Give me garage sale advice

At the end of the year, just in time for Christmas, I’ll be moving from Texas to California, to help take care of my father.

With that in mind, I have a buttload of stuff I need to get rid of. A lot has already been carted to Goodwill, but if finally occurred to me that I might actually make a little money off my stuff. Trouble is, I’ve never had a garage sale before in my life.

So, I wanted to check with you guys to make sure I wasn’t making any huge mistakes while I am only in the planning stages. I’m shooting for the Saturday before Christmas, as that gives me enough time to pack up the last of my stuff and drive to CA. I’m also going to be hitting up friends to donate stuff they don’t want. Most of my friends are just as pack-ratty as I am, and few of them ever manage to cart stuff to Goodwill.

The stuff:

  • a bunch of furniture - a couple of desks, table and chairs, bedroom furniture, a television, the like
  • some electronics - maybe some monitors, a cpu, bits and bobs
  • clothes - probably where I’ll have a lot to offer - plus size women’s, men’s, women’s, et cetera.
  • books - OMG. Books. I could choke a blue whale on books. Mostly scifi/fantasy, probably some comics
  • kitchen stuff - depends on what my friends give me.


  • will Saturday, Dec. 20th work, or will everyone be Christmas shopping at the malls?
  • how do I price? I’m terrible at haggling. My current, untested theory is to figure the least I’d take for something and double it, leaving me room to negotiate.
  • how many people do I need to pressgan- ahem volunteer - to help during the sale?
  • what kind of precautions should I take so people don’t walk off with stuff? Not that I really expect them to.
  • what sort of extras should I come up with?
  • what has worked for you and what hasn’t?

All anecdotes, advice, warnings, and screams of “DEAR GOD GET OUT NOW!” are gratefully accepted.

I’d say that the weekend before Christmas is a bad time. Would a week earlier work?

You don’t necessarily need anyone to help you. Well, maybe one other person so you can take a break from time to time.

As far as pricing things, or worrying about people stealing stuff, you should decide if your major goal is to make money or get rid of stuff. If the former, price aggressively and haggle down, put the higher value stuff in a harder to get to place. If the latter, then don’t sweat it.

Don’t agree to hold something for someone unless they pay you in full before hand. No exceptions. Mark it sold.

Be ready for customers at least an hour prior to the advertised start. Early birds are inevitable.

These are my experiences from the last time I moved.

Not sure where you are in TX, but I"m sure you know how fickle the weather is. Might want to try for a week or so earlier to give yourself a backup if you’re in Northern TX. A freak ice storm or sharp drop in temperatures could come through.

I ended up not doing the yard sale thing. The books I sold on Amazon and brought in a few hundred. The rest of the stuff got donated as I just figured it would be one less stressful thing to deal with during a very stressful time. If you have anything that is still very nice and in good shape, maybe go the Craigslist route?

Salvation Army gets a tax refund with a lot less work. Charitable donations.

I’d recommend advertising the sale on Craigslist ( If you have a digital camera, taking some pics will help. If you have any items that are valuable, say more than a hundred dollars, you might want to put up an individual ad for them. If you get to a point where you’re going to throw stuff away, just put up a “curb alert” for people to take it for free.

Check your municipality for permit/license requirements. These are usually either free or just a couple of dollars.

You may get more for the books selling them on Amazon or to a local used book store.

20 Dec probably isn’t a good weekend for this. Folks are too busy getting ready for the holidays. Around here, the weekend after New Year’s is becoming popular for yard sales. People who get cash for Christmas are looking for bargains. People who get unwanted items for Christmas are selling them. Win-win.

I think the timing will hurt you, tbh. I’ve also found that clothes, apart from baby clothes, sell very poorly.

Me, I’d perhaps sell the books online, and donate the rest. SA or Goodwill might pick it up as well.

My #1 beef is people not putting prices on stuff.

Put a price on everything. If you have a lot of little stuff, group them on tables and put a sign that tells buyers what the items in the group cost.

I zip through garage sales in literally seconds. Don’t waste my time. I have sometimes asked how much stuff is and they start telling me the history of the item. Sheesh.

Also, put it all out. None of this “Come back tomorrow, we’ll have more stuff.” nonsense. The percentage of people who want to buy item X is very small. You want to maximize exposure to that small group.

And hold the garage sale ASAP. December will be bad.

My fastest, easiest advice is to not bother too much with tables- too time consuming. Put out tarps or draw prices in chalk and just place stuff out on the ground (obviously, where appropriate- clothes thrown on the ground look like trashy discards and not saleable clothing).

Ex: clothes/toys on this tarp for $2.00, kitchen/electronics on this spot of $5.00, whatever.

Start early and have someone set stuff out while someone else places the signs.

Price items cheaply, but at twice what you feel you would want for the item. People always ask “Will you take a dollar for this?” when it is marked two bucks, so go ahead and make the price double what you really want to account for haggeling.

Also, use generic signs at several nearby intersections. Signage is the key to getting shoppers. All the signs need to say is “garage sale” and have an arrow pointing the way the car needs to turn. You can add arrows as the signs are placed, so no pre-planning is required. No one has the time or interest to read addresses or sale times, and most garage sale shoppers don’t know the names of the streets anyway. When you are done, pick up the signs to stop traffic from coming to your house.

Finally, don’t use a ‘money box’- they tend to get left unguarded, especially when two or more people are manning the garage sale. One person always thinks the other person is watching the box. Keep the cash in your pocket so it doesn’t get stolen. Get and keep a good supply of one dollar bills and quarters (if you price in quarters…I don’t) and put any large bills you collect in a different pocket. If you don’t have proper change, you are more likely to give stuff away.

Whatever you do, don’t do what my husband’s late grandmother did and price according to what you think people SHOULD be willing to pay at, say, an antique shop. (Doesn’t sound like you were going to, of course.) She was planning on moving from her house of 40+ years into a retirement apartment, and she got rid of maybe one big box’s worth of stuff.

Ditto what’s said above on trying the books at a used bookstore first, maybe the comics at a specialty comic place. They likely won’t take much, but can give you actual cash for some things. There’s a Half Price Books or three in Austin…

Re signs: make sure the lettering (for at least address and date) is big and bold enough to read from a driver’s seat. Do not use a ballpoint pen or your old Prang watercolor set. Get a few of those big honkin’ juicy industrial-strength markers or something. They’ll come in handy when you’re labeling your moving boxes anyway.

Decide which items you need to watch and which items could walk away without much trauma to you, and prioritize watching the watchables. If six things off your 50¢ tarp get stolen by naughty neighborhood kids or unprincipled pensioners, will you care, or can you see that as one more box you don’t have to haul to Goodwill or trip over while packing?

The earlier you can get this over with, the less stressful it will be, and you may appreciate that more and more the closer you get to loading your moving truck. I’d strongly recommend getting it done in November if at all possible.

Good luck!

I’d get someone who’s job it is to do nothing but sit there and watch, and possibly jot down license plate numbers.

Thieves and scammers rely on you being distracted. Don’t think a family with a dad, mom with stroller, and a few kids isn’t there to rob you blind. Scamming is very often a family affair.

I agree with the poster above about pricing stuff. There’s nothing more aggravating then having to wait for the owner to finish with another customer, get his attention, and ask what the price on something is—then the seller realizes he’s got a potential sale and often seems to come up with an inflated price on the spot. I, too, am terrible at haggling and will just walk away when that happens.
If you put up signs, please write them large enough for people driving by to actually read. And put arrows—I see a lot of these signs that just say “sale today–123 Fake Street”. It’s kind of silly to assume passers by happen to know where that particular side street is.

Oh, and date them—and take them down when you’re done, otherwise you send yard sale hunters on a wild goose chase for weeks to come when they see your signs.

Oooh, this. Judging from the months-old signs I sometimes see, odds are apparently good you’ll miss one of the signs when you go to take them all down, or maybe you got the next-door-neighbor’s kid to help you put them up in the first place and you don’t find all of his cleverly hidden ones, so putting the date on them all is a public service!

Yes, if you have apartment start-up stuff like chairs and tables then I would definitely put that on CL. You have to price it low (well under what it would cost new at the discount store, otherwise people just buy it at the discount store) but if it’s priced right then some nice young people will come to your door and thank you for the sale.

Here’s an FYI if you care: Placing signs along the roadway is most likely illegal. Yes, I know everyone does it, but it’s usually against city code. There are a few cities which permit garage sale signs, but the overwhelming majority don’t. If in doubt, call the code compliance office and ask them.

  1. You will need someone else to help out. Give this assistant permission to make decisions on the final price of items. People tend to come in waves–it will be absolutely dead, or you’ll have a ton of people there. The average time a person will spend at your sale will be about 3-7 minutes, depending on how much stuff you have. Another person can help take money, agree to a price reduction, help find the “other one of that set that I know is here” type thing.

  2. Price everything. Don’t put “everything in this box $1 each” type of thing. Stuff is likely to get moved from one place to the next as shoppers decide they really don’t want something they picked up and will set it down where ever. Plus, you run the risk of “it was in the $2 box, but by mistake”.

  3. Price items like you want to get rid of them, not like you want to haul them halfway across the country. As a shopper, I don’t care how much you paid for it, how long you’ve had it, or how you got it. I want to know if it works, if it’s in good enough condition (and this can vary depending on the item and what I want it for), and how much it will cost me. Be prepared to haggle, but if prices are too high, I’ll walk away and won’t even try to haggle if it looks like a seller is trying to put their kid through college on their yard sale.

  4. Have lots of big, eye catching signs with “SALE” “Your Address” “Date” and arrows if necessary. The bigger the sign, the better. (Neon color poster boad is good for this.) Please don’t put anything else on your sign, as I will not have time to read it as I’m turning the corner, or as I’m fighting traffic to slow down to try to figure out which direction I need to turn.

  5. Have lots of plastic grocery bags and small end boxes (like liquour boxes). Think you have enough? You don’t. Get some more.

  6. Anything that’s a “speciality”–like your comic books–I’d recommend selling to a specific source (like to a dealer) either before or after the sale. You may get a dealer who comes to your sale, but maybe not. (Check out consignment stores for the clothing, as they’re unlikely to sell during the yard sale, unless they’re high end designer items or baby clothing.)

  7. Advertise, advertise, advertise. Craigslist is good for the sale itself, but also put a Craigslist ad under the Books section, and reference your sale. (Do in as many categories as you can.) When I had mine, I put an ad in Craigslist for the books, listing what types, how much i wanted for them, plus my phone number, but also referenced my sale (date/address). I had a LOT of people who showed up for the books after reading that ad.

As a last note, I would recommend having the sale as soon as you can. Make sure you advertise it as a Moving sale, as it signifies to potential buyers that you’ll have a lot of household stuff. Having it five days before Christmas would, in my opinion be a horrible time to have it. You can always hold another one if you find additional stuff that you want to part with.

Good Luck!

The one thing I see you listed that most sales (around here, anyway) don’t have is Plus Size clothing. If I saw that on Craigslist or on a sign, I’d be one of those annoying people there 10 minutes before you open, although I’d wait patiently without ringing your bell. :wink:

While the general rule is that clothing doesn’t sell well at garage sales, I think Plus Size is a different category, because it’s not easy to find. I don’t know why fat people don’t donate clothes - maybe we don’t get new ones as often because fashions don’t change so quickly for us? But thrift stores and garage sales are dismal when it comes to Plus Size stuff. I’ve come to assume that any garage sale WON’T have anything I can fit into, so I don’t even bother. So I’d advertise that, and put a big sign up by the Plus Size stuff, too. Separate it out from the “regular” stuff if you really want to sell it.

For the other clothes, you may find that hanging it on hangers helps sell more than a jumble of clothes on a table. If you don’t have hanging racks, consider stringing a clothesline you can hang hangers from. Sort by size if you can. If most of your stuff is of a similar size, consider sorting it by color, or by type of garment (shirts, pants, coats, etc.). Having *some *sort of obvious organization makes it feel more like a store than a rummage sale, and will subconsciously cue people that this stuff is valuable.

We’ve done some major ones when my wife was reviewing toys.

First, Dec. 20 is one of the worst dates you can pick. People will either be shopping or spent out, and very busy getting ready for Christmas. Make it earlier.

You definitely need help. You don’t want people to leave without buying because you are too busy. We’ve never had a problem with theft, and some of the stuff we sold was expensive, but it is good to be wary.

Put the money and anything expensive in the garage, not in the driveway. You might have to walk a bit further, but it is safer.

Look for the person who wants to buy a lot, and give her a good deal. It is worth it to get rid of lots of stuff at once.

Don’t expect to sell lots of sf books. People who go to garage sales, in NJ and the Bay Area at least, don’t seem to be sf readers. Garage sales around here are ways of moving stuff around young families, as people whose kids have grown out of clothes and toys unload them to other people’s kids. So selling the books online, or to a bookstore, might be better.

Be prepared to dispose of the leftovers. You are unlikely to sell everything. If you have thrift shops nearby you might try them, for sales or donations. Our big one has massive inventory turnover.

When we cleaned out our garage last, we didn’t have enough stuff to make a sale worthwhile, so we put a lot of stuff on the curb and marked it free and it went fairly quickly. Consider it recycling.

Good stuff, all.

I had been figuring December, because I want to get to California before Christmas. Since I’ll be getting rid of bedroom furniture, including what I’m currently sleeping on, I had figured on the shortest period of time between sale and move possible.

Just donating it all is not an option, because I do need some funds out of this. I can’t do an extended sale online, because keeping track of it and following through requires more continuous effort than I can muster. I need the prep, the sale, and the cleanup. That I can do.

Okay, so I’ll look at doing the sale in November and moving over Thanksgiving. Suggestions on signs are very helpful. Labeling it as a moving sale, absolutely. Keeping the money on me, brilliant. Prices on everything, no problem.

Other thoughts?