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Tips for a successful garage sale

Declutter and make some cash

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Written by Lorraine Roberte
Edited by Cassidy McCants

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    household and personal items for sale displayed outside home

    It’s rarely a bad idea to pare down the belongings you’ve accumulated throughout the years, especially when preparing for a move or another major life change. One way to do it — and to earn cash in the process — is to hold a garage sale.


    Key insights

    • A garage sale is a way to declutter your house and make money selling items you don’t need.
    • It’s important to plan and prepare for a successful sale to make sure people show — and spend.
    • With the right setup, you can move a lot of merch and make some good money.

    Getting ready for a garage sale

    While it'd be nice just to arrange some items in your garage and put a "For Sale" sign at your curb, this alone isn’t likely to result in much traffic or many sales. If you're serious about having a successful garage sale, use these tips to help you get ready.

    1. Clean out your closets, drawers, attic and basement

    First, decide what to sell. Scour your home for odds and ends and unwanted items — clothes, toys, household goods or anything else you think might sell.

    Use this opportunity to declutter your home and gather things you don't need or use anymore. Look at the back of your closet, inside your drawers and in the attic and basement for hidden treasures you can part with.

    2. Sort trash from treasure

    Saturday and Sunday mornings, particularly in the milder months, are ideal for hosting garage or yard sales.

    Once you've gathered everything you want to sell, it's time to start cleaning and organizing. Begin by evaluating each item and sorting all of them into one of three piles: sell, keep and trash.

    The "sell" pile is for items in good condition that you think people will want to buy. The "keep" pile is for things you're not quite ready to part with yet (or for items that are sentimental but have no value to others). The "trash" pile is, well, for the garbage.

    Get rid of anything broken, stained or otherwise in bad shape. If it’s not something you’d buy in the condition it’s in, you probably don’t need to waste your time trying to sell it.

    When you finish sorting, make the items you’re going to sell more presentable. Wash or wipe everything off so buyers can see things clearly without dealing with dust or cobwebs.

    3. Pick a date

    Now that your items are ready to sell, it's time to get a date for your sale on the calendar. It’s a good idea to put some thought into when to have your sale: What's the weather like this time of year? Are there any big events that might keep people from coming to your sale?

    The best time for a garage sale is typically in the spring or summer, when the weather is nice and people are more likely to be out and about, but you can have a successful sale any time of year.

    For maximum traffic, schedule your garage sale for a weekend morning. Many people like to get an early start on their weekend errands, so they'll be more likely to stop by your sale if it's on a Saturday or Sunday morning.

    4. Set your prices

    What's your primary goal for this sale? To sell everything or to make as much money as possible?

    If you just want to get rid of stuff, you might want to price things lower to make them more enticing — because who doesn’t love a good bargain? But if your goal is to make money, you'll want to be a little more selective about what you sell and how much you charge.

    While it’s okay to charge slightly higher prices when your goal is to maximize profits, keep in mind that you risk having items sit unsold if you go too high. But if you have higher-quality items or live in an upscale neighborhood, you might be able to get away with charging a little more.

    A rule of thumb for items in good condition: Start pricing at 20% to 25% of the original retail price.

    What’s a good rule of thumb for determining sale prices? 

    The town of Los Gatos, California, put together a seller's guide for garage sales. It recommends you start at 20% to 25% of the retail price for items without too much wear.

    If you're not sure how much something is worth, do a little research. Scope out some other sales in your community and take note of their pricing strategies. You can also use online sales or local sales groups, like Facebook Marketplace or OfferUp, as a reference.

    Once you've decided on a price, put price stickers on the things you’re selling. If you don't want to take the time to sticker each item, sort your things by price and use signs like, "All items on this shelf $5" or "All books 50 cents."

    No matter which method you use, make sure buyers can easily tell how much they need to pay for each item.

    5. Spread the word

    Now that you’ve spent a lot of time and energy preparing for your sale, don't leave the results to chance. Instead, put some extra effort into advertising.

    About two weeks before your big day, begin teasing your sale on social media. Share photos of some items you'll be selling and give people a preview of what to expect. This helps generate excitement and gets people interested in coming to your sale.

    If your neighborhood has a community website or Facebook group, post about your sale there.

    And don't forget the old-fashioned method of posting flyers around town. You can design your own or find a template online — just be sure to include all the important details, like the date, time and location of your sale.

    6. Make signs

    A couple of days before your sale, start making some signs to direct people to you. You can get creative with this, but the most important thing is to ensure the signs are big and easy to read from a distance.

    To help people find you, include the following on your signs:

    • An arrow pointing the way
    • The words "Garage sale" or “Yard sale”
    • The date and time of your sale
    • Your street address

    Your signs should be weather-resistant. If it's going to be windy, consider attaching the signs to something heavy so they don't blow away. You'll also want to write in a permanent marker that won't disappear with the smallest drizzle.

    Make at least two signs — one for each end of your street or block. If your sale is in a cul-de-sac or hidden away somewhere, you might need a few more to help people find you.

    Before you start setting your signs out, check your city's regulations concerning signage. For example, be careful about blocking street signs, utility poles, the sidewalk and the curb. It's always best to check and play it safe.

    What do you need for a garage sale?

    For a successful garage sale, you’ll need a few essentials.

    • Price tags: Buyers want to know how much each item costs, so have things marked with easy-to-read price tags (or signs for prices by section).
    • Several tables: Make it simple for buyers to browse by arranging your items neatly on several tables. Spread things out to avoid overcrowding.
    • A clothing rack and hangers: Save space by hanging clothing items on a rack instead of folding them and stacking them on a table. This makes them easier to look through and keeps them from wrinkling.
    • A cash box: Keep your earnings safe by using a cash box with a lock and designating someone to watch over the money.
    • A calculator: A calculator comes in handy for adding up purchases and ensuring you give people the correct change.
    • Cash on hand: Start the day with some money of your own so you can quickly make change. You’ll want to focus on smaller denominations and coins.
    • Bags and wrapping materials: Be prepared to pack up purchases by having a few shopping bags on hand and some tissue paper or old newspapers for wrapping breakable items.
    • A comfortable chair: You'll be on your feet almost all day, so set up a comfortable chair for yourself or anyone else who might need a break.
    • Refreshments: Grab yourself some drinks and snacks to take care of yourself throughout the day. If you have a cooler to keep things cold outside, you might want to use it.
    • Boxes: Have a few boxes on hand to pack up items that don't sell. This makes it easier to clean up at the end of the day.
    • Markers: You never know when you’ll need to make a price change on the fly. Keep some markers nearby so you always have one available.
    • Permit: If your city requires a permit for garage sales, make sure you've obtained one and have it ready to go. This will save you from any potential headaches or fines on the day of the sale.

    The day before the sale

    The day before your garage sale, do as much as possible to prepare. This includes finishing up any last-minute pricing, ensuring your signs are ready to set up and gathering all the necessary supplies.

    It's also a good idea to do a quick sweep of your garage to ensure there's nothing left out that you don't want to sell. The last thing you want is for someone to buy something precious to you by mistake.

    Then, the night before the sale, set out everything you plan to sell so it's ready to go in the morning. Take time to arrange everything so it looks nice and inviting.

    Also, take the time to set up your sales station. This is where you'll keep your cash box, bags, wrapping materials and anything else you might need easy access to throughout the day.

    If you plan on taking electronic payments, now is the time to set up your system and test it out. You don't want to deal with technical difficulties when buyers are ready to pay.

    How to sell as much as possible

    When sale day arrives, these tips can help ensure things run smoothly so that you sell as much as possible.

    Open early

    The early bird gets the worm; in this case, the early shopper gets first dibs on the best items. Most garage sales start around 8:00 or 9:00 a.m., but if you open an hour or two earlier, you'll be more likely to attract serious shoppers.

    Keep track of sales

    Use a notebook or spreadsheet to record what items are selling and for how much. This will help you keep track of your earnings and make pricing decisions later in the day. It'll also be handy to review the next time you have a garage sale.

    Put big-ticket items in front

    If you have any big-ticket items, put them in front, where they'll be more likely to catch shoppers' attention. These items can also act as anchors to draw people in.

    Cut prices

    Lynne Moon of Missionary Acres in Silva, Missouri, shared a secret to their ministry’s successful annual yard sales: “The second weekend, nearly everything is half off.” This pricing strategy encourages customers to come back for the best deals and helps clear out items that didn't sell the first weekend (this strategy could also apply to the last leg of a single-day sale).

    Be flexible on prices

    If your goal is to sell as much as possible, be willing to negotiate on pricing, especially later in the day. But also be on the lookout for lowball offers, and don't be afraid to hold out for a fair price.

    Make your sale inviting

    Set up your sale in an organized and attractive way. Arrange items neatly on tables or hang them on clothes racks. Put out some fun decorations or play music to create a festive atmosphere. The more inviting your sale looks, the more likely shoppers will stick around and buy something.

    Sell refreshments

    Shopping garage sales is hard work, especially if you’re hitting more than one. That’s why Moon also recommends having some simple refreshments for sale. You can opt for home-baked goodies or buy individually packaged items at the store. Bottled water is another popular option.

    Keep valuable items close

    Unfortunately, thieves strike at garage sales, so keeping tabs on your valuable items is essential. If possible, try to keep these items close by so you can keep a watchful eye on them. Along these lines, don't leave your cash box unattended.

    Recruit help

    You don't want to run a garage sale solo. Ask friends or family members to help. They can handle tasks like manning the sales station, monitoring valuable items or helping customers carry purchases to their cars.

    Join forces with your neighbors

    A multifamily garage sale is more likely to attract shoppers, so see if your neighbors are interested in hosting their own sale the same day. You can promote each other's sales on social media or put up joint signs to let people know there are multiple sales in the area.

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      FAQ

      Should I join a community garage sale?

      Joining a community garage sale has some benefits. You’ll be able to take advantage of community resources like signs, flyers and social media posts. You’ll also experience increased traffic. Some communities charge a fee to participate, so be prepared to factor that into your budget.

      What should I do with items that don’t sell?

      If you have any items left at the end of the day, you can try to sell them online or donate them to a local thrift store. What you decide to do with them depends on your primary goal.

      Donate it if you can't stand the thought of hauling all that stuff back into your freshly decluttered home, but if you're trying to maximize your earnings, it makes sense to try to sell the items another way. You can try Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace.

      What should you not sell at a garage sale?

      The saying "One person's trash is another person's treasure" has some exceptions. Some things should never be listed at a garage sale, no matter how desperate you are to get rid of them. Don’t try to sell:

      • Recalled items
      • Hazardous materials
      • Items with sensitive personal information (like Social Security numbers)
      • Prescription drugs

      Other items may be legal to sell but still may not be appropriate for a garage sale. These include:

      • Undergarments
      • Tattered or soiled clothing
      • Items that are damaged or in poor condition
      • Personal care items that are used (like toothbrushes and makeup)
      • Expensive items that could sell for more online

      Bottom line

      When hosting a garage sale, keep your goals in mind. If you want to declutter your home, be relentless in getting rid of items and willing to negotiate to keep things moving. If you're trying to make a lot of money, be strategic in what you sell and be mindful of your pricing strategy. Whatever your goal is, remember to have fun and enjoy the process.

      ConsumerAffairs writers primarily rely on government data, industry experts and original research from other reputable publications to inform their work. To learn more about the content on our site, visit our FAQ page. Specific sources for this article include:
      1. Town of Los Gatos, California, “Garage Sale Seller’s Tips.” Accessed Oct. 11, 2022.
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