Garage Sale Tips: From the Girl Who Knows Too Much – Part 1

First of all, let me give you my resume here. What exactly qualifies me to give advice about garage sales?

I’ve been to many garage sales. Many many garage sales. Too many.

I’ve plotted out my course the night before, mapquesting directions and marking the newspaper with order of priority. I’ve awakened at 3 a.m., disappointed that it was too early to get up and get going.

I’ve clothed my 3 kids almost completely from garage sales, and for several years I earned our spending money by buying things at garage sales and selling them on ebay. Or at least selling most of them. The rest of them cluttered up my home.

And now that I no longer sell on ebay, I’m experienced on the other end of things. I’m about to have my 4th garage sale in about 3 years. And I have PLENTY of stuff for it.

So what’s my first piece of advice?

Adjust your expectations.

You’re not setting up a re-sale boutique in your garage. You’re having a garage sale.

When I had my first garage sale, before I had become an addict myself, my mother gently warned me that I was pricing my items too high. She said that I had to make it my goal to get rid of stuff, not to make money.

She was very very right. Decide, before you start, that your goal is to get rid of EVERYTHING. You don’t want to bring it back into your house, and you don’t want to have to make 60 trips to the dump, either.

Your garage sale should be your last resort. If you go through your house looking for things to get rid of, and your head starts to fill with dollar signs, check yourself. If something has real value, like your Dept 56 Christmas Village, put it on ebay or Craigslist.

I don’t have statistics or anything, but let’s just be logical. Not everyone collects Christmas Villages. And those who do, don’t necessarily look for them at garage sales. And those who do look for them at garage sales may or may not live in your town. And those who live in your town may or may not go to garage sales on the day that you have yours.

Your chances of selling them for what they are actually worth are much higher when you have a bigger buyer’s pool, like on ebay. At your garage sale, it is possible that someone will stop by who has always wanted to buy a complete collection at 50 dollars apiece, but it isn’t probable.

The same goes for everything, even your kids’ clothing. Don’t tell yourself that if it doesn’t sell for 5.00 apiece at your garage sale, you’ll take it to a consignment store. Take it to the consignment store first, and see what they’ll give you. I’ve talked to many people who thought they would make a lot of money by consigning their clothes, only to find that the store accepted 5 items out of their 100.

If you truly see your garage sale as a last resort, you’ll be much more willing to take less for an item, and therefore will greatly increase your chance of that item leaving your home. And you’d be shocked at how quickly quarters and one-dollar-bills add up.

Don’t reject any buyers.

It may be tempting to be rude about people arriving at your sale an hour early, but it’s better if you just accept it. These are generally the people who are serious about buying. They’re the ones who are looking for specific categories of items, and if they see that you have something they’re interested in, they could very well buy everything you have in that category. You also want them to come to your sale first, when they have all of their money.

Don’t reject “dealers.” By dealers, I mean those people who are buying things at garage sales to sell in their own store or online. While it might irritate you that they are going to buy something from you for .50 and sell it for 5.00, the reality is that you are just opening your garage and spending one day getting rid of your stuff. They either rent a booth somewhere or pay fees to put it on ebay, and they have to make sure it is perfectly clean and in correct working condition before selling it. For ebay, they take pictures and write out a description. Then, if it sells, they package it carefully and mail it. They have spent time researching when to start an auction, how to properly list the item, etc. You just put it on a table. You may miss out on the big profit, but you are also missing out on the big hassle. The reality is that the same dish is not worth as much at a garage sale as it is in a cute little antique booth somewhere. If you’re not willing to take 50 cents, that’s fine. But if the only reason you don’t want to take 50 cents is a feeling of irritation that he’s going to sell it somewhere for 5.00, get over it.

Don’t be offended when people ask if you’ll take less. It really is okay to say no. Remember, your goal is to get it out of your house, and if you’re going to donate it anyway, why not? You’ll still have plenty leftover to donate, and you’ll be a dollar richer.

Know your area.

You may have heard a story about a friend (or a friend of a friend of a friend) who made 2,000 dollars at their garage sale. Before you get too excited, ask a few questions.

Where do they live? Different areas have different garage-sale success stories. If they live on a golf-course in an exclusive part of town, people may drive from miles around just to see what they’re selling. Would people drive from miles around to your house?

What did they sell? You might find out that they sold a car for 1750 and included that in their total. Did they have furniture? Was it newish, or was it of the scratchy plaid variety? Did they sell electronic equipment? Were the clothes they sold of the same name brands/quality/condition as the ones you plan to sell?

If you don’t find someone who lives near you and sold the same types of things you plan to sell, go check out a few garage sales in your neighborhood. Don’t go early. Go around noon, and do some research. If you drive up and it seems like they don’t have much stuff, that may be a good one. Ask them some questions like: Have you been busy today? Did you have any furniture (or whatever you are planning to sell)? How much did you sell it for? Did you have to come down on the price?

Likewise, if you see a garage sale that has TONS of stuff in the afternoon, you can try to find out what they did wrong. See what their prices are. Be nice, but ask some of the same questions as above. Remember that if they are discouraged and think that nobody buys stuff at garage sales “around here” it’s probably that their prices are too high.

It’s possible to have a good and profitable garage sale. But more than anything, your goal should be to clear things out of your home. If you make some money at it, all the better.

I’ll be posting more in this series soon. Topics will include: Set-up, pricing, and getting people there.



  1. 1
    Kathleen says:

    Great tips. I agree the most important goal is to get rid of crap!

  2. 2

    Great post! I wish all the garage sale "proprietors" I visited had to read this post first. I'm thinking a post about how to shop the garage sales would be good, too… so we don't end up with a ton of cr*p that we don't need!

    • 3

      When I had kids at home I shopped for all their clothes at garage sales. Every spring I would take heir measurements and write the info on a 3×5 card I kept in my wallet. Armed with that and a tape measure I was able to purchase items I knew would fit even when they were not with me. I still keep the tape in my purse. Comes in handy.

  3. 4
    Nony (A Slob Comes Clean) says:

    Yes, I've generally sworn off as I have been working on getting stuff OUT of my house. But I have been to a few lately. I'm really trying to adjust my thinking so I don't buy things I don't need. So far, I'm doing much better.

  4. 5
    Mama Hen says:

    What a great post!

  5. 6

    My husband REFUSES to go to GS with me beucase I will ALWAYS offer less (often MUCH LESS) than the sticker price…and if the seller refuses I will simply set the items down in front fo them and walk away. 6 tmies out of 10 they will stop me and take my offer…they other 4 times they get to keep the crap…i mean stuff and hope someone else buys it.

  6. 7

    Love it! Planning my G-sale for later in April. Hope you post more about them by then! 🙂

    If you have lots left over, you can also sometimes schedule a pickup from Goodwill, Salvation Army, a local church, GOTJUNK or another business or non-profit at the end of the day (I like Out Of the Closet) after the sale. That way you get the write-off or the convenience of getting rid of the unsold items without 60 dump trips.

    xo Beretta

  7. 8
    Christie says:

    Another thing you can do with leftovers is just post “free garage sale leftovers” on Craigslist and you will be wiped out before you know it. I couldn’t believe the trash people hauled off for me when I did that!

  8. 9

    I have sworn off having any more garage sales, due to the way some of the shoppers behave. I had a bunch of kids shorts in EXCELLENT condition. I priced the name brand shorts (Nike, etc) at .50 and the non-name brand at .25. I had a woman get extremely IRATE at me for not having them all at .25, and told me how that “wasn’t right”, etc. Seriously? Our driveway is a hill about 3 cars long and people actually drive UP the driveway to where all the stuff is, coming dangerously close to people and leave oil spots everywhere. That’s just scary. And I had people get mad at me for packing up around 2pm. Well, after 7 hours of putting up with these customers, I was done. The ad said from 8am – ?? anyway. And they all showed up at 7am. I don’t mind most customers, but the rude ones ruin it for me. I will just donate now!! (Or do the kids consignment sales, where I make less money but don’t have to deal with the customers!)

  9. 10

    Doing the Large Consignment sale has been the way to go for me. But I am fortunate to have a venue for it with our local multiples club. All my kids and baby stuff that they are done with goes to the next one where I tag it all. What doesn’t sale is tagged and ready to go to the next sale. I made $400 at each of the last sales. So hoping to do it again. If you have nice stuff it can pay to look at other options. I love consignment I had a stroller bought for $40 used for a year and sold for $30. There are so many items where buying and selling 2nd hand has paid off. Selling with the other moms in the club has been a great experience.

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