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How to Organize a Garage Sale in 6 Easy Steps

Updated on May 18, 2018
Noelle7 profile image

Vivian has over 35 years of garage sale experience. Her tips can help you de-clutter your home and pad your wallet!

Are you frustrated by the clutter in your home? Pack rats struggle with letting anything go, but your storage space has its limits. It’s impossible to be tidy and clean when you are drowning in unnecessary junk. Worrying you might need your collection of stuff someday is a depression-era mindset. It’s time to pitch what most would designate as garbage and organize the rest for a garage sale. The order in your home will help you breathe better, and you’ll also reap a financial reward for your labors.

If you’ve let things pile up, organizing a sale can be overwhelming. Ideally, you should allocate a special spot to stockpile garage sale items as you accrue them. For example, when your son outgrows all of his 3T clothes, gather and mark them at one time, and then box and store them until your next sale. You can stow future garage sale items in a closet, under the bed, or in the attic, garage, or shed. For now, the process will be slower because you are hampered by years of accumulation.

Step 1: Collection

Break your task into smaller chunks. Set a goal to do one room at a time. Methodically comb through each room, ridding out closets, drawers, and cabinets. Take what you’ve collected and pile it somewhere until it’s time to price and organize it. Enlist your kids and spouse to purge their own spaces before you do your own run through. Is your husband’s garage, shed, or man cave fraught with clutter? Do your kids refuse to part with toys they no longer use for play? One way to gain their cooperation is to focus their attention on the goal of buying something more desirable with their garage sale earnings. Estimate how much they could earn from each item to motivate them to let it go.

When it comes to small toys and your husband’s miscellaneous hardware that are too tiny to sell individually, what do you do? Make grab bags or boxes. Fill old coffee cans with bolts, nails, screws, or small tools and sell by the can. Pack Ziploc bags with toy cars, toy figures, or play costume jewelry and sell by the bag.

Leave no stone unturned! Go through your books, board games, puzzles, housewares, clothes, CDs, DVDs, video games, seasonal decorations, craft supplies, bed sheets, purses, shoes—if you haven’t used something within the last few years, get rid of it.

Step 2: Pricing & Selling

What is your junk worth? You don’t want to overprice it and never sell it, yet you don’t want to give it away either. Take into consideration how much each item would cost new and its condition. If you paid $50 for your child’s winter coat and it’s in like-new condition, mark $8 to $10 on it; however, if it is barely salvageable, trash it, donate it, or mark it for $0.50. If your son no longer plays with his wooden train set and a new one sells for $50, you might snag $25 for it, if it is in excellent shape. Hot sellers at garage sales include tools, toys, and kid’s clothing, so mark those items higher. A fair price for a two-piece outfit from Justice would be $5, a pair of nice kid’s tennis shoes could earn $4, and a lawn chair could bring in $5. Adult clothes and glassware (unless it is collectible) are poor sellers and can be sent to Goodwill at the outset—don’t waste your time marking and storing it.

If you’ve ever sold items on Craigslist, you’ll find that people on that site will pay exponentially higher than those who visit your garage sale. Veteran garage salers are looking to buy something for nothing—this gives them bragging rights where they drink their morning coffee. Assuming your garage sale will be open 2-3 days, never deal on the first day. If you paid $80 for a panini maker that was barely used and you have it marked for $25, don’t cave when someone asks if you’ll take $10 for it. Kindly explain to the potential buyer how much the item costs new and that your price is firm. Don’t be swindled! It would be better to donate your items that don’t sell to Goodwill or the Veterans than enable a con to gloat.

Step 3: Organizing

Now that your items have been priced, it’s time to organize them into categories and store until your sale. If you need boxes, call your local grocer or retailer and arrange a time to pick up some. Shelf stockers break down boxes for recycling, so an excessive number are typically available for your reuse. If you don’t want to bother, trash bags work too.

Consider how your items will be organized onto tables and then bag or box accordingly. This way, the night before your sale, your boxes can be unloaded without any thought to organization because you’ve planned ahead of time. Children’s clothing should be arranged by size and gender. Group toys, books, housewares, and electronics by category at each table. Tools and larger items do well lining your driveway outside of the garage. When you walk into the grocery store, you expect to find vegetables in the produce section, milk in the dairy aisle, and lunch meat at the deli. It makes the atmosphere less chaotic and more visually appealing and provides an organized shopping experience. Apply the same principles to your garage sale. Another tip—if something isn’t selling, move it! You will be surprised how often this maneuver works.

Step 4: Planning & Gathering Supplies

When is the best time to have a garage sale? Late April through early August is prime garage sale season, typically covering a Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Many communities advertise city-wide garage sales, so planning your sale to coincide with theirs will attract the highest number of patrons. If you have a lot of toys to sell, be sure to wait until school is out for the summer. Parents and grandparents aren’t as likely to skip past your toy section when they are toting young children who will implore them to buy something they spot at your kids’ table. To make your sale bigger and better, check with your extended family or adjoining neighbors and invite them to merge their sales with yours.

Plan and prepare your lunch and dinner menus in advance. Since the typical sale runs from 9am until 6pm and can be quite hectic at times, you need grab-and-go food for your helpers and family. Lunchmeat and cheese trays, veggie and fruit plates, pasta and macaroni salad, cookies, and chips are easy lunch foods you can prep in advance. Rely on the grill and crockpot for dinner foods like hot dogs, hamburgers, foil packs, sloppy Joes, and pasta with quick sides like salad, coleslaw, and a bag of frozen veggies. Eat in shifts so someone is always watching the sale.

You will need tables to display your items. If you are short on tables, borrow some from family or friends or turn boxes upside down for flat surface space. Organize books, CDs, and DVDs into boxes and blankets and bedding into laundry baskets. If all else fails, lay a large blanket or quilt on the garage floor and organize sale items onto it. Just be careful the edges are tucked under neatly—you don’t want someone to trip and fall and then sue you!

You will need a notepad and pen to track each person’s sales. There should be an identifying initial on each tag to distinguish who receives credit for the purchase. If your kids are helping, they will be thrilled to track the running tally of their sales. You will also need a calculator and plenty of bags, so start squirreling them away as you receive them from the store. Be sure to have plenty of starting cash too—about $40 to $50 in quarters, ones, and fives should be sufficient. Be sure to price things in increments of twenty-five cents so you don’t need to have nickels and dimes on hand.

Advertise your sale. Post signs at the end of your driveway and at all the major intersections leading to your home. List your garage sale on Craig’s List for free—an inordinate number of townies watch this site because they want to be the first one at your door, since hot items go quickly. Expect avid garage salers to be circling your block early and plan to open on time!

Step 5: Optional Lemonade Stand?

If you have younger children, they might want to capitalize on the sale by petitioning you for a lemonade stand—they’ve seen this in the cartoons. Should you discourage such enthusiastic entrepreneurship? You can seize the moment to build a good work ethic in your kids without making more mess and stress for yourself. Lemonade is not the way to go. It is sticky, attracts bees, and is a pain to keep cold and sanitary. Soft drinks are not ideal either. Most people shopping in the hot summer don’t crave a sugary beverage that will not quench their thirst. Plus, your kids may not be able to recover the initial investment. The best drink choice is water. If you watch for sales in advance, you may be able to buy a case of water for less than $0.19 per bottle and then resell it for $0.50 each. Water offers a higher return, is easy to keep on ice in a cooler, is sanitary, and can be used by your own family without the guilt of sugar if it doesn’t all sell. Let your kids have fun designing a poster for their table advertising the water and then practice smiling sweetly.

Step 6: Dealing with the Leftovers

What do you do with the items that didn’t sell? You have options. You can repack and store them for a future sale, donate them to charity, take pictures and list them on Craig’s List, or throw them in the trash. If you don’t anticipate having much more to sell in the future, you would be better off unloading it now. However, if you have kids who are still in the process of outgrowing toys and clothes, it would behoove you to save your stuff for later.

It’s Fun—Try It!

Garage sales are a lot of fun. You meet many interesting characters in all shapes, sizes, ethnicities, and socio-economic backgrounds. Some are in search of specific items and zoom in and out like lightning, barely mumbling a greeting. Others are more intent on socializing and sharing an arsenal of stories with new people who haven’t already heard them a thousand times. It’s fascinating to watch someone excitedly purchase something you thought was landfill worthy. You enjoy quality time with your family because you have time to talk and connect instead of racing off to work or extracurricular activities. Best of all, your house is clutter-free and manageable again while the only thing overstuffed is your money bag!

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    • Noelle7 profile imageAUTHOR

      Vivian Coblentz 

      11 months ago

      T,

      Absolutely brilliant suggestions! Not sure why I didn't think to include those ideas because they are important!

      I always feel like I'm going to wreck trying to drive and read the tiny printed address too! You're right--when the signs go on, you feel like you are on a wild goose chase. It IS nice to know the distance. Nothing is more annoying to follow a sign to a house whose garage sale is over, even though the signs are still posted. It's also nice if people put the hours of the sale so you don't go too early or too late. And yes, cities have different requirements, so it's good to check. In our city, items must be in the garage or driveway but cannot be on the lawn, as our neighbor learned when a police officer showed up at her sale for that very reason!

      Thanks, T! I hope people read your comments because it's the perfect addendum! I'm too lazy to go back are add them to the article--not for the peanuts I earn on this site!

    • tsadjatko profile image

      The Logician 

      11 months ago from now on

      Great advice Vivian! I have participated in many yard sales over the years and gone shopping at them on weekends.

      From my personal experience there are two things you may want to add to your article.

      1) Make your signs large and legible. Garage Sale should not be the largest letters on the sign but actually can be the tiniest - what people want to know is the address, the day and arrows directing how to get there. My experience is these signs are put by roads and while “Garage Sale” is in huge letters it is impossible to read the rest while driving and you can’t stop traffic to read a sign!

      All I can think of is these people don’t have anything worthwhile to see or they are stupid, which could be a good indicator that whatever they are selling you can probably dicker the price down to near zero so it just might be worth stopping traffic to read the sign!

      2) if the sign is miles from the sale put that on the sign - nothing is more annoying than following signs that seem to go on forever.

      3) take your freaking signs down when you are done the sale!

      4) Check with your local government or home owners association. Some require a permit to have a garage sale or ban them all together.

    • Noelle7 profile imageAUTHOR

      Vivian Coblentz 

      11 months ago

      Carrie,

      Yes, that is a good tip about rounding to the nearest quarter. It's too much trouble to deal with pennies, nickels, and dimes! I'm glad your "clientele" appreciates your already unbeatable prices and doesn't try to make you go lower. The majority of garage salers do seem to understand a bargain; however, there are hagglers out there who do want you to practically give things away! We usually have people who will buy a big load of things and then ask if we can make the deal a little sweeter, so we don't usually mind doing that because it's great to clear out the merchandise! As you mentioned, garage sales help you get rid of stuff you don't need, and it helps others save money and acquire nice things--a win-win situation! Thanks for posting!

    • carrie Lee Night profile image

      Carrie Lee Night 

      11 months ago from Northeast United States

      Thank you for sharing :) I love doing yard sales. I also price things by rounding to the quarter so I dont need pennies, dimes etc. Usually, with good traffic, we sell 50% of our "inventory". We price nice things at unbeatable prices to get rid of stuff and minimalize anyone going lower. I only had one woman at the last sale try to get clothing for nothing but I went lower for her and we met in the middle. We were both happy. It makes me happy when people get nice stuff :) and save money :)

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