A decision to live with less stuff brings with it a series of other decisions. Obviously one of the first decisions is what to get rid of and what to keep. Actually, this is often more of a process than a single decision, but nevertheless, hard on the heels of the decision to get rid of something comes the question of what to do with it. Granted, a lot of what we’re cleaning out is destined for a landfill, or a recycling bin if possible. But as the saying goes, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. That which is taking up space and collecting dust in our homes might very well be just what someone else is looking for to enrich theirs. Donating and selling our things are two ways to find new homes for the stuff we don’t need. We’ve done quite a bit of both, in different seasons and for different reasons. Each has advantages and disadvantages. After spending time the last few weeks preparing to sell our unused children’s items at a spring “clothing exchange” sale, this topic is fresh on my mind, so I thought I’d share some of our thoughts on the sell or donate question.
Selling things is something we’d avoided until the last couple of years. For many reasons, we were firmly in the ‘donate’ camp, but we’ll get to that. More recently, we’ve been doing a lot more selling. This is partly because of all the new options available over the Internet that make it easier and more practical, and partly because we are currently living on one salary while trying to maintain some pretty ambitious savings goals. So we are in a bit of a selling season.
Advantages to selling
The obvious advantage to selling rather than donating is financial. Especially if you are in a situation where you need to get out of consumer debt from accumulating too many things to begin with, you may need to get some money back from them to pay off that debt. Thankfully we do not find ourselves in that situation, but most of us can think of something that we could do with a little extra money.
Motivation is another advantage. If you know you can get some money out of cleaning out that closet, doesn’t that make it a little bit more attractive to do it? Depending on the method you’re using to sell, it may also give you a goal date or deadline that can keep you moving forward.
An added bonus to selling, for me, is psychological. This might just be my little quirk, but maybe someone else can relate. I struggle with the idea of things being wasted. It is much easier for me to get rid of something I’m not using if I know that someone else will use it. When someone is willing to pay money for something, even just a small sum, then I feel that this item is wanted. It will have a new life. I am doing my part for the environment by releasing, rather than hoarding, resources that can be reused. But again, maybe that one is just me.
Disadvantages to selling
The major one here is time. Selling online requires photographing the item, writing a description, and handling questions and responses in a timely manner. Garage sales notoriously take lots of time and energy to publicize, set up, label prices, not to mention the time of the actual sale and cleaning up afterward. Even consignment can be time consuming. Depending on the price of your item, you may find you’ve earned a very poor hourly wage. Then again, if I would have otherwise spent that hour watching Netflix or playing Candy Crush, then it’s probably all gain. Ultimately you have to decide if it’s worth it.
As I mentioned, we are big fans of donating things and had never sold anything that we were getting rid of until more recently. About a year into our marriage, we donated a car that the mechanic deemed not worthy of repair. When we were moving from the US to Sweden, we gave away everything that we couldn’t take with us, including small appliances, furniture and even our TV and DVD player. The recipients thought us generous but crazy and some even tried to pay us something but we refused. Maybe we were crazy. But even though we’re choosing a different path now, it’s not because we regret how much we gave away. And we’re certainly not selling everything that we’re cleaning out right now, so donation is still a big priority for us.
Advantages to donating
Time is a clear advantage to donating. You skip all of the time consuming tasks associated with selling. Just load it into the car and drop it off, or easier still, arrange for it to be picked up. You can wake up, decide to tackle that closet, sort out a giveaway box and drop it off before lunch. It’s both quick and immediate, so there’s no time for second-guessing and eventually putting it all back in the closet.
Most secondhand stores that you can donate your items to are supporting charitable causes and providing jobs for people who might not otherwise have them. So there is the feel-good aspect of donating! Your stuff often finds a new home with someone who may not have afforded it otherwise, while the store that sold it sends the money to a cause you care about and the person who sold it has the income and dignity that come with employment. Win, win, win.
In other cases, we have given things away directly to people who need them. Many of the things we gave away before our overseas move went to a local family who was rebuilding after losing everything in a house fire. Others went to college students just moving into their first apartments, needing everything to get started. Baby stuff by the car full has been given to expectant first-time parents. For me, having a personal connection to where it’s going is a powerful motivator. Being able to meet a need when I see one puts my excess into perspective and gives me an outlet for it all at once. It’s beautiful.
We believe that we reap what we sow. Freely we have received, in so many ways, and so freely we give. This is deeply connected to our faith, but so many religions and worldviews also acknowledge this truth. Some call it karma, or putting out good vibes or energies. Call it what you will, if it’s true that we reap what we sow, then we only stand to benefit in the long run from giving extravagantly.
Disadvantages to donating
After writing all of that, it almost seems strange to point out any disadvantages to donating at all. But naturally there are some. Again, the obvious is the financial consideration. Particularly if you find yourself facing debt, it may not be wise to simply give away things that might have value if sold.
It is also important to ask some questions of the charity you donate to, including how much of their profits are actually donated to the charities they represent, and what happens to unsold items. This isn’t specifically a disadvantage of donating, but something to be aware of so that we maximize the benefits when we choose to donate.
As we get into this season of spring cleaning and yard sales, how do you decide whether to sell or donate? Which are you favorite ways to sell your unused items? Where do you usually donate items to and why?
Posted in Simplify and tagged donate, get out of debt, selling stuff, simplify, spring cleaning, trash to treasure by Christine with 2 comments.