Monday, November 7, 2016

Garage Sale Do's and Don'ts

A garage sale is a way to get rid of things, not a way to make a profit.  Most folks get this wrong.

Getting rid of "stuff" is important in life, as you can literally drown in a pile of your own possessions, over time.   Hoarding disorder appears to be a global phenomenon, but only in rich Western countries has it reached epidemic proportions.

One way to avoid hoarding disorder is to simply buy less and consume less stuff.   Another way is to be vigilant about throwing away or recycling things that are useless trash, such as packaging, boxes, or worn or ill-fitting clothing, obsolete electronics, and the like.

It isn't easy to do.   Our natural instinct is to put a higher value on our own possessions than on other people's junk.   We paid a lot of money for that old t-shirt, so it seems a shame to throw it away even though it doesn't fit and is riddled with holes.   Maybe we'll save it as a wax rag - or use it when we mow the lawn.  Right?

We hate to part with things without getting something for them, if only to assuage our own brains.   Even just a tax deduction from the local thrift shop is some consolation for a piece of junk you overpaid for ten years ago and is now cluttering your garage.

I wrote before about garage sales.   They can be a good way to get rid of stuff you no longer need or want and make a few bucks - or a few hundred - in the process.  But the key thing to remember about a garage sale is that the goal is to get rid of things and making any money is a secondary consideration.   Most folks get this backwards, and their garage sale ends up being a waste of time.

Here are some Do's and Don'ts I have learned about garage sales over time.


1.  Advertise - a surprising number of people will haul junk out into their yard and expect people to show up and pay for it, without any sort of advertisement in advance.  You can put a garage sale notice on Craig's List (and no, it isn't hard to do, and no I won't show you how to use Craig's List, figure that out for yourself!).   Hard-core garage salers do read these listings and plan their weekends accordingly.

And speaking of weekends, that is when you have garage sales in general.   No one will come to a Wednesday night garage sale, except perhaps under special circumstances.

If you are selling some high-end or unique pieces, like furniture, you can also advertise them on Craig's List with the notation they will be available at your garage sale.   This might generate traffic from folks who are not ordinarily garage salers.

2.   Signage - The other form of advertising is signage and you'd be surprised how many people either don't do this at all, or do it poorly.   A lot of folks make crappy signs from pieces of paper and magic markers and then staple them to utility poles.   While this is better than no signs, it isn't by much.

A good road sign should be easy to read from a car going by at 30 mph.   Lots of small text isn't going to work here.   Just the words "GARAGE SALE" and an arrow are best.   You often don't need address or times or dates, for reasons we will elaborate on.

Rather than using magic markers, use your computer.  If you have a laser printer and some colored paper (or even white paper) you can make a simple sign on 8.5 x 11 paper using a very, very VERY large font.   Make a number of signs that say "GARAGE SALE" with an arrow (=>) pointing in one direction, and a number of signs with the arrow pointing in another.  Tape these with clear packing tape to some stiff cardboard so they don't blow in the wind.

Then, go to all major intersections by your home and start where someone can see the sign, preferably at a stop light or stop sign, and "route" them via the arrows, to your house.  Yes, this is time-consuming, but it allows people to find their way to your sale.   If you use the same colored paper on each sign, it makes it easier for people to follow, as they will look for "your" color.

Free-standing signs are the best.   A local "mosquito control" company put up signs (illegally) on State property to advertise their service.  I liberated these from the dumpster (the State employees were going to throw them out).  A simple coat of white house paint and they make the perfect background for my printed signs, which can be attached with tape or glue.  So many signs like this are thrown away or forgotten about, particularly after an election.  You can liberate them easily and keep them for future garage sales.

In addition to road signs, you can make a simple flyer with the time, date, address, and other information and post this on the local community bulletin board(s).   It can't hurt.

3.  Price Things:   This is a very hard thing do so, as the electronic gadget you spend $500 on seems like it should be worth at least half that.  But in reality, stuff like that is worth pennies on the dollar, particularly if it is obsolete.   Older computers, for example, are worth maybe $5 to $10 if they aren't running at least Windows 7.   Tube televisions are not only worthless, you'd have to pay someone to take them away for you.

But worse that having unrealistic prices on things is to have no prices at all.   One neighbor had a garage sale and just told people to "suggest a price" for items.   Of course, she said "no" to all suggested prices, as she felt her junk was priceless.   It wasn't - and she sold nothing.

Most folks, however, wisely walk away when things are not priced.   No one wants to track you down and ask you the prices on everything you have for sale.  It is just too time-consuming.   The "ask me the price" model is an attempt at power-shifting.  The seller thinks that if you ask the price, you must be interested, and thus will quote a high price.

As I noted in my "call for price" article, if someone plays this game, just walk away, as the price will be far too high to be any bargain.

And when I say price things, price things realistically.   You want things to go away, not linger longer.   The goal here isn't to keep things, but get rid of them.   So put "bargain" prices on stuff and watch it disappear.   A quarter here, a dollar there, it adds up to hundreds by the end of the day - if you have enough stuff to sell.

Get little stickers (Dollar Tree) and put "make it go away" prices on everything.   You should have a lot of items for ten cents to a dollar and not much in terms of dollars.   Your old chipped coffee mug isn't worth squat, even if it has a funny saying on it.  People can buy a new mug at Dollar Tree for...a dollar.  So your used, stained, and chipped one is not worth anything - pennies at best.  Sorry. 

4.  Get Tables:  Beg, borrow, or steal some nice large folding tables.  Your local church or other organization might have some they can lend you for a small "donation".   Dumping all your crap on the ground looks tacky and what's more, it makes it hard to examine or view.   What's more, junk on the ground doesn't look appealing.

We generally get a half-dozen or more tables and arrange them in a U-shape, sometimes with a center row (an E-shape) with a wall of tables across the inside of the garage.   This makes a "wall" to keep people out of your house and garage, which is important as we shall see.

5.  Merchandise:  Arranging things in a tasteful manner helps move product.   Grouping items and including all parts, packaging, and instructions, also helps.   If you have a set of something, price the set and watch it disappear.  Got old CDs or DVDs for sale?  Offer a discount for sales of 3 or more.  Or something like that.

6. Have Stuff to Sell:  This seems obvious, but if you don't have a certain "critical mass" of things to get rid of, don't bother.  Similarly, trying to sell outright junk is wasting everyone's time.   We've all been to that garage sale where all they have is broken appliances and stained baby clothes.  Who in their right mind would buy any of it?

If you don't have enough stuff on your own, consider combining your pile of junk with a neighbor and having a joint sale.  This makes the labor part easier as well.  Use color-coded price stickers to keep track of who gets paid for what.

7.  Get Rid of It All:  Especially as the day wears on, offer bargains.  If someone touches an item or picks it up, offer them a reduced price.   Make it go away - that is the name of the game here.   At the end of the sale, put the rest at the end of the driveway with a huge "FREE" sign and watch it disappear.  Or take it to the thrift store and get a receipt for your taxes.  The goal here is to get rid of things AND maybe make a little money.  The goal is NOT to make money and keep crap that doesn't sell.

The crap that doesn't sell isn't worth much, so don't keep it for "the next garage sale" as it won't sell at that one, either.


Here is a brief list of "Don'ts" as well:

1.  Not Taking Down Signage:  Not putting up signs is bad enough, putting up signs and then never taking them down is just poor form.  Not only is this tacky, it will result in people showing up at your house weeks after the sale is over.

Worse yet, if enough people are as inconsiderate as you are, they will pass a sign ordinance in your town.   We had such a problem here on the island, where people were taping up signs on historic structures or even attaching them to commercial signs (hotels, restaurants, etc.) which is just tacky.

Put up your signs on the morning of the sale, and then take them down afterwords.  Count the number of signs you put up and then count the number you take down.   If you make a robust sign as I did, you'll want to keep them for future sales anyway.  Keeping count and tracking locations helps make sure your sign isn't lingering for weeks afterwords.

2.  Trying to Sell Garbage:   Again, as noted above, having junk for sale is just a waste of everyone's time.   Incomplete sets of dinnerware or glassware are worth little.  Chipped plates, glasses, mugs, etc. are just garbage and should be thrown away.

With things made so cheaply in China these days and sold for a dollar at the Dollar Tree, most of the stuff you think of as precious is really worth nothing - or next to nothing.   That fine crystal you have may have cost a lot, but today people don't appreciate that kind of stuff - no bride today has a crystal pattern, but she is registered for a new chainsaw at Tractor Supply.   So price it accordingly if you want it to go away.

And if it really is worth a lot, put it on eBay or Craig's List instead.   But I suspect you won't get much there, either.

We pay a lot for our possessions when we buy them new.  They are worth about half what we paid for them, retail, almost the moment we take them home.  After a few years or wear and tear, they are worth almost nothing.   So price things realistically or just throw them away, if they are cluttering up your life.

3.  Don't Let People In the House:  Before your sale, lock your house, your cars, and secure other belongings.    If people ask to use your restroom, politely decline and steer them to the nearest public restroom.  If people ask "what else do you have for sale?" say "nothing".   Don't even let people in the garage, or they will start trying to cart off your lawn mower or recycling bin, thinking that anything in the garage us up for grabs.   Others will simply try to steal from you, using a compatriot to distract you while they rifle through your jewelry box.

Don't be a chump.   Yes, most people are decent.  A few are odious.  From outward appearances, they look the same.  In fact, the odious people will appear to be "nice folks" and the nice folks will look "suspicious" or creepy.   Don't let superficial judgements rule the day - just say "no" to everyone.

4.  No Early Birds!   In every garage sale we've ever had (more than 20 I think) there have been people who show up at 7 or 8 AM for sale that starts at 9.  They want to ask you questions and offer low-ball prices on stuff you are still pricing.  They can get in the way of the awesome amount of work you have to do.  They often ask to go inside your house to "see what else you got".   They can be a pain in the ass.

Many of these are professional garage salers who go to a number of sales every weekend and then buy things on the cheap, accumulate a lot of stuff, and then re-sell it at their own garage sale.   They know all the tricks on how to get things for cheap.  And arriving hours early is one way to throw you off your guard.

If you want to, you can deal with them.  After all, the goal is to get rid of stuff.  But don't let them push you around.  Like I said, they will barge right into your house and start making offers on your dining room set, even though it isn't for sale.

Sometimes, you just have to politely say, "Can you come back in an hour?  Thanks!"

5. Shitty Location:   If you live far off the beaten path, a garage sale might be problematic.  You simply won't get enough traffic.  We saw this when we lived in rural New York.  Only the once-a-year "Route 90 garage sale" (which went on for miles) generated enough traffic to make it worthwhile to sell things.

Urban or heavily suburban environments can suffer from the other extreme - too much traffic.   A friend had a garage sale to unload the contents of his late Mother's house.  He made the mistake of spreading stuff all across the lawn, and people simply came by and took things and walked away.

The U-shaped table arrangement, at the garage, is a much better approach.  Lock the house doors, don't leave stuff unattended, and don't let person A distract you while person B walks off with stuff.  Granted, the idea IS to get rid of stuff, but having it all stolen isn't really that satisfying.

* * * 

Now there are some "professional" garage salers our there (or taggers or jumble bums or whatever) who go to garage sales full-time, and they would argue what I am advising here is heresy.  After all, you want to "buy low and sell high" right?

Well, maybe if you make a hobby out of garage sales and re-sell stuff you buy there.   But I suspect most of these "professional" garage salers put far more effort into their sales than they get out in terms of income.  It is sort of like going to auctions or buying contents of storage lockers - you are just buying and selling junk and there isn't much profit in it.  And I am sure that more than a few are just hoarders, cloaking their illness by calling it a "business" or "hobby".

The rest of us just want to get rid of the clutter than is clouding our lives - and want to see at least some revenue from the process to make it seem worthwhile.

If all of this seems like too much work, then maybe it is.  Maybe a better idea is to just take your junk to the thrift store and get a tax write-off and then feel good about helping those "less fortunate" than yourself.

Beats the hell out of drowning in hoarded crap, that's for sure!

P.S. - having a garage sale can be cathartic.   And one thing you should realize when you get rid of this crap is that going out and buying new crap is not a good idea.   Remember the end game - for any purchase!  What seems like a "must-have" item today becomes a hard-to-get-rid-of piece of junk tomorrow.