How to Use eBay to Create Extra Cash in Your Life

by Katy on May 13, 2016 · 17 comments

This piece first appeared over at

Lifehacker recently published an article advising readers that Before you throw something out, check if you can sell it.

“Today I learned that people will buy and sell just about anything on eBay, including empty toilet paper rolls and egg cartons. If you want to make a few bucks, consider what “garbage” you have around your home that others will pay for.”

This advice may seem more relevant to 2003 than 2016, as eBay is hardly new, but what people are willing to pay for the stuff you’d otherwise consider worthless may take you by surprise.

The key to knowing the marketability of your stuff is to run a “completed listings” search on eBay. Yes, some doo-dad may be listed for a million dollars, but unless that doo-dad is actually selling for that amount, the listed information is useless.

Here’s how to check eBay’s completed listings. Click the small “advanced” link to the right of the big blue “search” button.advanced listings

Then type in your search and click the “completed listings” link below. This gives you precise information on how much things are actually selling for. Prices in green did sell, while those in black went unsold.

Completed listings


The article cites people selling empty toilet paper and paper towel tubes, but it turns out that profit lies beyond your recycling bin. (Also, hanging onto toilet paper tubes until I get forty of them veers a bit too close to professional hoarder for my comfort level.)

Broken electronics

Whether you’re holding onto a broken Nintendo DS, digital camera or outdated cell phone, there’s likely somewhere out there who can either fix your stuff or needs it for parts. Just make sure to delete any and all personal information from the device before sending it off to a stranger. Use the words “for parts” in the description.

Old toys

Not all toys are worth the time and effort to list on eBay, but many have greatly increased in value. The Lifehacker article’s comments section includes a photo of a Yu-Gi-Oh Duel Disk that frequently sells for over $100 to cosplay enthusiasts. A quick look over at eBay completed listings confirmed this tip, and I’m now waiting for my 17-year-old son to come home from school, as I think we still own this (Goodwill purchased) toy. I consider the duel disk to be a worthless piece of plastic garbage, but I guess I’m wrong. The lesson here is to not assume toys need to be antique to increase in value.

Old computer software

If you’ve been holding onto old computer software and manuals, now is the time to check eBay for the resale value. Many companies prefer older versions and are happy to scoop up what has become clutter in your home or office. Again, delete any personal information.

Pine cones

Yes, you read that right. Pine cones. They fall from your trees and are considered a nuisance. However, not everyone lives in a climate with pine cones, and crafters want them for projects. This is more of a cold weather tip, as they’re used for wreath making, but store up this information for late fall, and then put your kids to work.

Kids’ clothing

If you’re the type of parent who invests in higher quality clothing and shoes, the secondhand market may help fund the kids’ college account. Whether it’s your toddler’s sandals or your kindergartener’s pajamas, certain brands hold their value extremely well. Examples include Keen and Hanna Andersson.

Used cloth diapers

This one might make your grandmother roll over in her grave, but used cloth diapers sell for big bucks on eBay. Unlike the ducky safety pins and bleached white rectangles of fifty years ago, today’s cloth diapers include nifty snaps and feature cute printed fabric. Groups of certain it brands of used diapers can sell for hundreds of dollars.


If you’re intimidated by the thought of selling on eBay, I assure you that it’s never been easier. Sellers can put together up to 5o free listings per month, so you’ll only be charged if your items actually sell. (This is a big difference from older eBay which nickle-and-dimed sellers to the poor house.)

And for those who’d rather not deal with the hassle of your local post office, eBay makes it easy to print discounted postage from home and then arrange for your local mail carrier to pick up the packages from the porch. All for free!

Selling on eBay is always a gamble. Will your item sell, and if so, for how much? It’s not necessarily worth buying items in the off chance that it’ll sell on eBay, but it’s certainly worth a try if it’s stuff simply lying around your house. Just make sure to be honest in your well written description and to take lots of crisp and well-lit photographs.

You never know how much cash is hiding in your dusty old stuff.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Susanne g May 13, 2016 at 5:56 am

Katy, an excellent article. You have such a well-balanced approach to selling on EBay. I have done some selling here and there and everything you said about looking at items that SOLD is the key. And you showed how to do it. Just excellent writing and information.


Katy May 13, 2016 at 8:42 am

Thank you, you’re so kind!


jennifer May 13, 2016 at 6:06 am

I used to work with a guy that sold magazines articles. He would literally cut the article out of a magazine and sell it. It amazed me that this worked but it did. I thought he was kidding until I looked him up on ebay.


K D May 13, 2016 at 7:55 am

I sold stuff for my MIL when she downsized. I was amazed at what some of her craft patterns were worth and amazed at how worthless some items were.

I had a Hallmark Christmas tree ornament that turned out to be valuable, I believe it sold for quite a bit more than $50. It didn’t mean any more to me than the rest of our ornaments, away it went.


Chris May 13, 2016 at 10:55 am

Used cloth diapers? Wow! Thanks for the info!


Bee May 13, 2016 at 11:43 am

I sold in the early years on eBay. I stopped in 2005 after I had a horrible experience with a buyer who had tons of negative feedback. However, I have been toying with the idea of selling again. Since I began reading your blog, I have felt encouraged to do so. I wonder if others have had negative selling experiences and if so how difficult were they to handle.


Katy May 13, 2016 at 12:21 pm

I haven’t had any specific negative experiences, but it can be a lot of work.


Denise May 13, 2016 at 12:14 pm

I sold my son’s Yu-Gi-Oh Duel Disk in December last year! It got tons of watchers and made him some nice money. It had been sitting in his closet for years!


Barbara May 13, 2016 at 12:40 pm

I’ve been selling stuff from my mother’s estate for over a year. It is a lot of work, and you have to be really detail-focused in your pictures, descriptions, & condition report. Also, very timely in getting packages in the mail. The evaluation system is weighted to favor the buyer, in my opinion. Ebay keeps upping the standards, and I’ve read that they usually take the buyer’s side in a dispute. But unscrupulous buyers are not that common, and I haven’t had any bad experiences yet.


Karen May 13, 2016 at 1:55 pm

I have had only one strange experience in my 17 years on eBay, selling and buying, but mostly as a buyer. A piece of sculpture I was a bidder on was a hot item, and I was delighted to win it. I paid right away, then waited and waited for it to be delivered. No sculpture arrived and no word from the seller. After many emails to her, I finally received one suggesting she had died. I was very sorry and couldn’t really press the matter of a refund, thinking her family was grieving and of course not thinking of such things as eBay auctions. Then I was contacted by the winner of another of her other auctions, asking whether I’d gotten my item, and it turned out that far from being dead, the seller actually had new items listed. Several other buyers emailed me with more info, and it was obvious that some kind of fraud was afoot. So I wrote the supposedly deceased seller and suggested that if she indeed did not intend to send the item I’d paid for, I was referring her to the US Postal authorities, a place no one wants to deal with. My sculpture came to me almost by return mail.


Katy May 14, 2016 at 10:39 am

When I used to sell a lot on eBay I used to joke that buying from me was dangerous to your family’s health. Why? It was very common for buyers to take forever to pay, always claiming that a family member had a heart attack or something similar. Right . . . . .


auntiali May 13, 2016 at 8:00 pm

Hey I used cloth diapers with ducky safety pins on my 24 yr old son. And plastic pants.

I’m sure if I were looking to buy cloth diapers now I wouldn’t pay hundreds of dollars on them.

Some day I’ll have to try ebay.


LisaC May 14, 2016 at 4:02 am

I have had a lot of success with ebay, selling my items and selling items from a relative’s estate. The key for me is to only sell things in pristine condition, if there is a chip or crack, either photograph it very well or leave it out. I’ve also blocked buyers who have more than 2 negative feedbacks, or who have harrassed me. I love, there are even boxes just for shoes!
My tip for shipping china: wrap in bubble wrap, then put in a box. Then put that box in a bigger box and put some kind of padding or newspaper around the smaller box. I have never had something break doing it that way. People at work give me their boxes and bubble wrap.


Bee May 14, 2016 at 7:18 am

I didn’t know that you could now block buyers. A decade ago you could not do that. I may give it another try.


Jen@FrugalSteppingStones May 15, 2016 at 12:13 pm

I sold my entire used cloth diaper stash last year. The resale value was pretty darn good, including for the prefolds. We inherited hideous kitty cat spice jars from an aunt and found they are quite coveted on Ebay. I just made $150 for all of them!


Rosanne May 15, 2016 at 4:01 pm

I have an ebay business (englishfabric) and I can say that although the ebay fees are huge, it is so much easier and less expensive than having a small shop, or advertising for customers and doing the flea market circuit. I hear people tell horror stories about ebay, but in my years I have never come across an unreasonable or underhanded buyer. Ditzy, yes. And there have been post office problems along the way. But no crazies. I think because I sell fabric I just have a nicer sort of person. (Maybe I am biased but I think fabric people are the best) I love ebay- it is so easy to work it into your life and within reason, do things on your own terms. Ebay is not at all like what it started out as. It was Wild West City in the early years. My husband once got a negative from someone who did not like the terms of his auction. Not the person who bought the item, just a random person who was not involved in the transaction. The kinks have been worked out. As with most things, just observe the golden rule and it is easy. I also like etsy.


Jean May 18, 2016 at 5:28 pm

Katy, thank you so much for sharing this information. I have often thought about asking you to write about this when you have reported selling something, because I have never tried it and wasn’t sure if it would be more hassle than it is worth. However, I have a few “collectible” things that have come into my life that I would rather get rid of and use the proceeds towards financial goals, so I am going to look into this, perhaps after trying to move the items locally on Craigslist.


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