By Lauren Flynn Kelly

So the pandemic began and you thought, “Well, at least I’ll have a few weeks to get some things done around the house.” How’d that go for you? If you’re anything like me, you ended up providing constant tech support to distance-learning children while balancing a full-time job and a schedule full of Zoom happy hours. Then there was that one Saturday you spent cleaning out a closet and putting together a bag of clothes to give away. But the weeks turned into months, and that bag is still sitting by the bedroom door.

IMG 0792
An unused set of vintage General Hospital puzzles sat in my living room for years, until someone on eBay purchased it for her grandma.
Photo credit: Lauren Flynn Kelly

Usually around this time of year, I’d bring that bag to one of our awesome thrift stores or a GreenDrop site, but while these places were temporarily closed (and still are closed, depending on the location), I’ve turned to eBay to unload my gently used items. I’ve always dabbled in eBay, selling as much as I’ve  bought, and the thing I love most about it is I feel like I’m connecting items with the people who truly want them. As they say, one woman’s “trash is another man’s treasure.” I’m definitely not in it for the money. 

Case in point: Precious Moments figurines. You know what I’m talking about. The candy-colored big-eyed porcelain children posed for all of life’s occasions. The boxes feature uplifting, often religious sayings like, “May Your Birthday Be a Blessing.” Rarely do these figurines sell for more than a few bucks on eBay, unless they are somehow affiliated with Disney, and mine were no exception. Rescued from a box in my dad’s attic, “Love Lifted Me” (featuring a boy and a girl on a seesaw) sold for 99 cents to a woman in Florida. A vintage Goofy riding a surfboard, however, went for $9.50. I like to imagine either buyer as the mother of Rob Delaney’s character in the dark sitcom “Catastrophe” (portrayed by Carrie Fisher in one of her best and final roles), yelling at the computer screen and scrolling through eBay listings until she passes out.  

More recently, I’ve been saving a few items from that giveaway bag I’ve become so good at ignoring. If these treasures are practically new, I take several photos with my phone and peruse listings of similar items on eBay to see if they’re selling (if they already have several bids, you know you’ve got something you can sell). I use the eBay app to upload photos directly from my phone and choose the “sell one like this” function; that way, most of the work is already done for me in terms of identifying the right categories and descriptions. Almost immediately after I posted a never-worn Ann Taylor dress, I started receiving bids and inquiries. One person asked for a waist measurement, and after I sent it, she replied, “Oh, never mind, I ate too many Doritos during this quarantine.” I broke even on the sale ($10, even though it still had the original tags), but the person who did end up buying it gave me a great review and helped me save some space in the closet. Another cute anecdote: Vintage General Hospital puzzles I’d had listed for years finally sold to a woman in Maryland, but when I printed the shipping label it was addressed to someone in Ohio named “Memaw.” I love to think that my puzzles may have entertained someone’s grandma who’s been isolating during the pandemic. 

If something is sitting unused in your house, why not find someone who is actively seeking it? Based on my very low-stakes eBay selling experience, here are a few tips to get started:

  1. Photography matters. I have hastily taken some really crummy photos with an unflattering background and dim lighting, and some of these items haven’t moved while other sellers appeared to have no trouble auctioning off the same items. 
  2. Relist at a lower price. If an item has been listed for some time, you might want to consider relisting it at a discount rather than letting eBay automatically rerun the same listing over and over. 
  3. Communicate. If a potential buyer asks you a question, you’d better respond quickly, as they may have already bid on the same item from another store by the time you get back to them. I often find that the request is for a different photo or more precise measurements, so try to include as many angles of the item in photos and, especially if clothing, many measurements. Also, when I fail to ship something on time because of illness or travel, I always send a nice note giving the buyer a heads up. 
  4. Ship as quickly as possible. Buyers love the near-instant gratification of seeing the item they just purchased arrive within the week, and your prompt shipping will earn you positive feedback. I promise a two-day turnaround on shipping, and usually force myself to print the shipping label as soon as I receive payment and mail the item the next day. The Hyattsville post office on Gallatin Street currently has a contactless drop-off system in place; you just attach your own prepaid label and drop the item in a crate to the far right of the doors. 
  5. Always leave feedback. If your experience with a buyer was positive, a quick “Great buyer! Super fast payment!” and five stars does the job, and your praise may prompt the buyer to reciprocate, too. Seller ratings can matter; I like to think that my 100% positive rating gives potential buyers a level of trust in what is an otherwise impersonal exchange.