Confessions after my first garage sale

I Thought My Stuff Was Different

I thought my stuff was different, confessions after a first time garage sale.

We aren’t garage sale types. Working for a nonprofit that operates a thrift store has been a constant reminder of how we can turn unused stuff into a good deed. But now that we’re ready to make a move overseas, we have a houseful of accumulation and not just the random item to discard. A few weeks ago I decided a garage sale would be the answer. I’d get rid of all the clutter, stage the house beautifully, and make a bundle.

After all, a garage sale seems like the kind of thing anyone can do. Over the years I’ve wandered in and out of a few neighborhood sales but I never really thought about what it would take to stage one. How hard could it be?

Learning how to do a garage sale

To fill in my experience gaps, I brought Jamie to a few sales to scope out the strategies –a multi-family church sale, a formal estate sale, and a run of the mill personal sale. And, of course, I Googled the topic.

There is plenty of advice out there. I learned there are multiple online services for advertising garage sales. Craigslist.com is popular and some people stop there but there is also Gsaler.com, Yardsales.net, and Estatesales.org. Online sites allow for nearly limitless photos to help attract buyers.

I looked at all the ads to see which ones caught my eye. Good headlines, and photos of desirable items bring the buyers to your sale first, before they’ve exhausted their budget.

After all the looking and research, I decided to make my virgin run. All that was left was picking the date and rounding up the stuff I felt the least attachment to.

The Set-up

Many estate sales ads feature the set-up in their photographs to give people an idea of the volume and type of stuff. I couldn’t get my set-up done in advance but their pictures helped me. It was a rainy weekend and I was limited to the interior of the garage so things got a little crowded. I ended up holding back stuff and bringing it out mid-day when enough items had sold. Now I know why people have two-day sales.

Here’s what I found important:

  • Have more tables than you think you’ll need. I pulled in tables I wasn’t selling, put a tablecloth on them and no one inquired, although my research said people would.
  • Mask off what’s not in the sale. Jamie used plastic throw cloths over the shelving and garage storage that wasn’t included. For instance, our garden tools are still in use and not available in round one.
  • Price everything. People are more likely to inquire if there is a starting place for haggling.
  • Keep like things together. I tried to separate the tools, garden supplies, my 1,000 picture frames, kitchen, games/books/dvd’s, etc

Getting the prices right was my biggest challenge. There are pricing guides for clothes, cd’s, dvd’s, and children’s stuff. Other pricing guides suggest that, depending on the item and quality, you set your price between10 and 30 percent of its original value.

Surprisingly, people pointed out some items and told me that I should mark them up.  Other people offered me half price. And people purchasing multiple items wanted multi-item discounts. It’s an art and if you’re not a garage sale enthusiast like your customers, you will be disadvantaged.

What's Hot, What's Not

What sells and doesn’t sell may be regional. In our sale, Jamie’s tools were a big deal. The people who arrived an hour early were here for the tools.

  • Two chain saws had people racing inside as we opened the doors. The powertools, clamps, and a tool chest all moved out quickly.
  • Garden items do well – pots, stands, décor.
  • Name brands, of course, like the Crate and Barrel nested mixing bowls, the Pampered Chef items, and the Kong dog toys.

Then there were the bit and pieces and odd things that might appeal to a particular person. One neighbor who took one of my tablecloth and napkin sets from 10,000 Villages. Another neighbor took the steak knives. A woman with a farm liked the primitive cow painting I’d done thirty years ago. The strangest sale was to a young boy who bought the oversized brandy snifter I used for floating flowers. I was going to tell him how lovely that looked but I had a feeling he wasn’t going to use it the same way.

What absolutely doesn’t sell at any price:

  • DVD’s
  • Picture frames, and
  • Art.

Books surprised me. We had a real eclectic mix and one guy studied a book about metal fabrication for what seemed like an hour but he never fished out the $1.00 bill it would take to make it his own. On the other hand, bookends were popular – apparently for books people already owned.

Old is no longer valued. We inherited a complete set of china we never wanted. Guess what? No one else does either. Antiques are today’s “brown furniture orphans.” but they will sell if priced low enough. A furniture  designer who bought our old Craftsman style desk commented on the Shaker dresser. He told Jamie that dresser's like ours had been selling for $1200 a few years ago, but were going for a mere $120 at auction these days.

We sold an antique desk, dresser, and an old trunk that was a Christmas present to me when I was 12 years old.

Would I Do It Again?

I might, but I’ll have to hire help. I lost Jamie about noon on the big day, right after all his tools were sold and the first rush died down. He’s definitely not a garage sale type. Maybe I should have known. He would walk out after only a quick look whenever we were scoping out other people’s sales.

I thought my stuff was different, better than the crap I saw at those other garage sales. And you know what? No one cares. They don’t care what I paid for something or whether it evokes special memories. Garage sale shoppers expect to pay pennies on the dollar. And that’s all there is to it.

Besides the meager return, it’s physically hard work to get everything ready. And it’s emotionally hard to have so much left at the end of the day. Those sad rejects were once special too me.

So, is a garage sale the best way to get rid of stuff?

Might be. We made about $1,400 thanks mostly to furniture and tool sales. Or maybe not. I boxed up what I considered to be over $500 of décor stuff for the Thrift Store if my garage sale prices were spot on.

Maybe we really aren’t garage sale types. But once our home is sold we’re going to have a lot more to sell, donate or dump. I’ll be continuing my education on the best way to downsize without losing our shirts.

There is one lesson I’ve taken to heart – Never pay more than 25 percent of retail for anything. That’s all it’s worth.

Susan Carey retired in 2017 after a long business career.  She writes about her experiences as a vagabond in Europe.  Susan shares her gentle life with her husband, Jamie, and two geriatric cats they brought with them from the United States.
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