Spring Cleanout Your Closet for Cash

By Meghan Casserly

Turn a weekend's worth of chores into a profitable endeavor by looking at your items with new (Read: money-hungry) eyes.

April's almost upon us, which for some means tax-time and for others means the start of gardening season. But for the more, April means Spring Cleaning, the time of year when we bravely enter the corners of our homes armed with dust-rags and trash-bins, clearing the cob-webs and clutter that have accumulated over the preceding three seasons.

It's a dirty job.

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It's a dirty job, but someone's got to do it -- and get paid for it.It's a dirty job, but someone's got to do it -- and get paid for it.

But with a little bit of creativity, web-savvy and a fresh pair of eyes, what can at first seem a bleak way to spend a weekend can, in fact, become quite a rewarding endeavor. Everyone who's seen an episode of Hoarders knows that you can't just keep consuming without getting rid of the surplus, and so for most of us the challenge is turning off the inclination to trash everything we don't want.

The typical American consumer throws away 68 pounds of used clothing and textiles each year, which crowds land-fills and helps no one, least of all your bank account when you hit the mall to replace it all. I talked with organizational, resale and auction house experts to get to the bottom of what's lurking in your attics, garages and basements, just waiting to be redeemed for cold, hard cash.

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Why To Purge/How To Part With Stuff

"Purging should actually be an ongoing process but many of us don't do it," says Christopher Lowell, an organizational consultant and the author of Seven Layers of Organization, hinting at America's hoarding tendencies. "The change of seasons at least gives us one excuse as we look forward to a new year and the upcoming summer. Think of it as Spring Break for the home."

But while Spring Break conjures images of girls gone wild and too many frozen cocktails, purging the home of unused goods can be less fun and more fraught. Deciding what to part with, whether its old clothing, hand-me-down furniture or artwork can get really personal, Lowell says. But when we're in fear of making the wrong decision-parting with something we might want later-he says the default is to leave everything as it is. According to the experts, seven out of 10 American homes are drowning in clutter.

So what to do? Lowell's plan of attack suggests that you simply get less personal. "Step outside of your home, take a deep breath, and pretend that you have no idea who lives in the house," he says. Then ransack your home. "Yep, open every drawer, container, cupboard," he says. "Look in those overhead closet shelves, under beds… everywhere." By looking with fresh eyes, Lowell says you'll soon realize that 43% of the items in your house haven't been used in the past year and probably won't be used in the coming one, "and it's taking up almost 50% of the space in your home!"

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How To Decide What To Sell

Sell your old electronics on gazelle.com or trade them at Best Buy.Sell your old electronics on gazelle.com or trade them at Best Buy.

Once you've come to terms with the fact that you, quite simply, can't hold onto everything that's dear to you, begin by separating goods into two categories: trash (over-used goods, goods that must be repaired) and resale (gently-used clothing, sports equipment, furniture and knick-knacks). Now it's time to start making money.

"Reselling used goods can mean the difference between having gas money or not having gas money," says Merry Beth Hovey, the vice president of marketing for Winmark, which operates retail chains of specialty consignment shops through the country, from children's clothes to sporting goods to musical instruments. While the individual chunks of change-$20 for several bags of used clothing, $10 for your son's trumpet he hasn't picked up since seventh grade-aren't huge, they can add up to a weekend windfall.

The resale pile should be further categorized by item type: goods that can be traded in at consignment shops for cash and those unique items and knick-knacks that you want to see appraised for their value. Patrick van der Vorst, the founder of ValueMyStuff.com is a 14-year veteran of Sotheby's auction house in London. His site allows Spring Cleaners access to 62 expert appraisers for a flat fee of $9.99 per item, a price that seems well worth it when you consider some of the surprise appraisals the company has valued. Snap a photo and email it their way; within 48 hours you'll have a price and an option to list the item for auction.

Ven der Vorst says even he's been surprised by what's become valuable: first-generation iPods, old advertising signs and mid-priced wines are suddenly commanding top dollar. You never know when you've got valuable goods hiding in your home, especially with what he calls a "unique" buyers market these days. Case in point? A golf ball from 1911 that was recently valued at over $5,000. That's an expensive that could have easily ended up in a landfill.

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Where To Do It

Online is always the best place to start, but Hovey warns against getting sucked into eBay auctions right away. Not only can shipping fees add up, but you're still left with stuff in your house while you wait for sales to go through. Instead, use the web as a resource to find local consignment shops. In New York, for example, used hardcover and paperback can be sold to the Strand for roughly a dollar a book (more or less depending on condition or resale value).

At Winmark's Plato's Closet, with more than 300 locations nationwide, kid's denim is the number one earner for resale items while outgrown sports gear-hockey pads, lacrosse sticks and baseball gloves-reign supreme at Play It Again Sports. Hovey says that drum sets and accessories command top dollar among musical instruments. And then there's your own (very grown up) clothes. If you're a designer junkie, check out RealReal, a big-name-only consignment option online that curates flash sales of labels like Chloe, Chanel and Balenciaga. If you're a plainer Jane, RecycleYourFashions will take the clothes you don't wear and sell what they can on eBay, leaving you with both a streamlined closet and deeper pockets.

If your old iPods aren't appraised at a high dollar value by ValueMyStuff, don't fret. On Gazelle.com you can sell your old electronics and in Best Buy stores you can trade them in towards a future purchase. Best Buy Geek Squadders promise efficient assessment of the value of your old cell phones, computers and gadgets and then recycles and refurbishes eWaste for resale.

Getting old clothes, gadgets and grandma's old treasures out of your home can be both cathartic and refreshing this time of year, especially as you begin to change over closets and wardrobes from winter coats to summer accessories. But that doesn't mean it's easy. Still, we like to think that by looking at your home with new (and money-hungry) eyes, what is normally a weekend of arduous chores can be seen in a new light. And while Spring Cleaning can be an especially difficult time of year to rally the troops (Read: get your family to help), for some kids, husbands, boyfriends and brothers, you'd be surprised how a little cash incentive can make all the difference.

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