The Pitfalls of Buying to Sell

Since my big garage sort out last year I have been having fun selling unwanted items online. It takes quite a bit of work to take photos, weigh, measure and list, monitor progress and finally pack and post. But I have enjoyed it and its been nice to see little amounts of money going into the bank account. I have learned a lot about the process of selling.

I have reached a point where I am running out of my own things that I am ready to sell, and since I have been having fun with online selling I have been toying with the idea of buying things cheap to sell at a profit. I did have some success at this in a very small way, except for the time I got the maths wrong and sold at a $2 loss. And except for the time the casserole dish broke in the mail.

When I think about it, the most successful items have been things that were mine originally, because they were quality items that had retained some value. These were things like camera gear, and 21st birthday presents (now retro!). Selling them seemed like a profit with no outlay, but of course, I was selling them for much less than they had been purchased for many years ago, so its not really a sustainable proposition.

I have had some fun going to garage sales, fetes and op shops, seeing what is for sale. Garage sales and church fetes are the best, because the prices tend to be very low. Charity shops are very savvy on the value of things, and put the good stuff in the glass cabinet for a strong price.

From my experience with a few speculative purchases I have found that it is possible to buy things cheaply and sell for a profit online, although I am not sure it is worth it. An interesting aspect of the exercise is coming to understand that issues like transportation costs, packaging, storage space and selling space are as real when you are selling a happy face Christmas jug as when you have a propper retail business.

The problem with selling things on such a small scale, is you need to ask a high price to make it worth the exercise. Charging a high price reduces the number of willing buyers and slows the process as stuff sits on eBay or Gumtree (and in the garage) waiting for someone to be interested. It leads to listings timing out and having to relist. Selling cheaply is more successful in turning things over, but if its only for $5 or $10, is it really worth the effort?

I think I have a fairly good eye for value, and what sells. Even so, I now have a small collection of other peoples junk that I have bought for peanuts sitting in the garage waiting for someone to fall in love with it. I also have boxes of wrapping, boxes of newspaper, and boxes of boxes in readiness for packing and posting. If I were to get more serious about buying and selling, that pile of stuff would grow, and I would be effectively re-stocking the garage that I had been so happy to clear out.

Last night I had occasion to watch part of an episode of Hoarders with the sound down. I couldn’t hear the stories, but I could see the conditions that the people were living in. What was most striking was the looks of sadness and helplessness on the faces of the people involved, both the people with the hoarding issues, and their families. With the sound down, you could see the impact of the situation etched in the expressions of everyone involved, and it was very moving.

I then flipped over to one of my favourite “pickers” shows, and the guys were negotiating to buy old signs and other collectables for sale and a profit. The contrast was striking. The two programs were poles apart, in their attitude to stuff, and somehow the distance between the two extremes seemed too great to bridge.

The experience of watching those two programs back to back made me think that maybe I don’t want to get involved in buying and selling in a more serious way. Not because there is anything wrong with it, but because thats not really the direction I want to take. Its not really my mojo. I was selling things online partly to make money, and partly to learn how to do it so that I could advise others. I could feel the excitement of making a sale, and the satisfaction of finding a cheap bargain. But it was not really supporting my goals of living simply and lightly.

There were things I needed to learn through this exploration of buying and selling, and I am glad I have done it. But its starting to feel like that phase is coming to an end, and I need to put my effort in a new direction. I am sad, because it was an enjoyable process, but I know it doesn’t pay to hold onto a project when the spark has gone out of it. I may change my mind, but simplicity seems to be the direction I am am heading in.


  1. Tami said:

    I watch Hoarders and Hoarding Buried Alive and I used to sell stuff on eBay. Thanks for posting this I don’t feel so alone knowing there are other people out there.

    • LindaMay said:

      I am glad you found the post useful. It was a difficult one to write because there is an aspect of my personality that would make me a great second hand dealer. However I have been heavily influenced by simplicity and minimalism, and that feels more like my true home. At the moment I feel like I can’t be travelling in two directions at once. I listed some of my favourite simplicity and minimalism blogs on my other website.

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