Recently my family, through energetic effort, ran a garage sale from our home in a semi-rural part of Vermont. Running that sale taught me some useful lessons in best (and worst) garage sale practices, and especially seeing as I don’t expect to want or need to run another one any time soon, I’m passing this information on in hopes that it will be useful to you.
We aren’t exactly in a high-traffic area, and the sale was only modestly successful, but it was a useful and necessary step to clearing out a lot of things we’d identified we didn’t need. In the weeks since, we’ve been donating items to appropriate places, putting them up on eBay, and both selling and giving them away through Craigslist. We’re getting close to the end of the process, which is exciting: that will mean we’ll have our garage back, just in time for winter, and I’ll be more clutter-free than I’ve been in many a year.
Signage is essential
Signs were especially important for our sale because our house isn’t visible from the road, and because the road we’re on isn’t a busy one. Accordingly, I made the extra effort to make five sets of signs: one at the intersection with the nearest large road, two directing people down our road from the medium-sized roads that connect with it, one at the end of our driveway to direct people in, and one at the fork in our driveway so that people wouldn’t end up at our neighbor’s house instead (we share a driveway with our neighbors). All of that appears to have been good thinking: I think we needed those signs to guide people in.
Unfortunately, the signs I initially put up had not one, not two, but three significant problems:
- They were too small
- They had too much information on them, making for small print and too much to read while driving by
- The poles they were mounted on weren’t strong enough
I got some poles that looked much sturdier than they turned out to be, and it was a windy weekend, so my signs were sometimes getting blown over. I ended up going out and reinforcing several of the sign setups, but even then it turned out that a key sign was down for the entire sale, which probably lost us a number of customers.
The signs were small because I tried to get away with what I could easily make with a standard printer, and I used 8.5″x14″ paper. What I needed instead were big, bold signs that listed the days, the times, and had an arrow pointing in the right direction with the words “garage sale.” I added some bigger signs for the second day, which helped a little, but I believe that big, clear signs that wouldn’t have blown down would have paid for themselves many times over.
Vendors can’t be choosers
I figured that since we were running the garage sale, we could do it on our terms. Consequently, I set it to run only one day, insisted on no early birds, and declared all prices final. This simply didn’t work. Maybe it works if you have a ton of traffic and people are fighting each other to buy your used coasters, but it’s no good if you live in the woods. We added a second day, lifted the “no haggling” policy, and got more flexible. After all, our goal wasn’t to run a business, but to get rid of some stuff and get a small amount of money back for it.
Free advertising is good
One place I think we made good decisions was in advertising. We posted the sale on Craigslist with a list of many of the kinds of items we were selling (and later, some pictures); on Facebook; and on our local Front Porch Forum (frontporchforum.com). Ads in local papers would have been prohibitively expensive, and offhand I don’t know of any other sites that would have gotten the word out well–though if you know of any, please mention them in comments.
No one in my family is an enthusiastic haggler, so I set some bargaining rules to make bargaining more comfortable for me. People who were buying multiple things could get more slack than people buying a few things. Things that I was pretty sure I could sell for more on eBay if I were willing to take the trouble weren’t very negotiable. We had set prices pretty low from the beginning, so I didn’t take less than about 80% of the asking price most of the time, and I never lowered the price twice. I also didn’t take less money than the sale was worth. What I mean is, if someone had tried to talk me down on a 25 cent item, I would have waved them away: at that point, I’d rather donate the item than get into a detailed discussion over ten or fifteen cents.
Three cash boxes
We actually had three groups of people benefiting from sales: 1) the adults in the household; 2) my son; and 3) our two girls. In order to keep things non-confusing, we had three cash boxes, and we put the money in those as it came in. I wouldn’t have wanted to try reconstructing sales after the fact or otherwise figuring out how to divide the money.
All in all, the sale did its job. It did move a number of things we wanted to get rid of and got them to useful new lives in other people’s homes, which is great. It didn’t get rid of a lot of the items we had on offer, but we now have tried and failed to sell those items, and we can give them away knowing that we’re not tossing out easy money. (Besides, giving things away to good people or organizations has its own rewards.) To put it another way, having the garage sale gave us the green light to get rid of everything that was left at the end, and it’s hard to put a high enough value on decluttering your life.
Photo by sea turtle