Garage Sales: To Have or Have Not

Garage sale sign in front of homeI hate garage sales. There, I said it! The same with yard sales, tag sales and any type of sale where I have to get up at the crack of dawn to fend off strangers who arrived before the crack of dawn so that we can barter over a plastic Barbie plate.

Apparently, I’m not alone. I conducted an informal poll, asking the question, “If you have ever had a garage/yard sale, would you do it again?” Over 70% said “no.” Should you have one?

Let’s consider that Barbie plate. Years ago when my daughter was outgrowing her everything-must-be-pink phase. Her heart-shaped Barbie plates were marked for 50 cents each and someone was trying to barter me down to 10 cents each. Okay, maybe they WERE overpriced, but didn’t they realize how many creative breakfasts those plates served?!? Ugh!

The precious playpen

Then there was the playpen. Our attic was full of baby equipment just in case we had a second child. But my then-husband disappeared into the attic, pulling down playpens, highchairs, bouncy seats, etc., dragging them into the driveway. Blinking back tears, I hurriedly began to price these new additions. Almost immediately, a woman purchased the playpen.

I recalled the times my daughter pulled herself up and hung onto the sides, wobbly but determined. Someone’s new baby will enjoy it now, I thought, and that made me smile. Until I heard the woman exclaim, “My puppies are going to LOVE this!”

Theft of a little red corvette

One reason I have never worked in retail (besides having no desire to work in retail) was because I don’t want to spend half my time guarding against theft. To be honest, I’m not positive we ever had much, if anything, stolen from a garage sale, but I remember a time I prevented that from happening.

My daughter had a red child-size convertible. It was adorable! We pretended her tall Mickey Mouse sprinkler with a hose was her gas pump. She would drive up the sidewalk and let Mickey fuel up her car. Eventually, she outgrew the car and we set it out on garage sale day.

A young couple asked to buy the little hot rod and together we lifted it into the bed of their truck. They jumped in and started to back down the drive. I raced to the driver’s side window to collect payment. Fortunately, another car was blocking their truck. They forked over the cash and seemed very perturbed as they took off. But Karma was there and so was the battery they left behind (those things are expensive!). They did not return.

Stinky boots

There is a particularly sweet (if not stinky) memory too. My daughter had a favorite pair of ankle boots with a heart-shaped buckle. She wore them daily to 1st grade. I mean, EVERY SINGLE DAY. Without socks. You see, there was this stage where the seams in the toes of socks were unbearable to her (I later learned that’s a real thing) and so for a long stretch she refused to wear them. I picked my battles, as all mothers must, and sent her to school. Eventually, I sent a note to her teacher that simply said, “It’s not her, it’s the boots.”

Finally, one morning I convinced her they were more than a bit stinky, unwashable, and thereby no longer wearable. I promised her a new pair. The evening before our first family garage sale, I was in the garage pricing and sorting. She walked slowly and somberly towards me as if leading a funeral march, with tears streaming down her face. In her hands were her beloved boots, which she, with dramatic effect, set down on a sale table. After she went to bed, I thanked them for their service and dropped them in the trash can.

The last garage sale I never had

Over the school years, we had several garage sales. I remember them being very labor-intensive for me for little cash in return. My then-husband worked nights. During one memorable garage sale, he decided to sell his equipment trailer and some excess tools and carpentry equipment. He strolled out mid-morning, coffee cup in hand, rubbing his eyes. Someone immediately approached him about the trailer. He made $1,500 in five minutes (not counting a few hundred more for all the power tools) and went back to bed. I, on the other hand, put in at least twelve hours of work and made less than $300. Home improvement stuff sells!

Fast forward a few years. “Things” were building up in our home again, as they do when children outgrow toys and youthful interests. I started pulling things together for a garage sale, but then stopped. I considered the time needed, the newspaper ad I’d have to place (when that was still a thing) and calculated how much money I could possibly make. $130 tops. My time and sanity were, and still are, more valuable. Three carloads later, everything was donated to Goodwill. I enjoyed a free Saturday!

So, should you have a garage sale? Here are some points to consider:

Reasons to have a garage sale:
  • The goal of less stuff makes the process of letting go a snap.
  • You have the time and could use some cash. Yes, you can make some money, just don’t try to calculate your hourly wage! Downsizing your belongings is its own reward.
  • You have lots of stuff to get rid of in many categories. If you haven’t had a sale in several years (or never), then you might have enough cast-offs to make it worth your time and draw buyers.
  • You have children and/or other members of the household who will participate. This can be a great family activity and valuable learning experience for children. Everyone weeds out their own belongings, assists with set-up, selling, clean-up, and disposal.
  • You have, and will stick to a plan for disposal or removal of any leftovers. Schedule a pickup by a local charity or junk hauler to arrive two hours after your sale ends. You may not have the energy to haul it off yourself.
  • You live in a big neighborhood.
Reasons not to have a garage sale:
  • You need to get rid of things NOW. If you’ve struggled to start your decluttering and downsizing project, a complicated plan for disposal can kill your momentum. Most of my clients opt for scheduling a pickup and getting stuff out of the house ASAP.
  • It will be traumatic to see people picking through, and leaving with your belongings.
  • The time and effort required are not worth the money you might make.
  • You don’t have help. Let’s face it – garage sales are hard to manage on your own. From hunting and gathering items days and weeks before to set-up in the early morning and then overseeing the event with no break…it’s exhausting!
  • You don’t have enough stuff. Bulky items such furniture and large, colorful kids’ toys draw people in. This is also the time when knick-knacks and tchotchkes shine. If the majority of things consist of clothing or items you expect a high dollar for, a garage sale may not be for you.
  • Your home is isolated from others. As with trick-or-treaters, avid garage-salers will try to visit as many homes as possible. Yours may not make the cut.
  • You just don’t want to. These events are not for everyone, so skip the sale and donate instead.

A client needed my help in clearing out her garage. It was filled with boxes from their recent move, excess furniture that wouldn’t fit in the home and much of the estate from a deceased relative. I presented numerous options for getting rid of it all, including selling on social media, donating, or having a garage sale. She unenthusiastically opted for the latter and we began digging through and sorting. Half an hour later, she changed her mind and we arranged for pick-up by a local charity. Once she made that decision, our digging and sorting kicked into overdrive!

Ultimately, the goal is to declutter and let go so you can free up space in your home and mind. As long as you procrastinate, your belongings deteriorate and others don’t get to put them to use. So, do you love or hate garage sales? Please share your thoughts and stories below.

Are you ready to downsize or clear out that packed guest room, junk room, attic or garage? I can help you dig through and determine the best way to let go of everything, whether it’s through a garage sale or thoughtful donations to the right people and charities. Call 904-500-7678 (SORT), message me, or schedule your free consult for business or residential organizing, life and productivity coaching. I’d love to help you get some clarity so you can live the life you desire!

Barbara Trapp, CPO®, Certified Professional Organizer® and Life/Productivity Coach
Zen Your Den®  and Zen Your Biz™
Professional Member, NAPO (National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals)
Life Transitions Specialist, NAPO
Residential Organizing Specialist, NAPO
Workplace Productivity Specialist, NAPO