How to Organize a Yard Sale

A well-planned yard sale can be the perfect way to spend a sunny Saturday.
A well-planned yard sale can be the perfect way to spend a sunny Saturday.
David Sacks/Lifesize/Getty Images

It goes by many names -- yard sale, garage sale, rummage sale, estate sale -- and its purposes are many. Looking to rid your house of all that junk you've got in the attic? Sell it outside. Got an open weekend you'd like to fill? Set a couch, a blender and some booties on your lawn and watch the cars line up.

Just want a little extra cash? Yard it up.


"Yard sale" is a siren call for bargain hunters, antique seekers and lovers of all things kitsch, and there are people who wait all year for the warmer weather that turns neighborhoods into giant, cardboard-signed clearance sales. Whether you're looking to score some bucks, fill some time or clear the clutter (or all of the above), you may find a yard sale is the perfect way to spend a Saturday at home -- as long as you do it right.

It may seem simple, and it pretty much is. But as with most things worth doing, a yard sale does require some knowledge and effort to be a success. Here, what you need to know, do and plan for in order to pull off a great event, including some of the little extras that can make it a more enjoyable experience for everyone involved.

Let's begin with the basics, because a brush-up never hurts ...


Yard Sale Basics

If you've never organized your own yard sale before, don't worry: It's not brain surgery. It is, however, something you'll want to prepare for and put some thought into.

Address each of these basics, and you should be well on your way to a successful sale:


Plan ahead -- Just decided you're going to have a yard sale? Great! Now give yourself at least month to pull it together. In addition to gathering up and assessing your discards, possibly recruiting help, and preparing and placing signs around the neighborhood, you also need to find out whether your city requires a permit and whether your home owners' association or other neighborhood organization has rules about yard sales (it's likely they at least have ideas about where you can and can't put your signs).

Get help -- You probably don't want to do this all alone, since your attention will be spread pretty thin during busy sale periods. Ask a couple of friends, neighbors or family members to help you out with set-up, running the "register," or clean-up -- or better yet, to add their own wares to the sale! Multi-family or neighborhood-wide sales draw more buyers.

Advertise -- Some yard-sale shoppers have a sixth sense about these things, but most of your potential buyers will need you to actually tell them you're having a sale. You can pay for an ad in the newspaper (which is really only cost-efficient if you're having a multi-family sale, so you can all split the cost), but there are lots of ways to advertise for free. Craigslist and yard-sale-specific Web sites, neighborhood newsletters, grocery-store bulletin boards and handmade signs around your area can all help spread the word.

Make it look good -- If you're going to the trouble of attempting to sell your stuff, make it look appealing so it actually sells! Wipe down appliances, wash, iron and hang clothing, and lay everything out nice and neat on clean tables and shelves, not in piles.

Direct -- Make it as easy as possible for people to find your house on the day of the sale. In addition to putting your address in all of your ads, you might want to put up arrow signs starting at the main road on the morning your sale starts, so nobody gets turned around and gives up.

Be safe -- Remember, these are mostly strangers coming over to browse your wares. Do not let people in your house to try on clothes or use the bathroom, and keep your doors locked. Don't take personal checks from strangers, and rather than a cashbox anybody could grab, keep earnings on your person in a fanny-pack-type device or safely in your pocket. Take periodic trips inside to deposit the cash.

Price everything! -- It will definitely take you more time, but put price tags on every item rather than just waiting for someone to ask, and avoid the "all blue tags are $1" system, which mostly just annoys people. It's much easier for the shopper if each item has a clearly stated price in plain sight. You'll sell more this way.

So, now that the basics are out of the way, let's get to the good stuff: What do you want for that TV that hasn't worked since the '90s?


Yard Sale Pricing Tips

You've probably been to a yard sale where you pick up an item, look at the price and laugh -- They want 20 bucks for this?

You want to avoid this reaction. Remember, you might have fond memories of watching "Growing Pains" on that old TV, but your potential buyers do not. If your overall goal is to get the best price you possibly can for what you're selling, take it to eBay or Craigslist -- you could probably find a collector. If your overall goal is to get rid of it (and how nice if you make some money in the process), take it to the yard.


The general guideline for pricing yard-sale goods is about one-third of the retail price. But that doesn't always apply. For instance, the pack of Mount Rushmore playing cards you shelled out $6 for at the souvenir store is worth, oh, about 10 cents out in your yard.

Try to look at all of your stuff objectively -- what would you want to pay for this one someone else's lawn? People go to a yard sale to find amazing deals -- they need to feel like they're paying less than what it's worth.

So figure out the lowest price you feel comfortable with, and then, if you plan to let people bargain, take it up a bit for some wiggle room.

Some other pricing tips:

  • Bundle: While you might have trouble selling a box of bobby pins for a quarter, you could probably sell "10 hair accessories for a buck!" without much effort. Offer a bundled price for sets of flatware or matching furniture, too.
  • Use easy increments: Price everything ending in 25 cents or 50 cents so you don't necessarily need a calculator to tally purchases. It's a time saver.
  • Tag thoughtfully: Don't write prices directly on merchandise, and large items should have (physically) large price tags. It's annoying to have to search for the cost.

Hopefully, you'll sell absolutely everything and come away with enough dough to make the entire experience worthwhile. But even if you don't get rid of it all, you can still have lots of fun, especially if you make it more than just a sale ...


Fun Ideas for Yard Sales

Sure, the point of a yard sale is to sell stuff, but that doesn't mean you can't make a fun day of it. It's pretty simple to turn your sale into a full-fledged event -- or at least something lots of people can participate in, contribute to and enjoy.

If you're looking to spice up your yard sale, consider:


Music -- Background music can make a big difference in ambience (oh, yes, yard sales have ambience). People often feel more relaxed when music's playing. They'll also feel freer to discuss with their friends the pros and cons of your offerings without worrying about offending you. Make sure the music is something (almost) everybody likes, and play it loud enough to hear but not so loud that your shoppers have to raise their voices.

Concessions -- There's nothing like cold lemonade on a hot day, so get your kids involved with some commerce of their own. Lemonade, donuts, cookies and soda are all great things to sell, and having food and drinks will encourage people to stick around longer (and buy!). It's a nice idea, too, to offer free ice water on a hot day or free coffee on a cold one.

Free stuff! -- Speaking of free stuff, if you have lots of odds and ends you think probably won't sell, like single earrings, electrical parts or chipped mugs, put them on a "Free" table! Adults and kids alike love rummaging those tables (or boxes), and it helps you clear some clutter with no extra effort.

And that's the point, right? Clear the clutter, make some money and hopefully have some fun in the process. Just remember to post a big, prominent, legible sign that says "ALL SALES FINAL." It's no fun when someone comes knocking on your door to return the broken TV he didn't think was really broken.

For more information on yard sales, check out the links on the next page.


Lots More Information

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More Great Links

  • 101 Garage Sale Tips for Sellers. Weekend Treasure. (March 27, 2012)
  • Ewer, Cynthia. Garage Sale Tips: Clear Clutter With a Yard Sale. Organized Home. (March 27, 2012)
  • Having a Successful Yard Sale. Yard Sale Queen. (March 27, 2012)
  • Roth, J.D. "A Yard Sale Checklist: Ten Tips for Garage Sale Prep." Get Rick Slowly. June 12, 2007. (March 27, 2012)