Written By Suzi Weinert

What will you do with those well-meant holiday gifts you just can’t use?

Why not make them the nucleus of your next exciting project: the Big Day of your garage sale! Brand-new items, still in their original packaging, are among sought-after bargains at such sales.

If you visited a foreign country’s marketplace, you would be fascinated by the people, wares, outfits and stories. Think of your own soon-to-be “marketplace” in the same way: an entertaining yet purposeful adventure. But how do you prepare for your sale, attract buyers and proceed in a sensible, safe way?

Collect and Organize. With your Big Day in mind, collect and triage the excess “stuff” filling your children’s toy boxes, your closets, drawers, shelves, attic, basement, storage shed and garage. By springtime your collection will have grown into enough merchandise for your very own garage sale.

Share the Task. Community garage sales (or even several on the same street) draw buyers who park only once to browse multiple driveways. So ask neighbors or your community to join you. You could divvy costs (like newspaper classified ads) and enjoy social camaraderie while sharing sale-related tasks like the time and labor to make and place signs at nearby intersections. And on the Big Day you’d need only a quick stroll to “shop” at your neighbor’s nearby sale.

Get the Word Out. Buyers cannot attend a sale that they do not know exists. Use newspaper ads, community newsletters, craigslist, store bulletin boards and phone calls to friends and family. A sign in your front yard (with balloons on your mailbox) and signs at nearby intersections guide buyers right to your front door. You can make signs or buy them at stores. Be sure lettering is large enough to be read from a passing car (info printed on a page of computer copy paper would be too small). On the Big Day, attract interest by creating a display of big, attention-getting merchandise at the street end of your driveway.

Show Your Stuff. Not enough display tables? Spread merchandise on sheets, blankets, tarps or shower curtains stretched out on the lawn so they’re easy to view. Buyers cannot easily see items stuffed in cardboard boxes. Keep them visible, just as they would be in a store.

Get Change. To prepare for the Big Day have change (about $30 in dollar bills and coins). Keep your money in a zippered purse on a belt around your waist (fanny pack) or in the pockets of a carpenter-type short apron (about $1 at hardware stores). Avoid a cash box that might “disappear” when your back is turned.
Get Help. Invite at least one helper. Solo sellers are hard-pressed to deal with many customers, answer questions, demo merchandise, cashier and watch out for sticky-fingered customers. A helper can also bring water or lunch from the house while you continue the sale.

Price Right. Even if an item was expensive when it was new, garage sale buyers expect bargains. Price accordingly, remembering that you would like to be rid of your merchandise by the end of the day. If you tell buyers you’ll consider any reasonable offer, negotiate toward a compromise, less that your original price but more than their opening offer.

Help the Customer. If you sell clothes or hats, have a large mirror handy. For appliances, rig an extension cord from the house or garage. Have a light bulb to show that a lamp works and batteries to demo a toy, flashlight or similar item. Save grocery bags (paper or plastic) for buyers to cart away their purchases.

Organize your merchandise. Group like items together: luggage, toys, household, jewelry, tools, china, glassware, books, etc. Assemble them inside your closed garage or in your house so you can quickly move them outside on the morning of the sale. Place your signs at intersections the day before your sale to alert buyers in advance to your event. If no telephone pole or metal road sign exists, put your signs on posts (tomato stakes work well) or attach signs to a large cardboard box weighted with rocks.

Prepare Yourself. Wolf down some breakfast for strength. Plan to face early birds who arrive hours before your advertised starting time. Your objective is to sell all your merchandise and every buyer means a potential sale. So welcome these early buyers, not as the nuisance they may seem but as the first wave of the shoppers you need for success.

Play It Safe. If you park your car down the street to make room for buyers to park closeby, lock it up, since it will be unattended for many hours during your sale. Lock your house doors during your sale. Do not let any buyers go inside for any reason without supervision. (Another way your co-pilot can assist.)

Leftovers. You might take leftover quality items to a consignment shop. Local charities and thrift shops may take your leftovers. Some even pick them up at your door. Useable items left curbside may “walk away” by morning.

Afterglow. Okay, you have “down-sized” your belongings, sold what you did not want to make money for things you do. You also recycled useable items rather than adding trash to the county landfill. Good job!