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Conquer Clutter

A garage sale is an excellent way to rid yourself of clutter and make a bit of cash, but don’t waste your opportunity. Make the most of your event with these garage sale tips.

Lindsay Morris
August 28, 2018

You’re looking to make a little extra cash. Your attic is full of items you need to get rid of. You pony up and decide it’s time for a good old fashioned garage sale.

You gather your closest family and friends and start putting price tags on all those old treasures. You spread your items out on your driveway early on a Friday or Saturday morning and hope for the best. Purging can feel just as good as making a few bucks.

In the era of online sales, garage sales are sometimes a rarity. Sure, you can make some cash on Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace, but that requires tediously posting one item at a time. Then you have to arrange a time to meet up with the buyer. Time zapper!

If you really want to clear all of the extra stuff out of your house in one fell swoop, a garage sale is your best option.

Or maybe you’re the one looking for some great deals and don’t mind shopping secondhand.

Whether you’re a seller or a buyer, prepare to be schooled in the fine art of garage sales.


Tips for Sellers

Choose date wisely
Give yourself enough time to get everything together. If you are inviting friends to participate, give them enough notice too. Be careful to avoid holiday weekends when people are traveling or have other things on their minds. Also, consider the weather. You do not want to have a scorching hot yard sale, nor do you want to freeze to death. And consider pay days. Does everyone tend to get paid on the first and third Friday of the month or the last business day? It is useless to have a yard sale if no one has money to spend. The best days for garage sales are Friday and Saturday.

Price your stuff
Yes, it takes a little extra time to put price tags on everything. But this is America. We use price tags. If you don’t have tags, some people will get annoyed and leave. Most people don’t want to have to ask you the price or name a price for everything. To make things easier on you, you can have a $1 or $5 area where all the items in that area are that price.

Keep it clean
Once you’ve decided which items to sell, it’s time to break out the dust cloths and wipes, and give everything a thorough cleaning. People may shop yard sales for bargains, but that doesn’t mean they want to sort through someone else’s dirty, dusty toys and glassware. Having a heavy layer of dust on something is a big turnoff and paints the way they’ll see your other items.

Price appropriately
Try to really determine the item’s worth and what someone would be willing to pay for it. Some people will try to bargain with you, and you can decide whether or not you’re willing to come down on costs. Be prepared to mark down prices during the last hour of your sale in order to get rid of things. Always mark chipped or cracked items “as is” so buyers know the price is for the item, flaws and all.

Display your items neatly
Group like objects together (glassware/kitchen items in one place; toys/children’s books in another; and tools/lawn equipment in still another, for example). And think about how you’re displaying each group to its best advantage. This includes hanging up as many clothes as possible and placing items on tables, not the ground. Also, be sure to include some large items, such as furniture, bikes and exercise equipment to draw people in. As an added bonus, you might consider having a “free toy” box and giving each kid that comes to your sale a toy. This could incentivize the parents to buy something. Once your items are on display, walk to the street to get a sense of what your event looks like. Rearrange until everything looks as inviting as possible.

Go in with your neighbors
Does your neighborhood hold a garage sale? If so, plan your garage sale around that. If not, get together with a few neighbors, friends or family and host a giant garage sale. People find signs saying “two family garage sale” or “neighborhood garage sale” more enticing.

Go all-out on marketing
The key to a good turnout is promoting your sale well in advance. Post your garage sale information on Craigslist, Facebook, etc. Be sure to use pictures of some of the items you’ll be selling. Obviously, you’ll also want to hang up signs pointing people to your sale. Make your signs with large, extra bold lettering so they’re easy for drivers to read. Be sure to take down your signs afterward so as not to annoy the neighbors. In all of your promotional efforts, be sure to note the date, time, address, directions, and any other pertinent details such as you’ll accept cash only, you’re selling special heirlooms or collectible items of interest, etc.

Get the guys
Grab a guy’s attention by putting stuff he’ll want to sift through — golf clubs, tools, workout gear, and your nearly new work bench — near the curb. This ups the probability that more couples will stop at your sale. If a guy sees something he likes, he’ll be more patient while his wife browses at your sale.

Be memorable
Yard sales are all about the spin. Create a unique ambience by putting a checkered tablecloth on a small table. Set out a pot of coffee and some muffins in a basket with a gorgeous napkin, for example. You can charge for those goodies but giving them away for free sets a nice tone. You want your shoppers to feel like they’re having a unique experience — not just sorting through someone else’s stuff. Small bags of popcorn are also an inexpensive way to keep people munching up and down your aisles and piles of good stuff.

Or, on a hot summer day, make it a party. There’s nothing like a cool pitcher of lemonade or iced tea to encourage shoppers to linger (and stay hydrated). Offer these drinks for free.

Remember the small shoppers
Those tag-along kids can’t help but want to get “hands-on” with your valuables, especially if you’ve been foolish enough to put them at a child’s eye level. Make sure you place only sturdy items or toys on the ground or at the eye level of very small children. If you are selling something especially valuable, look into getting shelving, or put a photo out for shoppers to see — leaving the original in the house. Another crowd pleaser: have a table with crayons and coloring pages for little kids to keep busy while parents shop.

Offer gifts with purchase
To incentivize your shoppers, post a sign that for every $25 spent the buyer can pick an item for free. Or, you can wrap up some surprise gifts before the sale and let the buyer choose the one he or she wants to take home. Everyone likes a bargain.

Tame the multi-family beast
Multi-family means more variety to buy. If more than one family is participating, set a standard for how items will be priced. Talk to one another about what to charge for similar items. If everyone is selling towels or dishes, they should be priced alike.

Also, have a system for keeping up with who is selling what. Use initials on the pricing stickers. Then, at the checkout table, have a page for each person. When a customer wants to check out, write down the amounts from the pricing stickers on each person’s page and then total the sale with a calculator. Each page is tallied at the end of the day and balanced against the money in the cash box. If extra money is in the box, split it evenly. If the bank comes up short, spilt the difference evenly.

Checkout area
Have a designated area for checkout that includes a small table or desk and chair, calculator, electrical outlet with extension cord, batteries for trying out electronics, plastic grocery bags and small boxes, and make sure the area is visible. You may want to have a trash bag handy too because trash seems to accumulate sometimes.


Tips for Shoppers

Show up early for the best deals
Like annoyingly early. If the garage sale starts at 8 a.m., get there at 7:30 a.m. while they’re setting up. Even if you don’t plan on buying immediately, you can scope out all the deals first thing and come back an hour before they shut down and get at least 20 percent off since the sellers will be ready to get rid of their inventory at that point.

Wait until last day
For estate sales in particular, everything gets marked way down the last day. It might be picked over, but you’ll get the cheapest deals the later you go. If you’re not so concerned about price but want the best condition items, be the first to arrive at the garage sale or estate sale.

Don’t be afraid to ask for a deal
Garage sale sellers expect to lower prices on most items. Name your price and be willing to meet the seller in the middle. Be sure to bring plenty of $1s, $5s, $10s and $20s to make the negotiation process less awkward (so you don’t have to hand someone $20 for an item you just negotiated down to $10).


Items to Grab

Whether you’re buying it from Target or from a dedicated store, furniture can be expensive. Garage sales are a great place to score solid pieces that were built to last, or pieces that can inspire you to make it your own. Keep an eye out for older, heavy-duty pieces that are sturdy and high-quality. Look for manufacturers’ marks and clues about how it’s made. Those details can help you figure out how much to pay and if it’s worth refinishing.

Children’s Clothing
Kids grow fast, which means they don’t wear things for very long. Garage sales can be a fantastic way to score gently used clothing for your little ones. Look for quality brands and items that will cost you more in the store, such as blue jeans, holiday or formal outfits, sweaters, boots and jackets. The going rate for kids’ clothes at a garage sale is about 50 cents to $1 per piece. Should you find a box or bin of things you like, do a quick count and then offer the seller a fair price for the whole thing. Usually they are happy to see someone else use what was only taking up space in their drawers.

Outdoor Décor
Look for things you can spray paint to bring them back to life. Metal lanterns, anything cast iron, and heavy-duty outdoor tables and chairs (yes, even plastic) can be great finds to liven up your patio or garden.

Craft Supplies
Once in a while, you can score collections of craft supplies that someone’s been amassing. Think: ribbon, fabric, scrapbooking supplies such as paper, cutters or books. Look for unique items that might inspire you: beads, tiles, stamps, pinecones, glass, etc.

Curtains and Window Treatments
High-quality curtains and window treatments can often be found in classic styles, colors and fabrics. Don’t forget to measure your windows before you leave the house, and bring your tape measure with you. Once you make a purchase, consider having it dry-cleaned or professionally laundered.