Exchange Your Clutter for Cash

Filed under: Work Life

Spring is here, and you've probably started rooting through the garage for the bicycles and scooters and golf clubs. You've also probably started to wonder where all that stuff came from, those piles of things that no one is using but no one wants to get rid of. Though end-of-school activities may be consuming your mental bandwidth, the time and weather are right for planning a garage sale to raise cash for summer activities and clean out the garage (and the linen closet and the play room and ...). If your kids are old enough, let them share the work and the profit.

Successful garage sale-ing calls for advance planning, so allow two weeks (at least) before your sale date to scour storage areas, sort, price, and tend to administrative details. For minimal frustration and maximum profit, use this step-by-step plan.

Two Weeks Before

  • Take inventory. Follow this declutter-in-a-day plan and start gathering items to sell. If you don't have enough merchandise, ask friends or neighbors to join you. Having a wider variety of things to advertise and display makes your sale more interesting to shoppers and will bring more profit.
  • Set the date. The Saturday after the first or fifteenth day of the month is ideal since most people have more money to spend after payday. Avoid holiday weekends. Decide what time to begin and end your sale. Experienced shoppers like to come early, before merchandise is picked over. Count on half as many shoppers in the afternoon. Have a contingency plan in case of rain.
  • Check out local ordinances. Look online or call your local community government to learn about any garage-sale regulations.
  • Spiff up merchandise. Oil tools and repair broken items; they'll bring a higher price. Polish wood furniture and cover scratches with scratch remover. Polish silver pieces; clean dishes and glassware. Wash and fold linens; wash, iron, and hang clothing.
  • Advertise. Place an ad in your community newspaper. Also consider an online posting on or free Internet bulletin board. Include dates, times, address and sampling of merchandise.
Week of the Sale
  • Start pricing. Use stickers or masking tape to price merchandise. Secure display tables and racks.
  • Go to the bank. Get at least fifty singles, a few fives, and twenty dollars in quarters, dimes, and nickels. Don't take personal checks, and be wary of shoppers who say they only have a large bill to pay for a small item. They could be hoping to exchange a counterfeit bill for real money in change.
  • Gather equipment. Have an extension cord available for customers to check electric items, a tape measure or yardstick, sacks, plastic tarps to cover merchandise in case of rain, and a full-length mirror.
  • Create signage. Create eye-catching signs, and keep your message simple: "Garage Sale," your address, the dates, and the times. Use stakes or tacks to place signs in prominent locations two days before your sale. Print notices and post them on public bulletin boards at libraries, bus depots, churches, restaurants, supermarkets, and Laundromats.
  • Schedule a pick-up. Arrange for a charitable organization to pick up leftover items soon after the sale.
  • Apply finishing touches. The day before your sale, decorate your yard with banners, tinsel, lights -- anything that looks good, draws attention to your sale, and is easy to take down afterward. Set up as much as possible the day before the sale.
Setting Up Shop
  • Keep off the ground. Merchandise looks better on a table and is less likely to get dirty or broken. Use any spare tables from your house or yard -- card tables, folding TV tables, or patio tables.
  • Create departments. Organize your merchandise by department -- household items in one area, exercise equipment in another, and toys in another so people can find things more easily.
  • Make displays. Use straight pins to hang necklaces and display other jewelry on a bulletin board with a dark background. They will show up better.
  • Offer refreshments. Invite an older child to set up a coffee and doughnut table. Early-bird shoppers will welcome the refreshments and your child can earn some extra cash. Offer lemonade and cookies later.
  • Be cautious. Keep cash and change in a safe location.
  • Keep it clean. Place a garbage can in an easy-access location.
What's the most you've made at a garage sale?

Kathy Peel is the founder of Family Manager University, an online campus where Family Manager Coaches are trained and certified. She has authored 20 books, including The Busy Mom's Guide to a Happy, Organized Home, the 2009 Mom's Choice Award winner for Best Family and Parenting resource.


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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.