Highlights From a Year of Selling Excess Stuff

I tracked every item sold down to the penny.

Photo credit: yoppy, CC BY 2.0.

At the beginning of 2016, eager to kick off a banner year of frugality and savings, I resolved to sell my stuff. Not all of it—I’m just a baby minimalist and will never whittle my possessions down to 150 items, let alone 15—but the extra bits laying around gathering dust from neglect and disuse. Clutter weighs on my soul and makes me feel claustrophobic, so why not Rumpelstiltskin those things into cash?

I tracked every item sold down to the penny — including shipping costs, selling fees, and overall profits — not because I was saving for anything in particular or had a goal number in mind, but because making those entries on a “stuff sold” spreadsheet was extremely satisfying. My inner monologue went something like this: “I tricked strangers on the internet into giving me money for items I’m not even using! Why didn’t I do this years ago?!”

Throughout January and February I made multiple sales each week, but as the novelty wore off and I got tired of the effort (composing endless listings, arranging meet ups, packing and shipping sold items, etc.), my motivation wavered. Sales slowed to a crawl over the spring and summer and petered out completely in the fall. Like many resolutions, this one started strong but failed to breach the gap between “I’m doing this because it’s my New Year’s resolution” and “this is just a normal thing I do all the time now.”

That said, I still consider my original resolution a success. Here are some highlights.

Item #1: Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond (paperback)
Sold: January 7, 2016 via Half.com

I had high hopes my first sale of the year would bring hefty profits, and those hopes were quickly dashed. Half.com charges buyers a $3.49–$3.99 shipping fee per book, but here’s the catch: they don’t pass the full amount on to sellers. I don’t know what sort of voodoo math they employ, but for this particular book I was reimbursed only $2.64 for shipping, despite having paid $3.22 to ship the book. Combined with the low sale price of the book in the first place ($0.75) and the selling fee ($0.11), the proceeds were dismal.

Net profit: $0.06

Item #6: Fitbit Flex
Sold: January 12, 2016 via eBay

I am the opposite of athletic and never would have acquired a Fitbit if I hadn’t been working for a company with an annual fitness reimbursement. Each employee was allotted $300/year for anything fitness-related; yoga classes, a gym membership, a treadmill, etc. Fitbits were super trendy and I didn’t have any other good ideas, so I jumped on the bandwagon and ordered a pink one for $79. I wore it for about a month. It was kind of fun at first, waiting for the little buzz when I reached my step goal. But after the initial honeymoon period I stopped checking my step count. Then I kept forgetting to put it on, and then I’d wonder why I was putting it on at all it if I wasn’t using the data it provided to improve my “performance.”

Net profit: $39.46

My Fitbit’s eBay photo (cat hair not included with purchase)

Item #7: 1989 by Taylor Swift (CD)
Sold: January 13, 2016 via Half.com

Since I’d already downloaded the album, I didn’t think I’d miss owning the CD (actually wait, I have a vague idea that taking the music and then selling the disc might have been illegal? Dear FBI: please don’t arrest me). Unfortunately, in this instance my eagerness to de-clutter and make money worked against me. My car is a 2005 and can only play CDs, and Taylor is my jam. I regretted parting with this one all year.

Net profit: $6.84

Item #14: Mid-century modern chair
Sold: January 23, 2016 via Craigslist

In mid-January, my Mom called.

Mom: Ame, you know, we’re getting rid of some stuff in the basement. You always liked that chair, remember, the blue one? Do you want it? Because we’re just taking everything to Goodwill.

Me: Mom, that’s a mid-century modern chair. You could sell it for real money.

Mom: Oh I don’t want to go to all that hassle! Plus who knows what kind of crazies from the internet would call. I don’t need that kind of headache. Why don’t you just take it?

Me: Ok but I don’t have room, so I’m just going to sell it. How about we share the profits?

Mom: Nah, you can just get us a nice bottle of wine. But not too nice, ok? We aren’t fancy over here. Our usual “good” stuff is $12 a bottle.

One Craigslist posting and two days later, the chair sold for $225. I sprang for a $30 bottle of wine, and pocketed the difference.

Net profit: $195

The chair in question, which my cat loved

Item #16: Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee (hardcover)
Sold: January 26th, via Half.com

Do you even have to ask why I’m selling this one?

Net profit: $6.44

Item #21: iPhone 4 (8GB)
Sold: February 9th, via Craigslist

This was the first time I went alone to meet a Craigslister at a neutral location (a 7-Eleven parking lot), which I probably wouldn’t have done if the buyer had been a dude. The woman who bought it never told me her name. She also showed no interest in the free accessories I threw in (two cases, a car charger, a wall charger) and didn’t even glance at the phone, let alone make sure it worked, before handing me her money. I guess I give off trustworthy vibes?

Net profit: $50

Item #26: Road bike
Sold: July 31st, via Craigslist

For a long time this bike was the most expensive gift I’d ever received (original price was somewhere north of $1,200). It came from my husband, then boyfriend, not long after we met, when he still harbored hope I’d become outdoorsy (sorry, dear). I picked the bike out based on looks (pink and white!) and named her Varla. Just in case you were wondering, this is NOT the way to kick off a comfortable biking experience. Varla made my butt hurt and was mostly relegated to the garage, until a lovely couple responded to my ad and drove over an hour to check her out. They were newly dating; he was an experienced cyclist trying to show his new girlfriend the wonders of life on two wheels. Good luck with that!

Net profit: $350

Sorry Varla, I never deserved you

In total, my year of selling excess stuff netted 27 separate sales, which broke down like this:

$973.74 total revenue minus $59.30 selling and PayPal fees = $914.44 net profit

This resolution was never really about the money, but it certainly wasn’t a bad use of some spare time and paper grocery bags (because packaging is pricey) either. One unexpected benefit: thanks to the cash I collected from in-person buyers, I didn’t need to make a withdrawal from a bank, ATM or point-of-sale for the entire year.

Despite last year’s purge (in addition to all those sales, a literal truckload of stuff went to Goodwill, plus several bags of books to the library), there are still many things I didn’t get around to selling — a wool patchwork hat purchased in Ireland that never really fit my head; a pair of almost-new Dansko clogs I never figured out how to wear once bootcut jeans went out of style; about 150 DVDs I never touch now that Prime and Netflix are meeting my entertainment needs.

The list goes on. I don’t know what my “ideal” number of possessions is, but I do know that I felt lighter after parting with each item I sold or donated. The concept of “a place for everything, and everything in its place” has always made me happy and content; sometimes, that place is just somewhere else.

Amy Wilson is a writer in the Midwest. No matter how many craft cocktails she tries, she only ever likes the ones with apple brandy. She’s new to Twitter.

This story is part of The Billfold’s “Resolve” series.

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