Turning clutter into cash a good way to start new year

Statistics have shown that getting organized and saving money or getting out of debt regularly rank in the top 10 of many American's New Year's resolutions. But we say, why choose? Why not do both? Especially since these two resolutions aren't mutually exclusive.

According to a survey from Kijiji.com, the average household has approximately 35 unused items sitting around the house with a resale value of $670. That's the equivalent of about 489 loaves of bread or 172 gallons of gas or 97 movie tickets! Selling those 35 (or more) unneeded items could put some much-needed dough in your wallet.

But selling your unused "junk" is just the first step to a less-cluttered, wealthier you. Start attacking those paper piles that threaten to take over every available surface in your house, and we'd bet you'll find some hidden cash: a birthday card with $20 from good ol' Aunt Martha, that savings bond your mom got when you were born, or a check you forgot to deposit -- and maybe even forgot you had.

And getting your monthly bills under control with a few organizational tips can lead to saving a whole lot of hard-earned cash. Why pay unnecessary late fees on an already high credit card bill?

WalletPop polled some of the most organized and cash-savvy experts in America to learn how the rest of us mere (sometimes messy) mortals can cash in on some of our clutter and clean up our finances at the same time. Put their advice to good use to turn those crammed closets and over-stuffed junk drawers into cash cows.

Empty your closet
Americans spend a staggering $22 billion on storage-unit rentals each year. "I always caution my clients against getting a storage unit and instead [suggest they] take the time to declutter and let go of excess," says Janine Adams, a certified professional organizer in St. Louis.

But just because you shouldn't store it doesn't mean you have to toss all that excess. Swapping clothing and toys with fellow pack rats is a great way for you and your family to have "free" new-to-you items. "I've swapped hundreds' worth of clothes with a group of nine others," says Nina O'Shea of Lansing, Ill. "It's great to trade clothes you'll never wear again for an armful of free finds."

Looking to generate cash instead of freebies? At the first sign of spring, gather up all those goodies gathering dust and hold a garage sale. Ask your neighbors or even your entire street to join in. Having several garages to shop at will attract more buyers and increase everyone's chances of turning clutter into cash.

Money-making media
You could be sitting on a goldmine of unused media. Gather up all the DVDs, books, and video games your family no longer wants and sell them for cash. Listing these items on Amazon.com or eBay.com lets you market your wares to a large audience.

Go through the garage
Calling all weekend home remodeling warriors. Matt Knox, CEO of DiggersList.com, a site where users can trade and buy construction supplies, reminds hoarders not to forget places like a garage or basement when they're getting rid of clutter.

Things like excess tiles, piles of 2 x 4's, and the front door you replaced that's still in great shape aren't garbage. "Leftover building materials are valuable to builders or fellow DIY'ers," Knox advises. Craigslist is probably the best way to market these wares to locals since shipping a bucket of nails any real distance is neither cheap nor easy.

Designate a donation spot
If you have items you're not interested in selling but still want to dispose of, start a pile for your local Salvation Army, Goodwill store or other local charity. Keeping things you want to donate together will make purging easier.

"Use a large plastic storage box, and when it's full, make a list of everything in it and then cart it off to be donated," says Mackey McNeill, a CPA, personal financial specialist and member of the AICPA's National CPA Financial Literacy Commission. Not only will you be organized, but McNeill says you can get a tax deduction if you itemize your tax return.

Slash grocery bills
Cleaning out your cupboards, then reorganizing what's left by storing like items together can drastically cut your weekly grocery bill. "I was scraping by," says Gina Miller of Chicago, "so I reorganized my kitchen cabinets and found stuff I had completely forgotten about. I was able to forgo the grocery store for two whole weeks using things I had tucked in the back of cabinets."

Make a list
So long, stockpiles of duct tape and expired soup. Now that you've purged your home of the things you no longer need -- and know where to find it all -- you're more likely to stop spending money on duplicate items. In order to stay on track, McNeill suggests never -- ever -- shopping without a list. "Taking a shopping list to [any] store cuts down on expensive impulse buys," he says.

Forgo fees
Organizing your checkbook or online banking accounts will tip you off to how much you're wasting on ATM fees. "When I started using personal finance software, I couldn't believe how much money I was leaving at the ATM machines," says Rob North of Pittsburgh. And keeping tabs on your bills will also spare you from late fees and overdraft charges.

To keep your bills straight, Denise Winston, a 25-year former banker-turned-financial educator, suggests these tips:
  • Get a bin. Find a bill organizer that's big enough to hold your bills, a pair of scissors, some pens and paper clips. With these tools, you can easily open your bills and place them in one central location so you know when bills are due. You can even write the due date on the outside of the envelope so you never miss a payment.
  • No more lost receipts. Keep a small envelope in your purse, briefcase, backpack or car for all your receipts. Additionally, keep a designated file folder in your mail management system so you can easily access the receipts or unload receipts as needed. Consumers waste millions of dollars every year due to lost receipts; you need them to take advantage of return policies, price match programs, extended warranties and much more.
Lost money
Do a monthly purge of junk drawers and clutter piles, and you could find more than a few coins in the sofa. When her husband relented and finally cleaned out his office, Victoria Shade of Orlando, Fla., got a pleasant surprise. "He found three different [uncashed] checks in his sty of an office," Shade says. "I was so happy to see those checks that I couldn't even be mad about his disorganized ways."

Inspect your insurance
An annual audit of your insurance policies can slash hundreds off your annual household budget. Susan E. Howe, a CPA and member of the AICPA's National CPA Financial Literacy Commission, suggests gathering all your insurance policies and giving them the once -- or twice -- over. "If they're with different companies, meet with an independent agent and see how much you can save by combining them all under one provider," Howe suggests. "Talk about possibly making changes to deductibles or any applicable discounts to lower your premiums."

Gina Roberts-Grey is a frequent contributor to WalletPop.
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