The Clutter Coach


Getting Organized - Successful Garage Sales

Cynthia EstesBy Cynthia Estes, Mountain Democrat columnist
July 9, 2010
Reprinted with permission of the Mountain Democrat, Placerville, CA

I have a love-hate relationship about holding a garage sale. I love gathering up my treasures and gleefully adding up all the money I’m sure they’ll bring. But I hate cleaning up and donating those same treasures (doesn’t anybody have taste anymore?).  So, if like me, you  chose the wrong lottery numbers (again), and need to pay your ever-rising bills by having your own sale,  read on to see what the “experts”  say about how to make millions in one day (just kidding!).

In order to get top dollar, yes, top dollar for your gently used items, it’s going to be a lot of work. Timing makes all the difference and summer is typically the best time. A one-day Saturday sale is best, more than one day only discourages bargain hunters. But if you have a ton of stuff to sell, start on Thursday or Friday and end on Saturday. Choose your start and end time with the following in mind. Don’t advertise that you open at 7 am if you normally don’t get up until 9am. You and your helpers need to be awake, dressed, fed and ready to put your displayed tables out by at least one hour before opening, you’ll see why later. From experience, I can tell you that noon will feel like 4 pm when you’re tired and hot, so plan your closing time accordingly.  Advertise everywhere you can, and don’t forget to send information to all your email contacts and have them sent it on to theirs. You’re going to need lots of help, so choose two reliable partners, who are willing to follow these ideas to make more money, including setting up two days before (even if they have to come after work). Have everyone start saving plastic and paper bags and boxes now. Agree to keep dogs in a secured area, as some customers may be afraid of dogs, or may bring their own and dog fights discourage sales!

Here are the “best of the best” ideas for how to prepare to make lots of money: Before you start pulling sale items, find an out of the way space to store them  close to where the sale is held; go through your whole house weekly for sale items, and you’ll  be able to part with more every time;  Start thinking like a customer and not the seller and clean, (yes clean) tools, sporting equipment and all.; price and add your initial on a strip of colored painters tape with a permanent marking pen as you add each item; on electronics and appliances, note its condition or  needs on another piece of tape, unless you enjoy answering the same questions all day; sell dishes & glassware in full sets (with no chips please); put small “like” items in stapled bags and sell for one price; have a “free” box just to get rid of stuff.

Boy, I’m already tired; see why you have to start early?  Let’s keep going, think about all that money you’re going to make! But first your customers have to find you, so make your signs: use poster board in same bold color of for all your signs; print the type of sale, location, date, time and directional arrow in large, thick letters for easy reading from a moving car. Make the following letter sized signs for your site from your computer. Free Bag or Box with Every Sale, Sold, All Sales Final, Not for Sale, Everything ½ Off, Customer Rest Area and Ice Cold Bottled Water only 50 cents and Farmer’s Market with price signs if you need them. You might want to  pre-plan the different “departments” you’ll have, and you’ll know how many tables you will need; beg or borrow patio tables with large umbrellas or card tables as they are easy to walk around; get fans for in the garage; put a couple of  chairs in the shade with your “customer  rest area” signs.. You can use them to relax during down times.

Remember the old saying “It takes money to make money”. Hit the dollar store and get large poster board, plastic tablecloths, extra extension cords, and funny matching hats so your customers will know who’s in charge. Check your local hardware store for matching cloth carpenter aprons with pockets.  If you’re selling bottled water, watch for sales and buy at the lowest price.

Important! Have all participants bring their clean, priced items, bags and boxes as you’re going to play “store” together today (since you picked reliable partners that shouldn’t be a problem)!  Display is important so arrange items on tables and areas according to categories. Put all tools together, toys, books, electronics and so on; keep items off the ground as it devalues them: if you have lots of books, bring out an extra shelving unit with “not for sale” sign, or I promise that it will be the first thing that sells; have self-serve boxes and bags with signs above out of the way of foot traffic so customers can wrap up their own purchases; get a table ready for a mini farmers market if you have  garden produce or homemade items to sell; decide where each table will be located.

Don’t lose a sale due to lack of change, have everyone get to the bank for at least $80 in 10’s, 5’s, 1’s and quarters. Remind everyone to bring their lunch and snacks. Get everything  done that you can do today (while you have help!) so tomorrow you can rest and go to bed early.

Make sure you have the following supplies ready: note pad, pens, calculator, and painters tape, marking pens, fanny pack or carpenter's apron for each seller.  Bring a radio with an extension cord (find an outlet away from the sale) and a big tub for bottled water (buy ice today if you need it). While you’re out, buy dollar store balloons to tie on your signs, as you’ll be putting them up onight.                                                   

Since your partners did bring their merchandise over yesterday, your tables are ready to go out, right? Put extension cords on the table with the electronics and appliance tables in front. Put out signs tonight!

One hour before your sale, drive around, check signs and tie on balloons. Now you know why you’re getting up so early! Make sure everyone has their money ready.  All should know where a public restroom is located. Be prepared to direct customers to the nearest ATM or take checks at your own risk. Put out your displayed tables and signs as planned, with your most highly-desirable items and furniture near the road. Don’t forget the men who will be lured by tools, machinery and sporting goods.  Add your “farmer’s Market items and put up any other signs you’ve made.

If you do nothing else, remember that this is your “store”, so think like a customer. If you went shopping, nothing was priced or displayed attractively and it was hard to find someone to help or they’re talking on the phone, how long would you stay? 

Now you’re ready to open: turn on radio to easy-listening music at a low volume; open your garage door, smile and greet your customers; pay attention and be helpful; thank customers for coming whether they buy anything or not. As the day goes on:  rearrange tables to look full;  put on “Sold” signs as needed; jump on offers at the end of the day and put up your “everything ½ off “ signs – At the end,  have someone take the signs down before you close the garage. take unsold items off tables and put by the curb for the “freecyclers”. Pack up your tables and close the door. Then get a tall glass of your favorite beverage, and count all the money you made by following expert advice

Let’s conquer your clutter together. Send in your organizing questions, and I will answer one or more of them each month. Send your questions to:        

Cynthia Estes is the owner of Uncluttered for Life, and a member of the National Association of Professional Organizers. Contact her at

Call (530) 957-2975 for a free 20 minute phone consultation and estimate!