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FEATURE ARTICLE - JULY/AUGUST 2004

Secrets to Yard Sale Success

Running out of room to store things you don't really
need anyway? Sell it off at a blow-out yard sale.

Yard Sales Summer is here, which probably means that the piles of clutter you discovered during spring cleaning are still, well, cluttering. Before you give in to the temptation to haul it all out to the dumpster behind your house, consider giving it a second life. You do what you can to recycle your paper and aluminum cans, so why not recycle your clothes, your old records, that vase your mother-in-law gave you three years ago, and the kids’ old toys—and make a little money while you’re at it?

Every day, Americans throw away an average of 4.5 pounds of garbage per person. Holding a yard sale can be your chance to keep reusable items in circulation. So gather your clutter and check out these easy steps to making your yard sale a smashing success.


Getting Started
The first step to throwing a great yard sale is assembling your merchandise. This is the time to go through your closets, cabinets, basements, attics, and cupboards. Make a night of it—have everyone in your household bring things down from their rooms and go through them together (to keep the peace, let the final decision to sell be up to the owner of the item). This will give you a chance to spend time together while reliving old memories stimulated by some of your belongings.

But watch out—once you unearth some of your old stuff from the depths of the closet, you may suddenly want to keep it. Before you put that long-unused item in the “keep” pile, ask yourself: How long have I lived with this in the closet? How often did I need it? How often will I use it now? Odds are, any item you dragged out of your closet will end up back there soon—why not give it a chance for a new life with someone else?

The More the Merrier
You probably aren’t the only household in your neighborhood looking to de-clutter your home. Check in with your neighbors and friends of the family to see if they want to join you and make it a multi-family sale. Live in an apartment? Check with fellow tenants—if you join forces and have a bigger sale, you’re likely to draw more potential buyers. Plus, tending to the yard sale is a great way to get to know your neighbors.

A Variety of Options
Even if you throw the best yard sale ever, no one will know about it if you don’t get the word out. The most effective way to advertise your yard sale is to place a listing in a local newspaper. Some local papers allow you to place a listing for free; others charge a fee. Keep in mind that the small cost of placing a classified in your daily paper may be worth the added exposure.

You can also hang up announcement flyers (on recycled paper) seven to ten days before the sale around your community. Online posting is also an option—Web sites like craigslist.org and garagesalehunter.com let you post ads for free.

On the day of the sale, make sure that large, bright signs are in the neighborhood to lead buyers to you. Instead of buying poster-board to make your signs, re-use pieces of cardboard from old boxes. (Make sure to take down the signs and flyers and recycle them when the sale is over.)

Cindy Skrzynecki, author of 50 Ways to Make the Most Money Having a Garage Sale, notes that “shoppers tend to equate the size of a sign with the size of a sale, so a few large, well-placed signs may draw more people to you than several smaller signs.” (To order Skrzynecki’s booklet, send $5 to CMS Publishing, 5757 Logan Ave. S., Minneapolis, MN 55419.)

When you have your sale could affect your buyer traffic. Skrzynecki says that holiday weekends or weekends that coincide with popular local events are excellent for holding sales, because “you’ll have virtually no competition and provide a fun activity for people who stay in town.”

Setting Up the Sale
How you set up your items could make the difference between selling them and hauling them back inside your house to darken your closets once more. Here are some tips to make your old stuff as attractive to buyers as possible.

The cleaner the better. Make sure your items are presentable. Yes, they’re all used, but you’re more likely to sell that old vase if a buyer can see that lovely shade of blue, instead of a thick layer of dust.

Place items where people can see them. Arrange a display that is both catchy and organized. To get your items in your buyers’ view, use tabletops and bookcases when you can; if you’re short on tables, an upside-down bucket with an old piece of plywood on top will work just as well.

Display clothing effectively. Put clothes on hangers if possible, rather than folding them in piles that will soon get messed up. They’ll be more attractive to customers and not as easy to miss.

Does this thing work? Have an extension cord handy so people can test electrical appliances, and provide a measuring tape for furniture and other large items. You may even want to have a set of working batteries on hand for people to test items like flashlights or electronic games. But don’t feel limited to selling only working items. You might have a buyer who knows how to fix a broken blender, or who wants to take that old radio home for its parts. Just make sure to label items that don’t work.

Ensure the price is right. Make sure all of your items are clearly priced: buyers will quickly tire of asking you the price each time they’re interested in an item, and odds are you won’t remember what you said from time to time. Write the price on a small sticker, and place it on the item. If you’re having a multi-family yard sale, use a different colored sticker for each family, take the stickers off as you sell items, and use the totals from the stickers to divide the profits at the end. If you’re unsure how to price your items, check out other yard sales in your area the weekend before. A little preparatory snooping will you help get ideas for pricing and for displaying things.

Use creative labeling. Have some items you’re afraid won’t sell? Help buyers think up uses for them. “If you have a bookcase, mention its use as a boot rack in the mudroom or basement,” writes Sunny Wicka in her book Garage Sale Shopper (currently out of print). “Sales can actually be made solely by suggesting a novel use.” Spark the shopper’s imagination by combining art supplies—like old magazines, papers, markers, paints, and knick-knacks—on a table that’s labeled “Great for Art!” or by placing household items, crates, and blankets together with a label that reads “Going Away to College?”

Prepare for early birds. If you’re lucky, your advertising will bring yard sale gurus flocking to buy your stuff. These are the pros who will arrive early (Be prepared!) and scour your sale for the best deals. You’ll be lucky to have these enthusiasts at your sale, but you’ve got to be prepared to bargain with them over prices. If such haggling makes you uncomfortable, just make it clear that prices are fixed with the placement of a few friendly signs.

Once the initial rush is over, do consider accepting bargain offers. Replace those “no haggling” signs with ones that say “willing to bargain” or “make an offer.” During the final hour of your sale, consider cutting prices in half.

Ready, Set, Sell!
Summer and early fall are the times for yard sales, so why not make yours the best on the block? Make it a place where people will have fun and want to hang around (more browsing time often means more purchases). Pull out that radio and play some upbeat music, set up a play area for children, and maybe even have a lemonade stand. Having cool drinks on hand will keep your shoppers refreshed and cheerful; also, if children are involved in the sale, staffing a lemonade stand will give them a chance to get in on the action.

If there is a shy artist or a clever craft-maker hiding inside of you, use your yard sale as an opportunity to share some of your homemade items with your community. Do you have a green thumb? Try filling old jars with pebbles and water and using them to sell plant cuttings of that philodendron in your kitchen, or sell some cut flowers from your garden. Invite your children to hand-paint a few clay pots and use them to sell herbs and other small plants. These personal touches will take your yard sale above and beyond.


Dealing With the Aftermath
Your tables are almost empty, your lemonade supply is drained, and the last car full of your old stuff is driving away. What to do with your leftover sale items? Arrange a charity donation pick-up at your home ahead of time. Some charities, like the Salvation Army, will arrange a pick-up time with you: simply call ahead and schedule the pick-up to move your unwanted, but still useful, items into needy hands.

The resources in the box below can help you put your unsold items into the hands of charities and nonprofits that can use them.If you find that you enjoy throwing yard sales, consider organizing charity yard sales in your community. Join forces with your local place of worship, neighborhood association, or school to help people recycle their old stuff while also making money for a worthy cause.

Sarah Tarver-Wahlquist

 

Great Places to Unload Unsold Items

Electronics Industries Alliance Environment Consumer Education Initiative—The EIAE Web site lists hundreds of local and national organizations that will refurbish and donate your used electronics to charities and nonprofits that can use them. The site also lists recyclers for ancient or broken equipment that is no longer useful.

ExcessAccess.com—This online service matches business and household item donations with the wish lists of nonprofits that can provide pick-ups.

Goodwill—Items you donate to Goodwill are sold in one of their 1,900 stores throughout the US. Eighty-five percent of the profits fund programs that provide job training and other career services to those in need. Check your local yellow pages or the Web site to find a Goodwill donation site and store near you.

The Salvation Army—Check your local yellow pages or the Web site to find a Salvation Army donation site or store near you to donate used household goods. One hundred percent of the store profits funds the Salvation Army’s substance abuse rehabilitation centers.

Throwplace.com—You can list excess possessions and surplus merchandise on this site for donation to charities or to businesses and individuals for reuse, refurbishing, and recycling.

More green-living articles from the Green American »

Article Summary


Have a yard sale this summer or early fall.


Free your home of unwanted clutter.


Keep your old stuff out of landfills while getting to know your neighbors.

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