Clutter ~ What is it worth?

Cindy’s article yesterday brought up the problem of clinging on to things in the hope of recouping what they are worth. As the value of things is very subjective it isn’t always easy to put a price on such items causing a dilemma that can paralyse ones ability to get things out of the house. Regardless of the vastness of the internet it isn’t always possible to find the answers to all such questions.

At the moment I am in possession of a vintage fountain pen for which someone has made me an offer of $50 sight unseen. This quick offer ~ without even any photos to get some idea of it’s condition ~ sent off warning bells in my head. Could this thing be worth significantly more than that and would I be doing myself a disservice by accepted this hasty offer. The item is very small and not taking up much space so what does it matter that it is still in my possession while I procrastinate over it. The trouble is, it is taking up more space in my head than it is in my house. Not that I think about it often but when I do I don’t like that I am so hesitant over such a silly thing. After all it didn’t cost me anything in the first place so I would be making an easy $50.

My second experience of worth or value is my desire, at times to recoup some of the cost of items I either…

  • a) … didn’t use enough to get my money’s worth out of. AKA guilt clutter.
  • b) … was expensive and even though I used it a lot would still fetch a reasonable some of money.
  • or c) … am not sure whether I want to keep them or not and making some money on them would tip the scales on the decision.

I have several avenues for doing this but ebay is my most common method. The way ebay is structured here in Australia crrently is that there is a higher than previous selling commission but no insertion fees. This means I can list items and if they don’t sell I have not lost any money. I would rather pay a higher commission on a successful auction than pay an insertion fee on something I have made no money on. The beauty of this is that I can list the same item over and over again at no charge until it does sell. I use the three strike rule in these cases, that is if the item doesn’t sell after three attempts I admit defeat and donate it. I am nothing if not determined when it comes to recouping money. And I have to say I am OK with this

However the worst case I can think of when it comes to the value of clutter is related to a subject that is often discussed her at 365 Less Things. The subject is the clutter left behind after a loved one passes away. Especially a loved one who has more than their fair share of clutter. The sort of clutter handed down to them in the same situation plus stuff they have acquired over the years through gifts, from garage sales, flea markets and the like.  What worries me is the possibility that there may be some treasures among the endless clutter that are worth a lot of money. Treasures that could end up being sold for a couple of dollars at an estate sale or donated to charity in the haste of clearing the clutter in your time of mourning.

This scenario is bought into stark reality when one watches TV shows like Antiques Roadshow when, occasionally, people have an item valued at thousands if not ten’s of thousands of dollars that they had purchased for next to nothing from some poor unknowledgable fool’s garage sale. One would think these items are clearly worth a lot of money and you would recognise them for what they were worth at first glance but some of the oddest and sometimes ugliest things can be worth a lot of money ~ baldy old Steiff bears, ugly old damaged celluloid dolls, paintings you wouldn’t want to hang on your wall, battered old circus posters, battered old furniture etc etc. One would have to possess a vast knowledge of antiques to know what was valuable and what wasn’t.

Can you imagine seeing something you remember parting with in this situation suddenly pop up on your television screens months later valued at several thousand dollars. Personally I would rather let someone else in the family have and deal with these possession while I live in blissful ignorance of what came and went. And this is why it is important to get your clutter under control now so the loved ones you leave behind aren’t burdened with this situation. Make sure they know that of the items you chose to keep which ones are worth real monetary value so they aren’t left guessing in their time of grief.

I guess the best way to simplify all of these scenarios is to either not care or take what you can get at the time and be satisfied with that. Let what is left go to charity and don’t look back. Your piece of mind in the present is worth more than any riches, be they real or imagined.

Today’s Mini Mission

Round up all your small kitchen appliances ~ Choose one cupboard or shelf in in the kitchen for all of these appliances. I have done this in my kitchen with the exception of the toaster and kettle which are located on the bench top because they are used very regularly.

Today’s Declutter Item

Here is an item that belonged to my son that didn’t get much use. I listed it on Gum Tree once and ebay twice before it finally sold for $30. I mailed it out on Monday. I am glad that I recouped some cash for it but it sure did linger around the house for a long time from when the decision was made to declutter it until it finally sold.

Flying V Ukulele

Something I Am Grateful For Today

Two other items selling on ebay and several others with lots of watchers.

“In daily life we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy.” Brother David Steindl-Rast

It matters not how fast I go, I hurry faster when I’m slow

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Continue reading with these posts:

  • Dithering? ~ By Peggy W I have dithered many times in my decluttering journey, unable to make a decision about my stuff.  Two of the “ditherees” left my house this morning because I needed soft fillers to […]
  • What is right for you? I often get comments from people contradicting my suggestions regarding what to declutter and pleading their case on why they keep certain items or collections of things. Avid readers […]
  • Love it or heave it (Revisited) As you may have guessed, due to the lack of them, I struggle to come up with new posts these days, mostly because I declutter much less now, therefore the inspiration for posts isn't […]
About Colleen Madsen

Colleen is the founder of 365 Less Things and lives in Newcastle, Australia.


  1. I have a similar item like you do colleen. I have a Pandora Bracelet including 3 little beads, that can get me up to 100 Euros. I havent tackled the problem yet, as I dont have an eBay account and I actually dont want to make one, as the last time I checked it was complicated and I had to pay in advance – obviously just the opposite from australia. I will ask around if someone has an account and then try my luck there (even with fees – but I feel good at getting some money out of it).

    I think I mentioned it before, when I was getting a bit older my dad told me and my brother which items in the house are valuable and which we can sell ‘in case you need money one day’… for two icons he actually told us the gallery to which we should return them. I am really grateful for that and I recommend to actually always share your knowledge about certain items to others.

    congrats to that great post colleen, and to your decluttered item, this pink V shaped Ukulele made me laugh…

    • Hi Lena,
      I love the way ebay works here now, it wasn’t always that way. Granted the ending commission is many times greater than it used to be but it is still less than 10% so on an item that fetches 20% the commission is less than the listing fee would have been if I used more than 2 photos. At the moment I can even post a whole set of 6 photos + a gallery shot for no charge.

      Good on your father for having the sense to let you know what is valuable in his home. Actually that makes me think about my parents home. They have a safe to which my father probably thinks I still remember the combination ~which I don’t~ so perhaps on my next visit I should make a note of that in my cell phone or something. It might also pay to know if they still have a safety deposit box at the bank.

  2. There are a few things that we have not decluttered because I know they have a higher value and I need to list them somewhere like eBay. I don’t have an account either and I just don’t want to deal with them. I need to get over to a friend’s house and use her account. She knows what she is doing so she would be able to put them up and keep me posted on what is going on.

    • I did this for a friend once and she was very happy with the proceeds but for the most part I find it tiresome just doing it for myself. The buzz I get when something sells keeps me coming back for more though.

  3. Ugh. That quick offer thing ALWAYS gets me. I could be THRILLED with the number and I’ll still wonder about it.

  4. You hit the nail on the head. After my mother died and my dad moved into assisted living, we had a huge sale at their former home. I had no
    idea how to price some items, so my wife and I just guessed. After the sale had been going on for some time, a woman showed up and said, “I heard you’re selling Weller vases CHEAP!” Wow, I didn’t even know what Weller was, and by that time all the vases were gone. I’ve often wondered if one of those vases would show up on Antiques Roadshow worth millions of dollars! Ha! At least that old vase is NOT in my house taking up physical space and mental anguish.

    One other unrelated item, two days after my mother’s funeral, my dad and I visited the cemetery. While we were gone, my wife and a friend boxed up
    ALL of my mother’s clothing. That saved my dad such heartache having to go through it one item at a time.

    • Hi Jeff, this is exactly the the situation I envisioned one could find themselves in. And even though one is glad the items aren’t cluttering up their home the thought of knowing that they have possibly lost a sum of money could endlessly clutter up their mind. One just has to let it go when it comes to that though. As they say “No use crying over spilled milk.”

    • Hi Jeff, just did a search on eBay to see what a Weller vase looked like. They are not pretty 🙂 . Reminds me of a friend raving on about east German pottery, I had a vase, it was so ugly I had it in the trailer to go to the tip, he spotted it and it was like the holy grail to him. Fine line between trash and treasure.

  5. You touched a nerve with the ‘clearing of someone else’s home’. I was at my grandfathers this past weekend (interstate) and looked at all he had. To be honest, he’s as frugal as they come (he saves money on the pension, and makes a tidy sum in interest monthly!), but there’s still a house worth of stuff to clear when he’s moved on. Admittedly, he’s 90 and looks about 75, so it seems far off! But I was heartened to see that he’s not ‘cluttering’ actively – a lot of stuff I can remember from when I was decade/s younger. And then the ‘new’ things… he protects (he was given a new ‘TV chair’ and he covers it with a sheet, as to not get it too ‘dirty’ – ain’t he sweet!)

    Love the ukelele – I can’t believe you got $30 (I suppose I just don’t have the taste for small instruments!) But bonus that someone did pay that! Must have been a pain to package and post!

  6. I often wonder with the Antiques Roadshow how much rubbish people must be hoarding in order to hit the jackpot. Like, how many car boot sales has someone attended and bought junk at in order to come up with one thing worth £500? Was it worth it? Especially on those occasions where they have to tell them they bought a worthless fake… Personally, I buy what I like and have a use for – nothing else counts because I know I probably won’t get round to selling it, and a great valuation is worth nothing unless you do.

  7. I was once helping a friend set up for a yard sale of stuff she had cleaned out of an inherited house. I saw she had quite a few dishes of a very distinctive green. I told her I was pretty sure they were Jadeite pieces and to not price them at fifty cents each. Before the sale she looked each piece up on the internet, printed out what it was and it’s value, then put each piece back out for sale at half the going price.

    During the sale a woman showed up who was obviously a professional antiques picker. When she saw the pieces with the printouts she threw a tantrum in the middle of the sale screaming about the internet ruining her business and that b**** Martha Stewart telling people that Jadeite was valuable. So just think, if you underprice at your yard sale at least you’ll keep a picker from having a meltdown in your driveway.

    • Hi MelM and welcome to 365 Less Things,
      this is exactly the situation I fear ~ the selling treasures at trash price that is ~ because of not knowing what things are worth. Sometimes even the person who has willed it to another doesn’t know they have something valuable. Even if the internet doesn’t have information on everything it sure is a valuable tool because it does have an awful lot of useful information. As for the crazy lady having the melt down I would just find that amusing and a moment to remember and recall for years to come.

  8. Both sets of parents alive and kicking and I doubt either set would have anything worthy of excitement on Antiques Road Show.

    A classmate of one of my daughters disappeared from school attendance recently and wasn’t contactable thru the usual channels for almost a month. As he was somewhat of reserved youth and the school administration were only at liberty to say that he was out of town with his mum, his friends just had to wait for him to surface again. It turned out that his estranged father who lived at the other end of the country had died and as his only living relative the job of closing down his home and affairs fell to this youth.

    Because of this my daughter has asked me to write down instructions over and above my legal will (which is quite simple) so that they would know how and when to deal with our possessions, what is of value in the house and all the relevant contact people, bank accounts, bill payment arrangements etc.

    • Good work Moni. Wills can be as clear as mud! My father did not discuss anything before he died and when my sisters attempted to get a clearer picture he stubbornly said it is in the will, end of conversation. Hopefully your daughter will not have to use this information for a long time.

  9. I know exactley how Colleen felt when she was offered $50 for the pen. I too have been offered a lower price than anticipated for an item. I know Colleen probably did not have a figure in mind when the offer was made ,but what made her refuse that offer? If someone can analyse and explain why we feel this way , it would help unleash that last bit of attachement we have to certain items. Is it a primitive instinct or a modern day conditioning?
    Somehow I have ended up with a small case of Victorian cutlery, unfamiliar forks and knives and a large scoop type piece that are handcrafted. Maybe an antique shop would give me $80 for them? It has been hard to know as there is nothing vaguely like them at any shop around here. Then I stumbled upon what the scoop thing is , a Stilton cheese spoon. I have added this link so you can see what it looks like.

    I found a UK website that sells them for £300 plus pounds!
    Ah, but this is a family heirloom, what would my siblings think if I profited from this item? What would they do? What should I do? How much am I willing to accept for it? It is no different to Jane’s Stuffed Gorilla, just smaller and less smelly.
    This is my equation for value;

    Value = less time for greatest reward.

  10. Calico ginger

    Here is my take on the “Did I give away a treasure?” problem.

    When I was younger and was part owner of a vintage clothing shop, I sometimes found valuable things in op-shops and garage sales and made a tidy profit from my knowledge of the items and the market. I didn’t really make a lot of money, but I had a lot of fun and wasn’t I well dressed back then!

    Now when I donate, I am probably sending a few treasures back for a new generation of collectors and/or those who have to supplement their living off eBay or TradeMe. I am happy with that – it is all kept out of landfill and that is main thing.

  11. Hi Colleen! I liked your post very much, but I disagree with you. Sometimes it is best to donate the thing, whatever it is. I feel this way because if a person watchs this antiques shows, he/she might hang on to something that is just plain old and not a antique at all. Sometimes, we do see things that were in our hands a long time ago that became collector’s itens (I had this experience with old comic books, that were not mine), but if you are not a collector or a antique dealer, let it go. If it was worth money, whomever bought from you, can have it. The person that told me about the money he could have gotten out of the comic books, never cared where the things were in the first place. So, he let the thing get trashed and by the time he realized he could “earn” money, it was long gone.

  12. Isn’t it weird how we are lured into believing valuable things would make us happy while in reality it makes most people just feel anxious?
    I am sure the feeling of value = security stems from harder times where having silver spoons or golden rings would mean they could be traded in to prevent the family from starving. But today it just makes more sense to not pay outrageous interests to a bank instead of having reserves in form of valuable objects (that could be stolen or broken or sold under value …).

  13. I’ve been listing a lot of things on eBay lately: I love the new ‘no insertion fees’! I’ve gone with the same sort of idea though. If I’ve listed it a few times and it hasn’t sold, probably no-one wants it. However, I have a couple of things ending tonight that have been listed a few times with a number of people watching them every time, so I’m going to relist them at a reduced price.

    But, I don’t know that I’d bother listing a lot of things that I have sold if I was working. It doesn’t really bring that much money for the amount of time it takes to list the item and then package it up and send it. But because I’m home with kids all day, it makes it a little more worth my while. I’ve ended up with $500 this year so far from selling stuff from around my house.

  14. Oh, Colleen, I can understand you so well.

    Still, sometimes it is best to just donate it or sell it at a low price, no matter if that means it is a bargain to someone else. Oh well, I like a bargain, too, so why shouldn’t someone else get something cheap or for free from me from time to time as well? Also, the thrift store is probably delighted, too, if it sometimes gets to sell some more valuable items, so they can make some more money for their worthy cause.

    Of course, there is a line, it would be too bad to sell something worth 10000 for just 10. Or maybe it wouldn’t, if you don’t come around taking the hassle to find a proper buyer. I don’t really know.

    • Trust me Sanna the thrift store does well out of the sheer volume of stuff I have sent there over the last two and a half years so I don’t feel guilty about reaping a few dollars back from myself every now and again. Not to mention the fact that I also volunteer at the thrift store one day a week and repair jewellery for them in my spare time at home that would otherwise be unsalable. Besides I must admit I like the thrill of selling on ebay even if it takes a bit of an effort to list the items in the first place. I start the auctions quite low but if there is a bidding war which raises the price then hooray for me.