Sunday, June 22, 2014

Cleaning House: Donate, Lawn Sale or Craig’s List?

I've discussed my recent efforts to clean house using Craig’s List and my Craig’s List iPad app.  At various times, I've also cleaned house through donations and lawn sales as well.  It occurred to me that a comparison of these strategies may also make for an interesting post.  In this post, I will discuss some of the pros and cons of each of these approaches to shedding your home of some of your accumulated debris.

My wife likes cleaning house through donations.  It’s relatively quick and simple – gather your stuff and drive it off to your selected charitable organization.  In addition to emptying your home of unwanted clutter, there is also the warm & fuzzy of contributing to a good cause.  For those that itemize on their income taxes, there may also be a financial incentive in the form of a deduction.  Many folks get confused in regards to the true cash value of a deduction.  The true value will vary from person to person depending on their tax rate; however, for easy math I like to use 20%.  Thus, if you donate $100 worth of stuff; your actual cash value (assuming you itemize) would be approximately $20.  Also keep in mind that if you are going to claim a deduction you will need to maintain the necessary documentation of the donation to support your deduction.  If you are cash strapped, donating probably isn't your best choice to balance cleanings house while raising funds.  On the other hand, sometimes you accumulate things that are hard to sell or just don’t want to be bothered with the level of effort required to sell.  In these cases, a donation decision may make the most sense.

A lawn sale is a good choice if you’re looking to clear a lot of stuff from your home quickly.  Lawn sales are a great strategy if you have a lot of small stuff.  For example, if you have a lot of clothes – pants, shirts, shoes, nick knacks, household items, etc.  These items are harder to sell on Craig’s List and as I noted in my recent post, at some point the money isn't worth the effort of dealing with all the wide variety of individuals that will respond to a Craig’s List ad.  Is it really worth it to have someone come to your home or to meet someone to try to sell them a $2.50 shirt?  It isn't for me.  However, with a lawn sale you can have many prospective buyers come and if items are priced well much will sell at a lawn sale.   As reflected in my estimate cash value of a donation; even though the shirt might be worth $3.99 in a thrift store, picking up $2.50 from your lawn sale is much better than the 20% value of the donation (about 80 cents).

While lawn sales may provide a better financial return than an outright donation, it is not a free lunch.  To do a lawn sale well, requires a level of effort.  You must not only gather your stuff, but you must also display it attractively and ideally mark up some prices (although I’m seeing this less often).  Advertising must also be addressed.  This could be mostly free efforts such as posting in Craig’s List and hand making signs to more expensive advertising such as newspaper and purchasing signage.  In addition to the prep work, you must also be comfortable interacting with the public – you will get all types.  I enjoy the interaction so this does not feel like work to me; others may not enjoy this as much.  Another variable that you must accept when planning a lawn sale is the weather.  Weather can keep customers away – this can be both rainy days as well as sweltering days.  (Tip:  if a sweltering day, sell beverages – ice cold water and soft drinks at your lawn sale.  It is a great way to bump up your sales).  Rainy days also introduce additional challenges for displaying your items.  I would never purchase electronic items that were sitting out in the rain at a lawn sale.

As reflected in my recent post, I have used Craig’s List to a great degree to clean house.  I found that using the iPad app made posting much simpler than the “old” days where you would snap pictures with your digital camera and then have to boot up your computer to work on the post and pull the picture over from the SD card… with the iPad, it’s just snap, then open the app and the post is on the way!  Craig’s List may be more intimidating for some than a lawn sale.  A lawn sale is essentially an “open house” on the lawn whereby “others” are often also at the event; with Craig’s List it is often more isolated with just the buyer and seller.  “No shows” and fickle email respondents are a challenge when selling on Craig’s List.  Yes, I understand that you can “meet” in a public location; however, if I am selling a $5 item, I don’t want to do too much running around and I certainly don’t want to “meet” where risk wasting time with a “no show”.  In my suburban neighborhood, this has not been a big issue for me.  I had one nervous buyer and I told her I understood and that she could come to the house, park by road and if she saw a crazy man come out of the house, she was free to hit the gas.  This made her laugh and broke the ice somewhat, but I was sensitive to her concerns and brought the items she was interested out to the road where she could be comforted by the watchful eyes of my neighbors.  Small value items have been my greatest challenge with Craig’s List.  To address the challenge of selling small value items through Craig’s List, I have tried to bundle items whenever I can.  For example, instead of just selling one shirt, bundle 3 or 4 shirts for $10.  This gets stuff out of your house faster and makes the transaction more worthwhile to both you and prospective buyers.  I have found that I like Craig’s List because I can manage and control the flow of sales including listing it when I am ready and not having to rush to ready the item for a huge lawn sale and also pace my interaction with buyers to suit my schedule and availability.  Whereas a lawn sale is typically held Friday and/or Saturday, Craig’s List items continue to be advertised till they sell or expire.  Also, while lawn sales tend to be very seasonal; Craig’s List is pretty much a year round option.

There is no wrong way to clean unwanted stuff from your home.  Many folks incorporate a combination of strategies to accomplish this goal.  It is very popular for folks to hold a lawn sale and then donate the items that don’t sell.  This is a great strategy to ensure that your junk finds a new home.