As the weeks ticked by under shelter-in-place, some people baked bread, some took up knitting and others staged elaborate photo shoots posing like famous paintings or dressing up as characters from “Tiger King.” I decluttered.
This was a favorite pre-quarantine activity of mine, so it wasn’t a stretch that I would seize the opportunity when confined to my house for many long days. But it has also proved surprisingly lucrative, thanks to a host of online selling platforms that continued to thrive largely uninterrupted by the pandemic.
Since March, I have turned my kids’ outgrown clothes, abandoned toys and a plethora of household items that I honestly don’t remember purchasing into more than $3,000 in online sales – and that’s after the seller fees were extracted. Maybe not enough to quit my day job, but pretty darn good for a side hustle while stuck at home. I also learned a lot about the pros and cons of various platforms, and how to maximize profit for different categories of items.
The added bonus of all of this is that I feel a sense of accomplishment from streamlining our possessions. With so much time spent in one shared space, it’s a relief to get rid of some of the excess.
Here are my three main take-aways, whether you’re purging during a pandemic or simply want to boost your bank account by channeling your inner Marie Kondo.
1. Know your marketplace.
The elder statesman of the online selling scene is, of course, eBay. And there’s a good reason: it’s widely trusted, easy to use and you can sell just about anything imaginable there as long as it’s legal. eBay is my go-to for anything that has a devoted and knowledgeable fan base, such as Pokemon cards or Star Wars memorabilia, or clothing from mid-level boutique brands, especially lesser-known international names. Selling fees range from 10-12% and you can list up to 50 listings for free each month.
Newer to the U.S. but long established overseas is Mercari. I started using the app only after shelter-in-place began, and have made 276 individual sales over a 4-month period (granted, most are small in terms of profit, but it adds up quickly!). The user interface is almost entirely mobile-based, so it’s extremely easy to upload photos and create listings for items that don’t require a ton of detailed explanation. Sales seem to happen much faster for me on Mercari than on eBay, but I definitely receive more lowball offers than I do on any other platform. My top-selling items on Mercari have been toys, including board games and art kits, kids clothes from well-known brands, costumes for dress-up play, and LEGO sets (both complete and incomplete). In terms of fees, Mercari has so far cornered the game among the heavy hitters: 10% seller fees and unlimited free listings.
When selling higher-end clothing and shoes, my favorite site has always been Poshmark. Shoppers there seem to understand the quality of the brands, and the site comes with a sharing feature so that users can spread the word about an item in your virtual “closet” to their own followers. Becoming an active part of the community of so-called Poshers is a bit too time-consuming for my taste (I post items but rarely “share” or follow others), but I have sold a lot of items from my own and my husband’s closet through the site. Most of my kids’ clothes are no longer pristine enough to justify Poshmark’s fixed shipping fee ($7.11 for Priority Mail, paid by the buyer unless you make a special offer of free shipping), or the 20% average seller fee, so I only list the best of the best, like a Florence Eiseman dress that was outgrown after one use.
2. Be realistic about your level of commitment.
Selling stuff online isn’t rocket science, but it does take work. Your photos need to be clear, well-lit and accurate (hiding flaws will only result in penalties or return-shipping fees). You need to research the item to provide an accurate description of its features and determine how much to charge for both the item itself and shipping. (Tip: Amazon not only stocks a gazillion items, but also usually lists their shipping weight if you scroll down a bit; it’s a great comparison tool.)
Then you need to make sure you have the bandwidth to package and ship your items within the site’s required timeframe (eBay allows you to specify your own, but many buyers expect one or two business days, while Mercari requires a three-business-day turnaround and Poshmark five days). Honestly, this process is detailed, and it’s not for everyone, despite the potential payout.
3. Expect some surprises.
A fun (well, fun to me) game I like to play with my husband as he’s about to toss something in the trash is, “I bet I can sell that.” I don’t mean literal trash, of course, but things like cabinet knobs we decided to replace, half-empty packages of leftover party decorations and the red reusable bags you get from Lululemon – all of which I have actually sold on the sites above. My husband’s trash, in those cases, was truly someone else’s treasure.
Not all surprises are pleasant ones, of course. I have almost certainly been scammed a few times by users who claimed an item was damaged or had been removed from its packaging in transit. (Any reputable selling site has ways of helping resolve those claims, but it’s often very tedious.) I’ve also put a ton of work into creating certain listings that ended up selling for less than the value of my time and effort.
But overall, I’m a very happy seller. The loss of clutter has been our family’s financial gain.