I now understand why people make such a to do over throwing a simple yard sale.

I have to admit, I thought it would be easy. A little elbow grease up front, some strategically placed signed, and – voila! – eager shoppers would pour in from far and wide to buy my gently (and, let’s be honest, my not-so-gently) used wares.

Oh, how naive I was.

My Strategy

If you read my first post on having this garage sale, then you know I was using a three-pronged approach based on good timing, good advertisements, and good organization. I started putting my grand plan into place on the Wednesday night before the big event, when I posted my first ads on Craigslist and Yard Sale Treasure Map. As I’d planned, I rewrote the ads each day, so they’d pop up at the top of the garage sale list. Worked like a charm – Craigslist never picked up on my ruse, and I was able to always ensure that my sale was on Craigslist first page of similar sales.

My sign strategy didn’t work as well; we put the signs out on Thursday night, and woke up Friday morning to a deluge. Although I’d used high-quality signs and placed my computer printouts advertising the time and location of the sale in plastic liners, roughly half of my signs were unreadable, partly because of the rain damage and partly because winds had knocked them down. Unfortunately, we didn’t discover this, however, until Saturday afternoon – after the sale wrapped up – because I forgot to send my husband out to check them earlier.

My organization strategy did work like a charm. Not only was I able to see everyone and everything from my vantage point in my garage, but people actually commented to me that it was “the most organized garage sale they’d ever seen.” Well, it should have been! I spent all day Friday making signs, placing clothing on hangers, and grouping like items together so they’d be easy to spot.

The Results

When I’d placed my online ads, I’d focused heavily on the fact that I’d be selling tons of almost-new clothes for babies, toddlers, and preschoolers. Both my son’s and daughter’s clothes were in great condition and included high-end brands like Janie & Jack, Lilly Pulitzer, and Crew Cuts (the J.Crew brand for kids). I priced roughly 75% of my children’s clothing at $1 an item, with just about everything else at $2 each; I wanted the items to sell, and thought I’d priced them as such.

But when sale day came – and it came early: we had people lining up outside our house at 6:30am to get first dibs – the clothes barely moved. With the exception of three women who each bought $50 or more in kids’ clothing, barely anybody else touched the clothing rack. I was shocked that my old clothes, especially my maternity clothes, which were not gently used, sold far more quickly.

What the shoppers seemed most interested in was anything big, whether in terms of size or value. We sold almost all our old, out-of-date electronics at their asking price. I also sold a changing table, changing pad, carseat, stroller, and infant play pad, all of which had been taking up a sizeable amount of room in my house or attic. Housewares also sold quickly, including many unopened (and never used) wedding gifts my husband and I received more than seven years ago but just found not to be our style.

I know, what you really want to know is how much we made: in all, we made $372 dollars on our sale.

The Lessons

Let me just say that it will be a long time before we hold another yard sale. Why? Well, not only because it was a lot of work, but because after the sale was over, my husband and I packed up all the leftover goods (with a few exceptions) and took it all to our local Goodwill. I just couldn’t see stuffing it all back up into the attic, only to bring it down when we sell our house and move; why move all that unnecessary stuff to a new house? The few exceptions – some pieces of sports equipment and a few larger baby items – are up for sale right now on Craigslist, but if they don’t sell there, I’ll probably donate those too. With the help of my dad – a CPA – I found the fair market value for just about all the items I donated and made a very detailed itemized receipt which I’ll use when tax time comes around.

Ultimately, though, when my attic once again becomes so overstuffed with toys, clothes, and gear the kids have outgrown, I will turn my garage into a marketplace, keeping in mind the lessons I learned from this time around:

  • People like big stuff. Strategically placing larger items out in our driveway helped lure many shoppers in to our sale, where they ultimately bought something, even if it wasn’t the big ticket item that had ultimately caught their attention.
  • People want great deals. Some of the things I thought were already priced to move proved to be too expensive for many shoppers. I found myself bargaining with folks over a $0.50 or even $0.25 discount on something that was already marked down to a dollar or two.
  • People will steal. There was one woman who was desperate to buy a pair of adorable sandals my daughter wore last summer. My daughter had grown out of them very quickly, so they looked almost brand new. For this reason, I marked them as $2. Within the first five minutes of the sale, this one woman offered me a dollar for them; I told her maybe later in the day, but not this early. She left. About an hour later, I saw her again, but was helping another customer; when I looked up, she was gone, and so were the sandals.
  • People don’t like being watched. My husband was on security detail – as a sheriff’s deputy, it’s a job he knows well. It was his job to keep an eye out on everyone (and everything) and avoid episodes like the stolen sandals. More than once, people commented to him, “What, making sure we don’t steal your stuff?” You’re darn right, buddy! If someone’s willing to steal a $2 pair of sandals, what won’t they steal? Next time around, I’ll have more than once “bouncer” on hand.
  • People like to pay with the strangest denominations. I had one woman pay for a $1 picture frame with a $20 bill (my husband verified it wasn’t counterfeit while the customer wasn’t looking). I had another woman pay for a $3 set of car window shades with all dimes. We’d prepared for this by getting $200 in change out of the bank before the sale, including $100 in ones, $90 in fives and $10 in quarters; we should have gotten fewer ones, and more fives and quarters.
  • People like to browse. This was the hardest thing for me. I don’t go out shopping – not to a yard sale, not to the grocery store, not anywhere! – without intending to buy something, and most of the time, I know exactly what I plan to buy. I was surprised by how many people were truly just looking. It took me a while, but I finally had to accept the fact that not everyone was going to buy something… and I had to be ok with that.

Reader, what are some lessons you’ve learned from holding – or shopping at – a yard sale?

Libby Balke

Libby Balke