eBay v. Craigslist v. Freecycle v. GotJunk (IMHO)

By Nancy Ranchel

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Let's talk the straight poop about cleaning out a house in one fast and furious weekend. This oh-so-crappy task is one I have recently had to accomplish, and it sucks about 30 million times as much as you would imagine. There are services out there that will help you, but how do they stack up against each other? Has this question been keeping you awake at night? (Along with questions about the Greek debt crisis?) You're in luck. I have some insight, but only about the cleaning. The Greece situation is out of my wheelhouse.

This is merely my point of view, imperfect as that insight might be. To get going, you will want to consider your own needs and motives. Do you need to get that house emptied as quickly as a prom dress comes off? Are you concerned about the environment? Do you need to make some cash from the objets d'art or furniture? 

Please be aware that when I talk about a weekend of moving, that last weekend should be the culmination of all your prep work. (If you have no time for prep, not even an estate sale, you've got a couple of options: hire movers to pack and move everything out of there, or hire a junk company to take it all away.) If you're downsizing, closing up a house, or starting over for whatever reason, prep work is key. First tackle the papers: organize important docs and get them out of the house. Shred the rest (use a shredding service as needed). When that's done, you're usually left with the fun part of living: furniture, clothes, sets of dishes, the George Foreman Grill. What do you need and what do you need to get rid of? And how do you get rid of it? OK - here we go.

1. 1-800-Got-Junk: This nifty service is on the easy end of dealing with house contents. You call, they come out, they charge by weight. They do the heavy lifting, too. But! (Yes, of course there's a but.) This service has an environmental mission, but results can vary by location. In Arizona, the junk guys said they recycle electronics after taking the copper out (which they do themselves). When asked if they take out rare earth metals, the answer was no. When asked whether the remainder of the electronics were disposed of with a green electronics recycler after the copper was removed, they gentlemen looked perplexed and replied, "Probably not." Okay. They are still super nice guys (at least the ones I met), and they are there to help. And they recycle a lot - it's how they make money, and a profit motive is a lovely incentive. 

2. Craigslist: I'm done with Craigslist. Sound dramatic? Here's the deal. I find this service to be a crap shoot: people don't show, they want to haggle, they may be a bit scary. Since I've read that the best way to have a good experience on Craigslist is to offer screaming deals, I was selling an $1,800 bed for $100. I received many quick calls, and was stacking up appointments starting at 10AM. I do this because Craigslist buyers, I have found, are often no-shows. The gal who had the 10AM appointment was quite excited and said she would be there first thing. And then she wrote and asked if she could come seven hours later and still have first dibs. I said no and struck her from the list - at which point she yelled, told me about her dead dog, her heartbroken child, and asked how I could sleep at night after breaking a commitment. I slept like a baby after blocking her calls and emails. The next person did show, but brought along several unruly children. Such antics are not worth the money. (Selling a shirt on eBay for $15, less postage and fees, is worth the money. No screaming kids.) So, Craigslist has been cancelled until further notice. Too weird and too time consuming. 

3. Freecycle: I'm getting more fond of this site every day, but it also differs by location. The site in my area of Arizona is sparsely used and not often monitored (listings have to be approved, so sporadic monitoring takes up valuable time). In Portland the site is hoppin'. The people I've dealt with have all showed up and been reasonable. For Freecycle (and Craigslist, if you're still there), consider posting your wares a week or two before the move. Then stack up appointments in a single day to move stuff out. 

4. The old free pile: This simple solution is addictive! Plop your stuff at the end of the driveway with a free sign on it. Today I disposed of a metal yard chair, metal chaise, teak chaise, and an outdoor table. All gone in about 30 minutes. Saturday is a garage sale day, so if you put up a couple of "Free" signs at the end of your street, things will start disappearing. But if time is of the essence, you need a back-up plan - where will the remainder of your free pile go at the end of the day? Perhaps schedule Got-Junk for the next day?

5. eBay: This site is my fave by far, but it's not a quick solution. If you need to sell in a weekend, eBay is not the answer. If you can pack up some items to sell over time, do it! Make some cash. 

6. Art and clothing consignment, garage or estate sale: These are all longer-term projects. If you can have a garage or estate sale before the big move, go for it! (I don't think the garage sale is worth the money, but it's your call.) Do some research and drop off clothing and art at local consignment stores. Doing so will make that last weekend's push a lot easier. 

7. Friends and their families: This is by far, hands down, the way I've moved the most out of my house. Spread the word that you'll be selling. Encourage your friends to bring friends and family by to scout out the furniture, art, dishes, linens. Make deals and get people to show up with a U-haul and some cash. (And I really do mean make deals.) Upon visiting a furniture consignment store I saw that a new-ish $2,500 table was selling for $1,000. This means the owner was paid roughly $300 or $400 for the table. Sell to friends and friends of friends at that low price. You will move stuff out of the house, and that last weekend will be much less painful. (Personal tip: let these people "browse" your house like it's a store. Don't hover. When they have an interest in an item, tell them if it's for sale and what the price is. You'll be surprised at how much you'll be willing to part with as the clock ticks down on moving day.) This is how I started buying art. I ran into someone who was downsizing and I bought more art every time I got paid.

Here are some places to find potential buyers you may not have yet considered: 

— The nail salon and hair salon. Both employees and customers need / want stuff and have kids going off to college who could use a coffee table, toaster, or your stack of Pyrex. 
— The gym. Think about all those gym rats with no furniture. Invite them over!
— Your book club, knitting group, bridge group. 
— Everybody who has EVER admired your art or furniture but considered it out of reach. Now's the time for them to get a to buy at a fraction of retail. 

If people are buying multiples, don't forget to throw in a gift - something they were eyeing but didn't get, something for their kid. What's your goal? Your goal is to empty the house. Throw in a present. Move things along. Trust me. I still brought way too much home to Oregon from this move and now am scrambling to find a place for everything or sell more to make room. I will be selling more. Wanna know my eBay name? Some good art will be up for sale soon.

P to the S: We were able to load the truck in only half of a day due to all our pre-moving-day downsizing, and the truck was only half full. That was fortunate, as it broke down south of Redding, CA, and the load had to be transferred to a new truck. At least there were lounge chairs in the truck! It was a long wait.

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