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Proper Garage Sale Etiquette

Well, folks, spring is nearly over, and June is just around the corner. That means that people have already started popping out on thier front lawns to put down a bunch of crap they don't want anymore and engage in the activity of the Garage Sale. Sometimes called a Yard Sale, the Garage Sale is a time-honored tradition that, unfortunately, very few people know how to pull off well. You wouldn't think it would be that hard to put together a worthwhile garage sale, but you'd be surprised just how bad most people are at it. Well, listen up, dumbasses! I'm here to tell you how it should be done!

1) The Merchandise:

The first thing you gotta do when you want to have a garage sale is make sure that you've got enough crap to actually make people driving by want to stop and look. I can't tell you how many times Carrie & I have hunted and hunted for an obscurely hidden garage sale, only for it to look like someone just put a blanket on their lawn and dumped a laundry basket of old t-shirts on it. Guess what we do in such situations? We drive right on past.

So if you're going to have a garage sale, here's something to consider: unless you can divide your merchandise up into at least five sections, and have each section be of a respectible size (at least half a table), then don't bother. Here are my recommended categories:

  • Toys/Games
  • Mugs/Housewares
  • Movies/Music
  • Home Electronics
  • Furniture

Notice how I didn't put clothes on that list? That's because unless you've got some fabulous clothes, and can organize them well, you might not want to bother. Who wants to dig through a pile of old clothes? The best garage sale I went to for clothes had the t-shirts all on hangars, hanging up on a portable clothes rack (like they have backstage at theaters). I found a JP Patches and a Mr. Bean t-shirt there for $1.00 each. A JP Patches t-shirt! With Gertrude on it!

Anyhoo, some other categories to consider might be:

  • Jewelry
  • Books
  • Baby Stuff
  • Clothes

If you find you don't have enough junk on your own, definitely consider inviting other people to put their stuff out. The more merchandise you've got out, the more likely people are to stop and buy something.

All right, so now you've got your merchandise out and you've got it all divvied up into categories. The next step?

2) Pricing

Here's where some people fall into the trap of wanting to actually make a lot of money at a garage sale. They overprice things. DO NOT OVERPRICE THINGS. Remember, you should only be selling things you'd just be taking to the junkyard if you weren't having this garage sale. Price things to move.

Also, if at all possible you should put the price on the actual item. I know this is a pain in the ass, and sometimes it's easier just to put a sign up that says, "All mugs 50 cents," or something like that. It's okay to group like objects like that, but it's really not okay to say, "All items on this table 50 cents" if you've got some toys and some movies and some other misc stuff on that table.

One thing I recommend is to go out and buy those little colored dot stickers, and then make up a big key sign.

And then just slap the dots on your junk and you're good to go. This way you don't have to write the price on every single item. Honestly, most things should be in the $0.25 to $0.50 range. You should put on very few (if any) $5.00 stuff. If you've got big pieces of furniture that are actually worth something, you should tag those individually with thier own individual price tags.

And if you're holding a garage sale you'd better be willing to haggle. I know it sounds silly to haggle on an item that costs a dollar, but if someone brings up eightitems that are $0.25 each and says, "I'll give you $1.50 for all of this," why not? Remember, the point of a garage sale is to get rid of your stuff, right? This hypothetical person is willing to take away a lot of it. Why wouldn't you want him to? Carrie & I once got a gorgeous, brand-new gold-colored couch for $25 dollars because it and a matching chair were being sold at this one place, but we already had a golden chair. So Carrie said, "Could we have the couch for the price of the chair?" And the guy shrugged and said okay. That was one of the best garage sales I've been to.

So now you've got all your stuff divvied up and priced. Now you just gotta put it out on the lawn and get people to come and $pend, $pend, $pend.

But how do you get people to show up? Easy:

3) Signage

If you want, you can spend the bucks to put an add in your local newspaper. They always have ads for garage sales. It'll help bring in some hardcore garage sale nerds, but unless you have a backup you're not going to get very many people probably. In order to get people to come to your garage sale, you'll need to put up signs all over the neighborhood. And I do mean ALL OVER the neighborhood. You'll not belive how many times we'll see a garage sale sign with an arrow pointing up a street, so we'll turn up that street and then never again see another sign (or any garage sales). I personally say you should put up a sign at every single intersection within a 5-block radius, and at all near major intersections. But that might not be realistic from a time and effort standpoint. At the very least you should cover every single turn needed to make it to your house from the major roads. Let's take a look at the following map and pretend you live at house represented by the purple dot. The MINIMUM number of signs you would probably need for this one is SEVEN (I threw in an extra eighth one on N 14th St).

The only problem with this signage tactic is that someone could live on N 16th St and be completely unaware that there was a garage sale going on, even though you live like a block and a half from that street. This is why I say that comprehensive signage is a must.

Okay, so you've got a plan on where you're going to put your signs. Now what are they gonna look like? This is probably the most important and most abused of all garage sale etiquette.


It really shouldn't be that hard, but it's insane just how badly people make signs. Too often I see s**t like this:

This may seem like a good idea, in that it has all the relevant information, but if I don't know the area, how the f**k am I gonna know where 421 South Dumbass Street is? Is it to the left? The Right? Straight ahead? And I don't give a damn what the hours or the garage sale are. I assume that if your sign is up then you're having a garage sale.

Plus, the real problem of this sign is that while it may look okay when you're drawing it, here's what it'll look like when you've tacked it to a tree and I'm driving by at 35 miles per hour:

When I see a sign like that, you know what I do? I keep on a-driving right past it and shake my fist out the window like an old man cursing whippersnappers. Dumbass Street indeed. Indeed.

Really you only need two words on a garage sale sign:

That's it. We don't need to know the address. We'll know we've found it when we drive by a house that has a whole bunch of junk in front of it. We don't need to know the times. If you're garage sale is not running—and this is VERY important—you should not have your signs up. In other words, put your signs up in the morning when you open shop and take them down when you closeup shop—not the day before or the day after. Don't leave 'em up all weekend. Please, people.

That sign above looks pretty good, though, doesn't it? Well, it's okay. But for someone with me who really should be driving with glasses, it looks kinda like this when you're driving by it at 35 miles per hour:

Not quite as clear, is it? Hey, I'm gonna make a little tangent now; hope you don't mind. When it comes to wording your signs, I actually don't like the term "garage sale." Why not? Because the two words are horribly unbalanced. If you were to write them one above the other and have them both take up the same amount of horizontal space, the word "garage" would have to be written much smaller than the word "sale."

I know it's really pette, but it's just the graphic designer in me screaming out for clear symmetry. I much prefer the term "yard sale" over "garage sale." Both words are just four letteres long, and you can write them both big and loud and the same size:

That's just me, though, and I am kind of a freak. If you want your signs to say "garage" instead of the more aesthetically balanced "yard" then you just go ahead, sugar.

The next important step is to make your letters thick. Certainly thicker than a ball-point pen. You might as well just put up a blank piece of paper. You'll want to go even thicker than a sharpie marker. I suggest you draw out block letters and then fill them in solid. This way nobody will be able to misinterperet what your sign says.

And don't just stop at the words like that sign up there. The thickness should also extend to the arrow. In fact, I conjecture that the arrow is actually the single most important part of any garage sale sign. Here's what the arrow on your sign should look like:

Notice how it's huge and takes up most of the sign? It may seem a bit extreme, but there's no way you're gonna be confused as to which way to go if you're driving by this sign, no matter how fast you're going.

See? Lookitthat! There's no way I would ever turn left or keep going straight with that mother of an arrow! of course, the problem with it is that you don't know why you're turning. It could be for a zombie feast for all you know. That's why you should combine your mega arrow with your mega letters and make this, what I belive to be the most perfect of all garage sale signs:

WOW! How can anyone resist this? It's clear what the sign is for, and it's clear where you're supposed to go, and it's easy to read if you're speeding.

It is truly the ULTIMATE yard sale sign. I suggest you use at least construction paper strength paper to make your signs. You might want to even consider getting them laminated so that you can use them over and over again without ruining them. Put them up securely in case of wind or punk kids. If you've got a staple gun, go for that. If not, use push-pins or mayb even little nails and a hammer.

In any case, you should now be ready to throw one spectacular garage sale that'll be sure to draw the most number of people possible. You'll make a ton of money, and then you'll send me 15 percent for all my helpful suggestions. Right? Right!?

Seriously, folks, follow these suggestions. It makes life so much easier for your customers, and if your customers have an easy time then they're much more likely to spend money than someone who's having a horrible time. Right? Right!?

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