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. Lori says

    We had a yard sale this summer. Between a group of family members we tend to accumulate enough every two years to warrant the time and energy to go through a yard sale. At our sale this summer our things were priced to sell and we received the best comment ever – “your things are priced way too low.” I knew then we were doing the right thing since we wanted things to find a new home and leave our own!

    • says

      Yes, someone said that to us and at the time I was like “uh oh, are we suckers?” but then I realized it was awesome because things went so fast and not much was left to donate!


  2. Cassie Helwig says

    I love having yard sales! We always do it with family members so that we can claim the “multi-family” thing to get people down… last year though, I priced items, my mother in law priced items differently (she had old dusty romance novels for 10 cents but I had high quality young adult books for 25 cents) and her sister in law just said for people to make an offer…. this obviously led to a lot of confusion and I think I will avoid it next year haha.

  3. says

    Yeah, that’s the thing about yard sales. Can’t believe that everything is worth gold. Everyone who shops at yard sales knows you’re just ready to kick it to the curb. But it is a fun way to make a little dough in the process. Otherwise, i would just be hawling my stuff out to the dumpster with a huge COME AND GET IT sign. lol

  4. says

    Oh man yard sales. We had a huge yard sale to raise money for our wedding a few years ago, but it was so stressful I definitely didn’t think it was worth the money. We don’t have enough for a yard sale now, so we are generally sticking to making donations instead. When I get to cleaning I just can’t stop!

  5. Sarah says

    This post is perfect timing!
    I’ve been going through all my stuff and getting ready for a yard sale.

    I live in California.. and you wouldn’t believe how outrageously over priced people try to sell their junk for.

    I like your tactics.. I too, would not enjoy sitting out there all day. I just want it gone! My time is worth more to me than a pile of old clothes. :)

  6. says

    i think this universe of yard sales is the real economy. i’ve been reading this book about System D (for debrouillard, which in French Africa sort of means hustler, or independent business dude) which is the back channel economy where something like 60 per cent of the world’s workers now make a living.

    it doesn’t sound like one could make a living off it, but your blog and so many others are teaching us how young families upcycle furniture and children’s things with real creativity and frugality. you can’t make a living doing it, but you can create a utopia from it as a customer.

    is anybody doing any work on deconstructing/upcycling kids’ clothes? i know for example in england there’s a whole art/fashion school movement to get off the grid and wear only locavore handknits and re-tailored thrift shop clothes. but here in the us? for kids??? love to know your ideas about this. (for an example, the knitter kate davies, who i call the intelligent craftafarian, has the best vintage books on repurposing worn grownup clothes for children:Odham’s Big Book of Needlecraft.
    here’s another blogger’s review:
    i’d love to see you all start reviewing upcycled kids’ stuff ideas. it’s an important part of your ethical idea of letting stuff go and resurrecting that which you can.

    your work on clara’s kitchen and playhouse were inspiring to me in ways you’ll never know. xxx

  7. Sara says

    We had our first yard sale a few weeks ago. It was kind of a bust. But we really had just odds and ends. We made $70 (with selling two items ahead of time) and hauled everything else over to Goodwill. We had the same motto–everything out of the house!

  8. Christine says

    We had a yard sale in July. Really smart of us to do that in the heat of a midwest summer (105 degrees that day), but we both had the day off work and just decided to do it! We made about $500!

    Of course, we have had all the leftovers in the garage until this week when I finally got rid of the last of it.

  9. says

    Ugh, I hate yard sales. We have a ton of small things to get rid of, but I just think a yard sale without a few pieces of furniture is pointless.

    There are a couple of local “yard sale” groups on facebook that I’m in. I’ve tried to get rid of a few bigger items that way (mostly old Coach & Vera Bradley handbags), but everything else I’m tempted to box up and take to goodwill.

    We’re moving to VA in June/July, and I do not want to have to move all this crap with us.

  10. Kate says

    This post is perfectly timed, as I’m planning for a yard sale in two weeks! May I ask you a few questions?
    – How far in advance did you post signs?
    – Did you place an ad in the newspaper, or do any other advertising?
    – Did you post your actual address on Craigslist, or just your street name or general location? I want to maximize advertising to get good traffic, but am wondering about the safety of posting specific details on CL (of course, I’m not famous like you guys, but still)

    Thank you!

    • says

      We hung signs on Thurs night after being sure it wouldn’t rain. And we just listed it on Craigslist (not in the paper) and gave our address but deleted the ad as soon as the sale ended. Hope it helps!


  11. Karen F says

    I think $350 is actually a pretty decent haul for a yard sale. I desperately need to have one, but have been putting it off (thinking it’s too much work, and do I want to spend a Saturday on it, etc). I love your tips for simplifying the process – I may just give it a try after all!

  12. says

    My in-laws needed to get rid of an old couch to make way for the new one arriving the next day. I posted a ‘curb alert’ on Craigslist for them and it was gone within 30 minutes. Kind of a fun social experiment too! Congrats on the extra spending cash; you know we all can’t wait to see what you buy with it.

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