The Surprising Truth About Garage Sales

Are garage sales worth it? Maybe. Maybe not. Here’s what you need to know before pricing a single item, including what it REALLY means to be clutter-free.

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As I looked for garage sale ideas I came across this post that challenged me to wonder: Is It Worth It? I can't believe how much sense this makes! Work for several days preparing a sale, sit outside in the sun all day, force myself to talk awkwardly to random strangers, all for fifty bucks! Yeah, I'm going to take this girls #advice and #savetime. I'll just donate to charity instead. Bonus, I don't have to store #stuff any more while I wait for the next #garagesale. #garagesaleadvice

“What are these boxes of junk doing in here?” Joseph asked as we sorted through the guest room closet.

“Oh, I’m saving those for a garage sale,” I replied.

“Why?” he asked. “So you can earn $20 from a day’s worth of work?”

Dramatic pause.

“Hmmm…I guess I never thought of it like that before.”

And I really hadn’t until that very moment.

Garage sales were just something my family always did while I was growing up. I was the family’s go-to organizer for our annual May sale, which became a two-day event by the time we combined all our clutter. My job was to price items for the sale, organize tables, and keep track of all our earnings in a notebook.

But as the years went by, my family would sell the same amount of stuff, and bring in a little less each time. Garage sales were already on the decline, and I hadn’t even realized it yet!

After I had been married for a few years and had a collection of things to sell at my own garage sale, we set up in the busy driveway of our new house. Although we lived in an urban area with a good amount of foot traffic, we barely pulled in $40 after working an 8-hour day.

*face palm*

So when Joseph asked that pivotal question about garage sales, I couldn’t come up with an answer to defend myself.

He was right.

3 Reasons why garage sales aren’t worth the effort

1. ROI

ROI is more of a business term, and it means Return on Investment. Anytime I consider adding another project to my plate, I first think about ROI.

In short, will this project be worth the time that I put in, based on what I get out of it?

When you think about ROI in terms of a garage sale, making $40 for 8 hours worth of work nets me $5 an hour. That eight hours doesn’t even count all the prep work involved for pricing, making and hanging signs, and advertising on Craigslist.

On the other hand, I could quickly find a job on Petsitter and spend less than two hours stopping by a house to take care of cats while the owner is away, and I’d earn $30. Compare that to $40 for 8+ hours invested in a yard sale. The pet-sitting gig would be much better ROI!

Related: 8 Ways Kids Can Earn Money This Summer

2. Most items don’t sell

Usually, garage sales draw people/potential “customers” for one of three things: baby clothes, furniture, and antiques. But I’ve found you can get way more for these items by selling them at a venue other than a garage sale.

Here are a few examples:

  • Baby Clothes – My friend, Kim, is the master of consignment store selling. She makes significantly more money handing off her baby and kids’ clothes to consignment stores than she ever could at a garage sale.
  • Furniture – People expect to pay very little for furniture at a garage sale. Furniture sells for a lot more on Craigslist, plus, we can get rid of the item right away, instead of storing it in the garage until the next sale.
  • Antiques – Antiques are a little trickier, but my recommendation is to let a dealer handle it. It’s typical for them to offer only half the value {because they have to resell and make money too}, but what the dealer gives will amount to way more than you could ever hope to earn for the item at a garage sale.

The majority of what garage sales are made of—Christmas decorations, books, old kitchen appliances, McDonald’s happy meal trinkets—just don’t sell. And then you’re stuck with them until either your next sale or the Salvation Army truck arrives.

3. The clutter isn’t gone…yet

In that guest room closet Joseph helped me clean out, I had stored about 2-3 boxes full of stuff for my next garage sale. But I couldn’t host a garage sale yet, because no one would stop by to browse through just a few items!

Until I accumulated enough for a full driveway, I had to store items I was never going to use again.

Here’s the thing—does decluttering really get us anywhere if we hang onto things we no longer want or need, in hopes we’ll have enough for a summer garage sale?

Nope. All I did was consolidate things I didn’t want into boxes, and all that STUFF took up just as much space in my home as it did separately.

Is there any reason you should have a garage sale?

Before you think I’m completely against garage sales, let me reassure you of the few situations where I think a garage sale is worth the time and effort:

  • You foresee a (already planned, well-advertised) 2-3 family sale in your immediate feature that promises to offer a LOT of stuff to potential customers.
  • You’re moving and will be downsizing significantly. Again, you have a LOT of stuff to offer potential customers.
  • You plan to use your garage sale as an opportunity to teach your children about marketing and finance—and ROI.

But personally, I’m just going to say no to hosting garage sales from now on.

I can’t even tell you how freeing it was to remove those boxes from the guest room closet, load them into the trunk of my car, and drop them off at the nearest thrift store. I cleared out so much space and don’t have to think about those items ever again!

Instead, they can bless someone else, and I don’t have to worry about hustling for $40 on a hot, stressful, summer day. 🙂

What do you think?

Are garage sales worth the effort?

Disclosure: Some of the links in the post above are affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Rest assured, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. Read my full disclosure policy here.

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  1. I am so glad I read this. I’ve been cleaning out my basement and have a veteran’s organization scheduled to pick up a bunch of stuff on Friday. As I was going through the boxes tonight, I started toying with the idea of having another garage sale (it would be my 2nd attempt). This just after telling my dad earlier today, that I would never do another garage sale again as the first and last one he and I did, netted us about $80 over 2 beautiful weekend days lol. Plus it would mean my keeping the stuff another possible few months. So thank you for saving my sanity. Going to pack all the goods up for the veterans!

    1. I love the idea of having a pickup scheduled! That way you don’t have to bother with getting around to taking the stuff to the thrift store yourself. Good for you for resisting the temptation to do another garage sale 🙂

  2. We just had a multi-family sale. I thought I had a lot of items to sell due to decluttering the entire house and basement. My Mom also decluttered her house as well as my sister. We spent 9 hours including set up and take down on a sweltering 90 degree day 90 percent humidity having the sale. We had a lot of customers, a steady stream all day long, even at quitting time people were still coming. People bought a lot of stuff, we needed shopping carts! But, here’s the rub. My Mom and myself didn’t sell much, my sister made a bucket load of money. I felt like Mom and I and my husband were just there to help my sister with her sale. I was very disappointed and will never have a garage sale or go in with other people again!

  3. My friends have had garage sales and they would have 2 stations (2 families) and found that it would attract more people to the garage sale.

  4. I totally agree!! Our old neighborhood even had a community sale so I never had to put up signs or advertise and I still made next to nothing. I LOVE craigslist for furniture and larger items…and Goodwill for everything else. 🙂

  5. I think, in these “modern times”, it easier to sell unneeded stuff online, rather than at garage sales. I might be wrong, but browsing eBay, Craigslist or Facebook sale groups lets you look out for bargains from the comfort of your own home.

    1. I totally agree! Craigslist can be tricky sometimes, but I always sell my bigger items on there and donate the small stuff.

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