Having a garage sale: 10 tips to make it a success (make the moolah)

May 20, 2012

“Have nothing in your home that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” – William Morris


All last week I was slowly and sporadically preparing for a garage sale. (In other words, for five minutes here and there while juggling children (literally, in the air) I went through closets and put price tags on things that we haven’t used. That always adds up to a lot.) Then a friend of mine came over the day before the sale and couldn’t believe how giddy I was.  She said she could see how happy I was to be having a garage sale in my face.

Yes. I’m a giddy garage sale-having big nerd.

It’s a combination of things, my friends. Purging. Cash. Purging. And the psychology of garage sales. You know, the fascinating people and conversations you have that can only come about because of strangers entering your yard, driveway and/or garage to peruse for your “trash” to become their “treasures”.

We’ve hosted many a garage sale in the eight (whoa, almost nine…this last year went so fast) years we’ve been married. The one we had yesterday was by far the biggest and best yet. I feel sort of expert-ish now. Especially since I had the garage sale yesterday with my dear friend Jenna and learned cool new tricks. (Many of those tricks were related to making a big endeavor like a garage sale easier, and I’ll share those tips in another post. Good stuff. You know, for those of you who are big garage sale nerds like me.)

For now, I’ll give you my top ten tips for making the time and effort worth your while: 

1. Have your sale with friends and/or family: In the months before you plan to have a sale, invite many people to join you. The bigger, the better (if you have good space, of course). This makes your advertisements and signs more appealing and brings in unique items people may be looking for specifically. And of course, the more people you have, the more items you have and a loaded garage and driveway causes the passer-by gawker slow down followed by the quick pull to the curb and the hop out. (I know you’re with me.) (If you’re a nerd.)

2. Advertise like your life depends on it. Or, at least in as many ways as possible in your area. I utilize Craigslist, Facebook and our local paper. This is enough for our area since we’re out here in a small town, but so many options are available for listing sales and they differ in different cities. Most are free options so make the time to sit down and add your sale to all of them. Speaking of sitting down to write up your ads…

3. Make your advertisements as good as your sale. Even if you have to pay extra per line in your paper, describe your sale with many specifics and use language that pulls people in. No lie, I used the word EPIC in my ads this year. Because seriously, this sale was EPIC. So I said so. Of course I included that the sale was BIG and multi-family. We all know how people like that. Beyond that, I did not only list the usual categories of items, but also specifics. For example, I said that there were many crafting items and included things that people usually end up spending a lot on at the retail price. Like Creative Memories and Sizzix.

Basically, what I’m saying is that there’s a big difference between,

“Garage sale this Saturday: many items, clothing, decor, misc. (address) (time)”


“GINORMOUS GARAGE SALE OF EPIC PROPORTIONS. SAT ONLY SO DON’T MISS IT!! Multi-family! Furniture (Antique table, office chair, IKEA, etc) Clothing (sizes and sexes), Baby Gear (swing, Bumbo, double stroller, etc) Toys, Crafting (CM and Sizzix and more), Tools (rotator saw and much misc) TOO MUCH TO LIST. (address) (time)”

4. Put up many signs: It’s tempting to only put signs in the highest traffic areas because it’s time-consuming to make them and put them out and then pick them up the next day, but STILL…put up more signs  in more places. I guarantee it brings in more traffic if you place them strategically to point people in your direction. (More on this in my next garage sale tip post on time-saving.)

5. What you write on your signs matters. Just like your ads, your signs need to lure people in with specifics and epic words. Like EPIC. Some of the signs can be generic, for people to follow the trail to the pot at the end of the rummage rainbow, but for the big ones in high traffic areas, list appealing items!

6. Have a lot of appealing items in the driveway for curb appeal. Screeeeeech. (That’s a car coming to a halt because the people inside spotted your armoire at the end of the driveway next to your bike trailer that’s next to the antique chairs…or something like that.) (You get the idea.) (Because you’re smart.) After our sale started yesterday, we caught our breath about two hours later (but only for a moment. It was so busy!) and we moved a big dining table to the end of the driveway because we finally had room to do so. People immediately started to stop to ask about the table. There actually ended up being a bit of a bidding war on that thing. Word.

7. If you happen to have some on hand, have adorable children out in full view serving treats and drinks. My boys had a table with brownies and muffins and iced drinks for the hot day. They had a great time and they made a little money and learned that when someone gives you a dollar, you give them two quarters back if something costs 50 cents. The appeal for people traveling past is that the “lemonade stand” brings a friendly feeling and kids are cute and people like to see cute things. You’re welcome.

8. Have your sale for one day only.  I don’t know that everyone will agree with me, but there are a few positives about having a sale for only one day. Firstly, when people know it’s only one day, the are more apt to “hurry on over”. Secondly, you don’t have to spend your whole weekend having the sale which will probably cause you to make the most of your ONE chance. Thirdly, as you well know, the second day of a sale is usually pretty lame because if people know there was a first day they assume all the good stuff is gone.

9. Do not over-price your items. Here’s part of the psychology of garage sales. It’s not shocking but it seems that a lot of people that have sales are confused about it. Your prices should not be similar to clearance prices at the store–they should be far less. I don’t care if your items are in good shape and the best of the best most expensive things on the planet–they should be no more than 20-30% of the original price and even better, should stay around 10-15% (or even lower) of the original cost. WHY HEATHER? HOW WILL THAT MAKE ME SOME COLD HARD CASH AND NOT HAVE ME WASTING MY PRECIOUS TIME??? you ask? Well. If someone walks up to your sale and starts to look over a Pottery Barn crib bedding set and sees “All for $50!” they will most likely walk away. People don’t want to spend $50 at a garage sale. BUT, if you mark this same thing at $15, the person will most likely snatch it right up, knowing what a deal they’re getting. This means you made $15 rather than zero. And since I’m reading your mind, you may be wondering HOW it’s worth having the sale if everything is marked so low. You will. Because people get a little crazy and their arms get loaded and almost everything GOES when they’re at a sale with great deals. (For we minimalists, this is awesome.) Also. This means that you end up making MORE money by the end of the sale because all the small amounts obviously add up and up and up instead of over-priced items sitting there with sad faces at 3pm. Lastly, it’s like my friend Megan said, even if you have great stuff that’s tempting to price high, it’s still used stuff…in the shopper’s eyes it’s still stuff that was in someone else’s house.

10. Make your set-up appealing and comfortable. People don’t want to stay somewhere crowded (this is pretty obvious but important–have your sale in a big enough garage or someplace where people can easily maneuver through while it also doesn’t appear sparse) People also don’t want to stay somewhere that they are being pressured to buy things. It’s a garage sale after all, there shouldn’t be any pressure. Be available to answer questions (this means having enough help on-hand!) but don’t confront someone who is quietly browsing with a barrage of information that makes them feel awkward. If you do, most likely you’ll watch them do the nonchalant saunter-off back to their car to avoid you. Lastly, even though it is just a garage sale, go the extra mile. For example, a woman was shopping our sale with a newborn in one arm while trying to pile up items in her other arm. We provided space for people to hold items while they shopped so we set things aside for her, but I also offered this young Mama a baby sling from in the house. This got us talking and she ended up taking my Ergo’s newborn insert home free of charge. Later that day, she came back for more shopping. (We liked each other, what can I say?)

Later today (Seriously. TWO garage sale posts in one day…I’m insane.) I’m going to share some tips for making it easier to have a garage sale. I have a lot of practice and so does my friend Jenna, who hosted with me this year. She taught me some great tricks and I just have to share them with the garage sale loving world. I know you can’t even stand to wait.

P.S. It was no problem watching Elsie during the sale…we just put her over in the bushes so she could pay with twigs. KIDDING, of course…but what a cute picture…

Do you like having sales? Do you have any tips for making your sales a success? (I really want to know because I’m not even kidding, we might have another one later this summer.)




Julie @DutchBeingMe May 20, 2012 at 11:28 am

I love these tips. With the move I anticipate later this year, I’m thinking maybe I’ll have to pair up with someone that might be having one to help sell some of my stuff. :)
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rebecca @ altared spaces May 20, 2012 at 11:34 am

Heather, I just love you.
I hate hosting garage sales, however. Can we still be friends? After this manic post I might have to reconsider.
In my 1-stop sign town I doubt I can get any traffic to my garage, but I’m so inspired by your enthusiasm. Can college kids get away with serving lemonade???
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Heather May 20, 2012 at 12:26 pm

we’re going to have to break up over this. kidding. I love you back.

Alexandra May 20, 2012 at 11:50 am

I hear you, and I agree on so many points.

I love my annual rummage sale. I do have snotty neighbors who complain about the traffic and have said to me, “Just call 1 800 Got Junk” but that doesn’t stop me.

I always have a “successful” sale: i.e., 400-600 dollars every year. BUT THE BIG BONUS: stuff is out of my house.

These are my rules:

1. once it’s out of the house for the sale, don’t bring it back in: the following MOnday, drive your donations to Goodwill, Salvation Army, Purple Heart, any family sharing place BUT DON”T BRING IT BACK IN. (unclutter and do good, all in one peaceful swoop)

2. Price to sell: I mean, SELL. If people wanted to pay store prices, they’d go to a store. Sell more for less and not sell less for more. GET RID OF IT.

3. Wash, sew, repair, check buttons, snaps: no one wants junk. You’ll get the rummage sale reputation (yes, THERE ARE RSREPS) of being the lady with the nice stuff.

4. Organization. I have plastic shelves and tables I bought just for the purpose of rummage sales. I bought cheap tablecloths so things look nice and appealing. I save time by NOT individually marking items: I have several large posterboards with prices. People can just look up and see.

5. Group according to like items: all long sleeve, all long pants, all T shirts, etc. People LOVE organization.

Be out there with a TUB full, cooler full of Iced waters: We pay 29c a bottle for water at Costco then sell for 75 cents. We make money on each bottle: people walk over for the water, and KA CHING, they end up buying something too.

Alexandra recently posted..Me, Molly Ringwald, Quail Eggs, and The Moth

Heather May 20, 2012 at 12:25 pm

oh how I love you even more now. YES to all that you said. Just imagine the killing we could make if we did this TOGETHER. :)
I don’t bring stuff back in for next time either. NO WAY. It goes straight to Goodwill afterward. There’s more than enough MORE for the next sale in my house. I mean, I don’t even like having a lot of stuff but we all have way more than we think we do if we just start looking and keep to the useful or beautiful rule. Word.


Alexandra May 20, 2012 at 11:51 am

Oh, HEather: please check for my comment for spam. I wrote you a novel.
Alexandra recently posted..Me, Molly Ringwald, Quail Eggs, and The Moth

tracy@sellabitmum May 20, 2012 at 12:05 pm

Love these tips and we do something very similar. I do it with a few friends and we even put tablecloths on all of the tables and do really fun displays for hats and other accessories, and we hang almost all of the clothing to make it feel more ’boutique’ and less ‘you’re in my garage.’

SO agree on a 1 day only! We had a sale three years ago and I made $1700 alone(not to mention what my 2 friends made). Crazy and so worth it!

Glad you had such a great sale!
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Heather May 20, 2012 at 12:25 pm

Oh I love the sales in your ‘hood. I probably went to yours when I used to live there! :)

Sharon May 20, 2012 at 12:32 pm

Use similar wording in your ad every year and you get a following; same customers year after year. Fun to see them again.

erin margolin May 20, 2012 at 2:38 pm

Will you please come organize my garage sale?

Wonderful tips here, thanks for sharing!
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Laura @ Hollywood Housewife May 20, 2012 at 3:40 pm

I am terrified of throwing a garage sale. But your organization of it is kinda making me reconsider. But, still a little scared.
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Grace Keith May 20, 2012 at 4:24 pm

We just had a garage sale this weekend and utilized many of the tips you had above and many more. It was a great day of fun, got myself a headstart on my summer tan and we made $1300 which goes straight to Holt International for our adoption. Thank you Jesus!

Sabrina May 20, 2012 at 7:08 pm

Remember your garage sale at your old house. And you sold my Barbie’s and Beer Steins? That was fun! :)

Great post! We’re thinking about having a garage sale! eeek!
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Sara May 20, 2012 at 7:14 pm

I’ve been meaning to have a yard sale (what we call it where I’m from) or a tag sale (what I’d have to call it here) since I moved in here, um 7 years ago. I have a pile in the barn, and what hasn’t been destroyed by animals can go, not to mention the baby stuff I haven’t yet Freecycled or passed on to friends. We have on at least one occasion had a free sale, where we pile a bunch of stuff out on the front lawn on dump day (we’re on the main road to the dump) with a big FREE sign. We don’t make any money, but we are spared the organization and advertising and pricing and setting up—and still get some stuff out of the house. (There is a sense of triumph when you see somebody stop and put something (especially a big something) in their car.

Kim Van Brunt May 20, 2012 at 7:19 pm

You’re totally inspiring me to start to think about perhaps maybe sometime in the next year hosting a garage sale. We need to PURGE, and I think I’d get rid of more stuff if I thought I could make a buck on it, rather than just hauling it all to Goodwill. But here’s what else might inspire me: Knowing how much $$ you can make at a well-organized, well-advertised garage sale. Soooo….? Care to share? ;)

Kim Van Brunt May 20, 2012 at 7:19 pm

And if that’s totally tacky, just say so. Or ignore me. :)
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Heather May 20, 2012 at 7:25 pm

You’re not being tacky. I don’t mind at all. I made $523. ooooohhhhh, yeeeeaaaaah. My mom made over $400 and my friend (who had way less stuff than my mom and I) made $150.

And you know what? It’s not like it’s over a thousand or something, but I can totally see that being possible. We didn’t even get to a lot of the areas of the house, shed and garage that we wanted to…I’m making it sound like we’re hoarders…but we’re really not. We just have a house and a family and stuff. You know how it is.


Galit Breen May 22, 2012 at 7:13 am

That’s A LOT of good tips, girlie!

(Thank you! I have yet to take this plunge, but maybe now I will! Maybe. :))
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Kathie May 22, 2012 at 11:07 pm

I used to help my folks with their GIANT EPIC yard sale each year, where all proceeds went to the Relay for Life – we made almost $5000 one weekend! That was crazy. As for tips – what we liked to do was a “FREE” area. We kept a table of free items (limit one per family). Once they took something free they usually ended up buying something, too. We also had a box of goodies for kids to rummage through, and they could each take one free item. And if you have lots of clothes, sell them by the bag. If someone started picking up clothes we would give them a plastic grocery bag and early in the day tell them they could have all the clothes they could fit for $5. By the end of the day it was all you could stuff for $1.

Oh, and for fun, we would each pick the one item we were sure NO ONE would ever buy and make a game out of which was the last to sell. Oh my gosh, the things people will buy!

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