How to Set Up a Successful Yard Sale – And What to Do if You Can’t Host One

Having a yard sale or garage sale is a great way to clear some space, sell unwanted or unused items and make some money. These tips can help you have a successful yard sale!
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It’s easy to accumulate many things when you live in one place for a while. Sometimes that doesn’t matter. But it becomes a big deal when you get PCS orders and need to ship your household belongings to your new assignment.

Hosting a yard sale is one of the best ways to get your belongings to fit in your PCS weight allowance.

Spring and summer are the best times to host a yard sale. The weather is nice, children are getting out of school, many people are moving into new homes, and it’s just nice to get outside.

I have fond memories of going to yard sales with my Mom when I was a kid – I loved the excitement of not knowing what I would find next. Maybe it was the perfect toy, a stack of old books, or a beautiful piece of antique furniture. I’m a sucker for history and old things and enjoy rummaging through yard sales, flea markets, and antique shops.

Later, we hosted a few of our own yard sales. As my siblings and I got older, we outgrew our old toys and clothes. I remember going through toys and clothes, helping identify items we wanted to sell, and helping set up the tables and items in the garage. Then we held the garage sale, and we got to keep some money from the toys we sold. I don’t remember how much we earned (it couldn’t have been a lot), but it was exciting!

Since I’ve been on my own I have only held one garage sale, though I’ve wanted to several times. Unfortunately, I lived in apartments and other places where we couldn’t have a yard sale. So I was limited to selling items on Craigslist, eBay, and to acquaintances.

Now that my wife and I recently bought a new house, we plan to host another yard sale shortly. And we’re both excited about it. We know it will be a lot of work, but we will be happy to clear out space, make some money, and even have a little fun! Here are some tips to help get your yard sale off and running

Tips for Hosting a Yard Sale

Start early

Begin organizing early and use a separate location in your house for staging. This could be a section in your basement, garage, spare room, etc. This will help you keep everything in one place, have a better idea of what you are selling, and make setup easier (just transport it from the staging area to your garage when the day arrives). You may find it helps to organize items in similar groups, then start labeling the prices.

Price your items

Pricing is an interesting topic – no matter what you list as the price, many people will ask for a discount, and if you give away some things, they will assume other things are free. So be prepared for hagglers.

Another tip before settling on prices – determine your goal. Are you trying to maximize your money, or trying to get rid of as many things as possible? Ideally, you want a mix. You want to get the most money out of your items, but you also want to get rid of as much as possible.

My goal was usually to clear things out, so I was almost always willing to work on prices, especially if someone bought several items. But there were some premium items I wasn’t willing to budge on price. I just politely informed the individual that the item was already a great deal and they could take it or leave it. Sometimes they did, and sometimes they didn’t, and I was OK with that.

Advertising and promotion

Yard sales will get the most traffic when they are well advertised. The best places for this are places like Craigslist and local papers. If you want more foot traffic, then organize a community yard sale. This is a virtual lock to bring in dozens of cars – people love to shop multiple houses at once! Place signs at busy intersections near your home is also a good idea.

Have more than one person there

I always recommend people run garage sales with a partner. This gives you company and helps you run things more smoothly. Two people make it easier to deal with hagglers, take a break, and keep an eye out for thieves – and unfortunately, they exist.

Watch out for thieves

It’s unfortunate that we even need to write this tip down, but it is necessary. My family was victimized by garage sale thieves when I was a kid. A common tactic is having people working in teams – one person distracts you while the other takes items. Sometimes someone will ask to go inside to look at items you may have, to use the restroom, or something else. I recommend placing everything for sale outside and posting a sign informing visitors that there is no public restroom – then stick to your rules.

Watch out for the early birds

An “early bird” is someone who shows up before the announced start time, sometimes while you are setting up, or even before. They want to get a jump on the competition and scoop up any good deals before their competition. Many of these people are professional resellers looking for a score that will net them a good profit. There is nothing inherently wrong with this, it’s capitalism at its best!

But in my experience, some early birds and professional resellers can lean toward the rude side and expect you to bend over to their desires (for example, they want you to open your garage door at 6 am when you aren’t planning on starting until 8 am). I recommend writing “no early birds” in your ad and dealing with them politely but firmly if they become insistent. Remember, this is your house and your stuff, not theirs.

Have plenty of change

Go to the bank before your garage sale and load up on change and small bills. I found that a roll of quarters and a $50 stack of ones was enough, but it all depends on how much traffic you get and how your items are priced. You also want to make sure you have enough other change as well, such as $5s and $10s.

Stock a cooler with drinks

Another way to make a little extra cash and keep people around for a few extra minutes is to stock a cooler with ice-cold drinks and sell those to customers.

Have fun!

Yard sales are a great way to meet new people, learn about the local area, and have a good time. It’s fun to share stories with people about the items you are selling, and it’s nice to watch something go to a new home where you know it will be used instead of sitting unloved in your basement.

What To Do When You Can’t Have a Garage Sale

If you need to clear out some space but you can’t have a yard sale, try some of the following tips. Most will help you clear some space, and some will even put some money back in your pocket.

Sell Online

One method of downsizing when you can’t have a garage sale is to list your items for sale online.  You can take advantage of traffic to popular auction websites and classified listing sites like Facebook Marketplace, eBay.com, and Craigslist.org. For the best results, list each item individually and include a written description and a photograph that clearly shows what the item is and it’s condition.

Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist are generally best for items you want to sell quickly or that are too large to ship easily or inexpensively. Ebay, on the other hand, is great for selling higher-priced items that are relatively easily shipped.

Facebook and Craigslist don’t cut your sale, whereas Ebay takes a commission. But it can be worth giving up some of your revenue to Ebay to help facilitate a deal you otherwise may not have been able to get.

There are other great places to sell online, such as Decluttr (great for selling electronics), Amazon, online bookstores, and other stores that take in electronics, movies, books, and more.

Here are some additional tips for selling items on Craigslist and more tips for selling your car on Craigslist; many of these tips apply to other items.

Donate

Most everything you might sell in a garage sale or online could also be donated to a variety of charity organizations.  Ask your local churches and shelters if they need the items you no longer need.  The Salvation Army and Goodwill take various items, including clothing, furniture, and household items. The Salvation Army and other organizations will also pick up large pieces of furniture or other items if you schedule in advance.

You can also check with your local schools, youth organizations, and other groups to see if they accept donations of lightly used goods.

Quick note: it’s a good idea to do a background check on charitable organizations before making donations.

Give Gifts

Many items you would consider selling in a garage sale, online, or donating to a charity would also make good gifts.  Do you have slightly worn furniture?  Hang a notice at your local college and see if anyone needs it – give it to whoever can come and take it off your hands.  Ask around if your friends or family need anything you’re looking to get rid of, you could be doing someone a huge favor by giving them the item(s) you no longer need.

Purge

Sometimes people try to sell things in garage sales or through auction sites that are simply in no condition to sell.  The same goes for giving things away to friends or charities – if the items are in poor condition, you may just need to throw it away to get rid of it.  Check with your own garbage pick up service to see if the items you have can be tossed in the trash; and if not, you may need to take it to the dump and pay a fee to get rid of it.

Temporary Storage

Sometimes you have items that are too nice to throw away but are not easy to sell online (anything that would cost too much to ship, for example). If you can’t find someone to give them to or charitable organizations aren’t interested, then you can consider renting temporary storage until you are able to have a garage sale.  You can keep items in a storage facility or in your basement or attic space until the weather is warm enough for a garage sale.

We used a temporary storage unit before selling our home. This allowed us to better stage our home for selling but didn’t require us to get rid of the things we would use in our new home. Just remember – short-term storage should be a temporary solution. You don’t want to spend hundreds of dollars a year to store things indefinitely. It’s not uncommon for some people to spend more money on storage than their items are worth!

Sell items on Consignment

When most people think about selling items on consignment, they think of clothing and maybe furniture. But many other items can be sold on consignment, including tools, musical instruments, machinery, vehicles, and other items. Check your local phone book and call ahead to see which items they might be interested in (many stores only carry seasonal items, especially items such as clothing).

Get creative and combine these

My wife and I have sold a few items on Craigslist, donated some to church and Goodwill, and have made gifts of quite a few items. We also got a temporary storage unit to clear some of the clutter for staging our home.


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About Ryan Guina

Ryan Guina is The Military Wallet's founder. He is a writer, small business owner, and entrepreneur. He served over six years on active duty in the USAF and is a current member of the Illinois Air National Guard.

Ryan started The Military Wallet in 2007 after separating from active duty military service and has been writing about financial, small business, and military benefits topics since then. He also writes about personal finance and investing at Cash Money Life.

Ryan uses Personal Capital to track and manage his finances. Personal Capital is a free software program that allows him to track his net worth, balance his investment portfolio, track his income and expenses, and much more. You can open a free Personal Capital account here.

Featured In: Ryan's writing has been featured in the following publications: Forbes, Military.com, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, Reserve & National Guard Magazine (print and online editions), Military Influencer Magazine, Cash Money Life, The Military Guide, USAA, Go Banking Rates, and many other publications.

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