Sunday, September 25, 2005

Clear Your Clutter with a Garage Sale

Tip of the Week, September 18, 2005

Today, as we do once a year, my neighbors and I had a street-wide garage sale. I took the opportunity to cull unwanted and unneeded stuff from my closets, cabinets, and basement, as did my friend Dana, who joined me for the sale. Our efforts paid off: between us, we brought in over $300!

A garage sale is a great way to declutter, give your unwanted things new homes, and make some money in the process. To make sure your next sale is a success, follow these tips.
  • Pick a date and time. Weekend days tend to be best for garage sales, as most people are off work and out of school. If possible, steer clear of holidays and other major events in your area that might keep people otherwise occupied. Time-wise, it's a good idea to start early and end by mid-afternoon; crowds are thickest in the morning, and by the time 3 or 4 p.m. rolls around, you'll be ready for some respite.
  • Go on a treasure hunt. A sale can't be a sale without stuff, so the weeks before your event are the perfect time to go through your house, attic, garage, and basement in search of things to sell. Generally speaking, items that are in good, usable condition sell best, but don't be afraid to throw in a few things that seem like long shots; they really may turn out to be someone else's treasures.
  • Clean it up. Though most garage sale shoppers expect a bit of dust and some wear on the things they find, items that are excessively dirty, have mold or other damage, or are beyond repair are likely to turn people away. Take the time to run a rag over anything that needs a bit of brightening up before you present it for sale. The same goes for clothes: the cleaner they are, the better they'll sell.
  • Enlist help. Holding a garage sale is hard and tiring work, so you'll want to have at least one person around to help you out. Asking friends or neighbors to join in the sale with you means you'll not only have a wider selection for customers to choose from, but also that you'll be able to work in shifts, giving everyone the chance to take breaks as needed.
  • Price wisely. One of the biggest garage sale challenges is deciding what to charge for each thing you sell. Guidelines on pricing vary widely based on factors such as the item's condition and age and your location; generally, garage sale pros recommend charging between 10 and 40% of what you originally paid for the item. For example, I bought a stereo in 2001 for $220 and sold it today for $45, or 20% of the original cost, a fairly standard depreciation for electronics. However you decide to calculate your prices, remember that things that are too expensive are less likely to sell, while things that are too cheap won't net you enough to make the sale worth the effort.
  • Get the word out. The more people your sale draws, the more successful you're likely to be, so it's important to advertise. You might put a classified in your local newspaper, list your sale on an online bulletin board (such as Craigslist), or put up fliers around your neighborhood. If you do decide to go the flier route, be sure to check with your local town hall or police department to see what restrictions there are on posting notices; putting signs where they shouldn't be means at best that they'll be torn down, and at worst that you could face a fine.
  • Be prepared. A day or two before your sale, be sure to do three things: get change (singles and quarters are especially important), put prices on your items (to avoid endless "How much is this?" questions from your customers), and decide whether or not you'll be willing to bargain. My haggling skills got a great workout today during my interactions with some particularly bargain-minded shoppers; if you're not willing to bargain, say so up front to save yourself and your buyers some aggravation.
  • Have fun! Your garage sale will be hard work, but to make it truly worth the effort, it should also be fun. Put on some music, chat with your customers, and make time at the end of the day for counting your earnings and unwinding with whoever helped out at the sale.
  • Say a last goodbye. Finally, make time either at the end of the sale or the following day to deal with anything that didn't sell. I tend to sock away a few choice items that are in good condition and seem likely to sell at my next sale; everything else gets either boxed up for Goodwill or put in the "Free! Take Me!" box on the curb. Remember, one of the main points of your sale is to get this stuff out of your house, so be very, very judicious about what you let back in.

    Ready to get started? Pick one of the beautiful upcoming fall weekends and use the tips above to plan your own successful garage sale. Your newly decluttered house--and your fuller bank account--will thank you.

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