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According to Cari Cucksey, who organizes estate sales on HGTV's Cash & Cari, "The average family has several thousand dollars' worth of stuff lying around." Check out how to find the right market:
If you're looking to unload a bunch of goods that don't have a high intrinsic value, a yard sale is the way to go. Price items at 50 to 75 percent off the store price, and keep everything under $50. "People who go to garage sales are looking for the ultimate bargain," says Cucksey. "Higher-end items I would put online." First find out if your city or town requires a permit to hold a sale. Events are best held on a Saturday, when most people have time to shop. Then advertise like crazy a week ahead. Cucksey recommends taking an ad out in local papers; posting on Facebook and Twitter, as well as free sites like craigslist.org and yardsalesearch.com; and hanging poster-size signs on the street to direct customers to your home.
Put easy-to-ship, brand-name goods (a Sony PlayStation, a Waterford vase) and collectibles (baseball cards, American Girl dolls) on an auction site like eBay, where they'll be seen by millions of potential buyers and probably fetch the highest price. Check current listings to get an idea of what your things might go for. People are more apt to bid if they know exactly what they're buying, so include a detailed description, with measurements, plenty of photos (don't forget close-ups), and info about the item's history and even flaws, says Cucksey.
A free website like craigslist.org or ebayclassifieds.com is ideal for things that are ordinary or bulky, such as an air conditioner you're no longer using or a child's playpen. These buyers expect a good deal, and they're hauling the item away for you, so don't ask for too much—about 25 to 30 percent off the store price. You can go even lower, especially if there's wear and tear, says Cucksey. Post a detailed ad (see "Online Auction," above) and keep safety in mind. "Have someone with you when a potential buyer comes over and conduct the sale outside, if possible," says Cucksey. Not getting many responses? Consider expanding your reach with a paid ad in the local paper.
Don't want to deal with marketing and communicating with customers? Bring your stuff to a consignment shop. These stores typically take good-quality furniture, household items, or clothes (call to inquire about specifics). While you may get more for something on consignment than you would on Craigslist, the store will take a cut—often a 50-50 split with you on the proceeds from the sale. Some may reduce the asking price if the piece doesn't sell after a specified length of time. Anything you plan to consign should be clean and worthy of display, or it may not be accepted, says Cucksey.
Sure you'd like to recoup part of your investment in that bunk bed, but if there are no takers, consider donating it to a worthy organization instead.
Schedule a pick-up for volumes of all kinds with donationtown.org. Enter your zip code and choose from charities in your area. If none are available, contact your local library, hospital, or the nearest Goodwill or Salvation Army stores for drop-off spots. You can also send fiction and nonfiction titles to Books for Africa (booksforafrica.org), which will match them with schools, orphanages, and literacy programs across the continent.*
Those worn-once prom or bridesmaid dresses take up valuable closet space. Log on to donatemydress.org to find a dress drive in your area. Affiliated organizations connect with teens who might not otherwise be able to afford something to wear for a special occasion.
Bring it to your local Habitat for Humanity ReStore (visit habitat.org/restores for locations). These shops sell donated items at a discount and use the proceeds to fund the construction of Habitat homes. You can also donate to a local furniture bank (find one at nationalfurniturebank.org), which distributes essentials like sofas, beds, tables, and lamps to families in need.
Give shin guards to youth teams in Colombia, basketballs to kids in the Philippines, or tennis rackets to students in Los Angeles through Sports Gift (sportsgift.org), which delivers gently used gear to disadvantaged children all over the world.
Keep them until the fall (most drives start in October) then search for a local coat drive on onewarmcoat.org. Sweaters, sweatshirts, hats, and gloves may also be accepted.
Try to recycle your high-tech junk (for tips, see the next slide). If you can't, consider greendisk.com, which safely recycles items for you. Ship off old VHS tapes and floppy discs to ACT (actrecycling.org), a nonprofit in Columbia, Missouri, that trains and employs disabled people. Call to Protect at Wireless Foundation (wirelessfoundation.org) gives charities the proceeds from selling phones. Cell Phones for Soldiers (cellphonesforsoldiers.com) puts the cash toward calling cards for overseas troops. The National Cristina Foundation (cristina.org) matches used tech equipment with local organizations like schools or nonprofits.
*In most cases shipping is on your dime but tax-deductible. Check websites for details.
Instead of tossing techno-waste in the trash, where it ultimately ends up polluting the planet, go eco with these earth-conscious strategies.
CDs and Other Media
No point in hanging on to all those discs you've uploaded. Same goes for your DVDs and video games that are so last year. Sell or swap at sites like secondspin.com and gamestop.com. Or recycle them for free at a Best Buy store.
Find out how to dispose of your brand of phone by checking the information at digitaltips.org. Or look for complimentary drop boxes at retailers such as Target and Best Buy.
Return tired towers, monitors, and laptops to their manufacturers. Some companies, like Apple, offer gift cards toward new models. (Find details at digitaltips.org.) Staples, RadioShack, and Office Depot accept computers as well as keyboards, printers, scanners, and more for free or a small fee. And the following cool sites will recycle some items without charge: gazelle.com and nextworth.com. Check each for details.
Drop off just about any used gear—TVs, DVD players, iPods, digital cameras, camcorders, remotes, speakers, and video game equipment—at Best Buy. The store will responsibly recycle your stuff for free or a nominal charge. Tube TVs larger than 30 inches are not accepted, but can be hauled away in exchange for purchasing a new set. Certain items can even be traded in for gift cards or cash; visit bestbuytradein.com for details. For answers to recycling questions and a comprehensive directory, log on to earth911.com. In the market for a new iPod? Best Buy will give you 10 percent off when you return any old model to one of its stores.
Stores like RadioShack, Lowe's, and Home Depot recycle rechargeable batteries for free; search for other drop-off locations near you at call2recycle.org. The single-use kinds, like AAs, no longer contain toxic metals, so it's okay to trash them. However, the casings can leak acid so seal them in a plastic bag first.
Gather CFLs, which have mercury, in a plastic bag and toss them in the designated bins at Lowe's, Home Depot, or Ikea. Your local hardware store may also accept them—call to find out. Get more ideas at earth911.com and type in your zip code.
Originally published in the May 2011 issue of Family Circle magazine.