There are several options for turning clutter into cash: Craigslist or eBay, garage sale or flea market. The old adage about one person's trash being another's treasure is surely borne out by the popularity (and success) of these reseller operations. It's a near lock that someone will be thrilled to buy your gently used coffee table or George Foreman grill at a discount. Meanwhile, you rake in some extra dough and de-clutter your living environment in one fell swoop.
But in the face-off of Craigslist vs. eBay vs. garage sale, which is the best way to unload unwanted goods?
We posed a shortened version of this question at Quora and heard from a veteran eBay seller with more recent experience selling through Etsy (an online marketplace) who suggested a fourth option: flea markets. Pluses and minuses attach to all four, and the particulars of what you're trying to sell also play a role.
The best choice for collectible items, according to our respondent, is the online route. Auction sites like eBay may help drive the price beyond what you initially thought an item was worth and are likely to attract serious buyers looking for that specific type of item. But gains like this come with costs. As the seller you'll have to deal with packing and shipping, and possibly returns, and hand over 10 percent of the final price to eBay.
Craigslist, another choice site for online sales, gets items in front of many eyeballs, so to speak, but doesn't charge to do so. This is probably a good way to go if you're trying to offload a piece or two of furniture, say, or a bicycle or lawnmower, but for lots of small stuff, not so much. A posting on Craigslist inevitably results in a proposal to "meet in a crowded place" and scammers scour the site for easy prey. Another drawback is the likelihood of a lengthy wait until items sell, especially things that are small and cheap. It's a hassle to send messages back and forth and arrange a meet-up, for you and also the prospective buyer, who might do just as well at a flea market or garage sale.
Which brings us to the offline alternatives. Garage sales, a common sight around many communities in warm-weather months, requires some upfront planning - a designated weekend and advertising beforehand (free on Craigslist and with home-made signs around the neighborhood, and for a fee in the local newspaper). The biggest challenge here is generating foot traffic, so invite neighbors to join in to ensure a full range of inventory. And be prepared for the inevitable bargaining over prices; have a bottom line in mind but go with the flow, especially if you really want to be rid of the goods. Don't be surprised if turn-out is light and at the end of the day you're left with a trove of unwanted stuff.
Then there's the flea market, an appealing option because you don't need to advertise or worry about how many people will show up. Well-trafficked flea markets ensure that your items will be seen, and at closing time you can often give away what you don't sell. As with a garage sale, you'll haggle over prices; people come to snag bargains and won't hesitate to offer 50 percent less than the stated price. Also note that you'll have to pay for the privilege of selling. Depending on the flea market and the size of your table, you could pay up to $50 for a spot; crowded flea markets in big cities may charge as much as $140. Also, some places require a vendor's license or multi-day agreement and some specialize in certain types of items, so check before you go.
For our money, we'll take the garage sale route. Forget about Craigslist vs. eBay. Making the arrangements and hosting a sale is certainly time intensive but more efficient than spending hours online trying to sell one item here and another there, or driving to and fro, with the attendant packing and unpacking, that's required by a flea market. After you shutter the garage doors, you can donate whatever is left to Goodwill, The Salvation Army, or a local organization that takes used items. They'll appreciate the goods and you'll enjoy the uncluttered look in your home.