Monday, October 1, 2012

How To Host a Successful Garage Sale

If you know anything about me, you know that I love garage sales (or yard sales, tag sales, rummage sales, whatever they call them in your neck of the woods).  It allows me to clothe our children in reasonably attractive clothing on a tight budget.  Plus I like what Derek calls junk, and I call antique/vintage/cool old stuff.

I've met quite a few people who have said they just can't get over the thought of going through someone else's stuff.  It doesn't bother me in the least.

I also realize that not everyone is going to swoon over a glass peanut butter jar from a defunct Des Moines factory with an expiration date of 5/24/1928, but I just love that kind of thing (COST ME 50¢, PEOPLE).  Or all the kitchen items I can find- tupperware, sifters, real silver utensils- that generally cost as little as 10¢ and never more than a dollar.  You can't find that kind of thing at those expensive Wal-Mart stores.

What I've found, however, through all this sale-combing, is that there are a whole lot of people out there who don't know how to throw a good garage sale.  They're just terrible at it.  They seem to be the ones who have never actually attended a garage sale themselves, and are just kind of winging it.

It's easy to tell the good sales from the bad:  the good ones have lots of people browsing and walking out with armloads of stuff, and generally the people hosting the sale are smiley and happy because they're making a lot of dough.  The bad ones, well- I really just want to tell those people that they shouldn't have wasted a weekend.

The thing is, throwing a good garage sale is pretty simple.  Notice I didn't say easy.  You're going to have to work for that money.  Still, if you have a couple kids or friends who will work for cookies, you should be able to knock the whole thing out pretty quickly.

So here it is (this week's excuse to make a list):

How to Host a Successful Garage Sale

Above all, you need to treat your sale like it's your own little store or boutique.  Think about what you look for in your favorite stores.  Things like:

Advertising:  First, you need to let people know your upcoming sale exists.
  • Local newspapers:  This is the more traditional method of advertising for your sales, and most newspapers now have an online option, which is especially helpful for all those people searching your area for sales online.  Usually pretty inexpensive.
  • Craig's List:  Helpful because you can write as much as you want, a lot of people use it as a sale search engine of sorts, and it's free.
  • No matter what route you go for advertising, don't just write vague descriptions like "Lots of stuff!"  No kidding.  This is a garage sale.  Write "Kids' Clothes" (and if you have unlimited space to describe your stock, include whether for boy or girl, a range of sizes, or if you have nice clothing to sell, say something like "Brand Names"), "Kitchen Supplies," etc.
  •  PLEASE DON'T LIE.  And when I say, "Don't lie," I mean don't label your collection of VHS tapes as "Vintage."  FYI, common parlance among antique dealers states that "antique" is anything 100+ years old, "vintage" is 50-100 years old (although technically, the word "vintage" should always include a year- vintage 1943, vintage 1972, etc- vintage was traditionally used to denote the year a wine was produced).  Your collection of 1990's Hotwheels is not "vintage."
  • If you don't want early birds (people that come in the hour before the stated start time), you need to specify that: "No early birds."
  • Make your sale stand out.  If you're moving, write it down:  "Moving Sale!"  If you're cleaning out twenty years worth of stuff, down-sizing, cleaning out your kid's closets, or just super excited to be having a sale, say it!

Signs:  Not only help people find the sale they're looking for (that would be yours), but also draws in people that just happen to be driving or walking by.   

  • Those little plastic signs you can buy that say "Garage Sale" are nice, but please realize that they're pretty small and can easily get lost if there are a lot of For Sale signs or political ads anywhere near them.  They also provide a small space for you to write in your address.  Generally, this address is written so small that it's nearly impossible to read as you're driving by.  
  • For my money, I'd buy several brightly colored (think hot pink or eye-searing green) pieces of poster board, and put up a whole mess of signs.  Put your first one up at the closest major intersection or at the entrance of your housing development.  And I know it's tempting to use fancy script or use different colors for each letter, but DON'T DO THAT.  Simply write GARAGE SALE in big block letters, under that write your address, perhaps the days and hours of the sale if you have room, and then a big arrow pointing in the direction of your sale
  • You're not done yet.  You need to put up another sign about every block or so with more arrows pointing in the correct direction.  I always enjoy when they say fun things like, "ALMOST THERE!" and "YOU'RE SO CLOSE!"   Don't forget to put another sign up in front of your house ("YOU MADE IT!"), especially if the bulk of your sale is actually in the garage.

Don't Go It Alone
  • Check around your neighborhood.  Maybe your neighbors have a bunch of stuff they want to get rid of, too, and would be interested in having a neighborhood garage sale.  Those things draw in hordes of people.  (I am not kidding.  Hordes.)
  • If you don't really have that much to sell, see if any of your friends or family has some stuff they want to sell.  When I have a long list of sales to hit, I will drive right by a sale if it looks like there's not much there.  
  • If you do end up having a sale of only your things, make sure you're not there by yourself.  You need someone to walk around and make sure things are relatively tidy, answer questions, and just generally keep an eye on things, while someone else mans the cash transactions.  Plus, you never know when some psycho is going to wait until you're the only one there and come try and abduct you.  I'm just sayin'.

  • If you've ever worked in retail, you know what I mean.  If not, then listen up:  people aren't going to want to buy your stuff if it looks less like "stuff" and more like "crap."  Set out plenty of tables so that there's plenty of room to display all your stuff. 
  • If you're selling clothes, don't make piles more than a few shirts deep; if you have towering stacks of clothes, people will go through the first few items, then give up because it's frustrating and time-consuming to try and sort through twenty pairs of jeans in one pile.  Also, if you have dresses, coats, or plenty of nice tops, try and get your hands on a portable clothing rack to hang those things on.  People are more likely to buy clothing if they can actually see it and it's easy to inspect.
  • Wash clothes.  Disinfect toys.  Wash kitchen utensils.  Make everything as clean and presentable as possible.  (Note: Not applicable to true vintage and antique items.  Just dust those with a dry cloth.)
  • Even if you're the least organized person every other week of the year, you need to be organized now.  Group like items together.  Don't just dump stuff randomly on a bunch of folding tables and assume it will sell.  It won't.

  • This is a tough one.  A lot of it depends on what area of the country you live in; I've found that the closer to the coasts you get, the higher the prices, both in general and at sales.
  • I've found that most clothing items around here (central Iowa) range anywhere from 25¢ to $5.00.  Well, I should say most reasonable pricing is within that range.  I've come across sales where they're asking $15 and $20 for a fancy little girl's dress- if you're that attached to something or feel like it's worth that much, you should consider taking it to a consignment shop.  I generally get my kids' shirts for 25¢ to $3 (if it's a really nice, heavy sweater), and pants for 50¢ to $3.  Coats go up to about $10, but they need to be in great shape to ask that much.  If your clothing has holes or shows heavy wear or stains, you can make it really inexpensive, but chances are it probably won't sell no matter what.
  • If you're getting a lot of foot traffic but nobody's buying anything, chances are your prices are too high.
  • You can get those stickers that say 25¢, 50¢, $1, etc at Wal-Mart, you can use little pieces of masking tape and write your own prices in (and your initials if it's a joint sale with friends), or just put up some poster boards with prices listed:  "All shirts: 50¢, All Kitchen Items: 75¢, Hardcover Books: $1."  As long as you have a clear and easy-to-follow pricing system.  But PLEASE don't do one of those "All Prices Are Negotiable!  Make Me An Offer, and We'll Come Up With a Price!" things.  ANNOYING.   

And Don't Forget
  • Have plenty of small bills and coins: Lots of ones, fives, and tens, and quarters, too, if you've marked your stuff for 25 or 50¢.
  • If it's really hot out that day, consider offering free water or cups of lemonade (or if you have kids, help them set up a little lemonade and cookie stand, with lemonade for 25¢ and 2-3 cookies in baggies for around 50¢).  If it's colder, try hot chocolate.  
  • Don't sell your underwear.  Just don't.  Throw it away.
  • Make your sale as long as you can.  Anymore, the standard seems to be Friday mornings and/or afternoons through Sunday afternoons, although some start on Thursdays and some choose to end it on Saturdays.  The longer the sale, the greater the likelihood you're going to get rid of everything.
  • Smile!  Be friendly!  I don't care if you've had a terrible day/week/life, I don't care if you don't really want to be there, I don't care if you don't like human beings in general.  If you want people to buy your junk, you need to be nice to them.  It will not kill you to show some kindness for two days, and come Monday, you can go back to your miserable little existence. 

Okay, my fellow garage salers.  What did I forget?


  1. Oh wow. We had a garage sale once, and swore we'd NEVER do it again. WAY too much work for the money.

    I don't like going to garage sales (not because it's used stuff, just because I hate any kind of shopping) but my husband is a much better shopper than I am and has found us some very good stuff at garage sales.

    We do have a house down the street from us where they have at a sale at least once a summer, and their stuff is always priced like they think it's precious. Obviously, he just doesn't bother with them anymore.

    1. I don't understand those people. I get the feeling that they feel like they need to get rid of stuff, but are still so attached that they price is super high so that it won't actually leave their possession.

  2. A few years ago our neighbors organized a neighborhood-wide yard sale event. We didn't have our act together to sell stuff, but I allowed the kids to set up a lemonade stand. They managed to get me to pay for making the lemonade, and then gave it all away to the other neighborhood kids for free. That was our one and only yard sale, and it was a bust!

    1. Hahaha, we've never gone the lemonade stand route, because I have a feeling that is exactly what would happen to me!

  3. Bullet #3 under "Don't Go It Alone" is the number one reason I hate having my own Garage Sale. I look at every person and wonder if they are that crazy psycho.

    1. I was at a sale recently at the home of a pretty young woman (who was alone), and the only other shopper there was a greasy, sketchy guy. I didn't buy anything but still stayed fifteen minutes until he left; I just couldn't leave her alone with him. Some people are so trusting (outside of our family, that is).

  4. price stuff at 10-20% of what you paid for it new (more like 10% if you actually want to sell it.)

    and i totally agree with you that people should be SPECIFIC in their ads. 'clothes' doesn't help. 'kids clothes' is nominally helpful.' 'girls 2T-4T all seasons' is where it's at.

    sometimes i would swear we are the same person. i love everything about you and the way you think and the way you write it on here. so if i say, 'you're the best,' is that kind of like saying, 'I'M the best' and therefore kind of conceited? oh well, i'll risk it. you're the absolute best.

    1. I vote we say, "WE'RE the best." Cause, you know, you're the best, too.

      10-20% is a great scale for pricing clothing. Seems like a lot of people go for 20-30% of the original price, and strangely enough, their stuff doesn't sell.

      Also, why haven't I seen you in several weeks?! (Outside of ten minutes here and there at church.) IT'S NOT RIGHT.

  5. Great tips. I love to shop at garage sales. Hosting them, however?? Not so much. I've only hosted one and it went well, but I'm not sure it was worth the effort.

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