The Best Garage Sale Tips and Tricks

This weekend was my big moving/garage sale.  However I think I prefer what Martha calls it; a tag sale.  It sounds more sophisticated doesn’t it?.  I have been gearing up for days and weeks in order to make it successful. 

Personally, I loathe putting together these types of sales.  It’s a lot of work and the time spent on organizing everything is way beyond the monetary return made on sale day.

So why did I do it?  I had some larger items I wanted to get rid of in one swoop and a billion smaller items as well.  While packing my house over the past few weeks I have been allocating things to the tag sale pile.  It was very large pile.  I literally went through every closet, box and drawer in my house and garage to rid myself of things I no longer cared for.  Everything got a second or third look.  However, in the process, the whole house became borderline destroyed.  It does require going through everything.

Even though I had one strategic area to keep my items, it felt like a hurricane had swept through.

Overall, the day was profitable, $774 taken in with not one item selling for more than $20.

Here’s how I did it.

I spent lots of time organizing like items and placing them in Ziploc bags.  I labeled what was in the bags, how many there were and the price.  I then closed the bag and stapled it shut.  I didn’t do this for items easily identified and in like new condition.  If you don’t, you will have items everywhere and all your organization efforts will have been in vain.  This helps in keeping everything together because many shoppers will pull stuff apart and just leave it.

Price everything.  Invest a couple bucks in price stickers from your office supply or hardware store.  Shoppers love prices on things, some people don’t like to ask.  It also saves a lot of frustration if you are thinking something is worth ten dollars and your buyer has a much smaller price in mind.  Also, if you really want to get a certain price for something, consider pricing it a little higher so there is room to haggle.  However, there are some people who don’t feel comfortable asking for a lower price and end up walking away.  It’s a risk I guess.  You decide.

Believe in volume sales as opposed to fewer, larger-priced sales.  I think there is a magical garage sale price.  It’s 50 cents.  Fifty percent of the items at my garage sale were priced 50 cents.  If the stuff you are selling is just going to be donated after the sale is over, you might as well sell it for 50 cents.  You will sell more.  Trust me.  Have a box of “free” items, people love this.

Invest in an add in your local paper.  The professional garage sale clients scour these adds and plan out their routes.  You want to be on it.  Also, easy to follow signs.  I had seven that marked the way from a major intersection.  No one stole them this time.

A three hour sale, 8-11 AM, is when the action takes place.  Anything longer is often a waste of time.

Lighten up the mood.  My kids said they wanted to sell snacks at the sale.  I had never done that before.  They love making change and working with money so I thought what the heck.  Of course it would add another layer of stress to the mix but it would occupy them and keep them outside as my toy consultants for the buyers. 

I would have loved to sell homemade muffins and cookies but there was no way that was happening with everything else going on.  I had to decide what the lesson was here….them making a profit or practicing their skills working with money, giving change but most importantly, being able to confidently interact with adults; looking them in the eye and saying thank you.  I went to Costco and bought muffins, cookies, waters, orange juice, individual bags of chips and granola bars.  About a twenty-five cent profit was built into every item, making everything either fifty or seventy-five cents, easy numbers to work with.  I really wasn’t sure if thrifty garage sale clients were going to be interested in the snack side show but it was a hit.  I purposely bought items I normally buy in case it was a total flop and we would be left with the leftovers.  It turns out they love snacks.  The kids made tons of money (of course they got to keep it) and they were ecstatic.  The most popular item sold….Costco’s big muffins….Banana  Nut and Blueberry selling out first.

Be prepared.  Have bags and lots of one dollar bills and quarters on hand for change.  Also have a plug available to test electrical items.

I always wonder what the first item sold will be, yesterday it was about thirty children’s DVD’s; Baby Einstein, Dora, Blues Clues and Sesame Street.  They were gone by 8:05 AM.

Items I thought would sell immediately but didn’t sell at all:

Two antiquey-sort of Tiffany style lamps, 31″ high, pink.  Perfect condition for $25 each.  These would be perfect for a little girl’s room.  No takers.  Not sure if it was the price or something else.

A rubber chicken for $.50.  Seriously why not?  It’s a gag.  

Lots of Halloween items.  Not a big hit.

Items people were looking for but I didn’t have:

Old Towels

Item most fought over by customers:

2 rickety-aluminum patio chairs I was selling for $1.00 each.  Five customers battled it out as to who saw them first.

Item customer was most excited to buy:

A large, glass-topped patio table I sold for $10.00.  He cheered and jumped up and down after he handed me the money.  I guess he really needed a table.

Items everyone wanted to buy but weren’t for sale:

My cooler
A glider-swing that happens to sit in my driveway
The folding tables I used for the sale
The chair I was sitting on
The potted plants in front of my house
The hose

Stolen items:

A very large bin full of really nice marbles.  
A blanket
A dress
(What’s up with garage sale thieves?)

Items I thought wouldn’t sell but did:

A large box of plastic grapes
Old Shoes (why do people love old shoes?)

Any other suggestions?  Good luck at your next tag sale.  I won’t be having one for a very, very long time.

Post a Comment


  1. Never underestimate the oddity of what people will buy at a garage sale. $774 is a pretty good haul. How do they maanage to make thousands at the garage sales on Clean House? I wonder if it is the pressure of not looking like a cheapskate in front of the cameras. Maybe a film crew would up the profits for next time?

  2. Tag Sales are the best when they are all over. I wish I was their. Those lamps would be perfect for my girls. Good lamps are hard to find. (Unless your willing to spend a fortune.)
    I’m glad your getting everything wrapped up. When are you leaving?

  3. T 3

    Great tag/yard sale! Over $700 is incredible – summer fun money.

    I’m getting ready to have one of these in a few weeks – you’re right, it’s A LOT of work.

  4. Howdy 4

    Been there… done that…

    I would rather run NAKED up the highway than have another garage/yard/tag sale… NAKED up the HIGHWAY… I hate them so much!

  5. Mags 5

    I broke out in a cold sweat reading your post. (memories of my last garage sale 20 years ago) I admire you for the time and patience required to pull this off, I really do. I have a real problem with people wanting to “dicker” over a 25 cent price tag on something I paid 50 bucks for. I guess I just don’t know how to play the garage sale game. I got a kick out of your kids getting in on the action with their bake sale items…lol

  6. donna 6

    I just had one last weekend.. a few items were stolen also, including a paiting, how they got away with it, is beyond me. I like to have music playing, and my box of joe nearby. Only othet tip I have is to ask people on your block if they would like to have one also, so you can advertise Multi-family garage sale. Other than that, I think you have it down pat!

  7. Anon E Mouse 7

    The Halloween items didn’t sell?!?! If I lived by you I would have been all over it.

    I completely agree with your point about volume sales. The best garage sale I ever went to was one where it was the end of the day and the man running it decided that he’d rather get rid of things than go through the hassle of getting them to Goodwill. I got a dining room table and 6 chairs (not in great shape, but it was for my first apartment), an end table, and a fabulous wingback-like chair with a hood for a combined total of $15. I would have paid a lot more than that for just the chair, but he was happy not to need to worry about loading and hauling things, and getting a bit of money instead of nothing. Plus, I think he liked knowing his stuff was going to a good home– after several decades of marriage, his wife was making him get rid of some of his old stuff to get new things :).

  8. Kate 8

    What great advice. I’ve often thought of having a tag sale but have always lived in sort of remote areas, so who would show up? And I loved that you conceded to let your sons sell snacks. What fun for them!

  9. Julie 9

    Ah man, I wish I could have made it to your sale!

  10. Katrina 10

    Wow, that seems like a great amount to get (maybe not for all the work, but still). We are moving in a year and I’ve never had a garage sale (because of all the work involved). If I start thinking about it now and dejunking every closet and room maybe I could pull it off. The boys would LOVE to sell some goodies. Thanks for the tips.

  11. Marlene 11

    Great job!!! I love to go to tag sales, but hate to have them myself.

  12. Wow–I’m so impressed you got this sale together with everything you’ve got going on! Congrats for getting rid of so much at once and making a decent amount.

    I wish I could get my act together and have a “tag sale” but as I’ve been preparing to move,I find myself just giving everything away so I can get it out of the house right that second.

    I’m sure your kids had so much fun!

    And what IS up w/ those thieves??

  13. Its bizarre what sells in a garage sale. You were brave to have one, but it sounds like you did well.

  14. I have never had one. And I never will. You have my highest regard for doing that. I am going to go take a nap now.

  15. The name seems to be regional. When I lived in Ohio, they were Rummage Sales. When we moved to Connecticut, they were Tag Sales (explains Martha’s usage). Here in Upstate NY, it seems to vary between household sale, garage sale, and moving sale (the latter implying more stuff due to desperation).

    Good luck with the rest of your move!

  16. We have absolutely GOT to have a huge tag sale because otherwise, we’ll NEVER be able to get into our huge two car garage again. Not only that, every single closet in our home is stuffed to overflowing with items we no longer use but are hanging onto for some reason or other!

    Your post was great because I now have some hope that I CAN indeed organize it all!

  17. Congrats on your success with your sale! Personally, we’ve had two in our lives and said no more. Now I give everything to charity (and usually take a tax deduction) or to friends who specifically want something. It works far better for us and I do it every couple of months to help keep things decluttered. But, your tips are great for someone who wants to host a sale! :-)


  18. Lisa 18

    Love the “wrap-up” of what sold, what didn’t, what was fought over, etc. Great resource for others of us who also hate doing the garage sale thing. But your $Take was inspiring!

  19. Laura 19

    Thia was a hysterical, fascinating post. Sorry I’ve been so absent.

  20. The time window really depends on your area. If I held a garage sale from 8-11am only in Wichita, I would get only the professional garage salers. By professional, I mean those looking to resell things at the flea market or on eBay. That’s great if you have the items they’re looking for, but if you have a lot of clothing to unload, they usually aren’t interested in that sort of thing. (They’re usually looking for jewelry, old watches, DVDs, CDs, antiques, and maybe those lamps you didn’t sell.) You also need to know the hot garage sale day for your area. The prime garage sale day here is Thursday. Some folks are even beginning to start their sales on Wednesday and run through Friday. Less and less people are doing Saturday sales, although with the economy changing people’s weekend plans, perhaps we’ll see a surge in Saturday sales again. Typically the sales that are on Saturday and Sunday are in the less prosperous parts of town. Those folks have to work Mon.-Fri. and need to have a sale on the weekend.

    You’re right about the magic price. I see many sales where people think they can get half of what they bought those kids’ clothes for new. That typically doesn’t work, and if you’re pricing much of your stuff that way, you’ll notice people won’t even get around to looking at everything before walking away empty handed. Real garage salers are turned off pretty quickly by overpriced sales.

    One other note about timing your sale. If you’re doing a sale during a weekday–or sometimes even on the weekend–the people who *need* to shop garage sales and will buy most of the stuff that the “professionals” won’t shop at the end of the day on the way home from work. It isn’t a leisure activity for them. This is how they find things they need at prices they can afford, but they can’t take off work to shop. In our old neighborhood, we always got a wave of large families, primarily Mexican, at the end of the day while we were packing up. I’m talking 4-7pm. These are the people who bought the bulk of the clothes, shoes, bedding, kitchen items. One Mexican man came to every sale we ever had and bought tons of clothes and shoes. He was always on the lookout for bikes to fix up, too. He said he took a trailer to Mexico once a year and gave the things to poor families in his old neighborhood. I was always happy to throw in some items for free or give him a discount since he bought so much and it was going to help poor families. If he came back at the end of the sale, we let him take whatever he wanted for free before hauling it to Goodwill.

  21. A box of plastic grapes? Oh gosh, that made me laugh out loud.

  22. This is so darn cool!!!! I also love your tips and organization hints… OH my.. the stapled plastic bag (ziplock???) is worth it’s weight in gold!!
    Love tag sales!!!

  23. Heppie 23

    I hate to imagine what wonderful Halloween items were passed up. I’m a holiday junkie so I would have loved to have had a chance at your goodies!

  24. dawn 24

    gosh I thought for sure your Halloween stuff would sell like hotcakes. How wild. Maybe because it’s not close to Halloween.
    Were the women buying the old shoes or men? I’m curious about that too.

  25. lol…this was so fun to read! I, too, hate garage sales. The last one I did was a double with my sister. Yuck! We didn’t have anyone arguing over stuff, but people were asking about stuff that wasn’t for sale (like stuff inside her garage that was obviously not part of the sale going on outside her garage). And I thought for sure we would sell my daughter’s brown “bowl” chair, but no. I should have said “yes” when the lady offered less than what was on the sticker. We’re moving again in about 2 weeks. Thankfully we’ve gotten rid of about everything there is to get rid of, and won’t have to do another garage sale before this move. The few bags of clothes I have I’ll take to the D.I. Thanks again for the post!

  26. At .50 cents each or less than 20.00 you definitely had a lot to unload. Sounds like you did great.
    I can’t believe there are tag sale thieves! Guess I never thought about it. Sad.
    Thanks for the tips, we are hoping to have a tag sale of our own soon.

  27. Oh, and my nephew (6 yrs) pulled a cooler around the yard hawking water bottles and crumb cake…I think he made almost as much as we did!

  28. Cassie 28

    I love going to garage sales but not having them.. you’ve inspired me to rethink this thought. LOL!

  29. Bunny 29

    I’ve yet to have a tag sale, it’s just way to much work for me right now, good tips!

  30. dawn 30

    Wow, that is a lot of cash but yeah the time spent is crazy. It is nice to get rid of some larger items though, that’s what propels me to do a yard sale. Loved this post. And the rubber chicken…LOL.

  31. Lynn 31

    These tips were great. My husband hates having tag sales and hates just as much stopping at them. We have come to a mutual agreement that I can choose one a weekend to stop in and browse and buy. I try and make sure it’s a huge one so I can hopefully get a few great deals. Glad you made more than 50 bucks!

    My best, Lynn

  32. Paula 32

    Excellent! I’m very impressed! Oh please, oh please come help me get organized for a tag sale at my house! I have so much stuff and have been begging hubby to have one for years. Your stapled ziplock bag idea is pure genius! Now I’m motivated. I’ll need to make something to bribe my husband. Hmmm … something chocolatey seems to be in order! Seriously, though, great job on your tag sale!

  33. LilSis 33

    Sounds like a very successful sale to me! I know how much work they are…Our neighborhood has a huge one every year. We just got the date of August 1st for this year’s annual sale and I’m very much debating with myself on whether or not I’m going to do it.

    In Texas, we would hold 2 day garage sales from Friday morning before daylight to sundown and then get up and do it again on Saturday. I was shocked when we moved to CA and discovered that they all shut down at noon!

  34. Tanya 34

    Wow! It sounds like the sale was a HUGE success. Congrats!

  35. Cheryl 35

    Yard/Tag/Garage sales and/or flea markets are SO ripe for an expose or socialogical study. When my husband and I wed, we were needing to purge “second” sets of things we had as “single” householders theretofore.

    By 8:05 (we did a flea market), all the sheets (eww) were gone and we had folks asking for towels, too! Weekly attendees descended upon us as if we werechum on the beach and they, the seagulls.

    My fave story was I had a clearly form-fitting Size 8 silk dress hanging on the rented van door when a LOVELY but quite rotund woman (I’m estimating 300-ish pounds) asked me what size it was. My assumption was she wanted it for someone else…

    When I shared it was an 8, she looked shocked, asked if I had it in a 28! (Needless to say, I didn’t. It was a flea market, not my foray into clothes distributorship!)

  36. Joni 36

    How did you know I’m holding a garage sale this week!?! Great tips and wonderful for you to get some money back for all that sorting and organizing you did!

  37. Kari 37

    We recently moved from Boise, ID to Fairbanks, AK and we sold almost everything we needed to get rid of on Craigslist. We would post the item and within an hour have 4-5 calls on it. TV, car, Bar-B-Q, patio table & chairs, household stuff, tools, everything gone. I did make sure my husband was home if someone was coming over to look (just in case they were a wacko!) but everyone was very nice. Just a thought for those items that you didn’t sell at your tag sale or for “next time”. Hopefully for you that will be awhile! :-)

  38. Marjie 38

    I’ve never had a tag sale. I just can’t stand the thought of strangers going through my stuff in front of my house. I have no problem putting large quantities of things in my Suburban and taking them to the Salvation Army, however. It takes the personal feeling out of “my” stuff by the time it gets to someone else.

  39. Marcy 39

    Wow Cathy, We haven’t had a garage sale in years, but its coming time for one since my MIL will be moving in with us this summer. ( yes I am happy about this). Thanks for the tips, I will definitely try to use some of them, as it sounds like they helped you for sure. Ths snacks sounded like a good idea too!

  40. Melynda 40

    Yes, it is interesting what will be a golden hit or a sour note at a garage sale. Second to that is the offering of something for free on Craigslist. Do folks think that a hard luck story will give them more rights to the free stuff? Sounds like the day went well, especially for the boys!

  41. I don’t do tag sales. I watched my parents do them all my life only to get ripped off and not make much money in the long run. But my dad did sell a car once that way! You are a brave gal my friend!

  42. Trisha 42

    Your bravery astounds me! Taking on a tag sale is really, really, really brave. Thanks for the tips for when/IF I ever have a tag sale!

  43. Liz C. 43

    Your tag sale sounds like my *rummage sales*. The kids always sold bags of popcorn and drinks. My son would run around trying sell his fart cushion by making ut make loud noises. And stuff always got stolen. I figure they must have reeeeeally needed it. I guess. My daughter would always sell her Goosebumps books or others popular then.

    Then our daughter would go to other garage sales & buy things, lol.

    The last one I had, I said the same thing. I’m sticking to it. Besides, I’d rather just give it all away to someone who wants or needs it. I wish I could just put it all out on the curb with a sign that says FREE, but the neighbors might have a seizure.

  44. Biz 44

    Hooray for our successful garage sale!

    Great tips too. I am a garage sale whore (my daughter and I go every Saturday for a couple hours Memorial Day through Labor Day).

    Just yesterday, we went to one, and all the clothings, kids included, STARTED AT $5!

    So now you are “this much” closer to the move – hooray!

  45. Laura 45

    The ziploc bags are an outstanding idea.
    The whole thing exhaust me because I am not much of a haggler.
    But, I do love to GO to “tag” sales.
    Yours would have been my ideal, because I am one of those people that doesn’t like to ask how much something is.
    Mission accomplished.

  46. Erin 46

    Thanks so much for sharing the info! I wanted to have a sale, but didn’t have a clue where to begin. Now I know! :)

  47. HA! You were having one and I was scouring some up here. I think I’m done though. Saturated. Really don’t need anything.

    I’ve had a few and they do take a lot of work! I think from now on it’s charity for me, mind you I don’t think I’ve broken $400.00 on our best sale.

  48. sharon 48

    Great tips! Glad it was a success. I like your garage sale stats- I’m pretty surprised people like old towels, and really – who steals marbles!

  49. lo 49

    Wow — you had quite the successful sale. All good tips… and I love the ziplock bag idea. Also think it’s great that the kids got into the groove selling snacks.

    I’m with Sharon, though — who steals marbles??

  50. Katie 50

    Hey! Thanks for the tips! I am bookmarking this post because I am going to need this information. Hopefully sooner rather than later.

  51. Cathy,
    Isn’t there a superstition that you are never supposed to wear someone else’s shoes? I don’t understand why people bought the shoes? I guess they’ve never heard of that one! and no hats on the bed!

  52. Sara 52

    I have actually never held a garage sale before – but when I do, I’ll definitely refer back to this post!

  53. you got it right, tag sale thieves, lowest of the low. How about this? I went to the doctor the other day for my foot.
    While in the waiting room I put $25 cash into my wallet, because I had just tossed it into my bag and didn’t want it to get lost. I left my bag in the room while I went to x ray and you guessed it. Someone who saw the money in the waiting room stole it while I was in x ray. AT A DOCTOR’S OFFICE! Gimme a break. Now get this. We were working on some furniture and I kept getting the wrong stain at the hardware store. Turns out I had mixed up the colors, but when I returned the cans the cashier opened them. I looked at her funny and she said, “I have to make sure they aren’t full of water.” For real, thieves use a product up and return the can with a receipt for a refund. Yeah we are so honest.
    About the sale, OMG would I have loved to have been there with a pick up truck. I bet you sold some really cool stuff. Girlfriend you needed me to haggle up your prices. The table could have been an easy $50, or better.
    I’m still impressed with your square measuring spoons that fit into the spice cans. Just haven’t got around to that.
    I’m impressed that you are letting go of some Halloween stuff, that’s cathartic.
    on to the winery!!

  54. Kayola 54

    This was timely! I am driving out to California in the morning to my sister’s home in Burbank to help her do a garage sale…..what great hints and ideas you offered…Thanks and Congratulations on such a great sale…you beat my lousy $25.00 “TAG SALE”

  55. Kim 55

    Hilarious! The discussion over dinner with my dad and my husband was what a tag sale is. We had seen the sign when we came into the subdivision this a.m. and neither of them had ever heard of it. I told them it was an estate sale -everything that belonged to the dead person got a tag with a price. Looks like I was wrong – you are alive and kicking! I just let my husband know that it is a more sophisticated name for a garage sale! I wish I’d come by!

  56. How timely to give these hints. You are SO organized! I LOVE yard sales. Today we were in Atlanta and in a very high end neigborhood and spotted a moving sale. She was not organized, but I did spot a wrought iron cook book holder. I really wanted a clock at $25. I tried twice to bargain at $20. She refused, so I didn’t buy it. I think leaving haggle room is very important, especially since this was day 2 of the sale.

    So happy your kids had a good business experience with the Costco muffins. :)

  57. Pam 57

    I’ve been thinking about having a yard sale to get rid of baby stuff – thanks for the great tips.

  58. Amber 58

    I can’t believe you don’t have pictures. I love moving and having garage sales. You go through everything when you pack and get rid of stuff at the garage sale. When you unpack you have much less and now you know what you have and where it is. How can you lose? I had one a couple weeks ago. People want crap, they bought a broken rake, my wd40, and were going through what was obviously trash. At least you made enough for a massage, a new outfit, dinner and dancing and plenty in you pocket. I wish I could have come, it would have been nice to have met you before you left California.

  59. elra 59

    Do people really do that, steal something from garage sale?

  60. KathyB. 60

    Love the advice! I am having my first garage sale in 2 weeks and I had not thought of a lot of this stuff!

  61. Good for you! That amount of money makes all the work worthwhile. I’ve only done a sale once, of baby items for my twin club, and I know the prep is a huge amount of work.

  62. pam 62

    Wow! You did good! It makes me want to have a sale. No, let me rephrase that, it makes me want you go come to my house and have my sale for me.

  63. Wow! Thanks for the your advise I love the fact that your children where helping out. Garage Sale are Lost of Fun.

  64. imom 64

    I haven’t done a yard sale in many years, but I used to have them regularly. All of your tips are right on! It is hard work, but putting extra effort in really brings in more money!

    We used our yard sale proceeds to go to the state fair, by a new tent for camping and all kinds of other fun family stuff over the years.

  65. Wow, I commend you on your effort and successful sale! I am too lazy and not good with hagglers…so I donate everything to local charities. We have 3 that come through our neighborhood reguarly or I can call them to pickup. I know I could probably make a few bucks, but at least I know the items will go to people who need them. Of course, if there was a rubber chicken, now that’s a completely different story!

  66. Mrs. L 66

    Like many others, I would have bought the pink lamps and no, they would have not gone in a childrens’ room!

  67. Kacey 67

    This is great! I’m planning on having an indoor ‘yard sale’ in my apartment in a few weeks. I know it’s taking a chance, but I could always try again! I was planning on selling baked goods also, which I had never seen before, I’m glad to hear they were a hit. Thanks for the tips!

  68. annbb 68

    You’ve almost inspired me to have one…almost.

    BTW – when I moved here (CT) 30 years ago, I kept on seeing all these signs saying Tag Sale on the weekends. Had no idea what they were as we only had garage or moving sales in the mid west. Not a Martha original, but certainly an east coast original!


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

 Notify me of followup comments via e-mail.

You can click here to Subscribe without commenting