EVERYTHING MUST GO! A Family Guide to Garage Sales

Garage sales are more than just a means of getting rid of old junk. Start to finish, planning and holding a garage sale provides plenty of teaching opportunities. Kids can learn about organization, reducing, reusing and recycling, handling currency, negotiating, and giving to those in need.

By Meredith Holt
Illustration by Dennis Krull

Involving your children in the process of holding a garage sale pulls them away from the computer or TV and gets them doing something constructive and interactive with family members. Let them sell their own items and use the money to purchase something they’ve been asking (well, nagging) you for since Christmas.

Make an event of it.
Where I grew up, my entire street had a “block sale” every year, complete with face-painting, baked goods for sale, and a puppet show put on by the neighborhood kids. End the day with a potluck dinner or barbecue, or use the day’s profits to throw a pizza party.

Get set up
Situate your sale out in the open, in your yard or driveway, depending on the layout of your home in relation to the street. Reconsider an actual “garage” sale. Some people are hesitant to enter a dark garage.
Place highly desirable items like electronics and furniture close to the road to catch drivers’ attention. People are more likely to stop for a home entertainment center than a one-eyed Cabbage Patch Kids doll.
If a sale item consists of multiple parts, display them together. Include a printout of specifications when applicable. Add interesting information to labels, like “Limited edition––500 made,” or “Signed by Mötley Crüe in 1994.”
Keep items off the ground, unless they’re tall, like a floor lamp. Stick to tables.
Hang clothes on hangers. If you don’t have a portable clothing rack, make one with a broomstick or shower rod and a couple of ladders. Make sure everything is clean and free of cat hair. Organize books, CDs, DVDs, and video games so the titles are easy to read.
Allow shoppers to test items. Unfold lawn chairs. Have batteries and an extension cord handy.
Good music keeps the mood light and fun. Background sound helps customers feel less awkward while you watch them look over your stuff. But––ahem––nothing offensive, please.
Have a fan or two going if it’s a scorcher. Let the kids sell cans of soda from a cooler for 50 cents.

Get the buyer to buy
A good rule of thumb for yard-sale pricing is one-half to one-third of retail price. Think like a customer. Would you pay $15 for a Garfield cookie jar? Generally, the lower the price, the faster it will sell. Be willing to bargain.
To simplify the process, use a color-coded system, i.e., items marked with red dots cost $1, yellow, 50 cents, blue, 25 cents.
Mark prices conspicuously and give larger items larger labels. String tickets can be attached to handles or knobs of furniture. Have a few “sold” signs ready to place on larger items people may have to leave for the time being and pick up later.
Save the antiques and collector’s items for Craigslist or eBay.
Decide ahead of time whether you’ll accept checks and post a notice. It’s probably best only to accept checks from those you know fairly well. Don’t let the cashbox out of your sight. Better yet, keep your change in a carpenter’s apron. Get cash and rolls of quarters ahead of time.

Set up a station with plastic bags and boxes and newspaper to wrap breakables.
Grocery stores usually have good, sturdy boxes available––just ask.
Don’t leave your sale unattended. Make sure someone will always be there. Designate shifts if you have to.

Be friendly and approachable.
Don’t ignore customers, but don’t overcrowd them. Give them space, but don’t spend the entire time they’re browsing loudly talking on your phone. And always thank people for coming whether they buy something or not!

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