Before tossing that old lamp you inherited years ago, you might want to do a price check first.

Whether you’re cleaning out a self-storage unit or thinning the clutter in your garage, it’s important to determine how much things are worth before you decide whether to sell them, throw them away, or donate them to thrift shops.

Look Online

If you don’t own paintings, antiques, or collectibles of high value, you probably can determine the worth of your possessions on your own, without the help of an appraiser, said Patricia Atwood, a professional appraiser based in Rockford, Ill.

“There is so much information available on the Internet today,” she said.

Many appraisers charge $100 per hour or more for their services, she added. Before calling one, she recommends consulting eBay, the sales/auction website. Search for items similar to yours that already have been purchased. Asking costs often are unrealistic.

“Be sure to click the little box that shows only results for things that have sold,” she said.

 It is recommended to have antiques appraised by a professional to determine their value.
It is recommended to have antiques appraised by a professional to determine their value.

Other options

There are websites where experts will review the photos you send of items and provide an estimated value for a fee. For example, Value My Stuff charges $10 for one appraisal, $25 for appraising three items, or $75 for appraising 10. This may not give you the same certainty as having an appraiser view your items in person, but it’s a cheaper alternative.

If you have antiques and collectibles, you may be able to find price guides at your local public library. Another alternative is to visit antique shops or dealers of collectable items. Be sure to get more than one opinion before agreeing to make a sale.

Before you decide what to do with your stuff, remember that selling takes time. Whether you sell online or hold a garage sale, you’ll have to advertise what you have, field questions from interested buyers, and perhaps dicker over prices. If you have plenty of time on your hands, this may be the right choice. If you’re busy person, it may be simpler to donate the things that are useful and throw away the rest.

 Hobbyists pay top dollar for some vintage electronics, so check out online auctions to see what yours are worth.
Hobbyists pay top dollar for some vintage electronics, so check out online auctions to see what yours are worth.

What’s Hot and What’s Not

You typically can find buyers for such things as electronics, cameras, furniture, and popular collectables, such as coins and stamps. Knickknacks, old records, and most clothing items often sell for very little.

Buying clothing “is like buying a car, said Arlene Edelbaum, an appraiser based in Los Angeles. “The salability decreases the minute you take it out of the showroom, unless you buy very fancy cloture.”

In other words, unless you’re selling high-end designer clothing or accessories, keep your expectations for making money in check.

If you don’t plan to sell anything, don’t forget that you can use donations as tax write-offs. You can find ranges of values for various items at websites maintained by nonprofit organizations that resell items. For example there are online guides are offered by both The Salvation Army and Goodwill Industries.

Hire an Appraiser

Although appraisers are expensive, sometimes they’re necessary. If you think you have an item that may be worth thousands of dollars, you may need an appraiser’s report to prove its worth to buyers or to obtain the correct amount of insurance.

In addition to determining values, appraisers often know where you can sell things to get the highest prices. Edelbaum said she is called in to price such high-end items as paintings, furniture, silver, ceramics, and valuable rugs.

Alison Kero, the owner ACK! Organizing in New York, said hiring a qualified appraiser sometimes is more cost effective than attempting to research valuations on your own.

“A lot of time the research will take more time than you were expecting,” Kero said. “If you have something high end, it’s smarter to get someone who really knows what they are doing.”

 If you plan to sell your stuff, don't store it too long or the rental costs will cut into your pay day.
If you plan to sell your stuff, don’t store it too long or the rental costs will cut into your pay day.

Don’t Delay

Sue Haviland of San Diego, a partner at Self Storage 101, a self-storage consulting firm, said it’s a mistake to place items in storage if you think you may one day sell them. Once your possessions are boxed and placed in a rental unit, it’s easy to put off having a sale. If you wait several years to place them on the market, you may not earn enough money to offset your rental costs.

“We have a rule at our house,” Haviland said. “If it hadn’t been used in a year or two and it’s not a keepsake, it gets donated.”

Emmet Pierce