10 Ways to Get Rid of Stuff Frugally

By Carrie Kirby on 17 May 2012 22 comments
Photo: Luke Larsson

It's a symptom of our crazy consumer culture that how to get rid of stuff is such a common topic of discussion. Stuff just seems to accumulate in American homes like plaque in our arteries, and too much of it can really drag down the efficiency of your home.

Since my family is moving across the country in less than two weeks, getting rid of stuff has gone from a "I really should do that" item to a top-of-list emergency. My goal is to not have to pay to have anything hauled away. Here are 10 ways I've been clearing out the excess. (See also: 25 Things to Throw Out Today)

1. Sell It Online

If you have an item with enough value to make it worth your time, by all means list it for sale online. In our current move, I'll be listing our dining room table and couch on Craigslist. I use eBay for high-end children's clothing — in my experience, anything that sells for less than $20 is not worth the time it takes to do an eBay listing and mail it off. Of course, you have your own idea of what is worth your time, and it may differ from mine.

For books, DVDs, and video games, it can be convenient to sell on Amazon or another site where you can enter the title or barcode info for quick product listing.

2. Hold a Rummage Sale

My experience with rummage sales over the years is that they have not been worth the time I took to plan and conduct them. For instance, if my husband and I made $130 during a five-hour rummage sale, and figure we spent at least five hours planning it, that works out to earnings of $13 per hour, split between two adults. Since either of us can make much more than that working, it seems like we'd be much better off giving the junk to charity.

And yet, I find myself answering the siren song of rummage sale again this weekend. Oh well, at least some people make money on their garage sales, so maybe I'll get lucky this time.

3. Sell It Through a Store

I have mostly done this with children's clothing, but in the slow economy, more and more shops are opening up where you can sell adult clothing, furniture, and other items at consignment. This is nice because once you drop the stuff off, you don't have to worry about how long it takes to sell — just check with the store later to find out if you made any money.

You can also check with specialized shops such as used bookstores and video game stores, where you might get paid upfront. Today I received a crisp $10 bill from Gamestop in about five minutes. That sounds great until you hear that I had just handed over 15 old video games, some of them still in sealed packaging. My lesson on that one was that it doesn't pay to procrastinate when selling games and other media or electronics — the older they get, the less you'll get.

4. Freecycle

You don't get paid for stuff you unload through Freecycle, but you do earn the right to request items from other members. I really like using Freecycle both to pick up needed items and get rid of unwanted ones. It's my experience that someone will claim just about anything you offer on Freecycle. The downside is that — at least in my local group — it's not that uncommon for people to fail to pick up what they've claimed, leaving you wondering how long you should leave the item sitting on your porch.

Find a local Freecycle group here. A newer sharing site is called OhSoWe.

5. Give Items to Friends

Our household has been the beneficiary of friends' moving days in the past, so of course we will pay it forward by sharing some useful items with friends. Items I will give away include houseplants, half-used jars of spices and other food, and a vacuum cleaner. 

6. Choose Charities That Pick Up

If you have a large number of boxes or bags or furniture to get rid of, call a local charity thrift store, and you may find they'll be happy to send a truck over. (That's why I woudln't pay to have stuff hauled away, unless it was truly too useless even for a thrift store.) Some charities regularly schedule neighborhood pickups — I periodically get calls from both AmVets and Purple Heart to arrange pickups, and I almost always have a couple bags of stuff to put out. Don't forget to get a receipt so you can deduct the estimated value of the items from your taxes.

7. Check With Your Kids' School, Your Church, or Other Local Organizations

Sometimes you have some nice, newer items that you can't use, and you don't feel like sending them to a junk shop. I'll be giving some gently used kids' games to a local children's organization, and some school supplies to the kids' school.

8. Curb It

Most communities charge extra to have the garbage crew haul off a piece of furniture or other large item, but don't worry — in my experience almost anything remotely useful or recyclable will walk off on its own if you put it on the curb or in the alley a few days before trash day. The item we most wanted to get rid of was an old pole to a basketball hoop we'd pulled out of our yard — it still had concrete around the base and was extremely heavy. It took a few weeks of waiting, but eventually a scrap metal collector rolled through our alley and managed to haul the thing away.

9. Lose It

Once, when I was in Tokyo, I decided I no longer wanted a book I had brought along and tried to leave it in a public place for someone to pick up and enjoy. No such luck. People in Japan are so helpful that I was chased out of a hotel lobby, a cafe, and a taxicab with my book. It became a game for my friend and me, and we finally successfully ditched it in a cavernous arcade.

Here in the United States, it's easy to ditch your possessions in public and hope that serendipity finds them a nice new owner. Of course, I don't mean you should litter or dump some junk on the side of the highway. For books, do this in cafes or on public transit. If you live in an area with a lot of homeless people, you can pretty much deposit used clothing or shoes on any street corner or alcove and count on them going to good use.

10. Barter It

I haven't tried this myself, but there are online networks where you can trade an unwanted item for something you want. Palcycle has borrowing, selling, and trading.

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Guest's picture

If you want to get rid of an item on the curb, put a sign on it with a fairly low price. People will then steal the item, now thinking it has some value. On the off chance an honest person wants it, whatever they offer you (25% of the sign price?) is better than nothing.

Carrie Kirby's picture

That's hilarious. Kind of sad, but hilarious. It's like a dramedy comment.

Guest's picture

I love this idea! I will have to try this on a desk I'm trying to get rid of!

Guest's picture

Thrift stores are a good option for clothing, books, and other light items that it is easy to haul yourself. They sell the items and the money goes to charity except for their overhead.

Guest's picture

I think it's wrong to equate selling online or at your own garage sale with what you could be making at a minimum wage job or what your time is "worth". I find the point of the exercise is more to get rid of something I don't need while decluttering. ...And if I can make a few bucks from stuff I don't want, why not? I'd rather make $10 by putting a DVD in an evelope and dropping it in the mail because I'd probably just be watching TV with that 15 minutes of time instead.

Guest's picture

Edward, you are so right! In my community, I have seen the same family for years, go to a rummage/garage sale, or flea market to buy stuff, then sell it from their own home. I got to know them , over time, and never purchased anything from them, but found out that this is their only income! They have a beautiful home, and I think that they are Immigrants from Mexico (only speak Spanish), and never have worked a day in a Paycheck job! Somehow, they managed to dodge the Foreclosure's that have plagued the neighborhood.

Carrie Kirby's picture

Sure, it really depends what you would be doing with your time otherwise. As a busy mom who earns money freelance writing, I have to turn down work when I don't have time, and I pay someone else to help me with childcare and housework. So for me, I really have to wonder if it makes sense to put a lot of hours into a rummage sale when I could be doing something that earns more or spending less $ on help.

But if you have a decent amount of leisure time and no opportunities or inclination to earn money during that time, then a garage sale may make financial sense for you.

Sense or not, there is something appealing about it, because here I am pricing my wares today!

Jennifer Holder's picture

So useful!

Guest's picture

Wow, I can't belive you missed the best and easiest way to sell items. Send the items to a auction house. They get a percentage and the rest is sent to the seller. We have many repeat customers and THEY LOVE IT.No hassels and quick. ZIEGLER AUCTION OVER THIRTY YEARS IN THE BUSINESS CONNECTING SELLERS AND BUYERS.

Guest's picture

A trip to the pharmacy can be very pricey, even with insurance coverage. (Has anyone ever had to purchase Lovenox and ended up with extra doses?) I feel wasteful throwing out medications. Another option to consider is contacting a local "free medical clinic" that serves the underprivileged to see if they accept medication donations. There is a clinic run by physicians and medical students at the nearby medical school. Most of their medications are received via donations. The clinic I donated my medications to will accept medications that are expired up to one year. They also have a way to safely dispose of medications that expire before they are able to be prescribed through their clinic.

Guest's picture

I have accumilated so many things, and believe it or not, I have no use for more than half of it. I once had a large home, it had two dining areas, and I had only one dining set. I went to buy one of those counter height tables, with four chairs, and added it to my six seating, antique table and chairs, with a cane back on each of the chairs. I was undecided which to spare, and need to unload one of them. I have an entertainment center with a floating bridge (where the receiver goes, above the TV) with moveable shelves, no use for it! I have curios, enough to own a store, some unopened, and other's still have the price tag/label on them. I want to take out an ad, but do not have time for a garage sale, nor do I want stranger's in my home. If anybody has another option, besides the one's listed in this article, please let me know! My big dilema, is that they are in my storage unit, and am tempted to conduct a sale there, if allowed... I am willing to part with almost everything, except for the bare necessities. Thank you, in advance for the tips!

Guest's picture

If your furniture is new or nearly new, consignment is the no-hassle way to go. For the large furniture and accessories (lamps, decorative items, pillows, etc.), look up consignment stores in your area. They will pick up the excess and sell it for you. Check their web site, look at the pictures, and see what they are selling.

I've seen sales at storage units. Check with yours to see if an on-site sale is permitted. A phone call should get you the info you need.

Guest's picture

I was very pleased to find this site. I wanted to thank you for this great read!! I definitely enjoying every little bit of it and I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you post. Big thanks for the useful info......

Guest's picture

Great post! We have such an abundance here in America. There is a new service called Zumu (www.zumu.co) which is great for getting rid of your dusty stack of CDs, DVDs, and Video Games. They provide options to donate the proceeds to charity, they offer a fundraising program and they promise to recycle all products that are traded in to them. While Amazon (and others) are in the same space, I like the green angle that this site brings.

Guest's picture

My friends and I sometimes have clothes swap parties, and this could work even if you don't want new things, but you can just bring all the things you don't want and see if any of them do. If there are items left over, bring them to places like Plato's closet that will evaluate them and give you money on the spot! If all else fails, the Salvation Army always has room for whatever amount of old stuff you are trying to give away.

Carrie Kirby's picture

I went to a clothing swap party this winter and had a great time! I did need some clothes and ended up bringing home a few things that I now wear a lot.

Meg Favreau's picture

I love clothing swap parties too! I'm due for another soon.

Guest's picture

I bet that book you left in the arcade ended up in the local lost and found too.

Guest's picture

Although I'm a seasoned online seller, for this year's town-wide yard sale, we did something different: We put everything out for FREE. At first, it hurt to let things go, knowing I could make a few bucks. BUT, as more and more stuff left my home, and more and more people were overjoyed, I felt a weight lifted from me.

It felt GREAT to have all of that stuff gone in a matter of hours. :)

Guest's picture

I recycle stuff and give them as gifts. Saves me money on buying gifts. :)

Guest's picture

There is also swap.com for movies, games, books and kids' stuff.

Guest's picture

With video games, it can go one of two ways. If it's a classic like chrono trigger, or the Final Fantasy games for the SNES, then it will go UP in value. Those games now routinely sell for $40-80 a piece. If they were classics but also super common, like Super Mario Bros or Sonic the Hedgehog, then you'll make a little, those games sell for $10-20 each. However, if the game is obscure and you no longer enjoy playing it, then you should give them away. Also, if you want money on something, NEVER sell them to gamestop. You will get pennies for it, and they will proceed to sell it for $10-20.