When I was 12 years old, my mother held her first and last garage sale. We were preparing to move to another state, and it seemed like a great way to downsize and make a little money, too. She worked for days, sorting, organizing, and pricing her merchandise. She took out an ad in the paper stating that the sale opened at 7 a.m.
The knocking started at 6:30. People stood outside of our garage door and shouted for us to open the sale early. My parents held out until 7, putting everyone in a less than cheerful mood. Our little toy fox terrier, Mandy, sat with us at the check-out table as we watched the customers haggle over, misplace, or loudly criticize our possessions. Near the end of the day, one woman asked us if Mandy was for sale. My mother said no, she’s our pet, and the woman became irate. She demanded we sell her, and we refused. It was a little ugly, and I was appalled that someone would try to buy my beloved pet.
At the end of the day, my mother counted out her earrings, and they came to less than $75. She shook her head in disappointment. “Never again,” she said. Mandy and I agreed with her. I tell this story because it helps explain my prejudice against holding garage sales. Yesterday Rachael blogged about how she likes garages sales as a way to clear out her home and earn a little cash. For her, it works. I don’t dislike garage sales as such; I just don’t hold them for myself. I happily shop garage sales over the summer, and I’ve found a lot of great deals. But when I have a box of clothes or toys we don’t need, I like to get rid of it a little at a time.
My biggest reason for not having garage sales is time and organization. I tend to keep very busy juggling mom duties with part-time teaching gigs, and I rarely have a large block of time to devote to one project. If I took more time to do it (say, a month), then it would just be an organizational nightmare for me. Unlike my friend Rachael, I’m not a naturally organized person, so projects like this tend to take as much time as I allow them. So when I do get rid of our unwanted things, I just do a few items at a time, year-round. Divide your things into three types: Ebay, Craigslist, and Donate.
Ebay is my favorite for a number of reasons. I like to group items together, like several boys’ shirts in the same size, and sell them in lots. I make more money and get rid of things more quickly and easily that way. In less than an hour, I can sort, photograph, price, and list a large box of kids’ clothes. Then when they sell, I just package them in boxes and schedule a home pick-up with USPS Priority Mail. When I first started, I stocked up on flat rate boxes, but I soon found out that those are not a good bargain when shipping clothes. And customers do notice shipping costs when they’re deciding whether to buy your items. It’s cheaper for both the seller and the buyer to reuse boxes and buy printable postage online (through Ebay or Paypal). Also, our local U-Haul store gives away secondhand boxes for free. Ours has a large stack of small to medium boxes that anyone can take and reuse. Free is good! I also like Ebay because I get the money through Paypal instead of cash. That way it does not become part of our regular budget, and remains “extra” money. I’ve used Paypal to buy kids’ presents, clothing online, or even to donate when a natural disaster strikes. This gives me flexibility with my “extra” money that I might not use if I just had cash or put a check into my checking account.
- Photos, photos, photos! Lay out your items on a solid background, such as a neutral-colored sheet or blanket. If you’re selling a large lot, take one main photo that shoes all the items together. This gives the customers an idea of quantity while they’re scrolling through the sale items. Then take pictures of the items in smaller groups, such as individually or in groups of 2-3. This way you can show details not easily seen in the big group photo.
- Consider your price. You can do this in a few ways. You can either browse ebay’s recently sold items to see similar items’ sales prices, or you can use an app or online tool to help you determine market value. Here’s a good WikiHow article that takes you through a few options.
- Be honest. Be up front about flaws or damage. If there is wear and tear or a small stain, take a close-up and describe the flaw, too. It’s better to be honest up front than have an angry customer later.
- Package and weigh your items before listing! Buyers pay for shipping up front, so you want the estimated cost to be accurate and reasonable. I’ve learned the importance of this the hard way. I’m not good at guessing how much six boys’ shirts will weigh or how big the box will need to be. I have to package and weigh the items first, or I’ll end up losing profits by spending more on shipping than I charged the buyer.
- Think seasonally. Now is not a good time to unload those winter sweaters or snow boots. But it’s a great time to get rid of last year’s summer clothes and supplies. I have a large box that I keep in my storage room that is labeled “seasonal.” I unloaded last summer’s outgrown clothes to sell this year and loaded up our unwanted winter items to sell next fall. It doesn’t take up much space, and it keeps me from wasting time trying to sell items that no one wants.
- Act quickly. Respond to questions or messages quickly to keep from losing a potential customer. I also ship everything within 1 business day of receiving payment. That’s another reason it’s good to have your items packaged and ready to go in advance. I just schedule an at-home pickup for the next day, print up my label, and I’m ready to go. I’ve gotten lots of positive feedback from customers because I ship items so quickly.
Craigslist is easy and free, but it’s not always as reliable as Ebay. It’s frustrating to think you’ve sold something and have the buyer never show up. But it’s great for large items, especially appliances. We listed and sold our old washer/dryer set in about 40 minutes. We had priced it low, and I got several phone calls in minutes.
- Think seasonally. I live in the Midwest, and our seasons are fairly predictable. No one in my area is looking for fireplace tools now or shopping for patio sets in November. Consider the items that retail stores are promoting in your area, and sell similar items. Right now our local sales flyers are pushing patio supplies, gardening supplies, and summer items (beach supplies, picnic gear, etc.) Those would be good items for me to sell right now, too.
- Include a phone number. Yes, you can just set up email, but it’s quicker and easier to set up a phone number, too. This is especially true for hot items, like appliances, where your buyer will want to reach you quickly. Respond to phone calls and text messages as soon as you can to avoid losing buyers.
- Respond quickly. If someone calls or emails you, respond right away. I know when I am shopping Craigslist, I’ll email multiple people with similar items. I usually end up buying the one who got back to me first. And no one likes sending out an email or message and never hearing back.
- When to delete your ad. It’s common courtesy to delete your listing as soon as you’ve sold your item. But wait until you’ve actually sold it and been paid for it. More than once I’ve thought I had an item sold, and the buyer never showed up. So make sure you don’t take down your listing too soon or too late.
When I want to get rid of something quickly, I donate it. I always get a receipt so that we can use it on our taxes the next year. We generally donate adult casual clothing (not much resale value) and household essentials, like bedding or kitchen supplies. We do not donate items that are broken, or clothes that are torn or stained. People shopping at Goodwill do not want torn, stained clothes any more than we do! There’s a sign above the donation boxes at our church that reads, “If you wouldn’t eat it, wear it, or use it, don’t donate it!” That’s a good rule of thumb when you’re considering donating that moth-eaten sweater.
When you sell or donate any kind of baby equipment, such as car seats or strollers, or even household items like small and large appliances, you need to make sure that it has not been recalled or reported for safety violations. Goodwill and other agencies keep a list of these, but it’s best to double-check your own items first, too. You can search for item recalls on the Consumer Product and Safety Commission website.