Scaling Down, The Garage Sale

What an experience!

Planning and Advertising

My memory of garage sales from my childhood is of very relaxed events. They lasted one or two days. Neighbors arrived and milled around chatting. Thinks sold gradually.

Tomoko’s impression was similar. As such, we setup our garage sale for two days:

  • Saturday from 9AM to 4PM
  • Sunday from 9AM to 2PM

We were aware that some people make a living out of garage sales. These people will come early. If you let them, they will arrive at 7AM or earlier.  We took a cue from other advertisements and advertised “No early birds please”.

The Night Before

We were up until 1AM cleaning our garage and getting things ready. Some shelves had not been moved since we moved into the house in October 1990.  There was quite a bit of sweeping and dusting to do. We also had to move some stuff from the garage into the house that we wanted to move to our offsite storage unit.

Picture of garage with stuff prepared at 1AM
Ready-to-Go Around 1AM

We had some rigid pink foam insulation board leftover from previous projects. I went to Home Depot and purchased six garden stakes. I then cut the foam board into six pieces 14″ wide and 11″ tall. I used a power driver to attach these to the stakes. At our office, I used the laser printer to prepare six 8.5″ x 11″ signs:

  • Moving Sale…hours.. (2 copies)
  • Free – Everything in this area is free. If you can carry it away, it is yours.
  • $1 – Everything in this area is $1
  • $5 – Everything in this area is $5
  • $10 – Everything in this area is $10

Our original plan was to hammer these into the dirt next to our driveway (which is long and curved) and distribute things into areas as appropriate. However, the forecast Friday evening indicated rain, so we ended up just leaning the signs against the wall.

We put some of the bulkier free items out on the driveway overnight. These items included a very beat-up and paint-splattered ladder, several rusty shovels, a few rusty rakes, and some worn-out brooms. We bunched the rest of the free stuff at the front of the garage.

At 1AM I went to the end of the driveway, pounded one of the “Sale” signs into the dirt on each side, and strung a yellow rope across the driveway to prevent people from coming down the driveway until we were ready.

The First 45 Minutes

The next morning, at 8:53AM we raised the garage door. There was already a long line of parked cars and a crowd waiting at the end of driveway.

Picture of horde of people pawing through our for sale items
The Horde Attacks at 8:57 AM

As soon as we opened the garage door, they tore down the yellow rope themselves and rushed down the driveway to our garage.

The next 30 minutes were absolute chaos. All of the broken-down tools, paint-splattered ladders, rusty rakes, unsorted bins of nails, leftover sprinkler odds and ends, and anything else remotely useful for construction work was gone within 15 minutes.

Within 5 minutes, there was a small crowd of people demanding to know where the CDs and DVDs were. During the last several weeks, we had been checking prices on Amazon and had planned to put some of the stuff that was too cheap to bother shipping on Amazon out on a table with the similarly low-value books. I told them to wait until the chaos cleared.

About 20 minutes in, I found a you man using his smartphone to scan our books. I told him: “Uhmm. I can save you the trouble. We have a smartphone with a scanner too. The only books here are the ones that you won’t be able to sell at a high price on Amazon” He looked very embarrassed and irritated. He responded: “Whatever dude!” and stomped off.

About 35 minutes in, Tomoko managed to go back inside the house and gather up perhaps 20 DVDs and 15 CDs that she had identified. She brought them out on put them on the table. One of the buyers who had been waiting announced loudly: “I was here first!” and began rapidly flipping through the DVDs. The other two or three buyers grudgingly got in line. The first guy purchased about half of the DVDs and half of the CDs. By the time the other two were finished 5 minutes later, we were down to 3 DVDs and 2 CDs.

About 40 minutes in, the chaos began to subside. Several more patient customers were carefully sifting through a bin of old cans of paint and motor oil that we had put out on the driveway to one side intending to take them to the City of Austin hazardous waste facility. One very persistent older gentleman from Iran was walking around, picking up items one at a time, and trying to see if he could convince us to lower prices from $1 to $0.50

The Rest of the Day

Picture of Drinking Tea with Friends at 11:30AM
Drinking Tea with Friends at 11:30AM

By the time our friends arrived around 10:30AM, there was almost no one there. About 60% of our stock had already been sold out. As promised, the day was cold and wet. We made a nice pot of Oolong tea and sat around and socialized. For the rest of the day, isolated customers arrived at 20-30 minute intervals. These customers continued to look over what we had left and purchase individual items. We sold another 20% of our stock in this manner.

Around 3PM, Tomoko got back on and cancelled the Sunday sale.

Our last customer arrived at 3:52 PM, took a look around, chatted pleasantly, but did not buy anything.

At 4PM, we loaded the rest of the stuff into the minivan and took it to the Goodwill.

We netted $597 for the day as well as fun and interesting experience.


Of course it is nice to be able to recoup a little cash from the stuff one acquired over the years. However, for Tomoko and me, the big pleasure is that all these things ended up finding new owners rather than ending up in the landfill. The “pickers” were a little pushy, but not terribly so and it was even kind of fun to barter with them. Tomoko kept telling the older gentleman from Iran: “No. If you don’t like it, don’t buy it” He finally ended up buying about $18 of stuff and Tomoko relented and gave him a few $1 items for free.

The “hot” items are:

  1. Tools
  2. DVDs
  3. CDs

I was surprised out just how eager the construction workers were to have my old tools. My hypothesis is that construction workers must go through tools like normal consumers go through kleenex. That is, as a consumer, I had used my hand-held rotary saw for perhaps a total of 10 hours in 20 years. A construction worker would use it that much the first day. Constantly having to replace tools is probably a significant expense for these guys. It must be worth it for them to spend the time to scavenge tools from garage sales.

The DVDs and CDs were interesting as well. We pre-screened them to make sure we were not putting out anything with a value on greater than $1. We charged $1 each. We explained this process to the buyers. They were not deterred. They quickly snapped up our $1 DVDs and CDs anyway. We suspect that somewhere there is an operation somewhere that is re-shrink-wrapping these things and exporting them to the 3rd world. This hypothesis is somewhat supported by our recent discovery that now has a “trade-in program” will buy DVDs in bulk for around $0.50 each and pay the shipping to their remote facility that processes them. It seems odd that Amazon would be willing to pay $0.50 for a DVD that has a market value of $0.01 in the Amazon Marketplace unless they had some other channel they could sell them in.

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2 thoughts on “Scaling Down, The Garage Sale

  1. Found you on Quora! Loved this line: “In fact, we recently have become fine connoisseurs of the $6/bottle price-bracket wines, savoring their great quality relative to the $3.44/bottle wines” 🙂

    1. Glad you liked it! I have been having fun with Quora. It is quite interesting to see which answers resonate with the community. Hope you can find a thing or two you enjoy here too 🙂

      David Hetherington

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