A buyers’ market: Selling unwanted stuff

The big dilemma when moving house is: how much should I take, and how much should I get rid of? When moving continents, the question is magnified.

That 15-year old toaster, for example. Is it really worth cleaning it of every breadcrumb in order to meet Australian customs regulations, and then paying £10-15 to ship it all the way to the other side of the world? Probably not.

And you can repeat that weighing-up process for every one of our possessions (except the kids and the dog), and believe me, there’s a lot of them.

New homes for old stuff
Which prompts the inevitable question of what to do with the stuff that won’t be emigrating with us. For some of it, the answer is easy – throw it away. For other stuff, it’s still fairly easy – donate it to friends or charity. But then there’s the stuff that’s too valuable to give away, but would make no sense to ship down under, and that’s where the heartbreak begins.

Anyone who has ever sold a car, a bike, a wardrobe, a TV – or anything else of any value for that matter – will confirm that, just as you start your decluttering project, the world miraculously becomes a buyer’s market.

That car you paid top dollar for, just a few years ago? “There’s not much demand for them these days.” That top of the range gas barbecue that has been the pride of your garden patio for just a year? “I can take it off your hands, but I can’t give you much for it.” And so it goes on.

We’re probably in one of the worst parts of the world for selling second hand goods. Things are expensive here in Denmark, which seems to have bred a ruthlessness in Danes as sales negotiators that is rarely seen outside of a Moroccan bazaar.

The price isn’t right
Just last week, my wife advertised two child car seats and within an hour had an offer – half the asking price of one seat, for both of them. She declined, and was then asked: “What’s your lowest price?” Since they’d been up for sale for a matter of hours, she offer a 10 percent discount if the buyer took both seats. “Good luck with that,” was his response.

It’s a scene we are destined to play out over and over again during the coming months, and we shouldn’t be surprised. Some friends who recently left Denmark for the US told us horror stories of the haggling they had to endure when selling their non-US-compatible European-voltage electrical goods.

We have too much stuff. That’s for sure. But we also know the value of that stuff, and I think the feeling of benevolence that comes from donating things may be far better compensation than selling it at knockdown prices to some bottom feeder who is only looking for a bargain so he or she can sell it on at a profit later on.

It’s also important to us that the experience of these final few months doesn’t taint our view of our time here. Selling your belongings is always going to expose you to a few unsavoury characters, and we are determined to keep that in perspective versus the many, many people who have helped to make Denmark our home over the past 10 years.

All the same though, some extra pennies for our ‘starting again’ fund would be very helpful.

De-cluttering tips
So, in case you ever find yourself in a similar position, here is a quick summary of our pre-move de-cluttering logic:

Cars: We have two, so, even though our move is still three months off, the newest of these is already up for sale in the hope of getting the best possible price. We’ll keep the older, higher mileage car until the last minute and probably sell it at auction – it’s not worth much anyway, and we’ll need it for trips back and forth to school, the dump and local charity shops.

Large items: A few items, such as our patio furniture, lawnmower, barbecue, would be so difficult to clean up to Australian import standards that it makes most sense to offer them at a fair price to the people buying our house. If they say no, we’ll try the local website for selling second hand goods.

Electrical items: Most of this stuff we will take with us, but we’ll be doing a thorough check on compatibility with Australian standards before we do. For example, neither the house phones we’ve kept from our time in the UK nor the ones we bought for use in Denmark, can be used in Australia, and we’re still looking into whether we can use our TVs there. But for most stuff, a simple change of plug is all that’s required.

Smaller valuables: Depending on what they are, these will either come with us or go on eBay. eBay makes more sense than the local website because you are much more likely to get a fair price and the cost of shipping small items from Denmark does not completely negate the price you receive.

Clothing: We’re being ruthless here. We’ve all got t-shirts that always sit at the bottom of the drawer, shoes that get worn once a year, or trousers that we keep in the hope of getting back down to that waist size at some indeterminate point in the future. But now is the time to be realistic. If it’s part of that collection of clothes that get worn 80 percent of the time, then it’s coming with us. If we wear it less than 20 percent of the time, it’s got to go. General clothing with little value will be donated, anything that is a recognisable brand and is in good enough condition will go on eBay.

Bric-a-brac: You know the stuff – the brass horse’s head someone bought you for a birthday 15 years ago because they heard you like horses; the pizza cutter shaped like the USS Enterprise because someone heard you like Star Trek; those soup bowls that were donations when you first set up home and have followed you around ever since. Now is the time to be ruthless – and the 80/20 rule applies here too.

Media: Books, CDs, DVDs – we have enough to start our own shop, and that’s before you even consider the VHS, vinyl and cassette collection that I’ve carefully held on to over all these years. I can’t say for sure. What we’ll do here. The cassettes and VHS tapes will probably go to landfill, but the vinyl is such a potent reminder of who I used to be and how I formed many of my worldviews that I may just hang onto it. The same goes for my books. I am a self-confessed hoarder of the written word, in the belief that a long a healthy retirement will clearly require more books than I have the time to read right now. I still hold to that view, so I think I’ll be keeping much of my collection. The 1994 AA guide to places to stay in the east of England can probably go though.

Leftovers from previous moves: We’ve been in our current house for nearly nine years and I’m embarrassed to say that, in our loft, there are more than a few boxes that we never unpacked after moving here. What’s in them? It’s hard to say. Do we need them? Evidently not. This is the stuff that is most likely to be finding new homes in Denmark rather than a new home in Australia.

Personal mementoes: Possibly the most difficult category is the stuff that we accumulate as we live our lives. Photo albums, football scarves, baby’s first shoes, rosettes won at childhood gymkhanas… and so on. This will take the most time to sort through. In part, because each box that is opened offers a diversion down memory lane, but also because we want to sever links with our junk, not who we are. I’m hoping we can whittle this stuff down – for example, by scanning photos and old letters into electronic format and uploading them to Evernote or OneDrive, or by reducing rather than completely purging our stash of mementoes – but I’m also aware that wading through all our memories will contribute to the emotion of our departure. And perhaps that’s as it should be.

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