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How to Hold an Easy, Low-Stress Yard Sale

Randy is a biology teacher at a private Christian school near Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He loves reading, studying, and photography.

Yard sales don't have to be so difficult. Read on for helpful advice.

Yard sales don't have to be so difficult. Read on for helpful advice.

Pay What You Want Yard Sale

Everyone knows that yard sales are a good way to get rid of unwanted items in their home, but many people do not want to deal with the stress of pricing items for sale. After all, how do you know what to charge? Are you asking too much or too little? Others dread the idea of setting up their folding chair and spending precious hours on their day off to "babysit" their items and occasionally negotiate a sale. But there is an easier way. I call it the no-stress yard sale.

Now before we go any further, you must decide whether or not you enjoy negotiating with a prospective customer about the price of an item. If it really matters that you collect 50 cents for an item instead of a quarter, then this article is not for you. If you have lots of extra time on your hands and like sitting unproductively watching people peruse your stuff, then perhaps you also should stop reading now.

But, if your main goal is to free your house of clutter and have people carry away your junk, leaving you some cash behind, then by all means, read on. While this method of holding a yard sale is not for everyone, it is quick, easy, and very low-stress. It also has become popular at our annual neighborhood yard sale. We call it the "Pay What You Want Yard Sale."

In short, to hold a yard sale like this, you do not need to bother with pricing any items. People pay what they want. You simply provide the items, a secure location for shoppers to deposit money, and good signage.

How Do You Have a Low-Stress Yard Sale?

Here are some simple guidelines for conducting your own Pay What You Want Yard Sale:

  1. Collect your items. Look through your home for items you no longer use or need. Items should be clean and in good repair. While we might be tempted to refer to unwanted items as “junk,” nobody really wants your trash. If you have dirty or broken items on display, it will give the impression that you are simply trying to pass off your garbage. Keep things looking nice.
  2. Like any yard sale, choose your date. For us, we join in with our yearly neighborhood yard sale, which brings lots of folks into our neighborhood. Someone else takes care of the newspaper ad and the street signage. We simply pay the requested monetary donation to the person in charge. Remember, the goal is low-stress.
  3. Display your items nicely. My wife enjoys arranging things on the tables. Keep similar items together. Tools with tools, toys and games, household items, books, etc.
  4. Provide a secure location for people to drop their money. We open the back driver’s side window of our car about an inch and place a large box on the seat to catch the money. It is a good idea to “prime the pump” by placing several dollars and a few coins in the box as if others had already made purchases. This assures the shoppers they are “doing it right.”
  5. Hang a large sign proclaiming, "Pay What You Want Yard Sale!" This serves as an attraction. People will sometimes stop just to see what this is all about.
  6. Place signage on the tables and on the car. In our area, we have found it helpful to print this sign in English and Spanish.
  7. This is the best part: go about your normal life. Clean the house, surf the web, play with your children, and don't worry about what is happening outside.
  8. Later, when it is time to clean up, collect your money and bring in the remaining items or load the leftovers in the car and drive straight to Goodwill.
Clear signage helps customers know where to put their money.

Clear signage helps customers know where to put their money.

Don't forget to "prime the pump."

Don't forget to "prime the pump."

But Don’t You Get Ripped Off?

This has been the most asked question when people first hear of our technique. The answer: probably. But, as this is stuff we do not want or need, our main goal is to get rid of it. Are we glad a few items are stolen? No, but this is low-stress. We don’t worry about it, and we don’t know for sure if it is happening. Interestingly, we have found that it works both ways. About two years ago, we were cleaning up when a car stopped, and the driver got out and gave me two dollars. She said she had been there earlier and had no money, but she took several things. She was just stopping by to pay.

In another instance, on our first attempt at this type of sale, I watched through the window to see a gentleman put money in the car and walk away with a small table that I would have priced at two to three dollars. Since this was early in the day, I was curious and went out to look in the car. There, in the collection box, was a 10-dollar bill!

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Certainly, this would not work everywhere. If you live in a high-crime area, your tables might be stripped bare with no financial reward for your minimal labor. For those situations, you might opt not to go with this method.

What About Items of Value?

If an item is worth more than a few dollars, I have found it is better to sell it on Craigslist than through a yard sale anyway. The other option is to put a sign on the item with a "minimum price" to guide the purchaser. Of course, there are no guarantees with this game.

The Entertainment Value

There is another benefit of this type of sale that I did not mention: It's fun! The first year we tried this, we looked out the window numerous times and often found ourselves laughing. Watching people’s expressions is priceless. We have seen people read the sign, look at the car confused, read the sign again, and then walk to the car and put in their money. We observed people reading the sign and laughing, calling over their friends who also laughed. Often individuals appear to look carefully for something they can purchase in order to put money through the car window, probably so they can tell someone else about their crazy garage sale find.

Sadly, it is also apparent that some people can not or do not read. We have watched people put money in our mailbox, place it between the screen and front door, and a few have knocked on the door in an effort to pay. It is quite a lesson in humanity, and it is entertaining.

We know this type of yard sale is not for everyone. But, if you have things to get rid of and can’t afford the time to aimlessly wait for buyers to come to you, you might give it a try. If you do, don’t forget to spend a few minutes peeking out the blinds. You, too, might get a good laugh.

Bilingual signage can be helpful. Use Google Translate.

Bilingual signage can be helpful. Use Google Translate.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.


Rochelle Frank from California Gold Country on June 25, 2017:

Yes-- great tips. Our neighborhood homeowners have a yard sale twice a year.... They make maps, and provide signs. My MAIN goal is to get rid of unneeded items that might be useful to others.

If I have something that I think has some significant monetary value, I will put a price on it (and take half the price).

I don't need to sit out in the sun all day, so I usually only mind my sale for three hours or so.

I always have a "FREE" table, and as time goes by, I put a "Free" sign up for all of the remainders.

If I do still have a valuable item, I pull it back in, and let the scavengers take the rest. Much better than hauling it all to the dump-- especially if someone else can use it.

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