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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, June 8, 2001

The Homebody Chronicles
Getting down to business at garage sales

By Wanda A. Adams
Advertiser Features Editor

Gannett News Service Illustration
When my next-door neighbor proposed that we hold a condo-wide lanai sale to rid our homes of clutter and bring in a little cash, I sighed deeply and admitted the necessity. But the very thought of giving up precious off-work hours to sorting, pricing and tagging my odds and ends made me tired and not a little resentful.

Who knew?

Who knew it would turn out to be a very enjoyable day, one that I was actually sorry to see come to a close?

The day was populated by many small joys: Visiting with an old friend who just happened to stop by the sale. Finding someone whose taste in jewelry is the exact polar opposite of mine, and so was delighted to take all that silver stuff off my hands. Discovering that I haven't forgotten how to make change, though my days in retail are more than two decades in the past. Seeing the thank-you smile on the face of the man at the Goodwill store when we delivered the leftovers. Returning home to find there was actually some room in the closets and on the bookshelves.

Oh, and then there was the nearly $200 my boyfriend and I pocketed.

As I write this, I'm just recovering from a second sale, at my boyfriend's home. This one was a bit less fun because it involved more heavy furniture and, perhaps lulled by the ease of our previous experience, we didn't start soon enough to prepare. That, and the fact that, although our ad said the sale started at 9, the first lookers arrived at 7:30! I was reduced to shouting prices out the bedroom window as I attempted to make sense of the litter of "I-don't-know-what-to-do-with-this" detritus my boyfriend had left for me to tackle. Thank goodness a girlfriend had volunteered to help at the last minute and was there to deal with the crack-of-dawners while we hauled the last stuff out the door.

This sale turned out to be fun, too, however. My boyfriend met a guy with whom he has mutual friends on Maui. My friend and I enjoyed a gossip while sitting in the shade of the sweet-smelling plumeria tree. We all had a good laugh at the fact that our best customers were our immediate neighbors; the grandma from next door bargained fiercely and made off with an overflowing laundry basket of fabric, and we could hear the sewing machine running merrily the next day. And at the last minute, a guy came by and paid to take everything that was left, so we didn't even have to schlepp everything back in again.

I'm sure there are more sales in my future, at the rate that I collect things. I hope so; I don't want my newfound expertise to go to waste. Here's what I learned:

  • Start preparations the weekend before. Sort. Buy some stick-on price tags and begin pricing (more on this later). Make directional signs. Figure out how you're going to display things, and where. Borrow some shelves and tables if need be.
  • Check out a couple of other garage sales over the weekend to get some idea of what sells and how to price things.
  • Try to get some other neighbors to go in with you on the sale; the more households involved, the more shoppers will be attracted and you can all piggy-back on one ad.
  • Decide how long you want the sale to last. Unless you're getting rid of a whole household, one half-day is sufficient, I think. You'll need time to dismantle everything and get to Goodwill or The Salvation Army before closing time. We've found that you'll have a big rush from about an hour BEFORE the sale starts until mid-morning. Then it quiets down. Just before the sale ends, there'll be another rush as the bargain hunters show up to take advantage of your desperation. Our first sale went from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., and the busy times were 8-10 and 12:30-1; our second was from 9 a.m. to noon, and the rush hours were 7:30-9:30, with a little flurry at noon.
  • The Monday before the sale, place your ad for the following Friday and Saturday. Mention any larger items you particularly want to sell. Include a phone number; that way, people who can't get to the sale can get in touch if they want one of the bigger items.
  • Sometime during the week, get a bunch of dollar bills, a couple of fives and 10s and some change. Figure out where the money will be kept (a zippered cash bag, a lockable box) and assign someone to be cashier.
  • Keep sorting and pricing throughout the week. If you don't, you'll be pricing in the heat of the moment and you'll ask too much or too little, depending on your nature.
  • Some stuff doesn't sell: Books. Dumb appliances you shouldn't have bought (juicers, slicers, anything with Popeil in the name). Cassette tapes. Older computer equipment (we had a color printer in working order with tons of paper and couldn't sell it for $25!).
  • Some stuff does: TVs, VCRs, microwaves and stereo equipment of recent vintage and in good working order. CDs. Small furniture. Collectors and hobbyists turn up looking for old camera equipment, watches, stereos and turntables, china, silverware, small home furnishings.
  • If you don't have a truck, borrow one for the cleanup afterward.
  • The night before, make up some goodies and snacks to munch during the slow times, and stock up on cool drinks in a cooler of ice.
  • Be up at dawn and get everything arranged early, because they'll be on you before you know it.

Finally, set out some chairs, and prepare to enjoy yourself!

Wanda A. Adams is The Advertiser's features editor. She has moved 22 times in her adult life and is learning not to be a pack rat.