Science Finds an Easier Way to Cash In on Your Clutter

Photo by Iakov Filimonov /

Like many Americans, you probably own items you no longer use, wear or otherwise need — yet you just can’t part with them.

It’s a costly dilemma in multiple ways. For one, your clutter may be worth money, either in the form of a tax write-off or cash.

Enter science. Researchers have discovered that one extra but simple step can help you let go of belongings: snapping a photo of the items before donating or selling them.

That’s the gist of a study conducted by marketing and business professors from three U.S. universities. The study findings were recently published online in the Journal of Marketing.

One of the study co-authors, Rebecca Reczek, an associate professor of marketing at Ohio State University, explains:

“What people really don’t want to give up is the memories associated with the item. We found that people are more willing to give up these possessions if we offer them a way to keep the memory and the identity associated with that memory.”

The study was sparked by a personal experience of co-author Karen Winterich, associate professor of marketing at Pennsylvania State University. She had difficulty letting go of an old pair of gym shorts that reminded her of beating a major rival basketball team in junior high.

Winterich explains:

“I didn’t want the shorts — I wanted the memory of winning that game and that’s what I thought of when I saw the shorts. A picture can easily mark that memory for me and I can donate it so someone else can use it, which is even better.”

For their study, the researchers advertised a donation drive to 797 Penn State dorm residents toward the end of a semester.

The donation drive fliers posted in some dorms stated, “Don’t Pack up Your Sentimental Clutter … Just Keep a Photo of It, Then Donate.” The ads in the other dorms stated, “Don’t Pack Up Your Sentimental Clutter, Just Collect the Items, Then Donate.”

Residents of the dorms with the “photo” flier donated 613 items, while residents of the other dorms donated 533 items.

Cashing in on your clutter

You have two main options for turning unused items into money: Donate or sell.

Donating clutter might seem like the easier option. But remember, you must itemize donations and make sure to give them to an eligible charity to score an income tax deduction.

If you have a lot of items to get rid of, join your neighbors and consider hosting a super-profitable yard sale.

Otherwise, look to local consignment shops and the many online equivalents.

For example, major websites for selling secondhand clothing include and ThredUp. For selling used electronics, there’s Gazelle and NextWorth.

For more options, check out “Where to Sell Your Stuff for Top Dollar.”

If you find that taking photos of your unused belongings doesn’t help you let go of them, also check out “7 Ways to Declutter You Probably Haven’t Tried.”

What’s your favorite way to turn clutter into cash? Let us know in a comment below or on our Facebook page.

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