April is the time for spring cleaning, and as we cleared out closets and cupboards on a recent Sunday afternoon with help from some neighborhood kids, thoughts naturally turned to making extra money from all that unwanted clutter. These days there are more ways than ever to turn what you already own -- your clothes, your car, even your spare room -- into a source of occasional income, often with the help of online social networks. Experts have dubbed this "the sharing economy" or "collaborative consumption," but there are some important things to know before you get started.
--Rent out your home.
New York City, a popular market, make an average of over $20,000 a year, although a more reasonable range is probably $75 to $200 a night, of which Airbnb takes a 6 percent to 12 percent service fee. In addition, don't forget the cost of things like cleaning, extra towels and sheets, and of course your time to create a listing on the site and respond to guests. Craigslist.org, Homeaway, Roomorama, and VRBO.com (Vacation Rentals by Owner) are other sites to rent out your extra space, either while traveling or if you want to host visitors while at home.
However, renting or subletting your home for less than 30 days is technically illegal in some cases, so make sure you check local laws.
2) Rent out your car
Most cars are parked 90 percent of the time. What if you could turn that depreciating asset into a source of income? Several different websites, the best known of which is RelayRides (others are Jolly Wheels, Getaround and Wheelz), have popped up that allow you to rent out your car for a few hours at a time to people in your neighborhood. You set the hourly rate yourself -- anywhere from $5 to $30, or more if you have a large cargo vehicle or a classic car -- and the company takes a commission to handle the details, including the booking, security screening and insurance. RelayRides suggests that people can earn about $1,000 a month this way. A new web application called SideCar works a little differently -- it allows drivers in New York City to actually pick up paying passengers, coordinating via text message, while on their way somewhere. Going to the airport? Earn $50 to pick up someone on your way.
3) Sell your unneeded stuff. Do you have large troves of designer clothing, collectibles, books or antiques? EBay is the best known online garage sale out there, but Amazon also makes it very easy to sell any used product from baby gear to electronics. Although better known for handicrafts, Etsy has a large vintage and collectible section for everything from antique typewriters to hair scrunchies. And a new company called Tradesy is aiming to be an online consignment store for people who want to sell wedding dresses or other nice clothes. Each of these websites will charge a commission ranging from 3 percent at Etsy, to 15 percent to 20 percent at Amazon and Tradesy; if you want to avoid all such transaction costs, stick with Craigslist and its no-frills service.
4) Sell your extra time. It's not a tangible item, but most of us have a few extra cycles in the week that could, theoretically, be turned into cash. TaskRabbit has signed up over 5,000 people in nine cities coast to coast who bid on occasional tasks, like housecleaning, pet sitting, helping set up an event, or putting together IKEA furniture. You can earn anywhere from $15 to $100 an hour depending on the job. Fiverr is a site where people state small tasks they would do for $5, many of which can be done from anywhere, such as retouching a photograph or posting a personalized birthday greeting to Facebook. My friends have used it to pick up extra cash. Mechanical Turk is a website operated by Amazon where you can earn money for doing relatively mindless tasks from a computer, from transcribing audio ($25 for about two hours of work) to answering a marketing survey ($0.15 for 5 minutes).
(Anya Kamenetz' latest book is "DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education." She welcomes your questions at email@example.com)