How to sell all of your stuff before moving (and why you should really consider doing it)

UnknownA friend of mine moved across the country a few years ago. At the time, her husband had accepted a job offer that required him to leave immediately. She was left on her own to deal with most of the packing and all of the moving. She had a large amount of household stuff – the usual things that we all accumulate – furniture, dishes, etc. In what I considered at the time to be a rather wild idea, she made the decision to sell everything rather than deal with moving it.

“I don’t have the energy or time to pack all of that stuff, hire a moving company, or unload it on the other end. So I will just sell it all, and buy new when I get there after I manage to find a house”.

I was dubious. But in three days, with the help of Craigslist, she did just that. I was impressed, and also intrigued.  In many ways, she was just like me. Besides our similar incomes, we had similar family situations, similar furniture, and similar ambitions. But I NEVER would have considered selling all of my stuff like that and buying replacements later. Why not?

I began to look back and analyze all of our moves.  We’ve moved several times in the past ten years, once across country, once across state lines, and about 4 times in town. When my husband and I first merged our households, we picked the furniture from each other’s collection that we could both tolerate, and then promptly moved the rest into storage. Why? I have no idea. We paid for that storage space for nearly two years, and then finally gave (that mostly ugly crap) everything away for free to a friend. Big city prices meant that that cost us around $3000.

Next move was the biggie. We had a brand new baby and promptly decided to move across country and start a new life. We shopped around and hired the cheapest moving company (but still with decent ratings). I shudder to think about it now, but that move cost us nearly $5000. We had been married the year before, and therefore had all new kitchen things, new furniture, and of course all of the stuff that you start hoarding when you have a new baby. Yet, was all of our stuff, plus all of the time we spent packing and unpacking, really worth $5000? In retrospect, I doubt it.

The next move came 2 years later, and was across state lines. Once again, after careful consideration, we hired another moving company. After all, our stuff was still in great shape. We had acquired many more household items after living in a bigger home, and we had grown very attached to everything. These were the things that our daughter was growing up with. These things were what we had made a nest with – and I could never have imagined starting our new household without them.

But I really should have. We shelled out another $3000 to move everything to the new city, and never even batted an eye.

I should mention, we were solidly middle class people. There were no expensive antiques or family heirlooms in the house. And yet, at that point, we had paid over $10,000 to either store our stuff or move it around. Our stuff was not worth $10,000 at that point, but to us I guess, it was still priceless.

Fast forward to the start of this move, about 6 years later. We had a much smaller income, thanks to big career changes (some voluntary – some not) and we still had the vast majority of the household goods that we had accumulated from the time around our wedding. The furniture was decidedly more worn-out now, although the dishes, decorations and books looked much the same. Because we were going to be traveling for many months before settling in our final destination, we briefly considered moving our stuff, storing it, and then, moving it again to our new place. I say briefly, because the price was outlandishly crazy. Something around the ballpark of $20,000.

Finally, what my friend did a few years ago made complete sense. Granted, it took me a few years to see the brilliancy of her decision. It also took me comparing our now pretty humble looking belongings to a $20,000 move estimate. Time to sell it all!

Well, we are actually keeping a few things. A custom made wardrobe, our photos and framed pictures, my grandpa’s old tool chest, a cedar travel chest that my dad painstakingly restored for me, a few books (not the approximately 800 that we had), and 1 set of dishes that I have used since I was a small child. Even that small amount was going to cost us over $1000 to move in small rented van (with gas mileage and mile charges). Since I’m not willing to pay that, we are making two trips in our little (gas friendly) car and my mom is helping with hers. That has left us with a ton of stuff to get rid of in a short amount of time, but we are almost done! So here is my (now experienced) advice on why and how to get rid of your stuff before moving – because if I had to do it all over again – I NEVER would have moved all that stuff across country (or across state lines, or maybe even across town) to begin with.

General tips for deciding what to keep:

Take a look around you.  Have your belongings been in your family for several generations?  Did someone risk life and limb to smuggle them across the border one night while fleeing a war zone?  Were they lovingly handmade by a now deceased family member and can never be replicated?  Then by all means – keep them!  If not, think about why you are so attached to them.  Most likely, they have become the props on the stage where your memories were made.  Christmas morning opening presents in front of this very bookcase!  The table where you hosted countless holiday dinners!  But guess what?  Your memories will not disappear once your items are sold or given away.  You just move to a new stage with new props and make new memories!

But I will lose so much money!

Maybe, depending on what type of furniture you have.  If you bought all new furniture at a designer furniture store in the last few months, then yes, you might want to move it.  Otherwise, really have a good hard look at what it’s going to cost just to pack it.  Consider the cost of boxes, packing supplies like bubble wrap and paper, and paid packers if you are unable to do it all yourself.  If you have small children, consider if you will need to pay for childcare while packing.  Also take a look at what sort of time you have, and whether or not you have the energy and endurance to get it all organized and packed.  I am here to tell you people – packing SUCKS.

If you will have to store your things, as with a delayed move or some other situation, consider that you will be moving twice – once to storage and once out of it.  We looked at the option of using the type of storage that is moveable (like storage pods), and found it to be really cost prohibitive.

The actually moving part is a whole other consideration.  Are you going to use a rental truck that you drive yourself?  Remember to factor in how much they charge you per mile, and what the gas mileage of the vehicle is.  If it’s a long distance move, remember to factor in hotel and food costs.  We have used moving companies for most of our moves.  We found that method to be quicker and more efficient, mostly because I have back problems which always kept me from helping much.  But they come at a rather steep price, and, the long distance movers have strict rules about how certain items must be transported, and they will charge you accordingly.  We were shocked when our cross country movers demanded that all of our mattresses be wrapped in special “mattress protectors” (which they will graciously sell you for a couple of hundred dollars).  They also BUILT a special crate to put our tv into – and charged us $300 for it.  They refused to insure any boxes that we had packed ourselves (which was all of them), because they couldn’t guarantee that the contents wouldn’t settle and break in transit due to “unprofessional packing”.

A hidden cost to consider – moving is HARD on your stuff.  After you have put together, taken apart, moved, and put back together that nice bed frame – it sometimes isn’t so nice anymore.  (This hard learned lesson also motivates me to seek out some solid wood furniture the next time around)

As for buying things once you have relocated, fear not!  In your forays for research to thrift stores, other people’s garage sales and online listings, I am sure you have seen some amazing deals.  When we moved into a home where we had a yard and a garage for the first time ever, we hit up an estate auction on the outskirts of town.  In about 3 hours, with about $100, we secured every conceivable implement we would ever need to keep our snow shoveled, our leaves raked and our lawn tidy.  I was amazed at the quality of some of the stuff I saw for sale.  There are all sort of experiences in life that cause people to sell perfectly great things for really, really low prices.  Divorces, downsizing, “I hate that new couch I just bought”, or my favorite – “we are selling everything to travel around for a year”.  With a little time and perseverance, you can restock a house on almost any budget.

How to sell it or give it away:

If you decide to sell, do your best to stop looking at it as *your* stuff. Try to sever that emotional connection before setting prices. You have gotten a lot of use out of this item, it served you well, now it’s time to pass it along.  Be realistic in your price setting.  Scour Craigslist and garage sale sites on Facebook to get an idea of how much other people in your area are selling the same items for.  Remember, you are not trying to recoup what you spent on something!  Very generally speaking, used items in good condition sell for about 25% of what they retail for, less if there is some wear and tear.  Don’t be offended by people trying to bargain with you.  If you are firm in your prices – tell them that nicely.  Just think, you will be the person trying to bargain when you go to buy replacements things for your new place.


Craigslist is your best friend here. People are constantly scouring the site looking for bookshelves, nightstands, couches, dining tables, etc… We sold almost all of our living room furniture in one day.  Our bedroom set flew out the door so fast, I was literally throwing underwear and books into empty boxes to get them out of the way.  If you live in an easily accessible area with decent parking, consider a real garage sale.  Garage sale sites on Facebook are great too.  Moderators on these tend to get a little huffy if you list multiple things in a day though, so you will need more time to list things one by one.


Consignment sales are great if you have the time, especially for children’s clothes.  There are also consignment stores for nicer adult and children’s things.  I have seen people selling clothing in Facebook sites, but you’ve got to have a lot of patience and some really high end stuff. Kids clothes generally sell well at garage sales.  Left overs?  Consider donating as hand-me-downs to friends or to thrift shops.


This was the hardest part of downsizing for me.  I had hundreds and hundreds of books that I loved and cherished. I had moved them countless times.  I swore I would never be able to read an electronic book.  And then we planned a year long trip with a 50 pound weight limit on our suitcase, and I quickly bought myself a kindle.

I have sold some books back to Amazon, especially text books.  Second hand bookstore will buy them from you at a painfully meager price (we sold roughly 500 books to a used bookstore for around $60.  Ouch).  I have friends who have made a decent price selling books one by one on Amazon as a “dealer”, but you need a lot of time for that.  At the end, we donated a lot of books to thrift stores, the “little library” boxes around town, and actual libraries.  My daughter took all of her chapter books to her second grade teacher, and donated them to the classroom library.  The we took the remainder of younger child and baby books, and donated them to the local children’s hospital, which was a great experience for both of us.  It also made her feel a little happier about parting with her stuff, and more in control of the whole “moving” situation.

Everything else:

When people come to buy your furniture, be sure to mention to them that everything else in the house will be going as well.  They might very well know someone who needs to fill up a cabin or a first apartment.  If someone is coming to buy a bookcase, ask them if they need any books.  If they want a microwave, offer them your pyrex dishes too.  We met multiple people who were on the other end of a move where they had decided to sell everything, and now needed to buy the replacements.  We would walk them through our house and let them “shop” for things they hadn’t even thought of (wow – yes, I DO need another laundry basket).  Meeting all of these people, frankly, made us relax a lot more about being able to re-acquire things in a year when we are settled again.

The BEST part about this whole process:

Holy crap – did we have a lot of CRAP.  Seriously, for a family that had already cleaned out the house and moved multiple times, we had still managed to acquire and keep an amazing plethora of STUFF.  When my husband started pulling stuff out of our small, free storage room that came with our townhouse, I was floored to see things that I had completely forgotten about in just a few years!  Boxes of glassware (that we obviously didn’t need), skis, camping gear, more books, small kitchen appliances – you get the point.  Well, we have wiped that slate absolutely clean, and boy, does it feel good!

I made a pledge to myself (and please come and kick me in the rear if I deviate from this in the future) – from here on out, I will really, really put a lot of consideration into what I am purchasing and why.  I will ask myself – do I really need three different kinds of electric choppers and two types of immersion blenders?  Do I really need 6 pairs of black shoes?  I will furthermore NOT create a storage area to hold onto things that we are not currently using – but *MIGHT* need one day.  I will not buy anymore books – that is what libraries are for!  Kids clothes will no longer stick around if they don’t fit.  The same goes for my clothes – if I haven’t worn it in the past year – I am likely never going to wear it again!  (Even if I do ever lose that last 10 pounds!)

Good luck and happy moving!


5 thoughts on “How to sell all of your stuff before moving (and why you should really consider doing it)

  1. Lots of truth here! We moved to Cuenca, Ecuador almost 2 years ago with only 6 suitcases. What I have found on this end, is that the “furnished” apartment we chose had appalling furniture and appointments, such as dishes bought at a really BAD garage sale and utensils–for THREE!–that were surely from post-war Japan, and this was a new, upscale apartment. Next thing I knew, we were acquiring furniture, TVs, dishes, linens–everything needed for minimally nice living, we are settling here. We found outrageously high prices for anything electronic, including washers and dryers, toasters, telephones,linens, kitchen goods etc. By the time we replaced just the necessities for a one bedroom apartment we had spent several thousand dollars. It is somewhere between hard, to impossible, to find sofas and soft goods that meet our taste. We have had to have custom hard goods made and can’t find any acceptable area rugs (not excited about reliving the 70’s). There are no nice lamps and a pitiful selection of lighting fixtures. Everything decent has to be brought in at a high price. The BEST way to get goods that suit your needs and are of high quality is to bring your own, in the one tax free container you are allowed after acquiring your residence visa. It’s very frustrating to pay high prices for things that are not what you really want, knowing you already own better things sitting in storage at home. No, I’m not paying for storage, but we didn’t know if we’d be back or not. Just another view for folks to consider.

    • I have heard the same thing from a lot of friends who have moved to South or Central America! We are only staying for short periods of time in furnished apartments as we travel – but I have noticed that housewares here are lacking in durability. The sheets,especially, are so thin! We are traveling to Cuenca in about one month. Very excited to explore that beautiful city!

    • I think I have some sort of sickness now – I felt so good weeding through even the paltry amount we brought to Boquete. We will all be half naked and down to one pair of socks by the time we get back to the states!

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