6 Mistakes to Avoid If You Want to Make Money From Cleaning Out Your Closet — and What to Do Instead

published May 15, 2021
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You’ve spent the time carefully and thoughtfully going through your closet in preparation for a summer refresh, and you’ve got piles of clothes ready for a new home. Awesome work! If your next step is taking said items to a resale shop like Beacon’s Closet, Buffalo Exchange, or a local consignment boutique, you may still have some work to do. But don’t stress — a few simple tasks may help you score more cash for your castoffs. Here are a few easy things you can incorporate into your reselling routine to potentially boost your earning power.

Don’t: Bring all of your clothes to every store.

Do: Organize clothes according to the store you want to sell them at.

If you’re doing a major clean-out, you may have piles and piles of items to rehome, which means you may need to make a few stops on your reselling tour. Divide them into groups before you get to cleaning and mending. It can be helpful to categorize your clothes by their intended shop, rather than their type or color, and to do some work to study what kinds of clothes each store accepts. That high-end consignment shop isn’t likely to accept items from mall staples like Urban Outfitters, Zara, or Anthropologie, and a local vintage shop might be more interested in your cool and funky throwback pieces than a chain store will. Any higher-end items can go to a consignment or resale shop, pending their condition.

Don’t: Try to sell clothes in an “As-Is” condition.

Do: Inspect every item thoroughly — and then do it again.

Keep one rule in mind: If you wouldn’t buy it in its current condition or with a bit of cleaning and mending, don’t try and sell it. 

Before you try to sell anything at a vintage or consignment store, or list it on Poshmark or Depop, make sure it’s in pristine condition. You’ll make both your life and the buyer’s easier, and may sell more items in the process. Lay the item out and inspect it for rips, holes, stains, or fading. Are there deodorant marks on a blouse? Note the flaws and fix them before selling.

According to Daune Stinson, the owner of June Resale in Minneapolis, there are a few key spots to check first. “Check the underarms for sparkly signs of deodorant. Are buttons missing, is the hem falling, are there holes at the base of the zipper, [is it covered in] pet hair, or does it smell?”

If you’re listing an item on Poshmark or Depop, make sure to take lots of pictures of any garment flaws you can’t fix and note them in your caption, too. The last thing you want is a disappointed buyer who may tank your rating or return the item, so do your due diligence and be as clear as possible about any potential flaws — because hey, they happen.

Clean and polish shoes (and deodorize them if needed!) before slipping them into their original box if you still have it. Bonus points if you still have the shoe bags! 

Don’t: Bring dirty clothes to a resale shop.

Do: Wash clothes before trying to flip them.

Once you’ve gone through and inspected everything, it’s laundry day. Resale shops need items that are ready to hit the floor; they don’t have time to wash them and won’t take anything that isn’t freshly cleaned. An afternoon’s worth of laundry should solve that!

“Freshly cleaned items with no flaws are essential,” says Stinson, though she notes that you don’t have to dry-clean them. “If items aren’t clean, we can’t put them on the floor.” 

As long as your items aren’t fragile vintage or super delicate fabrics like chiffon, you should be able to give them a quick spin in the washing machine. Sort them, toss ‘em in, and neatly fold or hang your items when they’re completely dry.

You can wash cashmere or silk in mesh garment bags on the delicate cycle or hand wash them in the bathtub or sink with a gentle detergent or baby shampoo, then lay them out flat to dry. Never put wool, cashmere, or silk in the dryer unless you want to end up with shrunken sweaters and damaged textures (things your local store definitely won’t buy).

Don’t: Sell clothes with a smell — even if that smell is detergent.

Do: Bust odors with careful treatment.

It might seem like an extra investment, but it’s worth taking items you don’t feel comfortable cleaning yourself, like coats or vintage furs, to a dry cleaner or specialist to ensure they’re treated with the care they deserve. You can also deodorize vintage items with a funky, musty odor by placing them in a plastic shopping bag and keeping them in the freezer for a night or two. If you prefer not to DIY, the Laundress has several fabric sprays that bust odors and impart a simple and delicious aroma.

However, there is such a thing as too much fragrance. Avoid strongly-scented detergent or fabric softener. You want your items to smell freshly laundered, not like you’ve doused them in Febreze to hide something. If you can, hang them to dry in fresh air or add a few drops of a light essential oil, like bergamot, to a wool dryer ball to gently scent your items for a luxe, boutique feel.

Don’t: Ignore or try to hide holes, rips, and tears.

Do: Mend small imperfections, such as loose buttons and tags.

If you’ve found a few small holes or loose buttons that you know you can easily fix, grab your sewing kit and get to work. Is the tag loose? Stitch it back up, especially if your item is designer. If sewing isn’t part of your skill set and you’re worried you’ll do more harm than good when armed with a needle, consider asking a crafty friend or family member for help.

If items require more intense mending than you can handle, ask yourself if it’s worth taking them to a tailor. If you don’t think you’ll make enough money to cover the cost, think about giving the item away as-is or taking it to a textile recycling center. Sometimes you just have to let things go! 

Credit: Julia Steele

Don’t: Bring your items to the store in a garbage bag.

Do: Put the most unique and enticing items on the top of the pile.

If you want the buyer to be interested in what you’ve got to sell, presentation matters! Jeans, T-shirts, cotton dresses, and sweaters are fine to bring in neatly folded, but if you’ve got big-ticket garments like formal dresses, fancy designer labels, or expensive coats, hang them on padded or velvet hangers and keep them protected with a garment bag. 

“The better your items are presented, the better chance you’ll have of selling them. Balled up in a garbage bag is a big ‘No thanks!’” says Stinson. 

Yes, you can definitely haul your “goodbye” pile to the vintage store in an IKEA bag, but if you’re looking to recoup more cash, you may see a greater return on your investment if you put a bit more time and care into the presentation. As someone who used to sell frequently at Buffalo Exchange, I also found that if I placed my coolest items on the top of my pile, the buyer was more likely to snap up the rest. If you have a vintage leather Harley-Davidson jacket in your stash, place that front and center to let them know there’s good stuff in store.