Deal-Seeking Dad: Tips to Turn Your Kid’s Clutter Into Cash

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How do you convince a child to part with a toy? Sell it for new toys – and teach your kids some valuable lessons about money and clutter control along the way.

After stepping on, over, and around one too many of my 6-year-old daughter’s toys, I recently trashed some of her stuff while she was asleep. You can probably predict the inevitable outcome: What I had considered trash was, to her, priceless treasure. Not a pretty picture.

But what’s a dad to do? For many young children, every doll or action figure is their favorite, even though they have dozens. Tucking a kid into bed can be a battle to see which favorite stuffed animal has to sleep on the floor.

If you’re desperate to rid yourself of some of the toys and kids clothing in your house, rather than repeat my ham-handed move, here’s a better idea – have your kids clear their own clutter.

From garage sales to websites, there are lots of ways parents can help kids sell or otherwise dispose of their unwanted items. In addition to providing the twin incentives of money and room for new stuff, it’s also a way to teach other lessons, from capitalism to charity.

“As kids grow, it’s important to help them manage their things,” says Stacey Crew, author of The Organized Mom and a spokeswoman for, a website that helps people sell used kids’ stuff.

And there’s lots of stuff to sell. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average child outgrows more than $1,000 worth of clothes, toys, and gear every year.

Crew’s daughters, ages 10 and 13, recently raised money to each buy an iPod Touch after doing more chores at home and selling their Nintendo DS games at a local game store. Local consignment stores, garage sales, yard sales, and swap meets are all potential sources for turning clutter into cash. And, of course, so is the web.

One site that does it for free, which we’ve talked about before (7 Creative Ways to Teach Kids About Money), is eBay and its free classified ads.

Storkbrokers charges a 6 percent fee. A similar site for used goods, thredUP, charges a $5 fee, then asks buyers to send a $10.70, flat-rate USPS box to sellers, who are supposed to fill it with at least $50 worth of gently used items.

Wherever you and your kids are selling their stuff, Crew recommends these steps to get the best price:

  • Set a fair price. Research what it costs new and used elsewhere, and sell it for 30-60 percent off the original retail price. “It’s important to remember that people expect to get a deal when they’re buying secondhand,” Crew says.
  • Photograph it. This includes photos of the entire item and closeup shots to show detail.
  • Highlight brand names. This can be especially important for clothes.
  • List the fabric type. Clothing buyers may want to know what it’s made of.
  • Be honest about the condition. Perfection isn’t expected with used items, but honesty is. If there’s a scratch or something wrong, reveal it. “If you’re not likely to buy it, then somebody else probably isn’t either,” Crew says.
  • Watch out for recalls. This should go without saying, but don’t sell something that has been recalled. For gear such as cribs, strollers and other such things, check the manufacturer’s website or the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission for recall information.

Of course, the best way to avoid a cluttered closet or playroom is to be organized from the beginning, Crew says. Every house with small children probably has one playroom that’s full of toys, which can make it difficult for children to decide what to play with. Like many preschools and kindergarten classes, Crew recommends having toys put in specific areas, so that dolls are in one spot and blocks in another, for example.

From 18 months old to 8 years, children can be taught the concept of trading one toy for another. That’s something I’ve been trying to do since my daughter was born: Get rid of one toy when a new one arrives. It’s easier said than done, and I may try Crew’s “goodbye box,” where an item is put for a month before it is donated or sold as a way to see if it’s something that can be lived without for a month. It can also be called a “vacation box,” with the proceeds used to fund a family vacation.

The key is to teach these skills now and make a decision to sell or give away used items while they’re still useful and relevant, instead of storing them in an attic for 10 years and then throwing them away.

And to keep the clutter from reappearing, take steps to avoid impulse buys, as Crew did. “There came a point,” she says, “where I stopped taking my kids to the store.”

Aaron Crowe is a freelance journalist in the San Francisco Bay area who writes about family finances. His 6-year-old daughter has a playroom that needs to be cleaned.

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