Garage Sale Tips: Clear Clutter With A Yard Sale

garage sale yard sale

Garage sale, tag sale, yard sale--whatever you call it, the garage or yard sale is part and parcel of the American way of life.

On sunny weekend mornings, slow-moving cars ("I brake for yard sales!") circle suburban neighborhoods as their occupants hunt baby toys and panini makers, auto parts and cocktail shakers.

If you're in active declutter mode, the next stop is your house!

A yard sale can clear clutter and score some cash, but it helps to have a road map. Getting organized for a garage sale can mean more money and less stress.

Get organized for a yard sale with a free yard sale checklist and yard sale signs, then try these tips for a successful yard sale.

Gather Your Inventory

Your yard sale inventory is living right under your nose. The first step is to find it. In the weeks before your sale, scour closets and cupboards, bookcases and basement for yard sale finds.

How to decide? Some yard-salers ask these questions: "Have I cooked with it, worn it, displayed it, used it or read it within the last year?" Others apply a percentage rule: a firm 10 to 20 percent of all books, videos, clothing, or bric-a-brac must go. Either way, remind yourself that the goal is to clear clutter and make room in your organized home by finding new homes for items you don't use, need or love.

Challenge family members to contribute, and sweeten the deal by offering a cut of the profits. Children will be much more amenable to parting with outgrown toys if they see that there's something in it for them, in the form of cold, hard cash.

To get the most out of your yard sale, consider finding a clutter buddy. When it comes to culling clutter, two heads are better than one--and a two-family yard sale will get twice the traffic for half the trouble. Back one another up, and dare each other to clear clutter to the bone to stock the sale.

When collecting yard sale candidates, be sure to give them a temporary home: a dedicated place to hold your growing collection of garage sale goodies. A guest room, space in the garage, or a seldom-used dining room is a good place to create a garage sale staging area.

You'll need room to assess, clean and price your inventory, so choose a location that has space to work. A supply of records boxes with lids, found at the office supply store, will help contain and sort the growing stash of sale items.

Once an item's selected for sale, be stern! Store yard sale inventory in black plastic garbage bags or records boxes with lids to deter seller's remorse. No fair reading, looking or cooking; once an item is in the yard sale staging area, there is no appeal, no mercy and no second chance. Give that wedding-gift s'mores maker an emotional divorce. It's no longer junk or stuff, it's inventory!

Do Your Homework

Yard sales have their own etiquette and economy; for a successful sale, it's smart to bone up on both.

Read the yard sale ads on Craigslist.org or in the local newspaper, and spend a morning or two visiting sales in your neighborhood.

Note price ranges on clothing, kitchenware and books. There's no sense labeling two boxes of kitchen utensils at 50 cents apiece if a quarter is the going rate for serving spoons and can openers.

Check with your municipality and homeowners' association. Some jurisdictions require a permit, or limit the number and timing of yard sales. Know the rules!

Set The Date

When considering the calendar, plan your sale for early in the month. Right after payday, potential customers have extra cash in their pockets, so plan accordingly. Holiday weekends in summer can see lighter traffic, as families head for the mountains or the beach instead of the yard sale circuit. Be mindful of special events, like high school graduations, that could put a crimp on the flow of shoppers as you schedule your sale.

Choose your day, and plan a one-day sale, maximum. Holding a two-day sale doubles the time invested and can deter customers; experienced yard sale shoppers know that the best items sell on the first day, so won't bother visiting a second-day sale.

Which day of the week? Friday sales attract mothers of young children, who have time during the workweek to visit your sale, so if your inventory is heavy on children's clothing and toys, consider a Friday sale. Saturday sales attract more shoppers, so choose a Saturday if you have a wider variety of goods for sale.

Finally, set a time frame for your sale. In many areas, an 8 a.m. start is considered standard; even if you're a night owl, start your sale early to catch the most shopping traffic.

Do plan an end time for your sale, sometime in early to mid-afternoon. In yard sales, as in life, there is a point of diminishing returns. Sitting around at 4:00 p.m. watching mismatched food storage containers stare down the '70's era macramé hanging isn't worth the few pennies that may--or may not--come your way.

Form an Exit Strategy

To avoid having to re-house unsold items, have a strategy for sale's end. Many charities will pick up all unsold items. Call and schedule a 3 p.m. pickup for sale day, or be prepared to box the leftovers for delivery to a thrift store donation site.

Consider a sale's end clearance event: post a sign advising that all merchandise will be half-price after 2 p.m. Alternately, stock up on grocery sacks and announce a "dollar a bag" special for the last hour of the sale. Buyers pay a dollar or two for each full bag--and you avoid the need to trek the unsold items to a charity site. Whatever you do, don't let the survivors back in the house! If you can't sell this stuff at a garage sale, what do you want with it, anyway?

Make Like The Mad Men: Advertise!

You've sorted your stuff and scoped out the field. Now it's time to play retailer. First rule: advertise, advertise, advertise.

The secret to a successful yard sale is foot traffic. The more folks who walk through your sale, the more you'll sell. Lots of cars parked on your street signal the location of your sale and show yard-sale cruisers where to find you. If business is brisk, buyers won't leave your premises without that lighted beer sign, for fear that someone else will snatch it right up. The more, the merrier; your muffin-tin change sorter will overflow.

Craigslist is the gold standard for online yard sale advertising. With a section devoted exclusively to garage sale listings, it's the place to publicize your sale. As a bonus benefit, a Craigslist listing will show up on the online Yard Sale Treasure Map, a real-time service for yard sale shoppers. Make it easy for them to find your sale by including date, time and address in title of your listing.

If you're selling a lot of items, or have big-ticket items to sell, spring a few dollars for a newspaper ad. Many local papers offer special garage sale rates, or free signs to yard sale advertisers.

When writing your yard sale ads, watch your wording! Mention furniture, baby items, garden tools or other desirable items you have to offer, but don't waste ad dollars on "miscellaneous". "Miscellaneous" is every yard sale's middle name.

If you want to keep pre-dawn bargain hunters from banging on your door at 5 a.m., include the phrase "No earlybirds!" in your ad listings. A creative use of "Earlybirds pay double!" will discourage all but the most fanatic yard salers--and make them pay for the privilege.

Use your computer (or your kids) to make signs, lots of signs. We've got some printable yard sale signs for you at the end of this article, which will direct yard sale traffic right, left or ahead. Crank them out in multiple to guide shoppers to your door!

If you make your own garage sale signs, use neon posterboard and deep-black markers. Make the directions BIG. If you can't see your signs from a block away, neither can your customers.

Use weighted cardboard boxes to place your yard sale signs at intersections and corners. They'll be easy to spot, won't flap in the wind, and allow you to point signs in several directions.

If you live tucked deep in a twisted spiral of subdivision streets, place signs at each and every corner between your house and the nearest main road. If roads twist, or extend too far, add another sign to reassure shoppers that they're on the right path.

Prep and Price

With the sale date scheduled and ads in place, it's time to assess your inventory. Does it look garage-sale drab? A little elbow grease can yield big bucks. Run dusty dishes and filmy glassware through the dishwasher. A quick spritz of automotive vinyl protectant makes small appliances and plastic items shine like new. Clean, fresh-smelling clothing hung on hangers commands a higher price than stained and rumpled items tossed into boxes.

Pay attention to packaging. Plastic food storage bags group children's game pieces, display jewelry, and hold hardware bits and pieces.

Assess your inventory with an eye to safety. Examine children's toys for breakage and hazards. If in doubt, throw it out. Old lamps with frayed cords or small appliances that give off a burned smell belong in the trash, not on your tables. Protect other families like you protect your own!

To price, or not to price? Experience comes down in favor of pricing every item. Yes, haggling is part of the yard sale scene, but for those with shyer natures, a price sticker saves a lot of energy. Buyers are more apt to buy when they know the price is in their ballpark. As for you, the middle of a crowded carport is no place to have to come up with a price for every spoon and trivet.

Use masking tape or small adhesive stickers to label your wares. At the office supply store, look for pre-printed yard sale price stickers. With amounts from 10 cents to $10, they're a true time-saver.

Be creative! Bundling is an old retailer's trick, and one well suited to the yard-sale seller. One half-used roll of shelf paper won't bring a nickel, but bundle all 12 or 14 roll ends from your last kitchen clean-out, and the whole box will go for $1.50. Got five small bookcases to sell? Price them at $10 each, but offer the whole lot for $40 and watch them waddle out the door.

Abide by your area's yard sale price guidelines. Yes, I know what you paid for that shiatsu massage wand (the one that leaves big, round, black-and-blue bruises), and I know what Macy's sells them for, too--but yard sales have their own economy. The goal is to get rid of stuff. Your shoppers know the going prices as well as you do.

Set Up Shop

Where will you hold your sale? Yard, garage or driveway, make sure your site can be seen from the road, and plan to haul a few big items out front, for good measure.

It's best to work from a stripped site, so remove everything that's not for sale from the driveway, garage or carport. If you can't, drape the not-for-sale items with sheets or tarps. That way, you won't have to explain that the garden tools are not for sale for a full seven hundred and thirty-two times.

Set out your wares. Tables, even a slab of plywood board resting on sawhorse, make it easy to browse. Hang clothing from ropes or chains attached to the ceiling. Display books, spines up, in shallow boxes for easy shopping.

Position big-ticket items like furniture or exercise equipment out near the front of the sales site where they will attract shoppers.

Display sales items to their best advantage, assembling items where possible to enhance their value.

You'll command a higher price for electronic items if you lay out all cases and accessories, and add a print-out from an online retailer showing the original purchase price!

A tidy, well-organized sale suggests that items have been well cared-for, so use signs to identify merchandise: full-size sheets, infants' clothing. Plug in a heavy-duty extension cord or surge protector to allow testing of electronic appliances.

Prepare your yard as if it were Halloween night. Remove anything that can be tripped over, including the dog, who should live elsewhere for the duration of the sale. Check the garage floor and driveway for slippery spots or hidden hazards. Tape down extension cords or cables.

Are you ready to make change? A muffin tin makes a good change holder. Be prepared with at least $20 in small bills and change. Or wear a fanny pack with at least two compartments; store bills in one, change in the other to process transactions quickly.

Ready, Set, Sell!

It's sale day. You've posted your signs at the crack of dawn and your wares lie waiting. Now's the time to play salesman.

To run a lively sale, don't sit there like a lump in a lawn chair! Get up and talk to people. Be excited and enthusiastic. Comment on cute children, bumper stickers and T-shirt slogans. Be bubbly and vivacious and share lots of information about that wonderful set of bed linens that you love and adore but no longer match your color scheme. Not only will you create enthusiasm and make sales, you'll meet neighbors you never knew you had, so it's smart to put your best foot forward.

Plan for at least two staffers for every yard sale, and more is better. One person acts as "background", shuffling cash, bringing coffee, keeping an active eye on everything. A cashier sits at the front with muffin tin or cash box. Leave the selling to the most enthusiastic salesperson.

Offer free coffee, and give your children a taste of private enterprise, entrusting them with a donut concession. If people are eating, they're staying--and if they're staying, they're buying. That's the point!

When The Sale Is Over

Wrap up your sale when you said you would. A yard sale is a lot of work, and you're still not finished. Dispose of the leftovers, either to the charity pick-up or by boxing and delivering the items yourself.

Be considerate of your neighbors and next week's yard sale enthusiasts. Remove all signs, and return your sale site to normal.

Then go count your proceeds--and take the family out to dinner. You've earned it!

Ready to hold your yard sale? Print these easy-to-read yard sale signs to guide traffic to your door.

Printables: