How to make money while becoming a minimalist (AKA, Community & the art of the yard sale)
When I thought about having a yard sale, I thought about the hard work. I thought about how my garage would be cleaner, my pockets potentially fuller. And then I thought some more about the work. I did not consider for a minute that I was going to have a great weekend meeting neighbors and having the most human kind of chats imaginable.
How it began.
We first decided to have a yard sale for the most practical reason on the earth: Excess inventory (aka, too much stuff) is one of the seven deadly kinds of waste. And we didn't need any deadly stuff in our life. In addition, with our debt paid down and our son getting older, we're sensing some expanding freedom ahead. We wanted nimble lives that would allow us to embrace whatever changes came our way without worrying about a bunch of stuff collecting dust.
On it's face, a yard sale is practical matter. Planning ahead allowed us to declutter many areas of our house in the weeks leading up to the sale. We didn't get to every area of our things, but I did notice I got progressively more comfortable (see also: more aggressive) in ridding ourselves of things as we went. This prep work led us to the benefit that we'll keep experiencing long after the money we made is spent: Clean, open, and organized home spaces.
We experienced yard sale magic!
Just a week or two before the sale, I was considering how to display everything. I had a lotta extra stuff lying around, but that stuff didn't include extra tables. I considered borrowing tables from friends or our Buy Nothing community, but those options sounded like an awful lot of errands. Then, just a couple weeks before the yard sale, I saw them... On the side of the road, for FREE! Five (Yes, count 'em, 5!) folding tables. One hatchback load later, I had exactly the tables I needed for the sale. We gave them away afterward in the hopes that someone else could experience the same kind of magic.
Nature did not approve (RAIN!!!).
There was a 60% chance of thunderstorms forecasted on the first day of our scheduled sale. Instead of canceling, I purchased two extra tarps, borrowed a 10 x 10 tent, and prepared to batten down the hatches in the storm rolled in. When rain did come knocking, I was lucky to have a friend on hand to help cover things up before the Thunderstorm could do it's worst. It turned out that the roll of thin painters plastic we already had in the garage was not only cheaper, it was much easier to roll out and cover our long tables. (Note to self: no tarps needed.) Luckily, very few items got wet, and we had great weather for the rest of the sale.
Two things surprised us about the rain:
- The threat of bad weather must've discouraged other sellers from setting up shop that weekend, as our customers informed us that competition over the weekend was slim.
- Pacific Northwest shoppers were not deterred! They arrived in raincoats, enthusiastic and ready to browse under puddle collecting tarps.
Community comes together.
Many neighbors came by to say hello during the sale. Mostly, they were there to browse items, say hello, or check whether we were moving. They opened up as they stopped to talk, random yard sale items serving as doorways into unexpected conversations.
A kind fellow asked me for prices on my fishing gear, and then gave me advice on how much to raise them to bring those prices closer to what the tackle was worth. People arriving at the yard sale alone would confess guiltily about what chore or social obligation they were avoiding by shopping sales. A charming older man spoke to me lovingly about the 57 years of marriage he enjoyed with his wife before she passed (and then proceeded to flirt maybe a tad too much, but I digress). A neighbor that I hadn't met before mentioned that she was getting married. I was able to pass along some things from our happy day AND give her a recommendation on an amazingly talented person to do her dress alterations.
It was an unexpected day of connecting with others in person, face-to-face, about things that mattered to them. It felt good.
The fun family below asked if I could take a photo of them together as they concluded their visit. They sported colorful mustaches they found for sale while showing off their new jogging stroller (Cha-ching! $) and the game they were going to play together that night (Cha-ching! $). (And, being good sports, they even agreed that it was okay to put their photo on the blog! Thanks, guys!)
The last hour of our sale was "Buy Nothing Happy Hour." Knowing that leftover items would be donated to the thrift store, we opened up the sale to people from our local Buy Nothing group, inviting them to come and "shop" for free. It was fun to meet folks in person!
Friends and family were also a huge component of our sale. Friends I hadn't seen in awhile came by to sell items or just visit and help me pass the time. I got to catch up with a cousin I hadn't seen in more than a year, and some of the sales went to support our friend Hanni as she Climbs for Clean Air.
Our yard sale profits.
How much did we make?
We sold $841 worth of items in two days! Friday was the busiest day ($419 earned!), but more folks had brought items to sell on Saturday ($422 in sales!). It was a multi-family sale, so not all of this money went into our pocket. Our share was roughly $494. The other participants received slips tallying items they'd sold along with their cash. I had that Friday off from work as a regular part of my schedule, so I didn't lose out on any wages to host the sale.
What sold well?
Most furniture (and especially dressers) went fast! I set my prices for furniture using the going rates on OfferUp, and I probably should have priced a bit higher. A newer mountain bike and a fancy baby carrier were responsible for $100 of our total. Honestly, we did not have too many high end or highly desirable items though. A woman bought my rusty barrel rings (no barrel included) for $3. I also sold a half-full bottle of floor cleaner for $.50. Sales like these added up quickly.
Moral of the story:
One man's trash really is another man's treasure. Don't assume you know the value that someone else would place on something. There was a sports pennant that I would have sold for $.50 or $1. Because it was my son's, I asked him to set the price. He asked the customer to make an offer... and got $5!!! If you don't know how to price something, feel free to let the customer set the starting point. You might end up pleasantly surprised.
A yard sale as a path to minimalism.
When you start hauling everything out to your yard, you may realize that you had collected a lot more stuff than you knew. We certainly did. In addition to all the odds and ends, we had squirreled away so much extra furniture in the garage. In my early years of adulthood, I completely furnished my apartment with things I found for free on the side of the road. I think my mind still somehow thought of furniture as a scarce commodity. It was time to let those pieces go to new homes. The good news: Those furniture pieces brought in some notable chunks of cash!
The yard sale was great practice at letting go of things and decluttering, and I think I'll be able to pare down even more after this experience. It was rewarding to see how an item that was collecting dust at our house could bring great joy and excitement to someone else who had a need for it. All in all, a great feeling and a total win.
On three occasions, someone asked to buy something that was not for sale. Two out of the three times, I found that those items were not really things that I needed and it was great to let them go. (The third time, it was an item of my husbands. I gave the customer an unarguably firm "No" as mama-bear-esque protective instincts rose up in my guts.)
Eight tips for yard sale success.
1. Prep work is essential.
From cleaning off dust, applying touch up paint, or thinking ahead about how to display items attractively. For an air purifier that we we selling for $20, I printed out information that showed that it retailed for $125 new. I spent ten minutes applying a little touch up paint on a beat up old dresser and then was able to get $40 for it. I felt proud when the buyer raved about what a nice dresser it was.
2. The weather can change everything. Plan in advance anyway.
Know what you're going to do for advertising, make signs, and pick up small bills and quarters to make change. Having a solid plan to survive the weather if it's questionable is highly recommended.
3. Forget fashionable.
Having a fanny pack to keep money handy making change would have been very helpful. I did not have a fanny pack. Because of this, I had to take measures to keep the small bills in my pocket from becoming sweaty, gross change for a customer. I also had to retreat to the house a few times to empty pockets of bigger bills and extra change. I had planned to use a cash box, but staffing a yard sale required a lot more moving around to help customers than I'd thought. A stationary cash box would have felt unsecured.
We're on a busy street. With good signs and a highly visible location, we didn't have to do much advertising to enjoy a steady stream of traffic. Following the advice of Linda at Brooklyn Bread (one of my very favorite bloggers), I posted ads on Facebook marketplace and Craigslist. I also simultaneously advertised large items on OfferUp. I received customers and sales from all of these sources.
5. It WAS a lot of work!
I had 16,000 steps when I finished Day 1. I never left home. (Side note: This was a huge bonus for a gal like me who is trying to get good exercise without paying for a gym membership.) Due to weather, we couldn't do any set up the night before, and setting things out took much, much more time than I predicted. I was very happy with our choice not to continue our sale on Sunday. Sundays are supposed to be slower yard sale days (many sales offer half off the price of all items on Sundays), and we deserved a rest day after all that work.
6. Set up for shopper success.
Hang clothes, organize paper items and jewelry, group things by category. Just like any other kind of shopping, folks want to have a pleasant experience and be able to locate what they're interested in. Need tips on how to do this easily? Find them on our Pinterest board.
7. After the sale.
Do not put anything back in your garage. Load up your car (and your friends cars if you're hosting a multi-family event!) for the thrift store right away so that you can immediately enjoy the clean, open space you've created by selling things off.
8. Take care of yourself.
Sunblock, lots of water, planned snacks/meals, help from others, and a barbecue afterward to celebrate made the weekend feel just right. Missing some of these components, the weekend could easily have felt like a death march.
Are there more yard sales in our future?
In this process, I was interested to discover if I thought a yard sale was worth the work and whether I'd do it again. The answer is yes and no. I loved the conversations, the people watching, meeting neighbors, and the celebratory barbecue with friends and family after we had cleaned up. That made the work all feel worth it. However, part of what made the yard sale financially successful was that I had been hoarding furnitur--, or, er, we had about ten years worth of stuff in our garage. I hope I won't have enough excess stuff built up to justify a yard sale again.
What about you? Is a yard sale in your future?
It has been awhile since I had the chance to write, and I forgot how great it feels! The next Mindfully Spent article is already underway. I get the sense that it will include a pretty notable milestone for our family.