How To Host A Low-Key Yard Sale

When Sherry and I hosted our first yard sale over four years ago, we remember feeling rushed to get everything outside and set up, being stressed about how to price everything, and constantly obsessing over how much money we had made as the day went on. It’s like we were both so excited to sell stuff that we didn’t like (so we could go buy more stuff that we did like) that it became a bigger deal than we initially expected.

Fast forward a few years (we also had a moving sale back in 2010) and we found ourselves hosting another clear-things-out yard sale now that it’s 2012 (I guess our pattern is every two years?), but this time we aimed for a distinctly more relaxed attitude. Why? Because this is how we approached it:

  • Our singular goal was to get rid of stuff. Any money that we made was just icing.
  • We sold a few higher-value items on craigslist ahead of time (to get more money for them and not have to stress about them during the sale).
  • Everything else was priced to sell. If someone picked it up, we wanted them to take it even if it meant selling it very cheaply.

We were so focused on getting rid of stuff because somewhere between moving to this new house (and not having a use for everything that worked in our first house) and generally collecting items for various blog and book projects, we found more and more of our house turning into storage (hello playroom or basement – even our sunroom was filling up). So it was about time to send a slew of stuff home with other folks (where it would get more love than we could show it, and free up three rooms that we’d love to be functional for us instead of piles o’ stuff).

Oh and since we know folks will ask- the reason we didn’t tell the entire interweb about our yard sale was safety and manageability. We didn’t want to dole out our home address to the world at large, and since we didn’t want to spend extra money and time hauling everything to a more neutral location (the goal was to get rid of stuff simply and cheaply), it just had to be something that we did the old fashioned way- with signs and an ad on craigslist without revealing we were the hosts. Hope you guys understand!

Even though we were trying to keep it low key, it still took a bit of pre-planning on our part. We had to pin down what we wanted to kick out of the house for good, so last month we got our purge-hats on, sorted through closets, cabinets, and full rooms to sift out what we could part with. We did our best to be ruthless. If it hadn’t been used in a while and we couldn’t articulate a specific future use for the item, it got moved right to the yard sale pile. That pile lived in our sunroom for the days leading up to the sale, but starting bright and early (actually it wasn’t even bright yet) on that Saturday morning it all made its way out into the driveway.

Our inventory was actually a mix of our stuff and my sister’s – although some of the tables that you see below were just for display (we didn’t sell those two white pedestal guys on the right). We didn’t bother pricing anything ahead of time (again, this is our low key approach) and since we both agreed that the goal was purging, we didn’t stress about how accurately our prices were set (truth be told, they were all probably lower than they could have been, but it meant things moved quickly and no one walked out empty handed). For us, if someone left with something, that was a victory. It was really freeing to just say “how about a dollar?” and watch things clear out nice and quick. Of course the bigger items like chairs and dressers and bookcases went for a little more, but all of the stuff on the tables and laid out on blankets was pretty much a dollar or less. I think if you’re in the mindset that we were in our first sale you might want to price things higher, but it does mean that you run the risk of selling a lot less.

We didn’t get any great shots of the sale in action since there was, well, lots of action that kept us both busy. It was only at lulls like this that we broke out the camera. But this was after around 60% of our items had sold.

The crowd was pretty strong through about 10am. When things started to slow down, Sherry and I made the decision to expedite the process and we dropped prices to ridiculous lows. At this point the goal of getting rid of stuff overrode even our patience to sit in our driveway all morning. Yup, we priced our pile of kids clothes at five for fifty cents, pillows were two for $1, and we even stuck “free” stickers on items like the old ladder that the previous owners had left in our basement (easy come, easy go).

Oh yeah, and if you’re wondering where Clara was this whole time, her Grammy took her on an outing when she woke up around 8am (we were up a few hours before she arose setting things up, and were so grateful that she slept so long) and then returned her around 11am. After that she just hung out and upped the cute factor of our sale by drawing in the driveway.

By about noon things were so slow (and our inventory was so low), that we were actually only left with these four big-ish items (and about 30 small things that fit into two manageable Goodwill boxes). So we slapped a “free” sign on the few remaining large items and posted a curb alert on craigslist for them.

They were all gone within a few hours. Hooray for curb alerts. The great thing about them is that you don’t even have to be home. Which was handy since we weren’t. We were busy dropping off those two boxes of leftover stuff at Goodwill. Yard sale key: nothing comes back into the house!

By the end of the day I think we made somewhere in the neighborhood of $350 at the sale itself. Not our most profitable, but once you throw in what we made by selling a few items on craigslist ahead of time we were more in the neighborhood of $650. Not bad, right? As for those other items that we sold on the side (via craigslist & neighborly word of mouth) we happily sent all eight of our old dining room chairs off to live with someone else (she’s planning to recover them all – and send us pics!).

And we also sold our two extra new dining chairs to another person (for our purchase price of $62 each) who already sent us this photo of them living it up on her porch:

It felt great to give all of that stuff a nice new home. The lesson there? Had we wanted to make more money we would’ve sold more stuff on craigslist. But since photographing, listing, and coordinating pick-ups eats up lots of time, it was more efficient to achieve our “get-rid-of-all-the-things!” mission by putting most of our stuff in a kill-a-million-birds-with-one-stone yard sale. In the end, we’re both really happy with how the yard sale turned out – mostly because it taught us that we don’t need to be all uptight about hosting one. Which will hopefully encourage us to hold them more frequently and keep unwanted things from building up in our house.

Has anyone else hosted a yard sale recently? Do you have any tips or interesting stories from yours? We had a tense moment during ours when our wires got crossed and Sherry accepted money for an item that I had already set aside for someone else. Neither woman would back down so we did the mature thing and let a coin toss decide who took it home. Take that Judge Judy!


  1. Lindsey d. says

    Wow.. I’m surprised you sold that awesome rocking chair with the cool Ikat recover. I hope someone appreciates it!

    I have the same garage sale rule — price cheap and get it OUT!

  2. Marie says

    We just hosted a yard sale a coiple weeks ago with the same mantra: Nothing comes back in the house! We ended up making around $550 which was fabulous. Even better was how clean the house and garage felt without useless clutter.

  3. Emily says

    We’re actually hosting one tomorrow and I’ve been trying, unsuccessfully, not to be super stressed. Thanks for the great tips. I’m already finding them useful as I get organized in my head. Although we’re trying to make some money, the extra “profit” we might pull by pricing everything at a fair-for-the-seller price isn’t worth the hastle of the work and worry. Because, you’re so right – we want stuff gone. I think we made a mistake of offering some friends to join ours so it can be a multi-family sale, so a bit more coordinating is required, but I’m hoping it draws a bigger crowd so we’ll see. Thanks again (and sorry for the super long comment)!

    • Lindsey d. says

      We used color-coded tags for our multi-family sale last year. Write prices on the stickers for each item. Then pull the stickers off the items and stick them into a notebook as they sell (note if the price changed/haggled). At the end, add up the various colors and split up the money. Only downside is that you have to price each item, so no “Two shirts for $5.00” sign.

  4. says

    Joe and I always slow down when we drive past a yard sale (or a piece of furniture on the side of the road) but the ones by us tend to be more junk (think super old items or things that are missing pieces & no one could ever want) and less furniture/accessories. Oh well!

  5. Holly says

    We used to stash our stuff for yard sales, but we found that we got more value out of donating it to charity and claiming it on our tax returns. So now I have one area of my house that I put things I no longer need, and every few months I make that trip to good will. I keep careful notes of what I donate so that when we do the taxes we know exactly what has been donated. Our tax software even figures out the values for us. I have way less clutter, and I don’t have to spend hours setting up and running garage sales. AND we get more back on our tax return then we ever would have made trying to sell the stuff! Ka-Ching!

    • says

      I agree–tax right offs are great if you itemize on your return. Before we moved into our house we didn’t have enough deductions to beat the standard, so this was the first year when I could count up all the clothes, books, etc we have donated. It really adds up fast!! I put the value at about 1/3 of the original cost, so when I take in a bag of clothes it can easily add up to hundreds of dollars!

  6. Steph says

    I think it’s awesome that someone got your gorgeously redone rocking chair. I wish the yard sales I go to had stuff that nice!
    My only yard sale memory was setting up a blanket of my toys I didn’t want as a kid at my family yard sale. I was maybe 6 or 7, and made a sign saying “everything on this blanket is $1”. Well some lady tried taking advantage of my poorly worded sign and argued for a while that she should get everything on the blanket for $1, since my sign was so misleading! (never mind the fact that a kid obviously wrote it!) I remember tearfully begging my parents not to make me give it all to her, haha. She ended up huffing and puffing out of there after that!

    • carlotta says

      huuu another Italian reader! Hi there! Yes I wonder that too, I would have so much stuff to give up…

  7. says

    I am very jealous of the person that took home that rocking chair! It’s great to see that you gave away the rest (to the curb or to Goodwill). I think that’s one of the most important steps of a yard sale. :)

  8. says

    Oooh…I would not have liked your yard sale since I hate when things aren’t priced – it drives me crazy. ;)

    I’ve been selling some things on Craigslist since I have way too much furniture in my small home and you’re right – taking pictures, writing up posts and dealing with no-shows is so much work!

  9. says

    I wish we had the time/energy/enthusiasm to pull together a yard sale! Usually we end up putting everything outside and calling the Purple Hearts folks to pick it all up as a donation! But it would be nice to make even a few bucks off some of it!

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