The Costly Mistake You Might be Making When You Declutter

published Jun 6, 2018
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(Image credit: Minette Hand)

You’d rather eat glass than put your great aunt’s ugly statue on your living room shelf. But Jacquie Denny, co-founder of online estate sale company Everything But the House, says you may be making a serious (and costly) mistake. Denny declares that the most common misstep people face when cleaning is assuming that things they don’t like have no resale value.

“I always tell people that as soon as someone calls me and says either ‘my mom doesn’t have anything’ or ‘she has the ugliest art I’ve ever seen,’ I want to go to that house.”

We asked Denny what are some of the most highly coveted items that people find buried in attics and basements while cleaning. She says that no matter the category, an item’s worth depends on two things: condition and rarity. Here’s the scoop on what’s in demand these days…

(Image credit: Aimée Mazzenga)


“When you talk about china on a broad scale, it’s not as valuable as it used to be because people entertain more casually now, but there are still stars,” say Denny. She points out brands like Lenox, Rosenthal, and Diane von Furstenberg as hot ticket items.

(Image credit: Emma Fiala)

Childhood Toys

“I can’t tell you how many parents who had kids in the ’60s and ’70s will say ‘these are all my kids’ old Star Wars stuff, their old toys,'” says Denny. “I’ve sold Star Wars Lego sets mint in the box from the ’70s for $800.” Denny says to think of the toys that were iconic for that time—the things that could represent that decade. “Just because we left them in mom’s attic because we didn’t want to be the curator of that collection doesn’t mean it has no value.”

While the childhood toy market changes about every 10 years, people start to become nostalgic for their own childhood toys when they reach their thirties and forties, and are raising children themselves. “We become nostalgic for the things we grew up with because we’re influencing our children.” While you won’t always fetch big money for everything (“some will be in the price point for as low as $35”) you’ll be in a heap of luck if you have something very unusual that’s in mint condition. “If you’ve got a Fisher Price See n’ Say that has the labels worn off and it warbles when you pull the string, there’s probably no value,” says Denny. But if you have maybe a rare color, when you pull the string the song is clear and crisp, then you’re gonna get maybe $75 to $100.” Other items from the 1980s that definitely have a market include Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Lego sets, and anything where they made a character doll to correspond with a new movie.

(Image credit: Brian and Nicki Rohloff)

Costume Jewelry

You might think that only precious jewels have any resale value, but Denny cites Louis Feron and Kenneth Jay Lane as popular costume jewelry brands that remain coveted.

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Denny says 1980s furniture doesn’t go for much yet, but some items from the ’70s, like crushed velvet couches, are popular. Still, mid-century modern design furniture like Eames continues to draw in buyers. “Furniture in general is the safest it’s been historically,” says Denny. “The reason for that is that we’re the largest generation in history with the most people passing away and making a downsize. There’s way more furniture in the marketplace than is being absorbed.”

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Oriental Rugs

Thanks to everyone’s current love of hardwood floors, Denny says there’s a “renaissance” for hand-woven rugs. “People want area rugs for the first time in 20 years.” However, because of the multitude of rugs available, only the best examples from the best designers or weavers will get serious money. They also have to be in perfect condition, without stains or smells from smoke or pets.

(Image credit: Alicia Macias)

Bikes and Scooters

“Once our kids want to learn to bike, we remember the bike we learned on,” says Denny. She cites the popular “banana seat” bicycles with high “sissy” handlebars as extremely popular.

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Items like early iMac and Apple computers can go “for thousands of dollars,” says Denny. With a lot of more recent items, if you don’t sell it at the time that you upgrade, it won’t really have any value in a couple years. Denny suggests making use of services where you can mail in or bring your old technology to a counter and trade it for $50 or $100. It’s better than nothing!

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“I always tell people to keep their children’s books because when we go to start reading to our children, we remember them,” says Denny. “Reading from the original books are so much better.” But that doesn’t mean you can’t make a pretty penny by selling them. Anything that’s first edition, or signed by the author is obviously coveted, particularly if it’s by a beloved children’s author like Maurice Sendak.

(Image credit: Lana Kenney)

Anything with Sentimental Value

Denny says with every family she works with, each member will have a different opinion on what to do with an important item. She tells them to keep this in mind: “If its an item that’s sentimental, or has a family history to it, I encourage them to keep it unless the family gets into the situation where they need to sell a historical piece,” says Denny. “If you’re not going to display it or see it or share it, if it’s just going to sit in a cabinet, sell it and put the money in an account and go on a trip together.”