Our Top Five Run-of-the-Mill Junk Items You Can Sell Online for a Surprising Amount

Hewlett Packard’s hand-held HP-41CV calculator was made in the 1980s. This one isn't even working, but it still sold for $39 in November 2014.

Hewlett Packard’s hand-held HP-41CV calculator was made in the 1980s. This one isn’t even working, but it still sold for $39 in November 2014.

Most people cleaning out closets or attics—or perhaps liquidating a relative’s estate—know enough to separate items that might have value on the secondary market. We recognize that collectibles, art, jewelry and antiques, at the very least, warrant a further look or an expert opinion. Things like unopened packages of baseball cards from the 1960s, a signed porcelain figurine, an oil painting that’s been passed down for generations, a ring that (maybe) has real stones or a vintage box of wooden fishing lures.

But the rest of the clutter usually gets hauled off to Goodwill or sold for pennies at garage sales because we just know it’s junk. Used yard tools, leaky galoshes, last year’s magazines, worn luggage, excess Tupperware, dog-eared playing cards, a discarded Batman bedspread. There probably aren’t any hidden diamonds in all that detritus (Antiques Roadshow finds are the exception, not the rule). But you might be amazed at how much of the normal, everyday, discarded “stuff” can be worth your trouble to sell at online auction sites.

WorthPoint’s Worthopedia is a great source for researching these garden-variety castoffs and the best way to learn which mundane things might sell. It has values for millions of routine and unexceptional items sold online in the recent past. A researcher can quickly see actual realized sale values (and sale dates) instead of relying on overly ambitious starting prices that might never be achieved.

But where should you start? Here are our top five run-of-the-mill best sellers, in no particular order:

1. Electronics: Yes, most of the forgotten printers, modems and cables crammed into that cabinet in your garage are obsolete. They’ve long been surpassed by newer and better formats and they no longer interface with today’s technology. But collectors still want a lot of it. Cameras, hand-held calculators, early video games, computers built from kits and turntables can sell very well, even if they are broken. Salvage the vacuum tubes from those beat-up radios and TVs because many restorers search all over the map for them.

A 1981 Betamax videotape is in an outdated format that can't even be watched today - but this one sold for $34 in June 2015.

A 1981 Betamax videotape is in an outdated format that can’t even be watched today – but this one sold for $34 in June 2015.

2. Christmas Decorations: No, not the ones you bought at Walmart last year. But maybe the ones you bought at Walmart in 1985. Buyers want a retro look, something that we don’t see today. Different and funky sell great. Pull out those frosted glass balls, packages of tinsel, window stencils and strings of bubble lights. If it’s made of felt, punched tin, pipe cleaners, pinecones, bottlebrushes or celluloid, throw it in. Ornaments with a theme (like football heroes in action poses or seashells painted with “Happy Holidays from Cancun”) are also good bets. You won’t get rich, but sell them in large lots (especially in November) and pocket some good cash.

Double-indented ornaments with powdery mica glitter are common in many family storage bins. This lot of nine sold for $42 in February 2016.

Double-indented ornaments with powdery mica glitter are common in many family storage bins. This lot of nine sold for $42 in February 2016.

3. Clothes: It’s true that most clothing rejects need to be relegated to yard sales or donated to thrift stores. However, the “right” ones sell well online and you undoubtedly have some of these in the back of your closet. Everybody has an oddball themed T-shirt (small-town class reunion, Grateful Dead touring schedule, fraternity party) and millennials love them. Buyers like cute baby and toddler clothes sold in lots (because they also have cross-over appeal to doll collectors). And fad/period items for costume parties are very popular (stonewashed jeans, jumpsuits, hot pants, sweater vests and Mexican ponchos). Of course, high-end designer labels are always great sellers. Condition is very important here—no stains please.

This bowling shirt from rockabilly guitarist Brian Setzer’s merchandizing line sold for $35 in November 2014.

This bowling shirt from rockabilly guitarist Brian Setzer’s merchandizing line sold for $35 in November 2014.

4. Vintage Dinnerware: This is something that everyone has tons of. And most people have their mother’s or their grandmother’s and even their great-grandmother’s sets as well. Some patterns are common. Some are definitely more collectible than others. But even if the patterns are not in heavy demand, owners (somewhere) need to fill in the pieces that are missing and broken. Much of it won’t ever sell—especially small plates, small bowls, cups and saucers. But dinner plates are always needed and so are serving pieces (big bowls, coffee and teapots, ladles, meat platters, divided vegetable dishes, etc.).

Rinker on Collectibles: Saving Grandma’s China and Mom’s Dinnerware Service

The Johnson Brothers Friendly Village pattern is not rare but is extremely popular. Dinner plates sell regularly on eBay for $20 each, as this one did in February 2014.

The Johnson Brothers Friendly Village pattern is not rare but is extremely popular. Dinner plates sell regularly on eBay for $20 each, as this one did in February 2014.

5. Ephemera: Postcards, photographs, flyers, newspaper clippings, advertising inserts, calling cards, prize ribbons, playbills, recipe booklets, valentines, brochures, concert tickets, stickers, paper dolls and other kinds of flat memorabilia can be found in every one of our high school scrapbooks and keepsake shoeboxes. Items that are old, unusual, themed, chromolithographed, historic or controversial just might hold interest. Look for things that represent the pop culture of their time or ones that have regional appeal. Buyers also like subjects related to royalty, movie stars and the military. Many collectors take potluck chances and buy big lots, just hoping to find a gem. The best part of selling ephemera is that it is so easy to scan or photograph and is very inexpensive to mail. Just slip it all into a large envelope.

This mixed lot of no-big-deal paper sold for $17 in August 2014. The seller didn’t even describe what was included.

This mixed lot of no-big-deal paper sold for $17 in August 2014. The seller didn’t even describe what was included.

Since you are selling stuff you were going to toss out anyway, set a low starting price and see where it goes. (For every item that sells on eBay, dozens more remain unsold because the starting prices are too high). One good photo of your offering is usually enough; give a brief description with an honest assessment of condition and be done. You don’t have to expend as much effort as you would with a high-dollar collectible.

These definitely aren’t lottery winners, but you’ll be surprised how they add up. Start rummaging through those junk drawers and forgotten storage tubs in your basement. Good luck!


Liz Holderman is a Worthologist who appraises books and collectibles.

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