Holding a garage sale: 5 tips and lessons learned (the hard way)

The idea lingers like a little thought bubble above your head. You’re quick to pop it when it comes into view, but then your thoughts turn to reorganizing closets in the color-coordinated bins with fancy labels that you just saw on Pinterest. Maybe I can have fancy bins, you start to believe. There’s no reason that I can’t have cute bins that are arranged by color for my travel items and first aid kits. The thought bubble has now taken over, whisking you away to a happy place in your mind where you conclude that the only way to get the fancy color-coordinated bins is to get rid of stuff that stands in your way. That stuff needs to go. Yes, you decide, you’re having a garage sale.

Garage sales are a lot like giving birth. At the time, you swear you’ll never do it again – but then the memories of pain fade and you somehow convince yourself that it wasn’t that bad. Because epidurals don’t typically accompany garage sale preparation, it’s best to go into the process fully prepared and with your eyes wide open. Here’s how:

1. Be realistic.

Contrary to the popular belief that you can unload junk at garage sales, that’s really not the case. Garage sale shoppers are looking for killer deals on home furnishings and other items that are in good shape and in tune with their own personal style. During the preparation process, go shopping in your own house. Open drawers, closets, and storerooms and find those items that you’ve always liked, but simply don’t go with your current style or décor anymore. If you have a stack of picture frames and mirrors collecting dust in the corner of a closet, these are some of the most popular items. Not in perfect shape? Buy a $2 can of spray paint and give them a bright face lift. The same goes for the end table that you despise and have relegated to holding photo albums in the guest bedroom so you don’t have to look at it. That end table might just be the perfect piece for someone who loves to rehab vintage items and make them into retro chic creations. You’ll be surprised how quickly these items fly off your driveway – and for a price that both buyer and seller are happy with.

Garage Sale 32. Stay put.

The whole point of this process is to unload. Keep those Pinterest organizational ideas in mind if you’re tempted to start strolling through other people’s sales in search of items that you don’t need (and will only refill your closet). Kids aren’t the only ones who show more of an interest in other people’s stuff; adults do the same thing, but we don’t realize it until we swoon over the lamp that we can’t believe a friend is getting rid of. General rule of thumb – stay put and avoid the temptation. In the interest of full disclosure, I recently slammed on my brakes while driving by a garage sale with the most fabulous vintage chair upholstered in turquoise vinyl. Had I not bought it immediately, the missed opportunity would have haunted me; so, the only exception to the “stay put” rule is if you have a legitimate place in your house for the item and if passing it by will haunt you in your dreams.

Life’s too short to be haunted. 😉

3. Put the clothes aside.

In my experience, selling clothes at garage sales isn’t really worth the work involved. If you have children’s clothes that are in excellent shape – especially those holiday outfits that were only worn once and clothing with the tags still on it – you’re better off taking them to one of the many children’s consignment stores in town. Better yet, contact one of the area women’s shelters (e.g., Safe Home or Hope House) to see if they are looking for any particular items such as maternity clothes or baby items. Extending a hand to someone in need holds far more value than the quarter you’ll get for that pretty pink Easter dress.

4. Be happy.

Going into a garage sale with a bad attitude is like going to the grocery store hungry – nothing good will come of it and you’ll only end up with a headache and more stuff than you need. If you decide to hold a garage sale, you need to go into it expecting  people to barter. Yes, that means that they will offer you a dime for an item priced at a quarter. They won’t care that the painting you’re selling has custom framing that cost you $200; they’ll still want it for $2. I actually had someone once drive by, roll their window down and shout, “do you have Pampered Chef?!” without stopping the car. When I shook my head no, they sped off in search of a sale with the (very) specific item they were looking for. Start the day off expecting to donate absolutely everything that sits in your driveway – that way, any money you make will seem like a pleasant surprise.

Garage Sale 15. Make it a family affair.

It’s simply not fun to do any of this alone. If you decide to have a garage sale, then you’ll want to recruit your entire family to help out. Give the kids totes and instructions to fill them with toys that they no longer need or want. Sure, this will be faced with some resistance, but it also offers an opportunity to teach them valuable life lessons. Let them handle all transactions regarding the sale of their items and, at the end of the day, explain why it’s important to give things away to organizations that help families less fortunate than yours. Before the process begins, designate a glass mason jar for “Garage Sale Funds.” Devote a dinner conversation to discussing how the family will spend the money earned – a day at Worlds of Fun, movie night, miniature golfing, perhaps? – and stir up some excitement over the event. Encourage your kids to have a lemonade stand, sell cookies, or engage with the people who are stopping by to take a look. Sure, garage sales are a lot of work, but there are worse ways to spend a summer day.

Especially if you’re all in it together!

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