Sidewalk Hustle: 10 Secrets for Yard Sale Success

Yard Sale season is winding down here in Middle America, but in Australia – where most Projectophile readers reside – the scavengers are just now rousing themselves from a long winter hibernation, ready to forage for bargains.

Scott and I hosted our own yard sale this past weekend, and learned that informal commerce is more than just throwing your junk out on the lawn. It requires a detailed marketing plan, inventory control, and lots of quarters and $1 bills.  Follow these ten easy steps for a successful sale in any hemisphere!

IMG_4832BRAND YOUR SALE:  A few days before the sale, you’ll want to post an ad on Craigslist and various neighborhood online forums. As you draft your ad, be sensitive both to regional customs and deeper shades of meaning. I called mine a YARD SALE, even though most sales in Chicago are actually conducted on the sidewalk. Other possibilities include:

Garage Sale:  Is your sale actually inside a garage? Unless it’s raining, this is a terrible location. Garages are dark and musty. Your customers will be surrounded by grease spots, spider webs, and lots of rusty items that are not actually for sale. Take it outside.
Moving Sale: This name suggests an expansive inventory and many big-ticket items that the seller can’t fit in his dad’s station wagon.


You think these two know each other?

Moving out of the Country Sale:  A more drastic version of the Moving Sale, it adds an element of intrigue. Diplomat? Spy? Arms Smuggler? Either way, she’s selling everything she can’t fit into the airplane’s overhead compartment.
Divorce Sale: If you don’t mind sharing a few details about your failed relationship, you can entice drama-hungry shoppers with a love of Schadenfreude. But check your pre-nup agreement first.
Estate Sale: Appropriate only when the owner of the merchandise is actually dead. Attending an Estate Sale is more than just a shopping trip; it is a chance to trample through a person’s house and most intimate belongings.

At this Estate Sale advertised below, we find remnants of a well-rounded life — Christmas decorations, Precious Moments figurines and Pornography (emphasis mine):

preciousmomentsandpornDEVELOP YOUR SALES STRATEGY: Ask yourself: Do you want to get rich, or get rid of stuff? You may be tempted to mark up some of your nicer items, but consider how much cash the average person at your yard sale will be carrying in his pocket. If your stuff is really that nice, sell it separately on Craigslist.

Feel free to print out this IRS-inspired worksheet to determine which items to sell on Craigslist and which to sell at your yard sale:

matrixCONDUCT SOME LIGHT BAIT & SWITCH:  Take a few sample pictures of what you plan on selling at the yard sale: A pair of shoes, a chair, a kitchen gadget… that sort of thing. Next, take pictures of one or two really nice things that you are NOT selling: An $800 stroller, your Danish Teak Mid-Century Modern Dining Room Set in Perfect Condition. Casually mix the pictures together in your ad. Remember, you don’t have to actually sell these things, you just want to give your Yard Sale a certain je ne sais quoi. You will inevitably be asked about these items at the sale, in which case you respond, “Oh THAT? It already sold. But can I interest you in this bin of obsolete cell phone chargers?”

DON’T BE A XENOPHOBIC, CHILD-HATING CRANK: This fellow didn’t notice that our neighborhood is full of children and non-English speakers. But he does have “leather pants & more.”

yardsaleadcirclesV.I.P. PREVIEW: If you truly care more about shedding stuff than raking in the Benjamins,* then consider holding an exclusive, Friends-Only Preview sale the evening before. Dim the lights, pour champagne, spin some light jazz, and watch your possessions melt away.

STAGE YOUR SALE:  Is your sale easy to find? We held ours on the sidewalk and parkway, so that innocent pedestrians had to squeeze past our bargains to get to the end of the block. We hung the better garments on the fence so that passers-by were forced to make eye contact with the ghostly remnants of my pre-baby, mid 2000s business casual wardrobe.

IMG_4841Don’t make your customers assume undignified positions – limit the squatting, kneeling and bending over that must be done to examine your product. Instead of throwing them on the ground, place items on a table or hang them on a tree or fence.

And please, take stuff out of the boxes and garbage bags before you try to sell them (and preferably before you take pictures):


I wonder if their punctuation marks are at the bottom of those boxes?

CHECK YOUR JUNK:  Every sitcom in history had the “rummage sale” episode – when the kids accidentally sold Grandma’s love letters from Mussolini, or the cookie jar with $40,000 inside. Empty the pockets of your coats and pants, and shake out your books for sentimental bookmarks, especially if you keep your place with $100 savings bonds.

Also, make sure your kid doesn’t put a pair of his tighty-whities in the yard sale pile:

IMG_4848MAKE IT A PARTY!  Ask your pals and neighbors if they’d like to display their own wares. It’s an easy way to double your inventory, and the extra bodies milling about will generate buzz in the neighborhood. You might call this “SYNERGY”**, but it’s also a fun excuse to have pizza delivered directly to the yard sale.

IMG_4836¡PRO-TIP!  Before yard sale-ing with friends, initiate a frank discussion about trades. For example, allow each family to take three things of similar value from the other before the sale is open to the public. Be very careful that you don’t end up with more stuff than you started with.

CHILD LABOR IS OK FOR A FEW HOURS: We thought an affiliated lemonade stand would be cute; we even let the 5-year-old design the marketing materials:

IMG_4834However, the kids guzzled down all of the product within 15 minutes. The bees made sure nobody touched the rest.

And, while it’s fun to let the kids sell their own stuff, you may want to give your little Robber Barons a crash course in business ethics. For example, when a customer indicated that she wanted to buy a book with $1 price tag, one of the kids (not mine!) told her the book now cost $2.  Never negotiate with a 7-year-old.

CONSIDER A “FREE BOX”: Let’s be honest: You have things that are just plain worthless. Save yourself the humiliation of putting a price tag on your kids’ old underwear and throw it all in a “FREE BOX.” Not only does the free stuff help move inventory, the free-loaders might actually buy something.

NO TAKE-BACKS: When the yard sale ends, bag up the clothes, shoes and books, and drop them at the charity box. Leave everything else in the alley or the street corner – nothing comes back in the house except leftover pizza. The invisible hand of the free market has spoken, and it doesn’t want to pay $1 for your women’s studies textbooks from the early 1990s.

IMG_4850CELEBRATE: You’re now 50 pounds of junk lighter and $67 richer. Most of your profits are in the form of $1 bills, but that doesn’t mean you can’t imitate your favorite rock star, rapper, or hedge fund manager. Fan the dollars out and wave them in your friends’ faces, or spread them over your bed and roll around in them (and then promptly wash the sheets). Just don’t set them on fire, because I’m pretty sure that’s a felony. You’ve already broken enough laws today.


* For my Australian friends, “Benjamins” is American Slang for $100 bills, which display the face of Benjamin Franklin. Franklin was not actually a U.S. president, but is well-known for inventing electricity, libraries and tight pants.
** The words synergy, webinar and deliverable are not allowed in our house.


6 thoughts on “Sidewalk Hustle: 10 Secrets for Yard Sale Success

  1. I’ve moved (and packed up) house too many times to accumulate really serious amounts of stuff that’s too good to throw away but which I don’t want to keep. The Husband, on the other hand, is a different story and has a rich motherlode of stuff that’s sentimental…


  2. You probably didn’t need to explain the Benjamin thing to the Aussies – we’ve all seen Slumdog Millionaire. Over here we call the sidewalk “footpath” or in particularly englishified areas “pavements”. We also call our private sales of accumulated non wealth garage sales, but not because we hold it in a garage – that’s just the place where all our crap accumulates forcing cars out on to the street. Due to our clement weather it is always out in the front yard (hence why we call them garage sales and not yard sales . . . go figure).


  3. Hi Clare,

    I really enjoy reading blogs. Do you do blog writing for other people? I’m just updating my website (I sell personalised dog collars in Australia) which now includes a new Blog page and am looking for guest writers for it. I understand you don’t have a dog but a cat (?) so I don’t know how that would work not having a dog but writing a blog for a dog website. Anyway, I really like the humour in your writing and if you are interested and can think of a way that it could work, maybe your experience with dogs in the neighbourhood or cat/dog relationships for example, could you let me know?


    Tarona Jones


  4. Love how you are recycling items for new uses. I ordered ivory roller shades from jcp online (since our store closed in the spring). I want to use masking tape like you did. I am not so creative on making the lines though. I recently purchased a folding ruler…so I will use it as a guide and practice on cardboard to get the right design first.

    I love your black bench…do you have any plans or directions on how you made it?


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