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My Poshmark Peril: When Selling Became Shopping

Why Clearing Out Online Isn’t as Straightforward as You’d Think

Selling stuff online seems simple…but is it the best option?

How COVID led to house cleaning

In 2019, Marie Kondo galvanized millions of Netflix fans to declutter their lives, one junk drawer at a time. “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo” nestled into the zeitgeist when the world needed it most, right before a pandemic plunged the global community into lockdown. A year after Netflix released “Tidying Up,” COVID-19 tethered the pajama-clad masses to their sofas.

In uncertain times, they meditated on a guiding question: “Do our worldly possessions fulfill us?”

Kondo’s approach to answering this query served as a profound inflection point, further popularizing the movement away from overconsumption and toward clarity of house and mind. In these frightening months, Americans took stock of what truly mattered and, by extension, what didn’t. 

Marie Kondo instructing a girl on proper folding. Getty Images

Pandemic quarantine lent itself to long hours of doom-scrolling, art-making, bread-baking, and soul-searching. To frustrated workaholics, suddenly unemployed and cramped in close quarters with family, once-unremarkable knickknacks stood out in sharp relief. Productivity enthusiasts channeled restless energy into reorganization. They adopted Marie Kondo’s tidying methods and reframed the drudgery of decluttering. They fought boredom with optimization and maximized their domestic confinement in fits and starts of closet purging. Unarmed with the trite “I just don’t have enough time” excuse, people schlepped their “garage rot” to the few open donation centers or listed it for sale online.

Enter Poshmark, an online social marketplace for buying, selling, and trading secondhand goods. 

Amid retail store closures, e-commerce platforms like Poshmark experienced unprecedented boosts in consumer traffic. A CNBC tech report clocks Poshmark’s growth in 2020, a 28% increase in the first three quarters of the year from $150.5 million to $192.8 million. Nearly 25 million unemployed Americans sought remote side hustles while awaiting stimulus checks. They turned to Depop, Etsy, ThredUp, and Poshmark as digital repositories for excess junk and channels for converting what they would otherwise trash into cash.

Like many young women, I love clothes and buy far too many. Frustrated and overwhelmed by surplus fast fashion garments hanging idly in the dark recesses of my closet, I downloaded the Poshmark app. Within a few days, my first listing sold for $15. Naturally, I wondered, “Where has this been all my life?” 

As it turned out, to my distress, low-resolution photos, and lackluster product descriptions do not produce a flying-off-the-shelves effect. My first sale was either a fluke or simply the result of a passionate vampire romance fan, but then again, who doesn’t want a faded Twilight graphic tee circa 2008? 

The reality for most sellers on Poshmark is grim.

Only a handful of “Poshers” are full-time thrift resellers (approximately 22%, according to the company’s 2020 social commerce report). Poshmark’s business model is low-risk and high-reward since individual sellers, rather than the company, manage inventory and bear the brunt of the cost of goods (COGS). Then there’s Poshmark’s 20% commission for each sale. Countless times, after washing, photographing, describing, and publishing an $8 tank top listing, I walked away with a measly $5. 

Selling something online had the unintended consequence of more impulse purchases.

I was naive to think my amateur Poshmark account would be a highly profitable side hustle — more truthfully, it uncovered my shopping addiction.

Like other secondhand fashion apps, Poshmark allows sellers to apply their earnings to purchases on the site, enabling some to spend as much, if not more, than they earn. 

The thrill of Goodwill treasure hunts was once unrivaled, but the gamification of e-commerce apps has made online shopping more intoxicating.

On Poshmark, buyers can send bids on items in someone’s digital closet, like they would in a silent auction. If the seller accepts, their bid becomes a binding purchase. From 2020 to 2024, I made a whopping $1,510, most of which went toward in-app spending on garments I didn’t need. At least I helped reduce clothing waste, right? 

The unpalatable truth about Poshmark is that the company, which touts its environmental mission, is less eco-friendly than it seems.

The platform connects shoppers and sellers internationally, making shipping costly for shoppers and the planet. E-commerce thrift exchanges may harm the environment more than they help, as sending a T-shirt across state or country lines demands a glut of transportation fuel, but bundling multiple garments in each purchase may help. 

Just as public transit reduces carbon emissions associated with private cars, bulk purchases on Poshmark are more fuel-efficient than shipping garments separately from the same digital closet. Sellers typically offer customers discounts on bundles to sweeten the deal, incentivizing shoppers to buy more and choose the energy-saving delivery option. 

Poshmark facilitates shipments through the United States Postal Service, which, to its credit, is working toward sustainability targets to reduce its carbon output by 2030. The USPS aims to decrease its fuel and electricity emissions by 40 percent and service emissions by 20 percent within six years. 

IIRL shopping is Ultimately a better solution

Still, thrift shopping at brick-and-mortar stores is a more sustainable alternative to buying secondhand clothes online. While proponents of a circular sharing economy are well-intentioned, the only lasting way to combat garment waste is to stop buying new clothes altogether.

Young women at swap party. Casual clothes, shoes, hats, bags, jewellery. Idea of exchange your old wardrobe for new. Eco friendly cloth concept. Zero waste shopping, reduce and reuse, donation

To eliminate the temptation to make impulse buys, scrap the apps and try hosting a clothing swap with friends. Invite a group to assemble and trade garments imbuing new life into old clothes; this makes for a fun and eco-conscious activity. 

During my Poshmark stint, I lost my way, deviating from the initial goal of clearing out my closet and emptying a portion of cash from my bank account. Suffice it to say, I paid a hefty price to learn valuable lessons—if you want to shop secondhand for environmental and ethical reasons, I encourage you to do so, but not on apps like Poshmark. If you’re looking for an outlet to get rid of unwanted clothes, save yourself the resale headache and donate. 

–Natalie Kaufman

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