Getting maximum value from downsizing: Declutter for fun and profit

Simplify, simplify.
Written by
Ann C. Logue
Ann Logue (rhymes with vogue) is a writer specializing in business and finance. She is the author of five books on investing, including Hedge Funds for Dummies and Day Trading for Dummies, and publishes a Substack newsletter called “The Whatever Years.”
Fact-checked by
David Schepp
David Schepp is a veteran financial journalist with more than two decades of experience in financial news editing and reporting across print, digital, and multimedia publications.
Garage sale sign in front of a house.
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Moving? Let some of your stuff move on.
© Kathy images/

If yours is like many American households, you may have more things hiding in your cupboards, closets, or basement than you know what to do with. If you’re staying put, the clutter may be a mere annoyance. But if you plan on moving, that’s when things get real: You have to figure out what to do with all that stuff.

Although your furnishings and other belongings might not be worth as much as you’d like to believe, they do have some value. Determining that value and figuring out what to sell, what to donate, and what to toss is the daunting task that lies ahead.

Understanding how to downsize is easy; doing it is hard. The good news is that once you’re done, your life will be simpler and you may even pocket a few bucks.

Key Points

  • Getting rid of things is a necessary but stressful part of downsizing.
  • Selling and donating goods may have tax consequences.
  • Be realistic about the value of your furnishings; the world is awash in stuff.

Sorting through it all

The first step to getting organized is to sort through all of your things. A quick search online will open a world of trendy organizing advice, products, and services that can help. Among the names and topics are Marie Kondo, Swedish death cleaning (the act of purging unnecessary items from your life), FlyLady, Clutterbug, and an endless list of merchandise for sale in your favorite retailer’s home storage and organization aisle—stuff to organize your stuff.

These methods recognize that there is a psychological component to sorting through and deciding what to do with the things we no longer need. These decisions take time and energy—and that’s not all:

  • You will need some items for your new home, so keep what you know you need. A dresser? Probably. A china cabinet? Maybe not.
  • Some things are cheaper to buy once you’re in your new home than they are to move. It’s OK to throw things away. You will accumulate more stadium giveaway plastic cups and reusable food storage containers after you move; no need to pack them.
  • Much of the value you ascribe to the things you own is emotional, and someone else won’t pay for that.

When in doubt, take a deep breath and throw it out.

If you’re having trouble figuring out what to toss, you can always call in a professional organizer to help you make decisions. The National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals website features a directory that can help you find someone local who can help you out—for a fee, of course.

After you decide what to keep, it’s time to decide what to do with what’s left over. Your choices are straightforward: sell it, give it away, or throw it out. Of course, each decision involves more steps than you might think.

Sell: Finding buyers

If you decide to sell your unneeded items, you can generate a little money to help with the move. You can do it yourself or hire someone. Selling goods yourself is low cost, but also involves work on your part.

A garage sale allows you to sell everything at once, but you may need to settle for rock-bottom prices. After all, the world is flooded with stuff, so just because you paid a lot for something doesn’t mean that some passerby will pay you anywhere near that amount when you sell it. Keep in mind that garage sales may involve costs for local permits and advertising.

Selling a house? Here’s a seven-step checklist

Selling a home—particularly if you’ve lived there for many years—can be emotionally draining. Part of the stress comes from the need to declutter, refresh, and stage your home for sale. Learn more about the seven steps to home selling.

Many downsizers sell items online through sites such as eBay or Facebook Marketplace. You may be able to sell your items for higher prices this way, but you’ll need to spend time photographing and listing your items and arranging for shipping. Depending on the service you use, you may have to pay a fee for the listings.

If you have a whole houseful of things you no longer need, estate sale companies and auction houses can sell just about everything for you and remove any unsold items. The catch is that they take a large cut of the proceeds. Also, if you have a homeowners association (HOA), check to see whether it permits estate sales. Some don’t.

Donate: Finding takers

Giving your unneeded household furnishings to friends or family is a time-honored way to help the next generation outfit their homes. See what those close to you might want and pass it along, but don’t be disappointed if no one wants your good china or your dark brown furniture. Tastes change.

What your family doesn’t want, a charity probably does. Keep in mind that some charities, like Goodwill Industries, no longer accept donations of furniture or large exercise equipment and don’t offer pickup.

Thrift shops are another familiar place to send goods you can’t use. Some communities have organizations looking for specific items to meet the needs of a specific population, like kitchen supplies to help settle homeless veterans or winter coats for newly arrived migrants. And if you have any documents or keepsakes related to local historical events, your county historical society might be interested in them.

Toss: Throwing the rest out

Chances are good that some of the things in your house have no value to anyone else and will need to be trashed or recycled. Depending on the services available in your community, you may be able to rent a roll-off bin (for a large amount of garbage), but your trash hauler may also offer a large bag that accomplishes the same task with less fuss and space. Check with your municipality to determine what to do with old electronics. Recycling may be required.

The tax implications

Selling and donating your items can generate tax consequences. A few things to consider:

  • If you sell an item for less than the purchase price, it’s a loss and you do not have to pay taxes on that income. (Note that losses from the sale of personal-use property aren’t tax deductible.) But if you took payment through a mobile payment service such as PayPal or Venmo, or sold merchandise on a marketplace such as eBay or Poshmark, you may receive a 1099-K notice at tax time that requires you to report your income and the cost of the goods sold. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) rules on these types of transactions are evolving, so check the IRS website or with your accountant when tax season arrives.
  • If you sell an item for more than the purchase price, which might happen if you sell artwork or collectibles, it counts as a capital gain. You’ll need to pay taxes on the difference between your purchase price and the amount received. If you received the item as a gift or inherited it, the adjusted basis—the amount of capital gain after accounting for several factors—may differ. Keep records documenting the expenses involved in advertising and arranging the sale, because these costs will reduce your taxable proceeds. IRS Tax Topic 409 explains how to calculate any tax owed.
  • If you donate goods and itemize your income taxes, you can take the items’ fair market value as a tax deduction. Get a receipt from each organization when you make your donations. IRS Publication 561 provides guidance on how to value donated items for tax purposes.

What’s a 1099-K?

You might get a Form 1099-K if you received money for goods or services during the past year from debit, credit, or gift card transactions, or those involving online marketplaces, such as eBay and Amazon. Learn more at

The bottom line

Downsizing can be stressful. After determining what to keep, you must decide what to do with the items you no longer want. The good news is that you can deduct the value of donated merchandise if you itemize deductions on your tax return. Even if you don’t typically itemize, the value of your donations in the year you downsize may push your deductions over the threshold, reducing your tax liability or boosting your refund.

Even if you don’t qualify for a tax deduction, downsizing can still be a rewarding undertaking. You may simplify your life and learn a lot about yourself as you go through the process. And that may be the best return you can hope for in a world awash in material goods.