Charities will pick up used stuff but not businesses

There are reality TV shows dedicated to the spectacle of Americans drowning in their own material goods. What a year to be alive. Household income is rising around the world, as will clutter issues.

For now, I’m abstracting away from irrational hoarders. Lots of people have items that they would happily sell at a small price if only a buyer would come to their home. I see people posting items for sale all the time online, with the condition that the buyer come to them. (Most of these items are “used”, but some are brand new in the box.)

Why is there not a truck circling every American neighborhood offering to haul away unwanted stuff in exchange for a small payment?

American for-profit tech companies have provided platforms for Americans to trade with each other, but I don’t observe a scaled-up great national pawn shop or a tech-driven pick-up service. There are such things as used furniture stores and “antique shops”, but they won’t come to you as far as I know. One company that will actually come to your house to pick up a good is Carvana. Used cars in good condition are valuable enough that this actually makes business sense.

Will more businesses embrace the Carvana model of coming to your home to both sell you something and pick up the inferior substitute that you had been using previously? There might be something to that, if you think about the psychology of clutter and the rising value of time.

Items for children have an especially short span of usefulness, so I see consignment sales locally that focus on children’s items. Participating as a seller requires so much time that most working parents can’t do it.  These consignment sales are often associated with benefitting a charitable cause (because they aren’t just profitable?). There are a few boutique stores that will pay you for excellent kid’s clothes if you bring it to them. Generally, for-profit companies are not interested in used clothes.

The organizations that will come to your home by appointment are, to my knowledge, non-profits. This is a blog on charities that will pick up used items from your home.

These non-profits offer a bundle of benefits to donators: they haul the stuff away for you, you believe you’ve done a good deed (and you are saved the crushing guilt from throwing things away), and you can get a tax write-off. For certain people, the value of a tax write-off vastly exceeds the immediate income they could get from a small sale.

If there were better data on this topic, would we see more research on it by economists? Is getting more unwanted stuff straight to landfills actually the way to increase utility, or do we have more to gain through matching and innovation? Will environmentalists become interested in matching as a way to reduce waste, or will it remain in the domain of the Salvation Army?

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