Yard Sales: An unclutterer’s ultimate, how-to guide

Today we welcome guest post author Geralin Thomas, the ideal professional organizer, and her amazing advice for a successful yard sale.

A pocketful of cash, a clutter-free home, and a lot of interaction between your stuff and passers-by all make yard sales hard to resist. Who hasn’t driven by a yard sale and wondered if there’s a too-good-to-be-true bargain hiding behind a used sewing machine, or if the perfect whatcha-ma-call-it at a to-die-for price is amidst all the other treasures?

Why have a yard sale?
We all want our homes to be clean and neat and to reflect who we are. A truly great home balances organization with comfort and style. Hosting a yard sale provides incentive to edit things from your house that no longer fit, work, come in handy, or relate to your lifestyle. Oh yes, and yard sales generate extra income. So, why not have a yard sale?

Choose the right day

  1. Not every day is right for a yard sale. For example, don’t schedule your sale on a holiday weekend unless you live in a tourist town.
  2. The best months for sales are April, May, June and September.
  3. If possible, try to schedule your sale near the 1st or the 15th of the month because those are paydays for a lot of shoppers.
  4. Saturdays are best.
  5. Earlier in the day is better than later.

Spread the word

  1. Contact local authorities and inquire about restrictions, regulations, permits, etc. for posting signs and hosting sales.
  2. Let your neighbors know about your sale; if they don’t want strangers parking in front of their homes, place “no parking” signs where appropriate.
  3. Inquire about placing ads with various local newspapers. Ask how many words, how much it is going to cost, and how far in advance you need to submit the information.
  4. List a rain date or have an indoor back-up plan.
  5. Post signs at local grocery stores.
  6. Place ads on electronic bulletin boards.
  7. Distribute flyers in community centers.
  8. Use foam board rather than poster board for posting signs around the neighborhood.

Advertise clearly

  1. Who is involved in the sale: single family, neighbors, community?
  2. What type of sale is it: yard, community, garage, moving, fire?
  3. When is your sale: date(s) and day of the week, time from xx am –xx pm
  4. Where is the sale: give clear directions from a major intersection
  5. Why should people come? Make your ad stand out. Be creative with your wording and list a few “big ticket” items to draw interest.

Sample ad: Multi-family yard sale; designer-name maternity clothes, educational preschool toys, upscale infant gear, and much more. NO Checks. Saturday & Sunday April 3 -4; 8:30am –1pm. Rain date: Sat. April 10. EARLY BIRDS PAY DOUBLE! 555 Main Street across the boulevard from the community pool.

Sample ad: Retirement Sale; 60 years accumulation of antiques, furniture, power tools, appliances, gardening tools, house ware. Cash Only. Saturday; September 10; 7am – 3pm ONLY (Rain date: Sat. Sept. 17); 555 Main Street, 3 miles West of Rest Assured Retirement Center. NO early birds.

Gather the following supplies

  1. Tables for displaying items
  2. Assortment of bags for people to take their items home: plastic store or grocery bags, gift bags, paper grocery bags, lunch bags
  3. Packing boxes; store them under the display tables until needed
  4. Bubble wrap and newspapers for fragile items or breakables
  5. Tape to secure lids or keep stray pieces together
  6. Permanent markers to change price signs throughout the day
  7. Rubber bands to bundle silverware, spools of ribbon, etc.
  8. Tape measure and yard stick
  9. Calculators for adding up sales
  10. Extension cords to plug in electrical items to show that they work
  11. Spare light bulbs if selling lamps
  12. Batteries for testing toys and small appliances
  13. BONUS TIP: If you want to earn extra income buy extra batteries and sell them!

Details to remember

  1. Have a trash can so people can dispose of their bottles and snack wrappers.
  2. Keep a large bottle of hand-sanitizing gel or wet naps to clean your hands.
  3. Leave enough room between tables for shoppers with strollers to browse.
  4. Don’t forget a roll of paper towels for spills and a box of tissues for sneezes.
  5. Lock the doors and windows of your home.

Price it right

  1. Do not price every single item for sale. It is time-consuming and everyone is going to ‘bargain down’ the asking price anyway.
  2. Group similar items together on a table and price them all the same.
  3. Make categories and label them: Exercise and Fitness, Bed & Bath, Camping, Books & Media, etc.
  4. Label the tables: $5.00-$10.00, $1.00 or less, or Best Offer — minimum $20.00, etc.
  5. Price in 50 cent increments (easier to add).
  6. Face the facts, everyone comes to a yard sale looking for a bargain – so give the people what they want and, remember, the main idea is to unload all your unwanted things – making money is almost secondary.

Hang it up!

  1. Make sure all clothes are pressed, clean, and hanging on hangers.
  2. Do not try to sell clothes that need mending, ironing, or stains removed.
  3. Group clothing according to sizes.
  4. Have a full-length mirror stationed somewhere convenient.

Money matters

  1. Before the sale day, go to the bank so you’ll have plenty of small bills on hand – between $50.00 and $75.00 in cash.
  2. If you really want to generate a buzz, ask the bank for $2.00 bills and silver dollars. Younger shoppers love “funny money”.
  3. Hip packs are a must for carrying cash. Do not leave a cash box unattended.
  4. Do not accept checks from strangers. A Cash Only rule is a good one – and take collected money inside your house periodically.

Snacks

  1. A great way for an older child or teen to make a little extra cash is to sell coffee and donuts during the sale.
  2. Stock up at a warehouse-type store: sell mini-bottles of water, juice boxes, small packs of goldfish crackers and other parent-approved snacks for children in tow. Food and drinks will keep shoppers shopping longer.

Leftovers
Do NOT bring the items that didn’t sell back into your home or garage. There are 3 options for leftovers that you must take care of immediately after your yard sale:

  1. Put them into your car or van and drive them to the nearest donation center and obtain a tax credit for your donation.
  2. Place them curbside with a sign that says, “FREE—Help Yourself!” Anything that remains after 2 days should be trashed.
  3. Conduct a “Leftover Raffle.” Sell raffle tickets for $ 3.00. Draw names out of a hat. The winner gets anything and everything they want, and you make $3.00 per person on your leftovers!

Now your attic, garage, and home are clutter-free! You’ve gotten rid of your “trash” and some lucky person has discovered a “treasure”! Best of all, you now have some extra cash to treat your family to something special!

30 Comments for “Yard Sales: An unclutterer’s ultimate, how-to guide”

  1. posted by Lori on

    As a yard sale veteran, I have a few quibbles with some of this.

    As for choosing the right day, you’ll do better if you follow the lead in your community. Around here, yard sales are traditionally on Thursdays. I agree that it would make more sense to do them on Saturdays, but you will get less traffic if you do that here.

    If you don’t price your items, most people won’t bother to ask but will just walk away. If you go with the “everything on this table $1″ method, make sure that sign is very large, and be kind with the half of people who will ask anyway because they won’t read the sign.

    Make sure you have plenty of coin change, not just bills. They will bargain that $1 item down to 75 cents.

    Don’t be greedy in your pricing. Your stuff is worth less than you think.

    Don’t waste your time ironing. Clean, yes, but no one expects ironed clothes. The return is not worth your time.

    I always set up the “amazing table of free stuff” for all those little things that are still worth something, just not money (promo mugs, slightly damaged but still usable stuff, plastic flowerpots from the garden center, etc.).

    Another tip is to team up with your neighbors or invite some friends to bring their stuff, too. Most people will drive right by a sale that doesn’t look “good” from the street. The more stuff, the better.

  2. posted by Shanel Yang on

    Wow! Thanks for this great resource, Geralin! I suspected if I did a garage sale, I’d be missing something, but you’ve laid it all out so I feel very confident now that if I ever wanted to have a garage sale, this is exactly how to do it! Very well presented post! : )

  3. posted by Josh Miller on

    That last one about Leftovers is a good one. My wife usually handles he yard sales but she’s great about donating things to other people we know or good will or the local free store.

    I do disagree with the 50 cent increments though. Depending on your area, 50 cents may end up being too igh for a lot of items. Many sales in my area sell things for 5, 10 or 25 cents. 75 is common for jeans when shirts are 50 cents. The 50 cent rule is good for “things over a dollar”.

  4. posted by timgray on

    Rule #1 – If your $100.00 jeans are in a yard sale they are worth $1.00 I see too many yard sales where people think their stuff si worth 10% of what they paid, most of the time it’s not.

    Rule#2 – If you have an emotional attachment to it, you will not sell it. Stop trying to garage sale your grandma’s dishes you love.

    Rule#3 – Expensive items dont sell. Nobody is going to buy your 3 months old $2800.00 Power MAC at a garage sale unless you sell it for $500.00 or less Dont waste your time putting high ticket items out. unless you are selling them for almost nothing. That goes for cars and motorcycles as well.

  5. posted by Janine Adams on

    Great advice, Geralin! I always think of having a yard sale as more hassle than it’s worth, but I’ll whip out your guidelines if I ever have a client who insists on having one.

  6. posted by Jenny on

    Good basic guide … but I have to echo what Lori said. Especially about the ironing!! And the fact that different areas will vary as far as best day (or month).

    Also, earning “extra income” by selling batteries?!

  7. posted by Michele on

    I’ve never done a sale at my house, but years ago I did sell some stuff at a sidewalk sale that happened informally every Saturday on one specific corner in the city where I lived. I expected it to be a lot of work and haggling, but I was pleasantly surprised to see how much fun it was. I got rid of tons of stuff to people who were thrilled to have it and had lots of fun positive interactions with people.

  8. posted by maxie on

    An alternative to holding a raffle for the remains: we had large paper grocery bags and the “regular” size plastic ones. Toward the end of our sale day, while we still had a lot of people, we announced $1 for plastic, 1.50 for paper–everything you could stuff in there. Everyone went crazy and we unloaded most of the leftovers.

  9. posted by zoz on

    Why go through all this trouble? Yahoo! has hundreds of online yard sale groups all over the country where you can list your yard sale, or better yet, sell your items one at a time as you come across them, for free. Craigslist is also all over the country, and offers the same benefit. Many people in my area have given up on the hassle of holding yard sales, and paying for newspaper ads, and have turned to these online sources to sell their items. The savings in time and energy is enormous, and you can sell your items at your convenience without regard to the time or the weather. If there isn’t a Yahoo! group in your area, it’s easy to start one yourself, and you can publicize it by asking the local Freecycle group owner if you can put a link to your site in the “Links” section of their web page. Freecyle is also a great way to give away items you no longer want.

  10. posted by Karyn on

    Zoz,

    Sometimes garage sales can be fun ways to meet/interact with neighbors. Here on our block, which is a dead end street, the neighbors get together and pool all their stuff into a yearly yard sale. It’s a good chance to get together, try to sell off some stuff, talk over coffee, the kids sell lemonade and brownies. The kids get a chance to sell their toys they don’t play with anymore. At the end of the day, whatever isn’t sold is donated to the Boy Scouts.

    I agree that a yard sale isn’t always neccessary. But sometimes it’s fun, if you do it with the right people, and if you get to get rid of stuff and earn a little cash, so much the better. :)

  11. posted by big mike on

    I held a yard sale last weekend. I didn’t put price tags on anything, but did greet every visitor and made clear that everything was priced to move. Most of the folks wanted to bargain – I learned very quickly that a too-high initial price was a big turn-off.

    After the sale, I posted a “free” sign, which was very effective for about 24 hours. For me, it was a psychological relief to let go of some of that stuff, even if it went cheaply. I netted about $150.

  12. posted by Michael Clark on

    Is a raffle legal? It probably depends on your county or state.

  13. posted by Deb on

    I love going to garage sales and have found incredible things. At one point I was hitting over 20 sales each Saturday and rarely spent over 20 bucks for trunkloads of stuff I could use for my classroom or apartment.

    I am more leery of hosting one, since the last sale I had exposed me to a burglary that happened a week later. My sister who was helping me was chatted up by a guy who stayed way too long and kept setting aside stuff he never came back for. The rule about locking your doors and windows was right on. Also, no one gets into your house for a restroom visit either.

    My stuff now cycles back and forth to the Goodwill. I buy what I need as I find it there and donate back what I am done with. It is amazing that 50% of what I own can be traced back to a GW. The cat looks nervous when she sees me packing a box for donation.

  14. posted by Michael@ Awareness * Connection on

    Lots of nice, specific tips. Locking up was an especially good one. No good having a sale and making a couple hundred bucks and unloading some things you don’t need if you end up getting cleaned out of the valuables you did keep.

    @timgray Right on.

    @deb Really good point on the restroom visit.

  15. posted by krista colvin on

    Hi Geralin! Wanted to share this fabulous site w/you:
    http://gsalr.com/ You can post your sale + plan out your own yard sale shopping excursion. Cheers!

  16. posted by Laura on

    I’ll ditto the comment about knowing the best day. In Wichita, Kansas, by far the best day is Thursday. Don’t know why, but Thursday is IT for yard saling.

    :)

  17. posted by Chris on

    The best time for a yard sale is NEVER. The time spent organising, running and cleaning up after a yard sale makes them pretty pointless as a cash-generating exercise. Do yourself a favour: call up a charity, estimate the value of the goods, and use the receipt to lower your taxes.

  18. posted by gypsypacker on

    If you have a burglary problem in your ‘hood, you are better off using a regional flea market, ONE TIME ONLY, or one of the listing services. I spent several years as a pro seller, at markets, neighborhood sale sites, and indoor markets, and found to my sorrow that my neighbors were going in my house, previewing my merchandise, and deciding in advance what they would pay. One of them finally held an online local auction of my antiques, in advance of the opening of a new antique mall in the neighborhood, and a fellow flea-marketer did me the favor of asking me why I didn’t let him and his buddies have firsties! I had to ship my entire household inventory out of state, sell it piecemeal, and move.

    Be careful–pirates are alive, well, and more numerous than you think.

  19. posted by Carol on

    One tip I don’t recall seeing that I highly recommend is to clean up items before you set them out for sale.

    When my grandmother went into a nursing home we held a huge garage sale to get rid of much of her stuff. We had a silver server set we didn’t want to go through the trouble of cleaning. The only person who even looked at the item decided not to purchase it because they didn’t know if it could be cleaned.

    To those people who hod homes broken into, I’m sorry to hear that, but it doesn’t happen to everyone. I only had garage sale once every 5 years if that. I usually only have a few tables worth of stuff. I have at least two people watching the sale at any given time. See if your friends and neighbors are willing to help keep an eye on things so limit thefts.

  20. posted by LC on

    I agree with cleaning the items. I bought a baby seat that was badly stained because the price was very cheap and I could recover it if necessary. I took the cover home and after 1 round in the washer (no pretreating) it looked brand new. I would have paid twice what I did if it looked that way when I bought it.

    A lot of people are looking specifically for certian things (college apartment items, baby items, tools), so mention these in the ad. If you are selling baby clothes, rather than having a big box that people have to sort through, have them hung up or laid out on a table according to size. Also divide up boys/girls clothes.

    Also alert your neighbors. At the very least they will want to be aware of the extra traffic, at best, they will put out some itmes themselves, pay for part of the newspaper ad, and bring more business by having a “block sale.”

    Kids selling lemonade, snacks, etc. is a great idea to keep them occupied and have them earn some money, especially for large neighborhood sales where customers are walking a long way.

  21. posted by Chip Thomas on

    Good advice. Ditto on locking your doors.

    As suggested, we listed that we had multiple TV’s for sale in our ad in the paper (we had a black and white and a couple 19 inch TV’s from our college days). Unfortunately, we didn’t realize this made us a target for a night before burglary attempt. Luckily for us we interrupted the intruder’s visit and they chose to dash out the front door (leaving it wide open) as we came in the back.

    Think about the pawn-ability of the big ticket items before you add them to the ad you put out. Or redouble your effort to make it look like you are home the night before.

  22. posted by Francine on

    I read somewhere that free lemonade, coffee, donuts is a good idea, as it encourages people to look longer.

  23. posted by Pat on

    Regarding increments, I recently did two “Everything is $1 except for the stuff on that side of the driveway and the car”.

    It actually worked really well, because it almost completely got rid of that nickle-and-dime mentality that people bring with them to garage sales. A *few* people asked “can I get this for fifty cents instead?”, but really only on items that were really worth only fifty cents. Our previous garage sales were always plagued by “I’ll give ya a quarter for it.”

    On hanging things: Men’s shirts, which tend to be about the same size and shape, really sell better when folded “store-style” and laid out neatly. The customer can see at a glance whether there are shirts in his preferred colors and styles, rather than take a few minutes standing and leafing through a hundred shirts on hangers. People will do that at stores, and even at Goodwill, but they never seem to want to take the time at my garage sale.

  24. posted by Daniel on

    Due to the nature of compulsive hoarding, this article was not useful. It seemed to have quite a few good tips for people who have “too much clutter”.

  25. Profile photo of Erin Doland

    posted by Erin Doland on

    @Daniel — This website is not for people who are diagnosed compulsive hoarders. Hoarding is a psychological disorder that should be treated by a licensed medical professional. Our advice is only for people with clutter issues that do not equate to hoarding.

  26. posted by Form an Attack Plan For A Cluttered, Messy Home | Lifehacker Australia on

    [...] and head, space. Get a few friends together and host a group garage sale—taking these tips on garage sale timing to heart. But if counter-haggling’s not your thing, or it’s not quite garage sale [...]

  27. posted by Leigh on

    Having a yard sale on Sat and this was a good read! Wish me luck!

  28. posted by Something my mom would enjoy on

    [...] internet, and mills the information down into sane advice. Articles include the concrete  (”How to plan a garage sale“) as well as the humorous (”How I would organize Hannah Montana’s closet“). [...]

  29. posted by Rae on

    I realize I am very, very late in posting on this article, and I hope I’m not accused of reviving a “dead thread”, but as my Dad is an avid yard-saler (buyer), we were recently made aware of two things happening in his area, which I felt were worth sharing.

    1. Don’t accept bills larger than $20. We were warned by the police in his area that a counterfeiter was going around yard sales and buying small items, then asking for change. He was using larger bills, e.g. $50 and $100’s, and the yard-sale folks were left holding the bag. Alternately (or in addition), buy a counterfeit money marker. We were also told of a fellow that passed off smaller bills as well, but were told this doesn’t happen very often.

    2. Keep your change-making money very near you, on you (fanny-pack/pocket) or have someone dedicated solely to being in charge of the money. Dad and I went to one yard sale and the story was heart-breaking. This couple were selling everything they could (LR furniture, etc.) because they’d both recently been laid off, and were just trying not to lose their house. A guy came up, hung around for a few moments, then asked the woman a technical question about the item. Her husband was in the house, so she went in to ask him. The buyer had seen where they’d “hidden” the cache of money (a toolbox in the back of the garage, behind other stuff), and promptly cleaned out the money. The lady came back out, answered the guy’s question, he paid in exact bills for the weed-eater, then left. He took them for over $400. (Please don’t be smug and blame her; blame the thief.)

  30. posted by Garage Sale on

    I’m late to the game, too, but stumbled across it. Of all the suggestion I’d reiterate: advertise, advertise, advertise! Especially online. Find sites to list your sale at! More and more people do their hunting online for garage sales, and you have to reach them that way.

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