Garage Sale Home Economics ~ 10 Lessons You May Not Read Elsewhere

garage-sale-crazies_thumb.jpgGarage sale bottom line: $1,937. Hot, sweaty, grimy but VERY satisfied on my part.  Larry hates this type of requirement in life; it never balances Effort-to-Income. Too bad, it’s a necessity in this scenario.

We are downsizing our home life by half, transitioning to a smaller abode to reduce our footprint and become those people who “just lock the door and go.”  The big house is sold. A condo near the ocean has been leased for a year. And stuff in the house… going, going, gone!

Admittedly, we live in a HUGE city so the pool of yard sale shoppers is large. Walking distance to college kids (UCLA), a quarter mile off the busiest freeway in the nation (405) and one block from a major street leading to a huge employment center (again, UCLA).

The customers were certainly eclectic. Chef just off work from a UCLA dorm cafeteria swung by in greasy chef jacket. DWP workers in hard hats and neon vests on their lunch break. A food truck came to a sudden halt (I smelled the burgers first) and lunch ladies jumped out for a quick shopping trip. My former boss where I volunteered at Ronald Reagan Medical Center, Tony was driving to the credit union and saw our poster, no idea it was my house, funny.

pretty thingsLesson #1 – marketing is the most important thing. You need crowds of warm bodies with cash – people stop when they see lots of cars and other people. The LA Times has a Garage Sale classified online directory; $25 and our listing was online for a week.  I made a large banner and hung it on our hedge for a week. Craigslist ads daily for a week. Facebook photo uploads of piles of stuff.  I hung posters around the neighborhood.  And emailed friends, who became some of our top customers for furniture.

Lesson #2 – make your Craigslist ad headlines sexy. Mine read, “Rich Lady’s Moving Sale.” I think that worked.

Lesson #3 – be a smooth liar.  Sorry, it is true… I fib.  Not about whether something was in working order, but to keep people from being pissed. Customer: “Where are the tools?”  Me: “Someone came right at the beginning and bought them all.” (Half-truth, we had a few tools but my Craigslist ad sounded like we were closing an Ace Hardware store.) They grouse but then do some other shopping.

Lesson #4 – you need SOME jewelry to sell. Dig, dig, dig in dresser drawers for anything costume or real. Cuff links. Watches. Bracelets. Earrings. Strings of beads. Have a basket you hold onto and hand people to look. Then if someone balks, “Where’s all the jewelry?” of course I said, “Someone came right at the beginning and bought it all.”

Lesson #5 – anything someone can steal, keep in sight. Friends warned me that people have sticky fingers. So, out of sight were bricks and tiles, patio furniture, lawn mower, potted trees, big junk.  Secure your house, too. Larry put on the stereo loud, notes on the windows about the alarm being on and lights on.

IMAG1768Lesson #6 – have TONS of stuff to sell. Good stuff, silly stuff, broken stuff, anything. Every website about garage sales tells you this… don’t overthink, you’ll be surprised what sells. Even a pile of mismatched bricks. I wanted visual impact when shoppers drove up and you get that with a lot of clutter to sell. Not every town lets you have stuff right on the sidewalk but we took the risk.

Lesson #7 – don’t price anything for less than a buck. Make boxes with signs: 10 for $1 — 2 for $1 — Anything Here $1. Fill with trinkets from decluttering.  WHY CARE, YOU ASK? Because little kids stay busy shopping boxes of tiny stuff while their parents shop the big stuff.  And, you don’t want to have to make change anyway.

Lesson #8 – everything needs a price on it. Otherwise, people look past it, or you may not have the right price in your head when they ask.

Lesson #9 – you cannot do the sale alone. I thought maybe after the first hour, Larry could go back to his desk and I’d handle the rest. Oh hell, no. We were slammed from the instant the garage opened until closing time at 1 PM.  Sunday was slower but it still took two (THANK YOU LARRY). Larry is the best damn salesman on the planet, comfortable with haggling, a little high on his pricing but negotiable. If there was an Eskimo within a mile, you can bet Larry sold him some ice. Some people will tell you that Saturday only is fine, but we sold another $400-worth on Sunday’s crowd.

Lesson #10 – keep re-merchandising. Move things around throughout the day. Make little walkways and lanes. We didn’t reduce many prices, we just kept moving things forward. When something sold, I moved something else into its place. As the patio cleared out, we moved the rest closer to the front so the scene stayed “crowded” visually. As stuff in the garage sold, we moved the tables more to the front. Seemed to work.

So, here is how we got up to the sale weekend. It is definitely a ton of work, and not for the weak…

  1. Picked a sale weekend with no USC home football game. If you know Larry, you know this is non-negotiable.
  2. Decluttering system. For weeks, I tackled one or two areas in the house almost daily to peel away layers of our overstuffed lives. A space as small as the kitchen junk drawer took me an hour to pick through. Incredibly anal but I’m not the type that can dump a drawer into a box and at the other end, dump it all back into a fresh drawer.
  3. I was ruthless with choices of items to sell. Sentimentality or original price did not slow me. If we didn’t use it in the past few years, OUT. The David Orgell crystal bowl wedding gift from 1978 – we chipped it our first year married, put it back into the gift box and subsequently moved it four houses. $8, thank you very much.
  4. Staging area.  Anything I felt we could live without, I stacked in the guest house. No matter how tiny (see Lesson #7), moved it there. Piles grew and grew. It sometimes felt overwhelming, but the train had left the station and I was gathering steam.
  5. Tuesday before the sale, put the cars on the street and tables in the garage, old blanket on the floor.  Moved piles out there.  Outdoor items, onto the patio and walkway adjacent to the garage.
  6. Wednesday, enlisted a girlfriend to help tag prices. I wasn’t sleeping well, fretting about the job of pricing each item, so I bought a package of Garage Sale Price Stickers – THAT HELPED TREMENDOUSLY. Lisa sorted things into category areas.  I stickered at lightning speed. Four hours. WHEW.
  7. Thursday, enlisted a strong young person for dirty, heavy lifting. Nephew Charlie gave us an afternoon of muscle to get rugs out from under beds, boxes of tile from basement, slats of wood from rafters. His “pay” was free rein choosing of sale items to stock his new apartment, plus a home-cooked dinner and leftovers.
  8. Friday, posters onto the street corners. Cash from the bank.
  9. Saturday, open the garage door a half hour before start time because people were gathering out there anyway.

Clearly there’s LITTLE financial incentive for such a huge job. You have to go after this for the other reason… having someone hand me a buck to take another piece of clutter away so we don’t have to pack it, move it, store it and deal with it again one day. Hallelujah.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Dorothy at ShockinglyDelicious November 13, 2012 at 1:40 pm

This is some seriously good advice, whether one is moving or not!

2 Michael / South Bay Foodies November 8, 2012 at 3:27 pm

I think I just found my new garage sale “bible”. I’ll be studying it all winter in preparation for Spring cleaning! 😀

3 Kath October 30, 2012 at 11:31 am

Very inspiring, Patti! We aren’t moving, but we’re “empty nesters” in a large house that we’ve lived in for almost 20 years. Stuff accumulates. I need to pretend that we’re moving. I’ll probably just give things away instead of doing a garage sale, but I’m saving your post with your great tips, just in case. 🙂

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