What jobs* involve sorting lots of junk and determining its value?
July 22, 2015 1:18 PM   Subscribe

*not including thrift stores. I have very strong feelings about the horrific amount of trash generated by a consumer society with a fixation on cheapness and disposability. I would love to work with an organization that had sustainability high on it's list of priorities. Here there be snowflakes.

I need a stable source of income right now and would like to find employment with a company (ideally one that could give me dental insurance) that deals in second-hand goods. I live in Philadelphia and am not particularly inclined to relocate at this time.

I really like going through boxes of nick-nacks, junk drawers, piles of trash. I trashpick and dumpster dive on a daily basis. The vast majority of my personal belongings were curb-finds. I am almost completely freegan.

I have a really good head for vintage/antiques/collectibles trivia and trivial facts in general. I'm also good at talking up an item's uniqueness due to a brief stint as a cheesemonger. (I once sold someone cheese based on the fact that it reminded me of corn chips and feet. I kid you not.)

I've previously made money by selling trashpicked items on eBay. Attempting to make that my primary source of income didn't work out because I was in a terribly unstable living situation at the time. In a perfect world I would just open my own storefront but I don't have the startup capital (and Philadelphia already has so many excellent thrift/vintage stores).

I have ADHD. I'm just medicated enough to scrape through the work day. I have a bizarre learning curve that starts off impressively, peaks early, and declines sharply before steadily climbing past my peers.

I'm goal-oriented and detail-conscious. I am a terribly independent worker with a creative streak most accurately described as a mile-wide neon sign that reads "appreciate my ad hoc solution to your minor problem or I will feel undervalued"

My previous work history (abridged):
retail at a kiosk in a busy mall, an "adult novelty" store
food service at a pizzeria, a sandwich shop, a cheese shop
management at a corporate fast food chain
stock at a local health food store
independent dog walker
creator of fashion jewelry sold at local venues
volunteer as security and promotions for adult themed events
volunteer at Philly AIDS Thrift

*I'm not looking into employment at thrift stores because most thrift stores are religiously affiliated and organized religion gives me the spiritual equivalent of a rash.

What companies should I be looking into? How do I put "I really love trash!" on my resume?
posted by contemporarySlob to Work & Money (14 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I wonder if you'd do well in an estate sale business.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 1:24 PM on July 22, 2015 [7 favorites]

Ms Vegetable has a good idea: my inlaws run estate sales, and I've helped them. It is, essentially, going into the home of someone who is getting rid of nearly everything, and setting up a huge rummage sale in the home (more or less; there is some variation). You get paid mostly on a percentage of the sale, but some things like a minimum payment and/or charges for setting up and disposal afterwards can be added on.

This usually isn't a one-person job, though. As you might imagine, a huge rummage sale on multiple floors of a multi-room house is a shoplifter's dream, so you need quite a few people to just wrangle shoppers on the days of the sale; setting up can be done by one person, depending on how much time it takes you. Usually the estate sale company then cleans out the home when it's done, whether you give it all to thrift shops or take it home to sell yourself, moving everything can be some work, and depending on whether or not you can throw something out (fluorescent bulbs, paint thinner, etc.) can be a problem you're taking on too.

However, going through everything, putting a price on it, and organizing it on tables, sounds right up your alley! In big cities, there's a lot of demand for this; my in-laws are in Milwaukee and could easily do a couple a month if they weren't picky about the amount of profit in the sales and they only take 'good' ones.
posted by AzraelBrown at 1:33 PM on July 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

Yeah, estate sales. The National Auctioneers Association (that is supposed to be a list of 7 certified auctioners and appraisers in your area, but I don't think the search will persist) might be a place to start looking. There is also the American Society of Estate Liquidators.

Either of these links will give you lists of super reputable auction houses and estate dealers in your area; were it me (I grew up with auctions so I'm sort of used to the culture) I'd cold call them and say you're interested in doing an information interview with them as you have skills you think would be a good match for the field.
posted by anastasiav at 1:35 PM on July 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

To be clear about estate sales, though, usually you are strongly discouraged from picking out items to take home for yourself or sell on eBay or whatever, though. So you have to sort out the trash from the knick knacks, but then stamp prices on literally everything that's left and let the hordes pore over it.

Maybe you could work for someone who bids on evicted storage lockers? They buy the contents sight-unseen and have to rapidly sort the crap from the treasure, and then go sell off the good stuff at the highest price. Downside is that you would be, in some sense, profiting from the misfortune of others who couldn't make the storage locker payments and got their stuff taken away.
posted by Joey Buttafoucault at 1:38 PM on July 22, 2015

There is no reason for you to not do this yourself as a full time job. What does working for someone else get you? Go out, seek treasure, make a mint, work for yourself.
posted by bensherman at 1:47 PM on July 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

Building salvage and resale, which resuses architectural elements from buildings being torn down or remodeled. Yes, the one you've heard of is Habitat for Humanity Restore, which is religious, but in my city there is one that isn't. They also sell leftovers from the film business. Some high-end contractors also do this, for restoring historic houses.
posted by Violet Hour at 1:47 PM on July 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

Build It Green in NYC is very close to what you're looking for, but they deal in larger items like furniture, cabinetry and appliances. I think there was (and possibly is) a similar place in Philadelphia somewhere in the vicinity of 20th and south but I can't come up with the name.
posted by snaw at 1:48 PM on July 22, 2015

not looking into employment at thrift stores because most thrift stores are religiously affiliated

There are thrift stores without religious affiliations. Look at those.

If you like to sort through junk and find the stuff of value, do that with your potential thrift store employers.
posted by yohko at 2:21 PM on July 22, 2015 [3 favorites]

Oh, please start a blog! I think many people would love to read about your lifestyle and would read about, and eventually buy ebooks about, for example, what to look for while dumpster diving, how to get your grocery budget down to $50/mo, etc. If you like writing (and it seems from this post that you are a competent writer), you would eventually be able to make some money doing this. You could attach an eBay store to a blog as well, giving you a chance to sell your finds to a wider audience.

(If you create one, please memail me the link!)
posted by chaiminda at 2:33 PM on July 22, 2015 [5 favorites]

If you have access to ANY storage space, you can sell on eBay for a living. Go to estate and garage sales and load up on cool weird junk, and eBay it. It is surprisingly easy especially if you have a car, smartphone, and storage space with shelves. A few hundred bucks will start you off just fine. Memail me if you need more details or have questions, but yeah, it's seriously that easy.
posted by Slinga at 2:42 PM on July 22, 2015 [3 favorites]

Look into companies that specialize in home clean-outs. I believe 1-800-GOT-JUNK sells or donates as much as they can.
posted by amro at 4:04 PM on July 22, 2015

Good Will gets lots of donations that have to be evaluated and triaged. They are very organized about it.
posted by SemiSalt at 4:17 PM on July 22, 2015

I just downsized my living space in half. I had a lot of nice stuff I simply had no room for or no need for. What I had was no time to get rid of stuff. I had an unemployed friend who agreed to take the time and make the effort to sell everything from a piano to some pictures. He got 40% of the revenue and I got 60%. He has added two new "clients" to do the same thing. He is making some decent coin.

Consider setting up your own business that is something of a cross between an ebay consignment shop, an estate sale company, a thrift shop and a liquidator of overstocked items.
posted by AugustWest at 4:29 PM on July 22, 2015

Look into auction companies too. Most of them are family run, but you should be able to get a foot in the door and work your way up if you want to.
posted by MsMolly at 5:45 PM on July 22, 2015

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