Tips from my Garage Sale

September 29, 2008 at 2:29 pm 3 comments

I held a garage sale on Saturday. I’m SO glad it’s over!

This was my third garage sale, so I’m not a complete beginner, but I do learn something new each time.

Here are some things I’ve learned from my three garage sales:

  1. A garage sale (or yard sale, or tag sale) is a LOT of work. One person can do most of the work, especially the pre-sale preparations, but on the day of the sale another person helping out is a must. At the very least you’ll need to take the occasional bathroom break, and you never want to leave your garage sale unattended.
  2. It’s not worth holding a garage sale unless you have a LOT of stuff to sell. If you can’t fill up five to six 8-foot banquet tables with stuff, don’t bother. If you don’t have any large items (furniture, large power tools, garden or patio stuff, etc.) don’t bother. I had a handful of large items and too much stuff for four banquet tables, and my results were pretty borderline. The sale did clear out the stuff in one fell swoop, but I didn’t exactly rake in the big bucks. If you have only a little stuff, see the tip below about what to do with the leftovers.
  3. Give yourself plenty of time to prepare. Due to a tight schedule, I was a little rushed this time. I only had 2 weeks to prepare. It turned out OK because I’ve done this before and knew what to do, but it’s much better if you have 3 or 4 weeks to prepare.
  4. What you do for those 4 weeks is gather your stuff. Ideally you want to designate one place in your house or garage (or attic, or basement) where you’ll stash everything that’s to be sold. This way you won’t forget anything on the day of the sale. This can be hard if you don’t have lots of space (which you probably don’t have if you need to hold a garage sale!). So in that case, pick a few places where you’ll stash the stuff. As you go about your daily routine, look in every closet, look in every corner of the house, look in the garage, and ask yourself sternly whether you REALLY need to keep each thing you see. Do you really need that old coat, those ratty towels, those 80s style pillows, the old VCR, or the leftover insulation from your last home improvement project? How long has it been since you wore those clothes? Do those shoes hurt your feet? Are you really going to finish that quilt? Any thing that is no longer important in your life should go into the garage-sale pile. Every time you find something, put it in the pile right away. It’s too easy to forget stuff at the last minute!
  5. During the final week before the sale, you need to price the stuff. I recommend using blue painter’s tape and a permanent marker. Put a price on everything. If you have a lot of similar things (books, clothes) make a sign stating the price clearly, such as “$1 per hardcover, 50 cents per paperback”, and put all the things together in a box, or put that stuff on a single table and tape the sign to the edge of the table. I had a box of old Christmas ornaments that I labeled “3 for $1”. A lot of them sold. People enjoy rummaging!
  6. Be very open-minded about what you can sell. Remember, it costs you virtually nothing to set something out with a price tag on it. The worst that can happen is no one buys it. People will buy the weirdest things! I mean, a half-full bottle of motor oil, a never-completed woodworking project, a VCR missing its remote control… I’ve sold all these things and more!
  7. The best sellers will depend on your area, but some things are pretty dependable. Children’s items are always a big hit. Another is collectibles, especially large collections priced at about half the going rate on eBay. That way, someone can buy your whole collection and still make a couple bucks reselling it on eBay. DVDs seem to be hot right now, though I had no trouble unloading a few old VHS tapes. Tools are hugely popular, especially with the husbands. Books do pretty well, but if you have too many you’ll need to price them 25 cents or lower just to get them to move. I had only about 20 books this time, so I priced them higher at $1 each (50 cents for paperbacks) and they moved pretty well. Clothes can do well or not sell at all, depending on your neighborhood (and your prices). I sold a lot of clothes for $1 each this time, but couldn’t move any clothing at previous sales. You never know!
  8. Be prepared to deal with some unpleasant folks. There are two types: the early birds and the thieves. Actually, you won’t deal with the thieves directly, you’ll just notice at the end of the day that something big or pricey is gone and you didn’t actually sell it. It happens. It’s happened to me at two of my three garage sales. It’s a fact of life: there are some really low-life scummy people out there. You can choose to be outraged, or you can choose to feel sorry for the people who are that desperate (or that psychopathic). The other type is more troublesome, but there’s a fail-safe way to deal with them. These are the “early birds”. They’re professional garage “sailors” who want first pick at your stuff, show up way before your sale is scheduled to start, disrupt your efforts at getting set up, and then try to dicker your prices down to boot. They’ll bog you down, distract you, and prevent you from getting set up. I don’t think they’re worth my time, so I just get rid of them. All you have to do is tell them “we’re not open yet” in a firm tone of voice. If they keep coming, you may need to walk directly toward them and even physically confront them. They’ll retreat, scowling, and sometimes they’ll even snarl something rude at you as they go. Don’t pay them any mind, they’re not worth your time. They will evaporate about a half hour before your sale begins. Good riddance!
  9. Here in southern California, it pays to know a little Spanish. Many people who go to garage sales are recent immigrants. Here they’re mostly from Mexico and Central America. When I told early birds “we’re not open” and they looked confused, I tried Spanish. I would say “A las ocho” (eight o’clock), and they’d back off, understanding that I wasn’t open until 8am. During my sale, a bilingual neighbor stopped by and hung out with me for much of the sale. She facilitated several sales by chatting up the Spanish-speaking shoppers. I probably would have lost several sales without her help.
  10. Advertise your sale in the local paper (most have a Garage Sale section in the classified ads) and on Craig’s List, a day or two before the sale. List the date(s), times, and maybe mention one or two of your biggest items. Since classifieds charge by the letter, keep it short. Don’t put your address, just the street name and a cross street. They’ll find you from there. Don’t list your phone number, you don’t need people calling you.
  11. Use signs! This is much more important than a classified ad. Buy a 5-pack of posterboard at an office supply store, and cut each board into 4 quarters. Use a big black marker to write “SALE” or “Garage Sale” on each in HUGE, fat letters (as big as you can fit) and a big fat arrow, then plaster these all over your neighborhood with the arrows pointing toward the sale. Don’t bother with any other information: no one stops to read the signs and they don’t need the exact address. Once they’re on the right block they’ll see your sale. Here, garage sales are so common that just the word “SALE” is sufficient. If you don’t see signs like this in your neighborhood, put “Garage Sale” or “Yard Sale” on the signs to be clear, and put a few up the week before your sale (list the sale date on these signs). Put these up on busy streets. If you have help, have your helper put up the arrow signs the morning of the sale. Otherwise, put them up the night before (but be aware that you’ll get a lot more early birds this way). Remember to take all the signs down after the sale (at least before the next weekend).
  12. Be prepared to bargain, but not too early. If your prices are good, you can stick to your guns for at least the first couple hours. My sale opened at 8. I stuck to my posted prices (and sold plenty of stuff) until 10am. I had fun with it. If someone asked for a lower price before 10, I just told them to come back after 12 and then we could talk. Usually they’d just laugh and pay the full asking price. After 10, I allowed more bargaining. It can be fun, dickering back and forth. It’s not a loss if you sell something for a ridiculously low price. Remember, it’s better to let the stuff go than having it stick around!
  13. Be prepared to deal with the leftovers. You’ll never sell everything at your garage sale, no matter how cheap you priced it all. Once the amount of stuff drops below a certain level, people will actually drive by and not stop because they don’t see enough stuff. So, you’ll need to have a backup plan for the leftover stuff. For the nicer things, you can try to sell on eBay or Craigs List. If you can’t sell, a good way to keep things out of the landfill is to post on FreeCycle, or in the “free” section on Craigs List. You can also try donating to charities. Some, like Big Brothers Big Sisters or Vietnam Veterans of America, will even come pick up your donation if you have enough stuff. Thrift stores are another option, though they can turn up their noses if they have too much stuff already. The method of last resort, of course, is the trash.
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Entry filed under: Organization.

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3 Comments

  • 1. Garage Sale Guru  |  September 30, 2008 at 11:40 am

    Great list! Consider adding an ‘after-sale’ item for selling the remaining valuables in a Free Online Garage Sale. Of course you can continue the sale indefinately cause it’s free. My wife is not able to go to garage or yard sales and loves to shop online and especially the online virtual garage and yard sales.

    Best of Luck!!

  • 2. Q  |  December 2, 2008 at 4:35 pm

    Great article! And you are so right– a good garage sale is more work than people think. My way of handling early birds: I tell them they can come in early, but I will continue to set up and there is a 10 percent markup on all items sold before 8 a.m. It clears our most, and I actually sold a desk at a ten percent markup!

  • 3. Tips on the Successful Yard Sale « QuinnCreative  |  December 4, 2008 at 12:03 am

    […] Barbara wrote a really good blog post, filled with tips on running a garage sale. She has great ideas about how to separate what you want to sell from what you want to keep, creating a timeline and dealing with early birds. She has great advice for advertising and handling signage, what sells and what won’t, and how to deal with leftovers. […]


Barbara J Carter

I'm an artist. I make paintings with dots.

I work in acrylic paint, in a couple of distinct styles: landscapes and abstracts.

Native to California, I've lived elsewhere and only recently returned to my home state. I now live in Los Angeles.

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