It’s easier than ever to turn unwanted clutter into cold cash. Reliable standbys like Craigslist sales and eBay auctions are now joined by local marketplaces like Nextdoor, social platforms like Facebook Marketplace, and category-specific marketplaces like Sellcell (for electronics) and Kidizen (for kids’ clothing and accessories).
Yet some things never change. When you need to sell lots of individual items quickly, your best move is a decidedly nondigital one: to throw an old-school garage sale. Call it a “yard sale” or “tag sale” if you prefer, but the meaning is clear: an “everything must go” liquidation of the stuff you’ve accumulated over the years, advertised locally and held on or near your property.
Throwing a garage sale is no easy feat. If you don’t plan and execute the event properly, there’s a very real chance it will pass more or less unnoticed, leaving you with a bit less cash, a lot less self-respect, and a mountain of unsold inventory to unload.
On the bright side, planning and pulling off a profitable garage sale doesn’t require a marketing degree or MBA. You’ll earn more and stress less when you follow this straightforward four-step process for garage sale success.
Step 1: Plan Your Sale
Begin planning your garage sale weeks, if not months, before you greet your first customer.
1. Pick a Date
First, you need to choose a time and date for your garage sale. Consider these factors:
- Day of the Week. Saturday, Friday, and Sunday — in that order — are the best garage sale hosting days. Not everyone goes to work on Friday, especially in the summer, and Sunday is at-home “family time” for many would-be buyers.
- Time of Day. Morning is ideal. Many seasoned garage sale pickers get out early to beat the crowds and find the best deals, and morning sales beat the heat of the day in summer anyway. Don’t be shy about starting your sale at 7am, assuming it’s light by then.
- Time of the Month. The first week of the month is best. Many small-business owners, contractors, and solopreneurs receive a disproportionate amount of income around the first of the month as clients pay the past month’s invoices, so your buyers could be comparatively flush at this time.
- Seasonality. In many parts of the country, garage sale season runs from early spring through early summer. Fall is a good second choice for sellers targeting early holiday shoppers. Whenever you plan it for, avoid scheduling your sale when it’s likely to be sweltering.
- Competing or Complementary Events. Finally, consider what else is happening when you plan to host your garage sale. You don’t want to go up against major competing events, such as your town’s high school graduation. You do want to time your sale to coincide with complementary events, such as arts festivals that bring lots of foot traffic to your neighborhood or seasonal “yard sale days” sanctioned by your local government.
With these considerations in mind, pick a sale date and a backup date (usually the next day) in case of inclement weather.
2. Gather Your Goods
With your date set, it’s time to identify everything you plan to sell at your sale. Do the following:
- Box Up Your Home’s Storage Spaces. Grab boxes and go through your attic, basement, garage, closets — anywhere you’re likely to find long-forgotten stuff. This is your chance to declutter and downsize your house. Don’t underestimate the value of what you find, as garage sale pickers are apt to buy anything from apparently worthless old CDs to disused bottles of perfume to electronic accessories (like chargers and power strips) that have no further use to you. The worst-case scenario is that something doesn’t sell. Set your boxes of smaller items in an indoor storage area for now.
- Mark Larger Items for Sale. Identify and mark furniture, nonsentimental (and low-value) artwork, yard equipment, and other bulky items you plan to sell. Don’t bother moving these until sale day — just don’t forget that you plan to sell them.
- Put Out a Call for Consignments. Send out an email or text to friends and family members inviting them to sell items at your sale on consignment. Keep the arrangement invite-only and limit consignments to relatively small items, as a free-for-all can quickly spiral out of control and take over your driveway. Work out an equitable split with each consignment partner — ideally, you’d take a small cut of the sale and they’d keep the rest — and set a date for them to deliver or you to pick up their wares.
3. Check on Permits
Many places require permits for publicly advertised sales on private property. Before you get too deep into the planning process, check your city or county government website to determine whether you need one. If you do, you can almost certainly apply online.
Most locales don’t charge application fees, but don’t let that lull you into thinking the authorities look the other way at illegal garage sales. You could be looking at fines well into three-figure territory if you’re caught running an unpermitted sale.
If you live in an HOA community, check with the board about garage sale rules and regulations. Many HOAs don’t allow garage sales at all or have strict rules about timing, duration, location, and other aspects.
Step 2: Promote Your Sale
Advertise your garage sale at least a week in advance, and longer if it’s part of an organized neighborhood event.
1. Use Newspaper Classifieds
Newspaper classifieds aren’t what they used to be, but don’t count them out. If your hometown still has as a well-read local newspaper or your big-city neighborhood has a thriving community publication — especially if it’s free and delivered automatically to every residential address in the area — you can bet deal-hunters use its classifieds section to sniff out local garage sales.
Classified ad pricing usually involves a flat fee for a maximum word count (say, 25 words) and a per-word surcharge for additional verbiage, calculated on a weekly basis. You shouldn’t need to advertise your sale more than two weeks out, and the Sunday paper on the weekend before your sale might be all that’s necessary.
In your ad, mention particularly enticing or valuable items, such as furniture, collectibles, and small engine equipment like lawnmowers and leaf blowers. Include your address, phone number, and sale date and time (as well as backup date and time). Then, post the same exact ad on each newspaper’s website if given the option.
2. Advertise on the Web
You can advertise your garage sale for free on dozens of reputable websites that trade in local sale advertisements. The most useful and widely visited are:
Because they’re much less stingy with their word counts, these sites give you more freedom to describe your sale and list individual items for sale. However, because they tend to list sales as they’re posted, they’re actually better left to the last minute. You can wait until two or three days before your sale day (or the first day of a multiday sale) to put up your first ad. To save yourself time and avoid errors, write your ad in a word processing program and copy and paste it to each listing website site.
3. Make Yard Sale Signs
Check the laws in your area before putting out signs advertising your garage sale, as they’re banned in some jurisdictions. Again, your city or county government website should have detailed information about outdoor advertising restrictions.
If signs are permitted in your area, use a bright, solid-color poster board and dark Sharpie for effect. Write “garage sale” and your address in big letters with an arrow pointing in the general direction of your house. Use wooden paint mixing sticks to secure ground signs or a wood stapler to affix signs to power poles. Take advantage of community boards as well, keeping in mind that your signage can be more detailed and less gaudy here.
Step 3: Prep for Sale Day
Spend the week before your sale prepping for the big event.
1. Get Supplies
Make sure you have everything you need at least a day before the garage sale starts. You’ll need:
- Chairs for you and any helpers
- A main table for making change and bagging up small items
- A cash register or money box
- Enough flat surface area to display everything you intend to sell
- Enough rack space and hangers for clothing
Reserve proper tables, including outdoor furniture and folding tables, for delicate items that can’t be placed on blankets or tarps. Set these away from the main flow of traffic to avoid preventable catastrophes.
If you have one, set up a garment rack in a high-visibility location for clothing you plan to sell. Otherwise, lay folded clothing out on tables. In a pinch, create additional elevated space with plywood laid over two cardboard boxes or milk crates. Make creative use of fixed yard features, such as retaining walls and terraces, to create additional surface space. And don’t be afraid to ask friends to borrow tables, chairs, and the like as needed.
2. Get Set to Accept Payments
Mobile payment technology is ubiquitous these days, but some garage sale buyers still prefer cash. That means you’ll need plenty of change to break $20s and $50s early in the day.
Visit the bank a few days before your sale and pick up at least $100 in change. A suggested breakdown:
- 10 $5 bills
- 30 $1 bills
- 80 quarters
While at the bank, pick up a reusable cash envelope (or repurpose an envelope from your house) to ferry cash to a secure location inside. You don’t want random people ogling the hundreds in cash you’re likely to have on hand at the end of a busy sale.
3. Sort Your Items
Sort your items before you price them. This ensures your garage sale remains organized and attractive to potential buyers. Use a low-traffic room in your house, preferably on the ground level, as a staging area. Bring all your nonbulky items there and divide them into general categories: clothes (possibly subdivided into men’s, women’s, and children’s), books, home goods, toys, and so on.
4. Price Your Items
Price items likely to sell individually accordingly. That is, don’t attempt to save time by creating high-priced lots out of multiple clothing items or pieces of cookware or dumping like-priced items into a single box buyers need to fish through. You can and should create lots for lower-value items buyers are likelier to want in bulk, such as paperback books and CDs.
Use manila tape and a Sharpie to price items, rather than specialized price tags. Price tags don’t really do anything special, and they cost way more than brown tape.
Also, resist the temptation to overprice items on the expectation that every buyer will haggle. Some will, but many won’t bother. They’ll simply walk away from high-priced items.
5. Organize & Arrange Your Sale
Arrange your tables and hangers the night before your garage sale. You simply won’t have time to do a good job the morning of the sale, particularly not if you hope to get an early start. If you don’t have enough table space for every item, store the remainder in boxes or laundry baskets containing like items.
Secure everything in your garage overnight (with overflow in your laundry room or in-home staging area) and prepare to get up early to put everything out on the day of your sale. Make a map of your yard on sale day so that you know where to locate each element during the presale rush.
Step 4: Host Your Sale
The big day (or weekend) is here.
1. Get Ready
Give yourself at least an hour before the garage sale starts to set everything out and put up signs. You’ll need at least one helper to move everything safely. You’ll also need to set up your change station, preferably in a shaded area with a sturdy table and comfortable chair.
Before your sale opens, put one last yard sale sign out on the street to ensure no would-be buyers pass by your place, and position your chair so it’s clearly visible as buyers walk toward your house.
2. Work the Crowd
Greet everyone who shows up at your sale, no matter how interested (or well-off) they appear. Don’t follow would-be buyers around or offer unprompted commentary about your wares. Instead, make it clear that you’re available to answer questions, assume a friendly demeanor, and stay seated. When someone has a question or wants to buy something, they’ll come to you.
3. Be Prepared to Haggle
You’ll almost certainly haggle with would-be buyers at some point during your sale. Don’t be overeager, and always have a firm “bottom dollar” in mind. If your prep work has paid off and the weather has cooperated, you can count on a steady flow of buyers to take stingy hagglers’ places. Reserve your negotiation strategies for the afternoon or the last day of a multiday sale.
3. Deal With Leftovers
You’re going to have leftover stuff. Rather than put it out on the curb with a big “free” sign, figure out how to make the most of it — and, if things go well, make a decent amount of money off it. Do the following:
- Sell Valuable Leftovers Individually. Use Craigslist, Nextdoor, Facebook Marketplace, and other reputable, secure marketplaces like Decluttr to get rid of pricier items like furniture and electronics.
- Donate Less Valuable Leftovers to a Nonprofit. Goodwill takes just about any safe, nonperishable item you could think to donate. If you itemize your tax deductions rather than claim the standard deduction, you could significantly reduce your federal income tax burden using the applicable tax deduction for charitable donations on your income taxes.
If you’ve never hosted a garage sale before, set your expectations now: It’s going to be a lot of work. Between now and your sale day, you’ll spend hours organizing your items, setting prices, writing ad copy, and picking up supplies. On the day of the sale, you’ll spend the entire day — from early morning well into the afternoon — pulling the thing off. If you have lots left over, expect to spend hours more disposing of unsold inventory.
But don’t despair. A successful garage sale will leave you with a less cluttered, better-organized home — and a wad of cash to spend or save as you wish.
Have you ever thrown a garage sale? What tips would you add to this list?