How to Sell Your House When It’s Jam-Packed with Junk

Between the collectibles or keepsakes, treasures from your travels, garage sale finds or those 15,000 pieces of junk mail you’ll receive in a lifetime, you no longer know for certain who is in charge—you or your stuff.

You’re not alone.

Americans spend $1.2 trillion every year on items they don’t need, while 1 in every 11 U.S. households rents offsite storage for their overflowing number of belongings.

But now that you are ready to sell your home, all your junk (no offense to your beer koozie collection) stands in the way of your ultimate goal: to sell your home quickly and painlessly for a big pile of cash.

“It’s a buyers’ intuition,” says Jeff Galindo, a top-selling real estate agent in Las Vegas. “It’s seeing a house and thinking, ‘Geez, if this is the way they take care of their living space, how have they taken care of the home over time? Have they replaced the air filters and have they done proper maintenance and repair? It causes them to doubt the overall quality or condition of the home.”

Whether you want to sell, donate, store or hide your junk, we have tips from the pros on how to sell a house full of stuff so you’re not giving buyers that detrimental Hoarders: Buried Alive vibe.

A living room cleared of stuff for listing photos to sell house.
Source: (Breadmaker/ Shutterstock)

Pare down before your listing photo shoot—buyers will make their first judgments online

In the ‘80s, homebuyers scanned newspaper listings or relied on word of mouth to find homes.

But the internet has fundamentally changed that. Now, online home search is universal across generations—99% of millennials use the web in their home hunt, along with 89% of older boomers and 77% of the Silent Generation. What’s more, 51% of today’s buyers find the home they end up purchasing online, compared to 30% who find their house through an agent, and 7% by seeing an old-fashioned yard sign.

“The internet is our most important resource,” Galindo says. “That’s where people are getting their first look at homes. People have a short attention span when they are looking at an app. It’s like swiping right or left on a home. They scroll through and say, ‘I like that one, I don’t like that one.’ That initial rejection is what we are trying to avoid by properly staging a home.”

That means a cluttered mess could not only turn off buyers who come through the home but hinder your ability to book showings in the first place. The house needs to be in shipshape before the photographer comes in with a DSLR and tripod to capture your home at its best, or online shoppers will simply say “Next!” to your web listing photos.

When it comes to clearing out the house, the sooner you can start, the better. So plan your timetable around photo day, rather than your market debut.

how-to-sell-a-house-full-of-stuff
Source: (Senior Airman Jacob Skovo/ Offutt Air Force Base)

Get in the giving spirit and donate what you can (you can’t sell everything!)

Selling stuff sounds great in theory—get rid of all the things you currently don’t need, want, or use, and make a buck (or several hundred). What could be better?

But the reality is that all that pricing, mailing, tagging, and organizing takes energy and effort, whether you’re visiting an online marketplace or hosting a good ol’ fashioned garage sale.

According to Monica Friel, organizing expert at Chaos to Order in Chicago, people often expect that selling their stuff is going to result in a hefty financial gain.

Chances are, it’s not.

“People think they can easily sell the basics for a good amount of money,” Friel says. “It takes a lot of work to put items on eBay or Craigslist or something similar and to manage those listings. Secondly, buyers are looking for a good deal, so often the tax writeoff is the same amount and less work.”

That goes for used appliances, gently used clothing and furniture, dishware and flatware and beyond. Your collection of designer handbags and your barely used Crate Barrel sofa? See the “Sell Your Stuff” section below.

Tips for donating items in your house full of stuff:

1. Put some thought into the causes you’re giving to:

Yes, you can take everything to your local Goodwill or nonprofit-owned second-hand shop. But consider what you have to give, and find a nonprofit that could benefit from your stuff.

  • Your art supplies and crafting tools may be invaluable to a summer camp or after-school program. Your tools and extra appliances might be much appreciated at a soup kitchen.
  • There are also numerous organizations that take old things and give them new life. Take The Blue Jeans Go Green Program, which upcycles your old denim into insulation. Some stores, such as Madewell, will even give you $20 off new jeans when you donate your old ones to The Blue Jeans Go Green Program.
  • You may have nonprofits in your community that accept wood, windows, trim, furniture, hardware, fixtures and beyond in your neighborhood or city. Think Habitat for Humanity Store.
  • Donate your items through Freecycle.org, a nonprofit network made up of thousands of groups and millions of members that collectively are the “largest internet-based gifting community” in the world. Through Freecycle, you can gift any item that can be reused. Simply join your local Freecycle community to post your “Offer,” and you’ll receive emails from groups or individuals in your community who are interested in the item. You get to select who you’d like to give it to and arrange the exchange.

If you have the time, make some calls and find the right cause for your donation.

2. Your trash is not always their treasure.

You also want to make sure you are donating what a charity needs and wants, so don’t force your “generosity.” Again, call and ask before you drop anything big off, like your old Macintosh from the 90s or lethally heavy Tube TV. You don’t want your donation to cost the organization money because they are forced to haul it away. You might be better off putting large electronics, for example, at the curb with a large trash sticker for pickup by your city.

3. Find a loving home for your most-loved stuff.

Sometimes donating doesn’t mean dropping off a big box of stuff to a local nonprofit. It may mean finding relatives who want your vintage T-shirt collection or friends who’d love to get their hands on your massive British murder mystery library. Similarly, think about the people in your life who may be in need. Consider your church or your office, your friends or co-workers who may have suffered a loss and no longer have the basics.

4. Post a “curb alert” on Craigslist.

It’s not the classiest way to get rid of unwanted stuff, but desperate times call for having strangers haul free stuff from your curb. Consider putting an “I need to get rid of XYZ” post in the “free” section of Craigslist’s For Sale category. If you want to simplify even more, put your stuff on your curb with a “free” sign and post a notice on Nextdoor or Facebook Marketplace.

Pearls used to help sell house.
Source: (masintos/ Pixabay)

Sell those valuables (think: jewelry, technology, and high-end accessories)

As we said above, not every item in your house will be right for resale. But you will likely have several pieces in your home that can be resold.

The key is finding the right stuff. Consider the items in your home that are rare or vintage or in perfect condition or barely used. Do these types of items have a cult following or a rabid group of collectors? Would they be considered memorabilia or notable in history? Are they designer?

Tips for selling items from your house full of stuff:

1. Compare the online auction sites based on their fees and audience.

With more than 165 million active users, eBay may seem like king of all online auction sites, but it is not your only option. There are numerous possibilities that cater to specific products and interests, such as sports memorabilia, art, autographs, movie props, or autographs.

Before you select an auction site, know what you are getting into. Consider all the fees involved (eBay’s listing fee is 30 cents per item as well as 10% of the sale price).

Check out sale prices for similar items, and know all the restrictions. Bonanza, which allows you to get your items on Google Shopping, and eBid are other options that are similar to eBay but with potentially lower selling fees.

2. Reach a larger pool of buyers on social media.

Facebook’s new Marketplace feature has been called the “eBay killer.” That’s because its popularity seems to reflect the ubiquity of Facebook on our lives. You are already using Facebook 41 minutes a day, might as well sell some stuff while you’re at it.

Being a social medium, Marketplace offers a more public form of selling. Be warned, there are safety issues that come with selling on Facebook, Nextdoor or Craigslist. However, if you take precautions, you can enjoy the convenience and have access to millions of people worldwide.

3. Find the right online marketplace or mall or app.

There are apps for selling wedding stuff and baby stuff and used wedding rings. There are apps for selling designer clothing and musical instruments and outdoor gear.

You can even sell old CDs and DVDs on Decluttr and old textbooks on Bookscouter. There are apps that specialize in a little bit of everything. Like LetGo, 5miles, Dealo, and SocialSell.

You can go with the old standbys (yes, we see you Craigslist) or try something specialized and new (oh, hello, Poshmark). Again, just make sure you know the fees, safety policies and details before you start selling.

4. Know the right places to sell your electronics.

One of the best ways to turn unwanted items into cash is by getting rid of old technology. Sites like Swappa and Gazelle specialize in helping people sell their old phones, tablets, cameras and computers.

Swappa allows you to create a listing for your item, gives you a suggested selling price and lets you post photos. Sellers do not pay fees, but they will need to pay any PayPal fees associated with the exchange.

Gazelle is a little different. You tell the site what you want to sell and they make you an offer. If you like what you see, you ship the item to Gazelle for free. It’s an easier process, but you’ll likely get less for your techie toys.

5. Go consignment to communicate with actual humans about your stuff.

Yes, there are places that are not on the internet (gasp!) that you must drive to and go inside. There, you will speak to actual people, like, face to face.

Each consignment shop or sale experience is different. You might be offered an upfront amount for your items, or the shop may take your stuff, give you an account number and then share the profits of any of your sold items at a later time.

The key is to find a store that specializes in what you have: From designer clothing and accessories to antique furniture to used sports gear, you can easily find a consignment shop that’s looking for what you have. No matter where you go, make sure you read the fine print and manage your expectations. They may hand you back a box of items they don’t want to sell, or they may offer you prices way short of your Antiques Roadshow dreams. Instead, be prepared ahead of time and know the value of your items, so you don’t lose out. Speaking of which…

6. Know the value of your stuff.

One of the most challenging aspects of selling your possessions is knowing how to price them. Sure, in your heart, your collection of 1950s boxing memorabilia is priceless. But in the real world, everything has a price tag.

Whether you are heading to the pawn shop or a consignment store or hosting a garage sale, you’ll need to know how much your stuff is worth. Check out resources like statricks.com or Beckett for your baseball cards or Worthpoint for your antiques. Or visit online auction sites to see what similar items are going for.

7. Weigh the pros and cons of hosting an old-fashioned yard sale.

Many a homeowner has pondered this exact question: Are garage sales worth it? Are they worth the effort? Some would definitely say no. Do a little cost-benefit comparison when you are deciding. Is the time, energy and effort worth the potential cashout? If you have some big items with potentially big payoffs, it might just be worth the work.

Storage unit used to help sell a house full of stuff.
Source: (paulbr75/ Pixabay)

Put the overflow in storage—but know it’ll cost you

Get this: Nearly 1 in 10 American households rents a storage facility, and there are 4 times more storage facilities in the country than Starbucks. Statistics show that most people who pay to rent a storage unit already have a garage, attic, or basement.

So what does that tell us? We have too much stuff. Friel of Chaos to Order in Chicago suggests everyone take the time to sort through their belongings and discard the unwanted stuff before resorting to storage.

“You will be a happier person without the weight of all that stuff sitting on your shoulders. It’s a freeing feeling,” she says. “We tell people who are moving to live in their home like they are planning to move next month. Everything you have is something you treasure.”

  • However, there may be occasions that require you to find storage, such as: You need to store your stuff before moving to a bigger house.
  • You need to clear out your furniture so your real estate agent can stage your house.
  • You have lots of seasonal items, such as boxes upon boxes of antique Santa Claus statues, that you only display during the holidays and still use every year.

No judgment.

Sometimes you need to store stuff.

Tips for storing items to sell your house full of stuff:

1. Decide between full-service storage and self-storage.

As stated above, there are more storage facilities in the U.S. than Starbucks, which means you won’t have to look far to find yourself a storage unit. But there are some choices.

You’ll have the option between full-service storage and self storage. The difference being that full-service storage businesses will pick up, haul, and store your stuff. When it comes to self storage, it’s all on you. You can find full-service storage businesses, like MakeSpace, that will take images of all the boxes and items in your storage and keep them as a digital inventory that you can access at any time.

Note that full-service storage may be limited if you don’t live near a metro area; it’s a growing industry that hasn’t seemed to reach most of flyover country.

2. Compare pricing before you settle on a unit.

The average cost of a climate controlled storage space was $1.63 per square foot in 2016. However, pricing depends on where you live and how much you want to store, and the costs will differ largely between full-service and self storage.

You may be able to find a small self storage space for less than $70 a month; a large full-service storage space could cost you hundreds monthly with the possibility of an upfront pick-up fee.

Make sure you ask about whether there is a minimum monthly contract or if you can go month-to-month. Square foot minimums may also be a factor. Another way to save some money is to skip the insurance option, especially if your homeowner’s insurance covers off-premise possessions.

And remember, before you sign any contract make sure you understand what happens if you miss a few payments; you don’t want your stuff auctioned to the highest bidder on a reality show.

3. Find out about the storage facility’s security, climate control, lighting, and accessibility.

If you are storing valuable items or collectibles, ask about the security of the storage unit as well as any amenities. Is the unit climate controlled (especially useful if you are storing technology or glassware or other items that can be affected by heat or cold)? Does it come with locking systems (look into the number of locks), video monitoring, human surveillance, lighting, indoor or outdoor access and even crime in the area?

You also want to ask about accessibility. If you put years worth of documents in storage and suddenly you need your 2011 W-2s, you will need to know if you can access your storage unit at 5 am. Some storage units allow for 24-hour, seven-day-a-week access. Others do not.

4. Look into the individual unit’s accessibility.

Some storage units are inside a door, up a set of steep stairs and down a hallway. Others have easy drive-up access and a big garage door. Ask to see the spaces that are available, so you don’t find yourself lugging boxes of stuff through an obstacle course.

5. Hit up friends and family or check if there are peer-to-peer storage options in your locale.

Storage units are not your only option. Ask friends or family if they have temporary space for your stuff. Or consider peer-to-peer storage, which is like Airbnb for your boxes of hand-me downs. It’s still a fledgling industry, so there may not be options in your area.

6. Talk with your agent about the best course of action.

Before you box up and store your clutter, talk to your real estate agent. You may find that cleaning out and storing everything in a large unit may be so expensive that the effort won’t pay off. Think: Will this make a difference to your bottom line? Will the cost of this be worth it?

A set of drawers used to hide stuff while selling house.
Source (resized): (BeckyF/ Flickr via Creative Commons Legal Code)

Hide whatever stuff remains: Good idea or bad idea?

Now hiding stuff may seem like your best option, right? You just sweep the dirt under the rug and move your stuff in the garage. Easy.

But that theory may also backfire. According to Galindo, the places you might hide all your junk —the garage, the basement, the closets —are often the areas you want to feature in your home.

Buyers love storage and they love garages. They want to see the entire space they can potentially fill with their own junk. That means you will likely want to feature those areas in photos and on showings. That also means you don’t want to jam pack those areas with boxes.

However, Galindo says, “Junk in your garage is always better than junk in your living room.”

Tips for hiding items in your house full of stuff:

1. You can’t assume buyers won’t look “there.”

Don’t just stick stuff in nooks and crannies where you think buyers won’t look. That doesn’t tend to work, as buyers will be eyeing your closets, pantries, built-ins, medicine cabinets, refrigerator and storage areas.

Before you start looking for hiding places, go through your stuff and get rid of the things you don’t use and don’t cherish. Follow Marie Kondo on Twitter, and read The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up for inspiration.

Then, follow these practical tips for how to organize key spaces like closets where buyers are sure to peek in—namely, give every space a deep cleaning, cut clutter in half, and stage it like a gorgeous display.

2. Show the garage as a clean, organized space for storage, with plenty of room for the cars.

The purpose of the garage is storage, sure. But clutter in the garage can also get a little out of hand. A quarter of Americans who have two-car garages can’t fit their cars in them; nearly a third can fit just one car in those two-car garages. Make sure your stuff looks organized and neat. Instead of piling stuff on the ground, try these steel industrial shelves from Husky, which hold up to 1,500 pounds. Fill the shelves with stackable, open bins for easy access to tools, equipment and other odds and ends. Ensure that visitors can see the space in its entirety. If it’s a two car garage, let them see the space where two cars can fit.

3. Make sure everything has a place.

Put big bulky things, like your barely used crockpot or sewing machine, in the top back of shelves, and find homes for little tiny but oft-used doodads. If you have an ample amount of small objects, consider buying a craft storage cabinet like this one on Amazon. Only have often-used appliances out on countertops (put the rest in cabinets). Have coats and seasonably inappropriate clothing and gear in closets or storage.

4. Clear priority spaces to keep key rooms looking open and spacious.

Friel encourages clients to clear the spaces that are most visible, like kitchen and bathroom countertops. These are the areas that buyers tend to prioritize, because bathrooms and kitchens are the most frequented rooms in the house. So put your toothbrushes and toothpaste, hair accessories and products, makeup, lotion and medications in your medicine cabinet or drawers.

Hide the toilet paper or put it in a decorative wire basket. If your Kleenex box is in good shape, leave it out. Here are many more tips on staging your bathroom. As for the kitchen, clear away chargers and any non-kitchen items.

Be ruthless even with the appliances and functional products you use everyday. That includes, but is not limited to, any food items, your blender or juicer, your toaster and coffee maker, the knife block, the banana hammock or produce basket, and even the magnets on your refrigerator. Find temporary homes for these items in shelves or cupboards that are easy to access.

No matter what, don’t get overwhelmed. Stay focused. Tackle room by room, space by space, drawer by drawer and closet by closet. Make the tough decisions: Keep what you love and use; everything else can go. When it gets tough, think about it from a financial perspective.

“It’s expensive. Real estate is expensive,” Friel says. “And there is cost to the clutter of stuff taking up space in a room.”

Also, think about it from the perspective of a potential buyer. Would someone else want to live here?

“When we are listing and selling a home, we position it in a way that helps others see themselves there,” Galindo says.

It’s going to be a big task, but it’ll pay off. Once your home is decluttered and tidied up and all your stuff is donated, sold and stored, buyers can conjure a vision of life in your home. That’s also when they can envision making an offer over asking.

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