Clutter Cash: A Garage or Yard Sale May Be In Your Future

Years ago I used to laugh at my grandmother and grandfather on my mother's side because almost every time they came over to our house on Long Island they had a trunk or back seat filled with stuff they found in someone's trash. Although we really didn't need it, my mom kindly accepted their donations to our family and dutifully placed them in our garage or basement. My grandmother called the stuff they found 'good junk' and she always had a glow of joy about her as she revealed the contents of their car to us.

We had a two story house. Most of the space on the second floor was taken up by a large all-purpose room that my mom used for sewing, I used for play and my dad used as a place to keep his beloved pool table. The rest of the space was designated to display the greatest hits of what my grandparents found on their treks to our house. Anything else that had been brought to us and was too good to discard was stored in an attic storage space, the garage and basement.

After living in the same house for many years my parents decided to sell so that my dad could take advantage of a wonderful job opportunity elsewhere. The biggest problem they faced was not trying to sell the house, but getting rid of all the stuff that accumulated in various parts of it over the years. Our unfinished basement was the worst offender when it came to the volume of stuff stored down there. There were boxes and bags of stuff, as well as at least two dozen large pieces of furniture that had not seen the light of day in decades.

I was a young teenager when my parents decided to sell their house. Moving was an adventure for me and I looked forward to it. Most of my friends had already moved away from our neighborhood to parts unknown and many of the new neighbors were too young to have kids even close to my age. The school I was attending at that time had a wonderful educational reputation, but it was filled with kids on drugs. I saw enough of my friends and their older siblings die from doing drugs or drinking alcohol to know that I did not want to become a user. That made me a bit of an outcast at school, so I was glad to move on to greener pastures.

I really enjoyed getting ready for our move and proudly displayed all the boxes I packed up and filled with my stuff in one corner of the garage. I thought my parents would be thrilled with my efforts, but they were more concerned about getting rid of all the 'good junk' that had been brought to us over the years. Moving day was approaching and it was crunch time. After packing up all of the stuff we were taking with us, we brain-stormed on how to get rid of the rest. That would not be an easy task because my grandparents would be around and wonder why we were not taking all their wonderful finds with us.

We were two weeks away from moving and the clutter needed to go. My father happened past one of the rare yard sales of that day. It was packed with bargain hunters and he instantly saw the solution to our problem. We planned a yard and garage sale for the coming weekend and took out a small ad in the newspaper. The rest would either go into the trash or to charity.

We prepared by taking everything out of the attic, garage and basement for examination in our drive way area and front yard. Most of the stuff was sellable, so we cleaned it up, tagged it and moved it into our garage and back yard the day before the sale. Despite objections from my grandparents, my folks priced everything to sell fast.

Our big sale was set to begin around nine in the morning, but we were all surprised to find people already parked in front of our house an hour earlier. Nothing was ready yet, so we started hustling to move the items from our back yard into the front yard and quickly set up all the stuff we had in our garage for the early birds. People started buying things while we were still moving everything into place and we were surprised at how fast everything was sold.

Less than two hours after we started hauling things out to the yard, just about everything was gone and my folks had a pile of cash to show for our efforts. We were all a bit shocked and very happy. I got a share of the money and stuffed it into my pocket so I could buy goodies on the way to our new place. It turned out that some of the stuff my grandparents brought to us really was 'good junk' and worth something. They were happy to see that the trash heap treasures they hauled to our home over the years brought in all that cash and were bought by people that appreciated them.

Garage and yard sales were not really mainstream when we held ours, but it turned out to be a good idea and one which is common place today. The only problem is that some people think they can do better selling stuff online. In some cases they may be right, but those are the exceptions to the rule. In this economy selling your clutter online makes less sense than selling it in your yard, garage, house or apartment. Not only are there those fees that the online services demand, but there is the nightmare of the dissatisfied customer.

If someone gets something they do not like or believe that it was not worth what you charged for the item, you risk the chance that they will leave an extremely unfavorable review. That could seriously hinder your chances of successfully selling things online in the future. Most web sites that allow people to sell their stuff have limited remedies for unfair reviews and these usually don't work. Believe me, there are people out there that get their kicks from writing unfair evaluations of everything they buy just for the fun of it.

If you decide to go old school to get rid of your clutter, here are some tips to make your sale a successful one:

1. Legalities: Check out local laws to be sure that your sale is legal. In some areas you may need a permit and the cost of that will determine whether or not it is worth it to have a yard or garage sale. If you plan on selling older toys or other items that may have problems like lead paint or may have been recalled at some point, check them out online first. You can still sell things like that, but you have to post some sort of disclaimer letting potential buyers know about the lead paint, recall or that these items are being sold as collectable items, not toys to be handled by kids or used by people.

2. The Best Day, Time and Place: Never have garage sales over holiday weekends or on weekdays. Saturdays are the preferred day and the earlier you start, the better. Expect savvy buyers to arrive extremely early and offer less for large items hoping to get a bargain. Make sure the area of your sale is clean and that your items are well organized. If it is a yard sale, mow that grass the day before and pick up that animal poop. Have a rain date available in case of a downpour. Winter or rainy season sales are never a good idea. Summer is sale season.

2. HOAs and Advertising: If you live in any area with a Home Owner's Association, check with them well before planning any event. There may be restrictions or fees. The placing of signs or flyers on community property might cause fines to be levied. You can safely place flyers on bulletin boards at grocery stores, in some public libraries and most coin laundries where that is permitted. Newspaper ads for these kinds of sales are cheap and very effective, and there are always online sites like Craig's List. Word of mouth also helps.

3. Carb Up and Dress For Success: Get ready for a physically demanding experience. Make sure you rest up and carb up before the sale. If you plan on moving large items around, make sure you have help and that everyone exercises great care to prevent any injuries. Wear comfortable clothes and shoes.

4. Security: If people are coming on to your property, make sure you lock up your house or limit buyer access to areas that are not being used for the sale. Allowing buyers to use your restroom is a non-starter and bad idea. Suggest a nearby public restroom and explain that you never allow strangers into your home for any reason. Keep pets that might injure or be injured locked up or at another location during the sale.Place the money you receive from buyers deep in your pockets or elsewhere on your person until you can take the time to place it in a secure area. Never try to run a sale by yourself and do not leave cash laying around in a box. Do not ever leave your yard sale unattended. Appoint someone not involved with the sale to watch young children and keep them safe.

5. Cash and Carry: Make everything cash and carry. People will always try to get more for their money by feigning an inability to carry off an item after they bought it. They'll ask you for an additional discount for having to haul it away or try to scam you into a free delivery. Never offer to deliver anything or accept less for a large item just to have a buyer 'take it off your hands." Do not offer cash back just because a buyer suddenly realizes they cannot fit the item they bought into their vehicle. You can always offer to hold it for them a day or two until someone can pick it up for them, but this is generally unwise.

4. Be Cash and Sale Conscious: Always have lots of change available and count it before you start your sale so you will know exactly what you made. Singles and five dollar bills always go faster than you think they will. Make sure you slowly count out change to buyers in front of others. Have receipts available for those who want them and make sure that all the signs, flyers and ads for your sale state that items will be sold "as is" with no refunds possible for any reason. Never count up your cash during the sale or in front of buyers. If anyone asks how much you made, tell them you not able to share that information. Cash is king, no checks for any reason.

5. Tag It and Bag It: Make sure you clearly price everything with tags that will not damage your inventory. Have those tags clearly visible to buyers so that they do not have to pick up an item to find out what it costs. If you have a lot of small and less valuable items to sell, offer buyers an opportunity to purchase a plastic shopping bag from you for a few dollars and allow them to fill it up with your smalls.

6. Bad Things To Sell Which Get You In Trouble Later: Old bedding items like store bought comforters, mattresses or crib padding (which have become known as a danger to babies). Cribs and baby swings (which may fall apart). Electronics or electrically powered items with frayed or damaged power cords. Bike and motorcycle helmets, child car seats and tires for cars, motorcycles and bikes can have all kinds of hidden internal damage. If you are selling a laptop or plasma TV, make sure it works perfectly (many have hidden damage you would not notice until later - make sure customers see those items work before they leave in case they drop them later and claim they never worked to begin with). Hats and shoes can spread tiny critters around.

7. Hot Items: Antiques, watches and rings; power and some hand-driven tools; movies on DVD; computer items that are less than two years old; furniture and furniture sets; brass-gold-silver items; stand alone sinks; professional items (pressure washers, air compressors, generators); working washers, dryers, microwave ovens, refrigerators and stoves; good quality clothes for women and children (all ages); some high-end exercise equipment and sporting goods; gardening tools; bicycles and scooters in good condition; picture frames; collectable records (major or recognizable artists); dishes, cookware and kitchen items; one-of-a-kind items like attractive folk art.

8. Be Buyer Friendly and Sale Smart: Greet your buyers, act friendly (avoid foul language at all costs and keep friends or relatives with potty mouths away for the day). Have one area where buyers can test electric or electronic items (don't stretch electric extention cords everywhere so that people can trip and fall over them). Maintain eye contact with buyers and never agree or disagree with anything they say about your items.

9. Be Smart: If you have high quality items to sell that may bring in big bucks, have a few printouts showing what they are going for online (Amazon, Ebay) in case buyers choose to argue with you about your prices. Keep track of what sells best and make a note of it afterward for future sales.

The sad truth is that most people lose money and have problems during their first several attempts at a garage or yard sale. The more stuff you sell, the bigger problems you can have. Planning ahead is essential and never bite off more than you can chew. If you are selling decades of good junk, it might be wise to split those items up into several sales and have a category for each sale - High end stuff, average stuff, and everything else.

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