2009 Money moves: Fix and sell your junk

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Somewhere in the middle of 2008's great recession, one thing became painfully clear: 2009 will be a year of retrenchment, and for many people, one of 2009's first casualties will be clutter. All those various possessions that fill closets and make 4,000 square foot homes so necessary may start to seem less like treasures and more like encumbrances. After all, paying more rent for a bigger home so that you can store items that you never use isn't just a waste of space; it's also a waste of money.

As you clear out the clutter, one important thing to consider is that, with a little bit of effort, you can turn your old stuff into fresh cash. After all, all those neglected possessions didn't come cheap, and their next owner is probably scanning Craig's List even as we speak. With a little bit of time, a small investment in cleaning products, and a little bit of salesmanship, you can turn your old possessions into a tidy little pile of cash.

Follow the Dust: When you're looking at items in your house, look for dust. If something is covered in dust, it is generally one of three things: an heirloom, a souvenir, or a possession that you don't use any more. If it's one of the first two, determine whether or not it still has sentimental value. If it doesn't, get rid of it.

Be Honest: If your exercise equipment is covered with old clothes or your tools are dusty, ask yourself whether or not you ever intend to use them again. When I cleaned out my house, I also had to clean out a whole lot of old hobbies that I had moved beyond. Some, like my specialized cookware, stayed around; others, like my table saw, went in the sell pile. The difference? While I plan to make Creme Brulee again, I'm probably not going to be making furniture any time soon.

Price Like You Want to Sell: When people are cleaning out their possessions, one of the biggest stumbling blocks occurs with pricing. Having paid full price for an item, sellers generally want to recoup as much money as possible. Unfortunately, age, wear and tear, and competition generally conspire to drive prices down. With this in mind, it's a good idea to run searches on Craig's List and eBay to get a feel for the market price of your item. You should then price your item for a few dollars less than the competition; not only will this help you attract careful buyers, but it will also help you clear your clutter a little faster.

Think Like a Buyer: Buyers don't like to deal with dirt, don't like to have to imagine what an item looks like, and don't like to be surprised. With that in mind, be completely honest in your description. Be sure to enclose a photograph, and take the time to clean and polish your merchandise. This will make you a hit with buyers and forestall any future disputes!

Bruce Watson is a freelance writer, blogger, and all-around cheapskate. His last great cleanout netted him close to a thousand dollars. The joy of living clutter free, on the other hand, is priceless.


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