how to sell your extra stuff on eBay

sold on eBay: vintage yellow Dansk Kobenstyle casserole pot found in a free box on the street

Instead of Christmas shopping this year, with all its expense and stress, I've been Christmas selling. It's different from a No-Spending Year or Buy-Nothing Challenge in that you can actually make back a bit of the money you've already spent as a capitalist consumer. It also gives you positive environmental karma by promoting secondhand reuse, returning perfectly functional objects to the reuse stream, rather than further depleting Earth's nonrenewable resources—objects like electronics or carved marble kitchen-utensil holders.

When I returned from my summer in London, completely broke and facing more medical bills, I immediately signed myself up on eBay and started selling spare clothes, shoes, kitchen items, and small decorative objects, most of which I had picked up inexpensively in thrift stores and later changed my mind about but that were too hard (usually meaning too small) to sell locally on Craigslist. The biggest advantage of selling pre-owned (aka used) household items on eBay and Amazon is their huge national—even international—customer markets, making sales for smaller or more niche items easier and faster than selling in a local market.

Selling on eBay really means having your own small business in microcosm, which in itself is a useful learning experience if, like me, you've never owned a business. It can thus become a safe, inexpensive way to test out desire and aptitude for self-employment. You can have only three things for sale or three hundred, but you still must offer a good product at a good value and keep customers content by providing good customer service. Because eBay and PayPal have been around so long, they've made the complex pricing and shipping aspects relatively easy by offering suggestions based on similar items. Payments are automatic via PayPal. eBay and Pay take their cuts, of course, but it's worth it and far cheaper than swallowing the costs of leasing a brick-and-mortar shop space.

sold on eBay: Brooks Brothers shirt purchased by the pound at Goodwill Outlet

sold on eBay: tote bag hand-crocheted from yarn made with plastic bags

sold on eBay: vintage teak salad bowl, refreshed with spoon oil

sold on eBay: Ralph Lauren handknit linen sweater

Things you'll need to become an eBay seller are:
  • eBay account
  • eBay app
  • PayPal account
  • smartphone with camera
  • free USPS Priority Mail envelopes and boxes (ordered online)
  • reused empty boxes
  • free reused packing materials
  • measuring tape or ruler
  • clear packing tape
  • scissors
  • box cutter
  • digital kitchen scale
  • bathroom scale (if selling larger items)
  • computer printer
  • black ink cartridges
  • copy paper

sold on eBay: brown Dansko heeled clogs

sold on eBay: Women's Columbia jacket found in a free box on the street

sold on eBay: Banana Republic Outlet Women's linen button-front shirt purchased by the pound at Goodwill Outlet

Once your supplies are in place, you can start selling. Here are some quick-start tips learned over the last few months as an eBay seller:

:: Order free Priority Mail envelopes and boxes from the United States Postal Service (usps.com).

:: Customers prefer receiving items quickly, even cross-country. Try to mail things out the same day or the next day to limit handling time. USPS is most accessible and usually the best-value shipper. Ship Priority Mail on most things for faster delivery, including tracking and basic insurance. Heavy items can sometimes be shipped in Flat Rate boxes or travel Parcel Select. Estimate shipping costs carefully by weight and measurements before listing to avoid losing money on shipping. The goal is not to make money on shipping, but rather not to lose money.

:: eBay currently has an easy international shipping option called "Global Shipping" in which the seller mails the item domestically to a processing center in Kentucky, and then eBay handles the international shipping processes and costs on their end. You can enable this option to increase sales.

:: People have become used to "free shipping" from big retailers like Amazon. Shipping is never actually free, but if you can build "Free Shipping" into your item pricing, all the better.

:: Take photos on your phone and upload them directly to the eBay app. Photos should be taken from multiple angles, preferably in natural light, and include close-up details of any flaws.

:: Describe objects in detail in the listing, highlighting any flaws. Buyers should know exactly what they're getting. It's far better that an object arrive in better-than-expected condition than the reverse.

:: Source packing peanuts and bubble wrap for reuse from local businesses. Reuse newspapers as fill.

:: Wrap and pack objects carefully to prevent breakage or other damage. Use extra packing material to keep objects from shifting around in transit.

:: Most clothing items will fit in a Priority padded flat-rate envelope with no need for other packing material.

:: For all but the most experienced or volume sellers, the eBay phone app is easier for managing listings—because simpler—than the eBay website itself.

:: Avoid auctions on most things. Instead, list items as "Buy It Now" with "Best Offer" and as "Good Till Canceled." Research other people's listings and do experiments because how you list items will depend on what you're selling. If it's a highly desirable item you know for certain will sell within a week, do an auction. Otherwise, skip auctions to save yourself the hassle of relisting items every week as well as eBay's listing fees. 

:: eBay will almost always side with buyers over sellers. Keep this in mind when making decisions or resolving issues with buyers.

:: Provide feedback on buyers only after they've given feedback on you as a seller. Aim for 100% positive feedback by making the customer happy, even if they're in the wrong. As in life, most people are well intentioned.

:: eBay via PayPal will hold funds until you've established yourself as a reputable seller. After a few months of positive transactions, money will be released to your PayPal account more quickly. You can transfer money easily from PayPal to a bank account.

:: Boxes, packing materials, and merchandise all take up physical space and require solid organizational skills, so carve out a space in your home that's easily accessible but out of the way, ideally in a spare bedroom, home office, or garage.

sold on eBay: West Elm vase (bottom view)

If you have the time and energy, you can make more money selling your unwanted stuff on eBay than at a garage sale and often more than on Craigslist. I wish I had started selling my more valuable discards on eBay years ago, rather than donating them to Goodwill for free. Now I know better. With more Americans making less than our parents did (or do), despite having more education, and with cost of living increasing faster than incomes, especially in coastal urban areas, you, too, might one day need to become more creative in funding the basics of life.

(Note: Thank you to the Portland friends who've mentored me as an eBay seller, demystifying the process. I'm passing along their hard-won selling tips, as well as those learned on my own.)


  1. Thanks for the eBay tips. I might be brave enough now to try it myself. Carol

    1. Let me know if you want help with any of it, Carol. I dragged my feet for a long time about eBay selling until I really needed an income supplement.


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