There's a touch of the country fair about a neighborhood garage sale on a sunny weekend morning--neighbors chatting over paperback books, children bargaining on toys and puzzles. At these prices few people can resist taking a chance on a sweater that might fit or a record that might be a collector's item.
And sellers are twice rewarded. They have cleared out cupboards and closets and will now earn something for their efforts--the price of a good dinner should be a sufficient reward.
If the thought of pulling it all together stops you in your tracks, here are a few tips gathered from inveterate garage sale sellers and shoppers to help you get your own sale organized.
Plan ahead: The best way to plan your sale is to spend a few weekends shopping other garage sales in your neighborhood. See how goods are displayed; look at the prices on items that are similar to those you plan to sell. Talk to sellers about items that have sold well for them. You can even ask them how much they have made. There are no trade secrets in this informal marketplace.
Get it together: Start weeks ahead by cleaning out closets and cupboards. Box things you want to sell, and collect your boxes in one room or closet. If you're really organized, you'll sort items by type as you go--clothes, kitchen gadgets, books--in separate boxes. If you have furniture or other large pieces to sell and you don't want to move them until the sale, make a list so you won't forget them at the last minute.
Don't overlook the garage and garden. Used tools, extra nails and screws, spools of wire, plastic sheeting, unopened cans of paint, outdoor games and furniture sell well. So do plants, but start slips and pot them well in advance so they look healthy.
Eye-catchers: As the real estate agents say, keep in mind your "curb-side appeal." Many people drive by to see if a sale looks promising before they search for a parking place. Signs saying "Children's Clothes," "Boys' Jeans" and "Large Women's Sizes" catch the eye. If some items are further away from the street, signs saying "Furniture in the Rear" will take buyers past all your other items.
Clothes can be displayed on pipes lashed between ladders, but take care in setting up clothing-display racks so they do not conceal other goods behind them. Sweaters, T-shirts, jeans and children's clothes should be grouped on tarps or blankets on the ground. Display shoes, purses, children's toys and linens in large labeled boxes. To keep shoes in pairs, buckle or tie laces together.
Holiday spirit: If your sale is held close to a holiday, set up a display to take advantage of it. You can sell your fancy nightgowns, lace curtains and your strangest hats for Halloween costumes. Never-used gifts in their original boxes can be recycled for Christmas or wedding gifts. If the weather is chilly on the day of the sale, put jackets and ski equipment up front; if it's warm, shorts, outdoor games, rafts and scuba gear should be prominently displayed.
Money matters: The day before the sale, get at least $30 in change. Since garage sale shoppers often start the day with $20 bills fresh from the automated teller, you'll need mostly $5 bills with a few dollars in change.
If you are working alone, wear a carpenter's apron with pockets deep enough to hold change, pens and labels. The apron also makes it easier for shoppers to find you when they're ready to make a purchase.
It's a good idea to set standard prices for books, such as 25 cents for all paperbacks, $1 for hardbacks. Set books out in shallow boxes with spines up so that titles can be read. Records can stand in boxes with cutaway fronts, where the discs can be sorted through as on record-shop shelves. If you want to price special books or records higher, place them on tables away from the others and mark them clearly.
Bargaining: Very often dealers will appear just as you're setting up early in the morning. They usually specialize in single items such as silver, collectible glassware or furniture. They can be rude and pushy, but don't let them bully you. The best defense against being taken is to know the value of your items. If you have old silver, glass, records, lace-trimmed linens or clothing, go to shops that specialize in these things, and get an idea of what yours are worth. You may do better to sell them to these shops directly or advertise them separately in the newspaper than to try to get their real value at a garage sale.