It happens to the best of us. For me it’s sometime after Easter, when I’m still finding plastic “grass” all over the house. I start looking around and realize just how much stuff my family has accumulated over the winter. That’s when I start asking: How did I end up with all this stuff? How can I get rid of it? Can I make a little cash on this junk? Then I know it’s garage sale time!

I come from a long, long line of experienced garage sale shoppers and hosts. Yes, my relatives are those people: the ones who buy things at garage sales and swap meets so they can resell them at their own garage sales.

So you’d better believe I have some super-secret tips to help make your summer garage sale be as successful and stress-free as possible. Secret until now, that is.

Start gathering things you want to sell…NOW!
As Louis Pasteur once said, “Chance favors the prepared mind.” The same principle holds true for garage sales! Everyone knows the biggest hassle about a garage sale is collecting all the things you want to sell together in one place, then cleaning each item (more on this later) and deciding how to price things. That’s why I recommend dedicating a box, bin, closet or corner of your garage (or home) as your “garage sale repository.”

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Throughout the year I store the things I’ll want to sell at my next garage sale in a large plastic bin as I come across them. For example, let’s say a party guest brings me flowers. Once the flowers are wilted, I’ll clean the florist’s glass vase, slap a $1 price sticker on it and put it in the bin. If I’m not completely sure I want to sell it, I’ll put it in the bin without a price and give it one more think before the sale. All that’s left for me to do is to loosely organize everything into broad categories such as books, house wares, clothing, and accessories.

Don’t announce your garage sale too early!
Keep in mind there are a few points of view on this subject and this is mine: I don’t believe in putting up signs or posting an ad about your garage sale on Craigslist before the day of the sale. I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but trust me when I tell you that this will save you tons of stress. There is a large and passionate population of “garage sale people” (yes, like me) who are constantly on the lookout. If you put up signs even one day before your sale begins, listing your address, items for sale, and a start time of 7am, you can bet there will be people standing on your lawn or even knocking on your door at 5am. After years of participating in neighborhood garage sales, I can honestly tell you that working with a local realtor who will distribute a map for a community’s garage sales promptly at the start time, and not a minute before, has not diminished our traffic at all.

People pay more for clean stuff.
Here’s another “dirty” little secret: garage sale people like me are not afraid of a little dirt! We know that if a coveted item is dirty or tarnished, we can probably haggle the seller down to the rock-bottom price. After all, if you couldn’t take 15 seconds to run a damp sponge over those wine glasses, they can’t possibly be that valuable now can they? If you take just a moment to clean off any surface grime or polish a tarnished item, you’ll fetch a firmer price for it during your sale. It doesn’t have to be sparkling, just a quick clean will make a huge difference in your earnings at the end of the day.

They buy more if you feed them. (At a price, of course!)
Garage sale shoppers know they have to get up pretty early in the morning to score the biggest deals. If that means they have to skip breakfast, so be it. One surefire way to get shoppers to linger at your sale (and buy more) is to sell cookies for a quarter each. Putting your younger kids in charge of baking and selling the cookies is a great way of getting them involved. Last year my daughter collected the quarters and we donated the cash to our local food bank. They don’t have to be gourmet, they don’t even have to be hot. Hungry shoppers will happily pay a quarter for a sugar rush that will get them through the morning. Sometimes I see people selling hot coffee, but personally I don’t want to take the risk of someone burning their tongues or spilling coffee on my stuff.

Set the mood with “nostalgic music”.
I remember going grocery shopping with my mom when I was a kid and noticing that the supermarket always seemed to be playing music from the 50s and 60s, which my mom would unconsciously sing along to while she shopped. Pay attention next time you shop at your local supermarket-bet they’re playing ‘80s music! That’s because environmental psychologists discovered many years ago that evoking a sense of nostalgia encourages people to relax their inhibitions and buy more than they otherwise would.  I’ve experimented with this principle at my garage sales and it’s true! When I’m playing ’80s pop music people hang around longer and buy more than they do if I’m playing contemporary music.

Don’t  forget to have plenty of small bills and change on hand. You don’t want your first customer to give you a $20 bill for a $1.25 item and completely clean you out for the rest of the day. Good luck and happy selling!