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Here's how you, too, can be a Craigslist Samurai.

I Am a Craigslist Samurai and so Can You: How to Sell Used Stuff Online

A few months ago I found my neighbor’s purse in the alley behind our houses near the dumpster. It was a nice purse, real leather, and inside was a Coach brand wallet. I assumed she’d been robbed, and went to her door to return the nearly empty bag. Imagine my surprise when she told me that no, it hadn’t been stolen, she’d just thrown it out.

Rather than side-eyeing her into oblivion, I kept the designer items… and sold them for cold, hard cash. Because that, dear friends, is how I do.

For I am a Craigslist Samurai! A Paladin of online, stranger-to-stranger transactions! Bequeath unto me your used snowboards and semi-broken furniture! I shall dust them off, fix them up, and turn them for a tidy profit, all in the name of my eventual financial independence!

Besides the thoughtlessly discarded purse and wallet, over the last few years I’ve sold a dresser ($20), a table ($25), a microwave ($10), a VCR ($10), bar stools ($20 each), a flat-screen TV I literally found on the side of the road ($100), another flat-screen from a friend ($100), two tables ($50 and $20 respectively), my old desk ($50), an AC ($20), a hardwood bed frame ($280), and a bike a friend left in my garage because he didn’t want to bother selling it before moving away ($150).

Selling stuff online can be a great way to bring in a little extra money. Most of the items above are things I got for free. The tables, for example, were left in the alley behind my house (before you call me out on it, yes, I aspire in all ways to be Dumpster Doggy). I rescued them, gave them a new coat of paint and stain, and sold them.

And if you’re patient, the payoff can be huge: the bed frame, bike, and TV were all from friends who moved away and didn’t have the time to sell their stuff before they left. But I had a garage to store them in and plenty of time to sell them right, for maximum profit.

It’s an art and a challenge. Here’s how you, too, can be a Craigslist Samurai.

Pricing

Few things amuse me as much as Craigslist sellers overestimating the value of their goods. “I bought this couch from Ethan Allen fifteen years ago for $3,000, so I’m asking for $2,900 OBO!”

Fool, nobody wants to spend that much money on a couch your ass sat on for fifteen fucking years. The whole reason people buy secondhand is because they’re looking for a bargain. If they wanted to spend multiple thousands on a couch, they’d buy new.

Urgent note from Kitty: The average American spends four hours per day on their couch. The average American also farts 18.5 times per day. That means you ground approximately three FPD (farts per day) into those cushions, every single day, for the length of time it takes to gestate a baby and raise it to a reasonable facsimile of adulthood. Congratulations—you just gave me all the information the district attorney will need. 

My general rule of thumb for pricing online sales is to charge at most 50% or less of the item’s value when it was new. If you’re not sure how much it cost brand new, look it up on the original retailer’s website!

And for the buyer’s ease, you should usually price your item at an interval of twenty. Since ATMs spit cash out in $20 bills, this will make it a lot easier for them to have exact change.

If you don’t get a nibble right away, consider lowering the price after a week or so. Rinse and repeat until you find the right price point for the right buyer.

And this should go without saying, but only accept cash! Never accept a check from a fucking stranger you met online. That’s a great way to not get paid. I’ve accepted Venmo before, but only if I stood there and confirmed the Venmo payment in person before handing over the goods.

Want to increase your profits? If you own a vehicle, offer to deliver the item for a $5-$10 delivery fee. My husband owns a truck, and I’ve probably made $100 over the last few years on delivery fees alone.

Staging

Pics or gtfo.

As a buyer, if there isn’t a picture of the item, I don’t even look at the ad. Craigslist actually makes it super easy to filter out ads that don’t have pictures. So take decent pictures of what you’re selling! This means pulling it out of your dusty basement and staging it somewhere well-lit. Photograph it from multiple angles to show off all its features.

Clean it. No one wants to buy something dusty, dirty, nasty, or gross. Even if there’s a treasure buried under all that dust, a lot of buyers are just going to pass it over because it doesn’t look appealing.

Also (and I can’t believe I have to say this), photograph the actual item you’re selling. Pulling a picture from the manufacturer’s website or simply linking to the item on a retailer’s site may give you the benefit of a professional photograph. But it makes me, as a buyer, think the item is too trashed to stand for itself.

Be honest, brief, complete, and grammatically correct in the description. You want to make sure the potential buyer doesn’t have any basic questions like, “how big is it?” before they contact you. Such questions could dissuade a buyer from even considering the purchase. Make it easy and quick for the buyer to make a final decision.

It might also help to include a link to the brand new item in the description (again, not in place of a real photo). If you’re selling a piece of sporting equipment, for example, this will give the buyer way more information than you have at your disposal.

Patience is a virtue

Be patient. Some stuff sells overnight! Other stuff might take weeks. Obviously, this is the sort of money-making side project that requires a little storage space (sorry, micro-apartment and tiny home dwellers). So accept the fact that you might have that thing you’re trying to unload taking up space in your home for several weeks or months longer than you intended.

I think it took me about four months to sell the bike. I couldn’t ride it and neither could my husband. So it just sat there, taking up space while I posted it on Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace, reducing the price a bit from time to time and answering questions from prospective buyers. It cost me nothing but minutes, and in the end I was $150 richer.

If you bide your time until you find the right buyer willing to make the right offer, you can score big. Don’t just accept the first $5 offer that comes your way! Patience, as they say, is a fucking virtue.

Safety fourth

Creeps and predators lurk on online marketplaces. They target unsuspecting buyers and sellers for violence and theft. Here are some harrowing tales to convince you to prioritize safety when buying and selling stuff online.

And here are a few ground rules for staying safe:

  • Never meet potential buyers alone. Always have a trusted friend or relative there with you when the buyer arrives.
  • Hate to say it, but if you can, make sure you have a MALE human there with you to meet the buyer. A dog is not always good enough for protection. (Unless it’s my dog, who is large, aggressive, and doesn’t even like friends coming near me without his express permission.)
  • If you can, meet them in a public place like the grocery store parking lot. Some police stations encourage buyers and sellers to meet in their parking lots as well.
  • If they must come to your home, meet them with the item as close to the front door as possible. There’s no reason to take them on a tour through your home and give them more time inside than necessary.
  • Have your cell phone on you in case something goes wrong and you need to call for help.
  • Whether buying or selling, tell a trusted friend your plans: when and where you’re meeting the customer/buyer, when you expect to come home safely, and the customer/buyer’s contact information and name if you have it.
  • On that note… get the buyer’s first and last name, just in case! At the very least, it will signal to them that you are taking safety precautions and therefore, not to be fucked with.
  • Only meet potential buyers during daylight hours. It sounds cliche, but it’s harder to get away with nefarious deeds under the full, judgmental light of the sun.
  • Be extra cautious when selling high-value items. Y’know… stuff someone might try to steal instead of pay for.
  • As the great Gavin de Becker has taught millions: trust your goddamn instincts. If something feels off, end the transaction and leave.

Ideally, your transaction should go something like this:

Where to sell

Some guy named Craig has become synonymous with online person-to-person sales. Dude nearly put a multi-million dollar classified industry out of business. If you’re on the Internet right now and you’ve never heard of Craigslist, you are operating inside of a truly impressive state of oblivion. Craigslist, you dear, sweet, clueless child, allows you to buy, sell, trade, and give away just about anything, anywhere, anytime.

But Craigslist isn’t the only option for online sales. Facebook Marketplace works almost the same way, and comes with the added benefit of allowing you to view your prospective buyer’s limited profile. Nextdoor and Freecycle also facilitate neighbor-to-neighbor secondhand sales and give-aways (Freecycle is, of course, free). Similarly, LetGo allows users to create buying and selling accounts.

I’ve also heard good things about Poshmark and Thredup for selling clothes. Though in my personal experience, a good thrift shop is worth its weight in discarded fast fashion.

Check these sites before resigning yourself to paying top dollar for just about anything. And especially before you toss something that could still potentially hold resale value.

More of our aggressive thoughts on buying used instead of new:

What to sell

We’ve talked before about what you can safely buy secondhand. Same rules apply for selling shit.

Cars! Furniture! Appliances! Sporting goods! Musical instruments! Media! Household goods! And if you’re willing to brave the threat of bedbugs, mattresses and clothes!

Add to this list landscaping and building materials. This summer I built a flagstone walkway all the way around my garden using leftover flagstones from a neighbor’s landscaping project. It looks great and cost me nothing but time and sweat (because yes… the flagstones were another alley find since I am DESPERATE FOR DUMPSTER DOGGY’S APPROVAL).

Selling big ticket items like cars online can be more lucrative than going through a used car dealer, since you won’t need to share the profits with the dealership. Same goes for clothes. Whereas consignment and thrift shops take a cut of the profit, selling clothes yourself means you get to pocket 100% of those sweet, sweet clams.

That said, be warned that selling these items yourself when buyers usually look to consignment shops and dealerships to buy them means you’ll have to put a lot more time and effort into the sale. Be brave, be patient, and be realistic.

Sounds like a lot of work. Why bother?

We are slowly but surely destroying the planet through unsustainable manufacturing practices. Landfills and other gross depositories of society’s refuse are taking up more space than the world’s collective manspreaders. Buying and selling used items is one way to help these problems.

Buying used clothing helps cut down on the amount of fast fashion that ends up in landfills. Used appliances and cars cuts down on the amount of harmful chemicals leeching into the soil. And every used item you buy online means that item gets to spend a longer time being used instead of wasted in a mountain of trash.

The economics of buying and selling your used stuff should be self-explanatory. You are paid nothing to throw away your trash. Why not get paid to hand that trash over to someone else for whom it is a treasure? A person who would like to save some money by not buying new? A person who gets to save a little while you earn a little more?

Tell me of your Craigslist conquests in the comments!

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20 thoughts to “I Am a Craigslist Samurai and so Can You: How to Sell Used Stuff Online”

  1. A friend’s sister brought home a four-piece wicker porch set that a neighbor had set out with the trash. She dusted it, styled it with cushions and patio accessories, took a picture and put it up on her town’s Facebook yard sale page.

    It sold for $150 almost immediately; in fact, disappointed would-be buyers asked to be put on a waiting list in case the sale fell through. The entire process took about half an hour. Not a bad way to earn some extra cash.

    When I was an apartment house manager in Seattle, a tenant moved out and threw a bunch of things in the dumpster. I rescued what I could reach and the finds became part of a flea-market table that my daughter (the fabulous Abigail of IPickUpPennies) and I rented one Saturday. Most of it sold; the rest went into my evergreen gift closet. Another tenant threw out a brand-new, still-in-box keyboard; I used it for years.

    Also while living as a broke midlife student in Seattle, I won a couple of drawings: Starbucks gift basket, iPod Mini. Both went on Craigslist and both sold instantly. The money did, indeed, come in handy. I still enter all drawings I see, with the idea that I might win something I can use, gift, sell or give away on my blog. And in fact all those things have come to pass.

    Like you, I’m concerned about our throwaway culture. Giving things at least one more chance at usefulness vs. just tossing them makes me happy.

    1. Donna, as always you are an inspiration to us all! I love the idea of entering giveaways, which hadn’t occurred to me until I was at an event recently that was giving away a brand new Dodge Ram pickup as a big-ticket prize. I have no use for a truck (my husband already drives one), but they go for top dollar used!

      1. My BFF knew a guy who saw an amazing-looking truck for sale for a surprisingly low price. Turned out that the young man had won it in a contest and wasn’t going to be able to cover the insurance — or the tax bill that would be forthcoming on such a big “payday.”

        Winning big-ticket items sound good in theory, but you need to be able to pay the freight. And to know that you NEED to pay it: Way back in 1992 I was on “Jeopardy!” and won one game. The taxes to the state of California came right off the top of the prize, and I filled out a W-9 for Uncle Sam. However, I neglected to declare the lovely parting gifts, because I didn’t know you had to do this — and a few years later, the IRS sent me a nice note saying, “You owe us $XX in taxes and $XX in penalties for being a few years late.”

        Sometimes what you don’t know *can* hurt you.

  2. ‘Meet in a grocery store parking lot’ reminds me of the car trunk rabbit deal I saw going down in the parking lot of a 7-11 off a highway in Ohio.

  3. OfferUp is also great for buying/selling locally. I did a cross country move last August from a college town and was able to sell or donate a bunch of furniture to incoming students.

  4. I got an antique art deco desk for $75. And a singer sewing machine cabinet from 1910 to serve as a second desk for $100. Really, 60% or more of our furniture is from Craigslist. Haven’t had great sales but got way nicer stuff that I would have afforded otherwise.

    1. Exactly! That’s the other side of it. All of our furniture, with one notable exception, is either secondhand or homemade. The exception is the new couch we bought last year because we’ve NEVER owned a brand new couch.

      But I love all my discounted furniture. And it’s fun to fix it up and stain or paint it to match my interior decor. Way more fun and cost effective than getting something cheaply made from American Furniture Warehouse.

  5. I am currently trying to sell two brand new items we got for Christmas but can’t use. No progress after about a month, but I just dropped the price again. Friends recommend FB marketplace but my brother has sold gifts on there before and gotten some heat from family about it, so I’d definitely prefer an anonymous way to sell these items. We were able to sell our car on Craigslist for a decent price.

    1. Yah, Facebook might not be a good look for you if it’s a gift. Have you considered regifting them to someone outside the family next Christmas? I’ve had a lot of luck with that.

  6. I wish my room mate would sell off all the stuff she says she’s going to. Instead it just sits around the living room. I’m moving out in 2 months so it doesn’t matter but Christ on a cracker we do not have the space to store and sell stuff. I wish we did.

      1. Yeah, even selling small stuff like clothing is a tossup. It means I’d have to have it lying around an already cluttered home for an indeterminate length of time!

        I’ve considered trying to sell books, but I work for a printing company, and were not allowed to sell the free books we get from there. I’m afraid someone would take one look at my Amazon sellers account and assume some stuff. There’s no quick and easy way to tell who printed it, as it’s not on the book itself. From their perspective, easier to fire me than to investigate. There’s a local charity I can donate them to but not till August, so. Someone will make money off of them, at any rate.

  7. I’m absolutely shit at selling used stuff, though to be fair, it’s mostly because I use and re-use most things to death. The small amount of stuff I get rid of, but can be used again, often gets donated to a charity shop, since for a long time that was the only way I could donate to charity. For most of the stuff, though, you bet that if I’m throwing it away, it’s because it’s broken beyond repair!

    That said, I LOVE bargain-hunting. My greatest achievement was last October, when me and my girlfriend moved to a new flat. Money was tight, and we were moving from a furnished flat to an unfurnished one, so some funds were set aside for furniture. We bought ourselves a new mattress, and decided to invest in a better one (my gf has back problems, so — necessary), put it on the floor, and buy a bed frame later. On the day of the move, we hired a small, local company to haul our shit across town. Once everything was moved to the new place, the owner of the moving company takes a peek at the bedroom, sees the mattress on the floor, and goes: “Wait, you didn’t say you don’t have a bed!”. Turns out, she bought a new bed frame recently, and has the old one somewhere in her shed. She offered to sell it to us for 40 GBP, including delivery and putting it together, which, a fucking bargain — the most basic new frame is at least 100 plus delivery. For that price, I didn’t even care what the frame is, I just said yes.

    And that frame? It is NOT the most basic frame. It’s a beautiful, beautiful wooden bed frame with a gorgeous wooden headboard, all strong and proper, none of that Ikea nonsense. I can barely move it, and I can move everything else in the house! It’s a bit old-fashioned, but then, so is the flat, so it all goes together very well, and, unlike modern bed frames, this one gives us loads of under-the-bed storage space. I’d never have gotten this treasure so cheap if it wasn’t for a girl with a van who just REALLY needed to free up some space in her shed.

  8. I am one of those micro-dwellers you refer to, and I have no space at all for storing extraneous clutter. Rather than Craigslist, I am a big user of BuyNothing. Everything gets taken away for free (so no money-making), but I meet lots of nice neighbors and keep stuff out of the landfill.

  9. I’ve both bought and sold on Craiglist. I’d probably sell fewer things now because I’m divorced now and therefore don’t have my husband to dissuade any would-be ne’er-do-wells who might show up and eyeball some of our stuff. (I have chronic fatigue, so I do most of the sales from home — but at the front door, don’t worry.)

    I love affordable finds, and now that I have a friend with a truck I plan on seeing if I can find a dining table on Craigslist rather than in the store. Now I just have to find a way to break it to my friend with a truck that he’s going to help me move a dining table…

  10. I agree with the cash recommendations. An additional recommendation I encourage is to include pick up availability in the listing. Often my craigslist selling has occurred surrounding moving. As such, I’m never working with the “wait and hold” strategy. The “Must be able to pick up on Thursday between 4-8pm or Saturday 8-1pm” strategy prevents too long of a discourse on pickup arrangements and I’m not a slave to someone else’s availability. Most of the time I way underprice because I value the space more than the money. At my low price points, people understand that if that means limited pickup window, it’s a valid tradeoff.

  11. I LOVE flipping things! And I can second what Donna said, wicker is hot for some reason. I always double-triple my money on it buying it from yard sales. I don’t do much selling on Craigslist now that Facebook market place has taken over. The majority of my flipping is on eBay though. Doing several hundred a month on eBay and hoping to get to a thousand listing by the end of the year. I also sell at an antique booth. I guess you could say I’m addicted lol.

    There’s just something about giving new life to items that have been forgotten about that lights me up. Making money is cool too.

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