Last weekend, my sister, my parents, and I held a two-day yard sale. It was a ton of work getting ready for it, but, in the end, it was totally worth all the sorting, pricing, and organizing, because we collectively made $1549 over the course of 10 hours (on two different days). We had almost nothing left at the end of the sale, and we all managed to clear a whole bunch of junk out of our houses. It was a raging success!
I lost count of how many people came up to us at the yard sale and told us it was one of the best yard sales they’d ever been to. People were raving over our signs, our organization, and our items. We worked SO hard to make sure everything went smoothly, and since it did, I thought I’d pass along some of our wisdom. There are a lot of great sources for yard sale tips out there, so make sure to do some Googling before your sale to get ideas from all over the internet! Here are mine:
Gather Your Items
Chances are, there are two reasons you want to have a yard sale: to make some extra pocket change and to get rid of clutter! Sorting through all your items can be the most intimidating part of the process—it certainly was for me. I just took it room-by-room, and sorted things into three piles—donate, sell, and keep (oh, and sometimes a trash/recycle pile, but there wasn’t a whole lot of that). When I was finished with a room, I went through the sell pile, priced everything (more on that in a sec), and packed it up in a box. Once the box was full, I closed it, and stashed it in the corner of our office. It took a few weeks to get through the entire house, but it was a nice spring cleaning/KonMari/yard sale hybrid.
Price Everything and Price As You Go
You might be tempted to not price things (so much easier!), and just let people come up and ask about the price for items—but trust me, from an introvert’s perspective, that’s a really terrible idea. If I went to a yard sale, and there were no prices on things, I would turn around and leave, because the thought of asking a price or haggling for every single item I wanted would just be too stressful. Even if you are an extrovert and think it is silly that someone won’t ask for a price, trust me, it isn’t silly, and you are missing out on sales by not pricing. Price things. You’ll make it easier for you on yard sale day and easier for your customers, too.
As far as how to price, I priced as I sorted—which made it super easy on yard sale day. We also decided on 25¢ increments for our pricing. That way, we only had to have quarters as change. When it came to setting prices, I was of the mindset that all of this stuff would have been donated to charity anyway, so if I made anything off of it, I’d be happy. I priced things a little higher for haggle room, but mostly, I had “rock bottom” prices.
Think Outside the Yard
There will be some things that end up in your sell pile that aren’t a great fit to sell at a yard sale—expensive jewelry, brand new designer clothing, nice DVD box sets, etc. No problem, just think outside the yard! Extend your “yard sale” online to websites like eBay, Half.com, and Craig’s List. We sold an additional $378 worth of items before the yard sale even started (that’s for a total of $1927 if you’re keeping score)!
Most of those were books and DVDs. We set a price line for our books and DVDs at the yard sale—$1 for books, $2 for DVDs—and anything we could get more for that on Half.com, we posted for sale there. I priced them way lower than any of the other sellers, just because I wanted to get rid of them! It was a win-win – because of the low prices, my items sold fast, but they also sold for more than what we could get for at the yard sale.
Location! Location! Location!
I live on a rural country road. My driveway is on a blind curve at the top of a steep hill. Ideal yard sale location? Not so much. My sister, on the other hand, lives in a high-trafficked residential neighborhood in the heart of the biggest city in our state. BINGO. Your yard sale location is absolutely everything. It is so important that we actually hauled all of our stuff up the 2 1/2 hours to my sister’s house to sell it in her front yard (it actually worked out because we were going to be there for family events anyway).
Think Multiple Families
Here’s a little secret for you: we marketed our yard sale as a three family yard sale, because it was, but the third family (my parents) didn’t contribute more than a few boxes. The most important thing about their contribution was the ability to market ourselves as a three family sale! Partner up with another family or two to help share the work load, but also to help with your marketing.
As far as logistics, our method of tracking worked really well—each family had a different color pricing sticker. When someone checked out, we just jotted down how much each family earned from the sale on a little sheet. At the end of the day, we totaled it all up. It was easy and painless.
Don’t Bring Everything
This might sound crazy, but don’t bring everything to the yard sale. Let me paint a picture of why: say you’re rushing to get to work on a Friday morning, you drive past a yard sale in your neighborhood and you see three racks of women’s clothes packed full. You think, “Gee, it’d be nice to look through those, but I don’t have the time.” and drive right on by. Down the street, someone else is having a yard sale, they are only selling 10 really nice women’s outfits that are out and displayed so you can see what they are from the street. You see one outfit hanging up that you just HAVE to have. You stop in, buy it, and are back on your way to work in less than two minutes.
There is such a thing as yard sale fatigue! Don’t overwhelm people—especially with items that are hard to move like adult clothing and books. Pick out some of your highest quality and nicest items, mark them up higher, and sell those—donate the rest. Chances are, if you pick out 10 outfits and display them nicely, you’ll be able to sell them for $5-$10 each (and sell all of them!), but if you have rack after rack of clothes, you’ll be lucky if anyone even flips through them for a quarter. Same is true with books! Books were the one place we actually really struggled with during the sale, we had WAY too many books for people to go through, and ending up barely selling any. At the end of the sale, I priced them $1 for a box of 25 books just so I wouldn’t have to haul them to Goodwill!
I’ve heard that adult clothes don’t typically do well at yard sales, but between our three families, we had maybe a total of 25-30 adult clothing pieces that we displayed, and they almost all sold! They were well-labeled, easy to see, and people gobbled them up—even at “premium” yard sale prices.
If you really want to sell lots of items like clothes or books, think about having a multiple day yard sale and only putting half your items out the second day. That way, you can also list on your advertisements that there are new items on the second day!
Craigslist is Your Friend
There are a lot of online places to post your yard sale (just Google your town + yard sale, and you’ll see a dozen or so websites), and I recommend posting to as many as you can, but Craigslist is probably going to be your bread and butter.
We had so many people tell us they found us on Craigslist! Here are my Craigslist tips:
- Include photos of your big sellers—put your big items up – we had a woman come right when we opened on the first day and buy 75% of my big baby gear (all had been listed on CL).
- Include your address/map—if this worries you too much, you can put a map to a cross street and say something like “follow the pink signs.”
- Post multiple times—we posted a few days before the sale, and then on each sale day (you’ll have to delete your old ads before you can post new ones).
- Post early in the morning—on your yard sale dates, expert yard salers will be checking the CL listings at 5am with their cup of coffee, so get up and get your ads to the top of the listings.
- On the last day, push it!—list what goodies you have left, tell people you are slashing prices, and make it sound like they should still make the trek out.
Watch the Weather
Around here, prime yard sale time also happens to be prime severe thunderstorm time, so we knew scheduling a yard sale for the middle of May would mean keeping a close eye on the weather. Originally, our plan was to have a full-day yard sale on Saturday—but a week before, the weather was calling for an 80% chance of rain all day, so we ended up changing it to be two half days (Friday and Saturday). It was such a good move!
Not only did having the yard sale on the two different days help us avoid the afternoon heat and thunderstorms (on the last day, literally, I felt raindrops as I closed my car with the last charity box packed in), but it also helped us hit two different clientele. On the first day, we had more hard-core yard sale fans, and on the second day, lots of families and “normal” shoppers. We also loved that we were done for the day by early afternoon on each day.
Awesome Signs: Your #1 Marketing Strategy
Yes, some people will find you on Craigslist, but most people will find your sale by driving by one of your signs. Signs are your #1 marketing tool—they should be your tippy top priority! If you just jot down the details on a piece of paper and staple it to a pole the morning of your sale, your sale will fail. Good signs are three things:
- Highly-visible (please don’t write on cardboard with pencil)
- Prevalent (blanket the area—every intersection within a radius of the sale)
- Simple (“Yard Sale,” arrow, address, a few other pertinent details)
It might be annoying to make and hang dozens of signs, but it is vital to your yard sale’s success. There are a million different ways to make yard sale signs, but ours ended up working pretty well (and even made it through a rain storm at night). I designed my signs in Adobe Illustrator, and then printed them on hot pink paper on my laser printer. I then taped the signs to pieces of foam core—you can get big sheets for $1 each at the Dollar Tree—and then “laminated” the whole thing with wide packing tape to the keep the rain out. If the forecast didn’t call for rain, I would have skipped this step.
I made 12 large signs (20″ x 30″) for the main thoroughfares surrounding the sale, and about 40 small signs (15″ x 20″) for the smaller side streets. Each intersection had at least two signs, and I placed them at every big and little intersection within a three block radius of the yard sale location.
It sounds really expensive, but it works out to be less than $1 per sign. That’s about the price of a decent-sized classified ad in the local newspaper—and trust me, it’s more important to put your money in the signs! And if you’re splitting that cost with other families? It’s nothing!
As far as hanging signs, there were three different ways we went about it. For wooden telephone poles, we used a staple gun with long staples (easy peasy!). For corners with street signs, we taped the signs on using packing tape. And for corners without anything to attach to, we stapled 1″ x 1″ stakes in the back of the signs, and then hammered them into the ground using a rubber mallet.
We hung the signs about an hour before the sale on Friday morning—Craig and I just walked around the neighborhood and put a sign on pretty much every street corner within a three block radius. Our yard sale was just off the main thoroughfare, so we were lucky there. If the place you are having your sale is a little more secluded, you might want to plaster with even more signs.
On the second day, I did a quick drive around to check the signs. Some were knocked down by the previous night’s thunderstorm and some were missing (I saved a few signs to replace on the second day). Once the sale was over, I asked my awesome teenage niece to drive around to take the signs down for us. PLEASE take your signs down!
Brand Your Sale
This is related to your signs, but also goes beyond just what’s on each street corner—you are going to want to brand your sale. Chances are, you’ll have tons of competition no matter what weekend you choose to have your yard sale (although, I suppose probably not in January), and branding yourself will help differentiate your sale. Use the same colors on your signs. Use the same fonts. Have the same layout for your displays. Make it to where it is easy to find your sale!
Accept Credit Cards
If you have a smartphone or a tablet, you can accept credit and debit cards! And you should because it is (a) so much easier than dealing with cash and (b) such a great way to get people to spend more money. I lost count of how many times I had this conversation:
Customer: You have such great stuff! I wish I had more than this $10 bill.
Me: Well, we accept debit and credit cards, if you want to keep shopping!
Customer: REALLY!? Yes! I’ll keep looking
*Customer comes back 15 minutes later with $100 of stuff*
We used the Square reader, which Square will send to you for free (they do charge a 2.75% per swipe fee—we ended up having less than $10 in fees for the whole sale). You download the app to your phone and then swipe their card—they sign, and done! SO much easier than counting out change.
I love yard sales, but almost never have cash on me, so I almost never stop at a sale. We marketed the heck out of the fact that we take credit and debit cards (it was on all of our signs and in all of our ads), and we had lots of people use cards and say the only reason they stopped was because we accepted credit cards.
We had so many people come up and tell us that our sale was so organized. They kept saying how it was a pleasure to walk around and shop. That’s what you want to hear! You want to keep people looking around! We used as many shelves and tables as we could, and grouped things by category. When we ran out of tables, we improvised and put out large boxes to display items.
Not only do you want to organize like items together, but you also want to organize the whole sale well. Make sure to leave lots of open space around areas where people will linger (looking through books, flipping through clothes, etc.). Put a wide variety of items up front to draw all kinds of people in (we had antique tools, Christmas decorations, and baby gear all up front). Merchandise your sale!
Have a Plan for Stuff That Doesn’t Sell
We’re very fortunate that we almost sold out, but even if you do as well as we did, you will have stuff leftover. You should decide early on what your strategy for stuff that won’t sell is. Do you want to try to sell stuff elsewhere? Donate it? Give it to friends? Keep it? My strategy—nothing comes back in the house.
At the end of the sale, I was marking down things to insane prices just to get rid of it ($1 for a box of books, $5 for a box of DVDs), mostly because I didn’t want to move it again! At the end of the sale, there were a few young families that came up that I was giving away baby stuff to.
The stuff that I knew I could get a few more bucks for elsewhere (barely used baby gear, mostly), I packed up in my car and took directly to a children’s resale shop once the sale was over—and made an additional $45 (that’s up to $1972—boom!). And everything else was packed up on the second day of the yard sale and taken directly to be donated. Nothing came back in the house. And I don’t regret for a second getting rid of any of it.
What I’d Do Differently
If I were have a yard sale tomorrow, there are a few things I’d do differently. Learn from my mistakes!
Fewer books. I already mentioned this, but I’d sell a lot fewer books. We probably had 200 books total, and people really didn’t enjoy flipping through each one. Instead, I’d pick out a handful of the prime books that I know would sell, mark them up a little bit, and put those out instead. Other things that didn’t sell well: small kitchen appliances (go figure), DVDs (even at $1 a piece!), furniture, Christmas decorations.
Bring more bags. We always use our reusable grocery bags when we go shopping and rarely have any extra plastic bags around, but people really wanted bags for their purchases. We ended up giving people boxes, but if I were to do it again, I’d stop using my grocery bags for a few months before the sale and stock up on plastic bags.
Put signs up the night before. Putting up the signs the first morning of the yard sale was stressful! I allotted 90 minutes to do it, and it took all of that time—which left my sister to be the only one setting up the sale. We didn’t even have everything set out until over an hour after the yard sale started. If I did it again, I’d put the signs out the night before, and leave yard sale morning to set up.
Fewer baby clothes. We were very fortunate to get a lot of baby clothes as hand-me-downs, and after two or three rounds of babies, most of the clothes weren’t in good enough shape to give to my friends who are having babies, but not bad enough to be trashed either. I thought maybe I could sell them for cheap, but they just didn’t perform well. I’m not too crushed about it, because I’m happy I got to donate the majority of Juniper’s clothes to charity to help out some other families—but I think I will just skip putting baby clothes out at all next time. Maybe just do what I did with the adult clothes and pick out a few high-quality outfits to display and donate the rest.
Overall, I’m so happy we decided to take on doing a yard sale. Would I want to do one next month? Heck no. Maybe not even next year! But I think having one every few years would be a great catalyst to clear out my closet and make a few extra dollars. If you are on the fence if you should hold a sale or not, I highly recommend doing it! I’m over-the-moon about how much cash we brought it—just from junk!
Update: Another (Totally Different) Yard Sale Four Years Later
Using these tips, we had another yard sale four years after the original post, and ending up making $737 in a one-day six hour sale! Not too shabby. This particular yard sale was a community yard sale, so we learned a few things that worked different in that environment. Let me share what we learned this go ’round:
Know your audience: Our original yard sale was held in a high-end neighborhood in a major city. Our second yard sale was a community yard sale in a small town surrounded by a rural area. The difference between what sold in each place was mind-boggling! At our city yard sale, housewares and appliances were flying off the table. We barely sold a single housewares item at the rural yard sale. We couldn’t sell second-hand books or clothes at the urban yard sale, but at the rural yard sale, they were quick to go. High end brands definitely didn’t fetch the premium price at the rural yard sale like they did at the urban yard sale. Overall, at the urban yard sale, it felt like people were doing more shopping for one-of-a-kind and unique items, at the rural yard sale, people were looking to find a good deal on everyday items.
The benefits of a community yard sale: no need to advertise or put out signs, lots more people make the trek, and even if you just have a small amount of stuff to sell, you can join in and have a good turnout. Not having to do any advertising or signage was a HUGE selling point for us!
The negatives of a community yard sale: some places charge a booth rental fee (ours was $15, which we made up with the first sale at 7:40am!), and, of course, there will be competition—so that’ll naturally drive the prices down. Since our goal with our yard sales is more decluttering than money making (although the money is nice), we’re fine with marking stuff down so it sells fast.
Electronic payments make everyone’s life easier! I said this above, but I want to reiterate: make sure you have a way to accept electronic payments, either through a Square or other card reader like mentioned above, or through a digital payment service like Venmo (or both). Make sure to have lots of signs telling everyone what types of payments you accept. There were lots of sales (especially of furniture) that were MADE by the fact that we accepted debit cards.
Bundle, bundle, bundle! Get a bunch of different size clear bags and bundle items. We bundled grab bag toys together, PJ sets, holiday decorations. People are way more likely to buy a bundle of stuff for a $1 than a single item for $0.25—it feels like a deal!
Hand-writing versus printing signs and price stickers: In our first yard sale, we did a lot of printed signs and stickers, and it worked out well—we wanted people to feel like it was a “high end” yard sale (if that’s even a thing). With our more rural yard sale, we were concerned people would be less likely to buy if we used pre-printed stuff. As a girl who has spent her entire life in rural Indiana, I can tell you there is an inherent mistrust here for “fancy” things—and, as silly as it sounds, printed yard sale signs and stickers might be bordering on fancy. There is no way of knowing if this assumption is true, but we did go with almost entirely hand-written signs and stickers to give it a more backyard feel, and it seemed to workout well. Just a hunch! I mentioned that part of a good yard sale strategy is branding your sale properly—and I think that really is true. You want people to be able to take one look at your yard sale and say “this is for me!”. I’m not saying you have to go overboard and conduct focus groups here, but just think about who your audience is and what they would want to see in a sale—and go from there.
Alright, I think that covers the new stuff we learned at this sale! I was super excited with how much we made (it was WAY more than we expected), and I’m even more happy that my basement is empty.