Mercari offers sellers the opportunity to load clothing and accessories plus electronics, home decor, vintage, and luxury items such as Gucci and Christian Louboutin. Mercari also offers an easy-to-use app and gives buyers an option to pay over time.
Depop has niches in streetwear, sneakers, designer clothing, and jewelry, as well as sports equipment, music, books, and art. Curtsy offers a little bit of everything but has an extensive selection of dresses—for everything from gala wear to prom dresses to sundresses—in an easy to shop and sell format. For luxury designer goods, The Real Real is the spot.
NARTS, The Association of Resale Professionals, reports that resale is a multibillion-dollar-a-year industry, and growing, expected to reach $53 billion by 2023. Whether this is fueled by supply-chain issues, a backlash against fast fashion, or growing environmental awareness doesn’t matter—this is a good thing for the planet.
If You Don't Have the Time or Need the Money, Donate
A terrific place to donate business-appropriate clothes, shoes, and accessories is Dress for Success, which has helped over a million women in 25 countries achieve economic independence. Donations help outfit women in professional attire, but the mission goes beyond the surface, with programs that instill confidence and inspire women to thrive in work and life.
Julie Maturen, development director of the YWCA in Missoula, Montana, says all of the proceeds stay in the community, but national organizations may not do the same. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it is something to consider when choosing where to donate.
Missoula's YWCA runs two Secret Seconds stores and gives out vouchers to program participants so they can shop. It also gives shopping vouchers to other local nonprofits, such as the Salvation Army and the local homeless shelter.
Maturen reminds us that "Donations to a nonprofit are always a write-off, but donating brand-new items gives you a greater tax deduction," which is something to think about if you feel guilty donating a never-worn item. On the other side of that spectrum are items that have seen better days.
“Speaking for every thrift store in the world,” Maturen said, “People feel guilty about throwing away things that are stained and ripped, thinking that someone else can use them. They can't, and this burdens the thrift stores with people's trash.” The breakdown of donation is generally: a third is trash, a third is recycled, and a third is sellable.
One year, while renovating a house, I took dozens of trips to my local waste transfer center. If you've never been to a dump, I recommend it, if only for the eye-opening experience of witnessing the obscene number of usable things that get thrown out, starting with furniture. I saw entire U-Hauls filled with furniture that was dumped into the pit and crushed.
Buy Less, Sell More
Samantha Danahy is a professional organizer, and her business In Place helps people edit and organize their homes and offices to optimize functionality. In addition, she runs Catch & Release, which hosts estate sales and pop-up shops in Jackson, Wyoming and online.
"Over-organization is the antithesis of organization," Danahy says, "People tend to buy back-stock of everyday items, but they buy more than they need, stash them away in boxes and bins, forget what they have, and buy more." She reminds us that a hundred pencils will last a lifetime and those beauty products have a shelf life. So if you have several moisturizers in your medicine cabinet, there's a good chance they'll spoil before you even have a chance to use them.
Danahy asks people to really think about how many tubes of toothpaste and deodorants they go through in a year and ask themselves if they need a six-pack of them. "Stop buying in bulk unless you're a family of 12," Danahy says.
Catch and Release does estate sales and pop-up shops where people can consign furniture and other household items. Many of these items are antiques, and all of them are in excellent condition and should absolutely not go to the landfill. Danahy and I are both in our forties, but we had a laugh over our tendency to repeat something our grandparents used to say: “They don't make them like they used to.”
But they don't. So much of the furniture produced these days is “fast furniture” that isn't meant to last, but that goes for "fast fashion" clothing, too. “You can buy a $350 cashmere sweater that will pill after wearing it twice,” Danahy said, “Or you can go to estate sales and find one for $25 that looks as good as new and will stay that way.” Like most things, it comes down to making better choices.
Danahy loves mixing high-function, newer pieces with antiques to create spaces with character. She recommends Chairish as an online resource, though she isn't a fan of the fossil fuels used to ship large, bulky items. Shopping local—yard sales and Facebook Marketplace are an option for most people—is always preferable.
Another benefit of buying preowned items—or as Danahy calls them, "previously loved"—is that it's not only better for the environment as a whole, but it's also better for your home environment, as you eliminate toxic chemicals from off-gassing. So that hand-knotted Moroccan rug might seem more expensive, but it will last many lifetimes and is a healthier choice overall.
What People Really Need
If you're buying someone a gift—and you really want it to be a physical thing—it's helpful to think of products that everyone needs—like laundry soap. KeliGreen is a laundry soap company created by a mom, Keli Lake, who calls herself a momtrepenuer.
Lake's son was allergic to some of the chemicals in common laundry detergents, so she created an oil-based formula that cleans clothes, smells great, doesn't cost too much, and is safe for our bodies and the water supply. Lake buys her ingredients in bulk and also sells primarily in bulk in local stores and through local delivery out of her van (yes she does!), though she also sells her lightweight, easy-to-ship dry goods online.
Lake's first sales were through a local health food store. “I brought in a rain barrel full of laundry soap to be sold in bulk,” Lake said, “The owner told me I'd be a millionaire, which was funny because at the time my family was living without running water.”
Lake isn't rich yet, but her business is debt-free and her soul is clear. Lake's company slogan is #itwontcleanupyourlife, which came out of her own experience as a recovering alcoholic with self-described “off-the-charts ADHD,” but Lake is leading the #refillrevolution and here to do the right thing for her family and the planet. You can, too.
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