toys set out for yard sale

How to have a successful yard sale

Many basements are full of clutter waiting to be turned into riches at a yard sale. Here’s how to have the best garage sale in town.

How not to have a yard sale

Some yard sales have the stench of failure all over them. Tiny items jumbled together, nothing big to attract the eye, endless rows of outdated clothes and worst of all, there’s the walk of shame up and then back down the driveway.

The owner sits huddled in a low-riding deck chair, daring you to approach. Hoodie pulled tightly over their head, hands pressed in their pockets, they look like they’d rather be anywhere but sitting in their driveway at 8 am surrounded by boxes.

If you make it up the driveway, they stare silently as you assess their possessions, most of which seem to be marked not to sell. You beat a hasty retreat, and move on to the next sale.

This is how you have a yard sale

The next one is totally different. There’s a couple of people standing in their driveway, moving around and chatting. Smiling, laughing. It feels like a neighborhood party and you haven’t even gotten out of your car.

As you draw near, you’re welcomed into the fold with a smile and a cheery, “What are you looking for, love?” There’s no pressure, because they keep chatting and if you linger over something, the fun begins.

“Like that chair? It’s half off today, which means it’s a dollar. Take the full set for three dollars.”

“Coffee maker? That’s two dollars and I’ll throw in this lifetime supply of coffee filters. And these cans of coffee I never opened.”

“That desk was great for my kid’s homework – tell you what, take it for five dollars and I’ll help you get it in your car.”

This yard sale is rocking because the sellers know why they’re there. Not to make money, but to clear the clutter out of their house. They probably paid over $100 for the kids desk, but they don’t have a use for it now. Instead of pricing it at $50 and still feeling like they’re losing money, they price it to go.

It’s so freeing when you can stop thinking about what you paid and start thinking about how someone else is going to give your things a new lease on life.

How to set up a successful yard sale

Decide what you’re ready to sell. Don’t put anything out you’ll be tempted to charge more than a few dollars for – no one’s going to offer you more than you ask for, and most people are going to offer you less. Channel your inner Santa and be ready to freely see these things go. If anyone pays you for them too, that’s a bonus.

Dust off your items. You only get a few seconds before someone decides whether or not they want to explore your yard sale. If everything’s covered in dust or shoved into garbage sacks, you’re putting off a lot of potential buyers.

Find some tables. No one likes bending down to rummage through boxes – it’s hard on the back and you feel vulnerable.

How to price items for a garage sale

Mark the prices clearly and make them low. Nothing should be over a few dollars, most things should be a dollar or less.

Bundle items and charge a ridiculously good price for each bundle. Remember, you’re not here to make money, you’re here to clear your basement and have some fun.

Put like with like. If you’re letting some books go, box them in small boxes which are easy to carry and price by the box. Buy one, take the box.

If you have kids clothes, wash them and arrange them by size. Put the good stuff in there too. Price kids clothes for peanuts – you’ll never get back what you paid, so enjoy knowing that the designer onesies are going to someone for 50 cents. If you hold out for $8 a onesie, you won’t get any takers and they still cost you way more than that.

READ MORE >>> What to do with sentimental clutter

Banish thoughts about profiteers who are going to take your brand name onesie for $1 and sell it for $4 at a swap meet. With these margins, wish them well and let them enjoy their razor-thin profits. That onesie is going to sit in a pile in their basement forever while they wait to hold their yard sale. When they finally offer it for $4, no one is going to buy it.

Every dollar you get is found money

Don’t price according to what you think people can afford, price to see it gone. At the end of the day, your total take will probably be around $100. Unless things are really tough, that $100 isn’t going to make much of a difference to you in the long run. Yard sales are for getting rid of things, not for making money.

Approach the yard sale like a party – you’re happy to see everyone. Forget resenting them for scoring such a bargain – rejoice with them and celebrate their good fortune. Every bookshelf someone drives off with for under $5 is a bookshelf you don’t have to move with or take down to Goodwill.

Have a free box and make it good – maybe all the stuffed animals are free, maybe the plant cuttings you thought you’d sell one day are free. This yard sale is a great chance to throw good feelings at your neighbors.

End the sale while you still feel good about having it. Let everything go for a quarter or less, no matter how much you paid for it or how huge it is. As soon as the last stragglers have staggered away, umbrella holder and waffle maker in hand, load up your car and drop it all off at the nearest thrift store.

READ MORE >>> Best places to donate

Don’t save it for the next yard sale, because that’s how clutter filled your basement in the first place. Enjoy the feeling of truly letting it all go and look forward. Either you’re moving, in which case you get to start fresh with only the treasures, or you’re decluttering and you just gained all this clear space. Can’t wait to see what you’ll do with it now all that stuff’s out of there!

by Lucy Kelly


    1. They can be great social events, Jaya. But many people get carried away. I picture rootless items being shifted from home to home within a neighborhood as the yard sales progress. Hard to resist a bargain, even if you don’t know what to do with the prize once you have it.

      1. Hehe, it was more difficult to resist a bargain in the 30s than now in the 50s. The focus these days is to leave behind as few belongings as possible.


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