By Carola Vyhnak
Feb. 1, 2021
Jade plants in yogurt containers, vintage clothing, even barenaked (wood) ladies: They’ve all been the source of easy money for those with an urge to purge during the pandemic.
Steve Townson saw dollar signs pretty fast after putting an ad for jade cuttings on Facebook Marketplace.
“I could have sold 100 if I’d had them,” says the almost-retired rural resident of Erin, northwest of Toronto.
University student Bianca Tomori discovered a ready market for surplus fashions from her overstuffed closets. With pieces priced at $10 to $40 on Instagram, “you can easily make a few hundred dollars here and there,” she says.
Getting rid of stuff has become a profitable pastime for enterprising types using stay-at-home time to declutter, downsize or dig up old relics. With the range of social media and marketing platforms available, everything from oddities to entire contents can be peddled online. (Sellers and buyers are urged to delay in-person transactions until lockdown restrictions ease.)
Townson’s jade cuttings turned into money trees, putting $400 in his pocket after selling for $5 to $30 apiece.
“You just stick it in 10 cents’ worth of dirt and it starts to grow,” he says of his windowsill production line.
Townson also hit the jackpot with cutting boards he crafted from scraps of cherry, maple and purpleheart ($10 to $50 each) and firewood at $4 a cubic foot for backyard fire pits.
That hot seller, which yielded a $700 profit, came with a bonus of fresh air and exercise after he moved 1,000 lbs. of wood and covered eight kilometres of forest in one outing on his property.
“It’s really fast and easy to make a few extra bucks if you’re energetic,” he says.
He’s also unloaded “weird things you wouldn’t believe,” like carvings of naked ladies inherited from his late parents. A 14-year-old Vitamix juicer fetched $140.
“The secret is to see who else is selling something similar and price your stuff at or below theirs,” reveals the practised purveyor who made more than $3,000 last year.
People are purging their possessions like never before, according to certified professional organizer Kim Diamond, who says decluttering accounted for much of her “almost record-breaking year” in 2020.
There’s no room for sentiment in her approach.
“If you’re keeping it in a box somewhere and never looking at it … use it or get rid of it,” advises Diamond, who recommends starting the cull in storage spaces such as trunks, basements and closets.
She sums up the market for various goods as “vintage, yes, antique, neh.”
On the nay side are upright pianos, traditional furniture, silver plate, crystal, figurines, Canadiana pine and Ikea. On the yay side are Persian carpets, mid-century modern teak furniture and contemporary furnishings with clean lines.
Vintage articles from the 1980s and earlier may find a new home at prop houses, while Facebook groups like Identify My Antique can help evaluate older pieces, advises the creator of GTA-based company, Clutterfly Inc.
For Tomori, a Ryerson graduate student, sorting through overflowing closets and dressers began as a boredom-buster for her and sister Aja last summer.
“We have a lot of fun taking pictures, having a glass of wine and making a night out of it,” she says, noting they also have an attic filled with mostly vintage garments.
The sisters include bright little descriptions with the photos they post on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/bianca_tomori/ and Depop, a fashion marketplace app. https://www.depop.com/
Tomori, who’s “big on sustainability” and ships all over the world to customers who’ve paid online, likes the idea of one fashionista’s castoffs becoming someone else’s treasures.
Joanna Czulinski, another fan of preloved goods, has claimed ownership of some unusual items, including a headless mannequin (or boy-equin, to be more accurate). She scooped him up for $17 on MaxSold, an online auction service, as a buddy for a legless model she already owned.
“They make a really good pair,” the DIY decorator says about the whimsical duo in her living room in Colborne, Ont.
Czulinski calls MaxSold, which sells off partial or complete contents, “an interesting and often inexpensive way to buy something fabulous. It’s the thrill of the hunt, like the yard sale thing.”
She’s also scored a mango wood bench worth $480 for $138, and a Nienkamper cherry wood table worth $1,200 for $57.
Sellers can help attract bidders by providing good photos, succinct descriptions, measurements and key words like “this works,” Czulinski advises.
Using MaxSold, which covers the GTA and beyond, is “really straightforward,” says PR co-ordinator Danielle Forget. “Our customer service team is there every step of the way.”
Items are organized in lots, which can be anything from a box of cleaning products to a piece of artwork. Bidding on everything starts at $1 and usually goes for a few days.
The total of the average Ontario auction managed by the seller last year was $2,600, says Forget.
Sellers can also have a MaxSold team manage their sale if there’s a large amount of merchandise. Managing an auction includes cataloguing, photography and supervising pickups, and costs the seller $700 on top of a 30 per cent commission.
Sellers who do their own cataloguing, photography and pickup supervision pay the greater of $300 or 30 per cent of the auction proceeds. With both DIY and professionally managed auctions, MaxSold https://maxsold.com/ looks after hosting, online advertising and collecting buyers’ payments.
For those intent on living with less, another option is donating unwanted stuff to charitable organizations. Habitat for Humanity, for example, issues a tax receipt for donations of furniture and home improvement items to their ReStore locations in the GTA. https://habitatgta.ca/habitat-restore-donate-lockdown
Carola Vyhnak is a Cobourg-based writer covering personal finance, home and real-estate stories. She is a contributor for the Star. Reach her via email: email@example.com