Sell Your Stuff, Not Your Trash: Yard Sale Etiquette

I went to a yard sale this weekend that was disappointing, to say the least. Everything on sale was either broken, damaged, dirty, or trash (one half-used crayon, a moldy mattress, a shirt so faded and tattered that it would only suffice for rags, and board games missing most of the pieces and with the decals peeling or missing from the base). I was there right after the sale opened, so I know it wasn’t a case of all the good stuff being snapped up already. Making matters worse: Things were just strewn on tables and tarps on the ground without any sort of organization. Needless to say, this person wasn’t making a lot of money.

If you’re going to have a yard sale, you need to sell stuff that people want to buy. Sure, you can sell some things that are broken or damaged. You don’t want to try to sell your trash, however. How do you tell the difference? Ask yourself these questions and answer honestly. (Note that you should ask yourself these same questions before donating an item to charity. If no one will buy it at a yard sale, a
charity isn’t going to want it either.)

Can the item be repaired at all, and for a reasonable cost?

People will buy things that they think they can repair for a reasonable cost. However, if the item cannot be repaired or it will cost more to repair than to buy a new one, most people won’t buy it. The broken toaster at this weekend’s sale is an example. Toaster repairs today cost far more than just buying a new one. Unless the buyer is skilled in toaster repair, you aren’t going to sell that item.

Is the item collectible or valuable?

If the item is a collectible or valuable, people might be willing to repair it knowing that they will get more out of it in the long run. If the toaster mentioned above had been from the 1950’s, someone might have purchased it and paid for the repairs, hoping that it might be worth more ten years from now. Or, they might have a use for it in a themed B&B. Otherwise, it’s garbage.

Can the item be used for anything other than its intended purpose?

You might be able to sell some battered clothes if someone can use them for the fabric. Maybe a quilt maker will buy them. However, the fabric needs to be in good condition and it had better be a unique pattern. You can also sell things like broken generators, mowers, or computers because someone might scavenge them for parts. If there is no other use for the item, it’s probably trash.

Is the item hygienic?

A dirty, moldy mattress isn’t going to sell. Neither is badly stained (upholstered) furniture, used underwear, well worn shoes, used hairbrushes, or smelly or stained clothes. If the item is of a personal nature or carries a lot of “personal” stains or smells, it won’t sell. People won’t buy things that are gross and unhygienic. These need to go in the trash.

Is the item still useful?

Is the item damaged in such a way that its usefulness is compromised or it is unsafe, even if it might still work? Cups with the handles broken off aren’t very useful anymore and should probably go in the trash. So should things like pots with broken handles, Tupperware without lids, and desktop picture frames missing the arm that makes them stand up. Technically these items still “work,” but not well or safely. They should go in the trash.

Is the item an odd bit?

Things like one crayon, one game piece, one empty CD case, or one magazine aren’t likely to sell. These things sell better in large lots, if at all. If you have just one odd bit, it’s probably better off in the trash.

If you have an item that you think is on the border between trash and useful, see if you can repair or clean it before putting it up for sale. If you can spruce it up or restore its functionality you’ll have a better chance of selling it. If you do try to sell something that’s broken or damaged, be honest about the problem and price it accordingly. For example, don’t try to sell tattered clothes for full price. Price them as rags or fabric scraps. Price an old, obsolete computer for the parts, not as a fully functional unit.

No matter what you try to sell at your yard sale, display it attractively and in such a way that it’s easy for people to browse. Don’t make your buyers crawl on the ground to view items or paw though piles of junk. Clean things up so people don’t get dirty wen browsing your sale. An attractive, well set up sale will go a long way toward enticing buyers.

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8 Responses to Sell Your Stuff, Not Your Trash: Yard Sale Etiquette

  1. Patti says:

    Please use the same consideration when donating things to a shelter or thrift store.

  2. rob62521 says:

    I would agree with this article. It seems some folks think their “junk” is so valuable.

  3. Put It In The Trash! says:


    With the landfills already at capacity and more needed everyday, yeah, PUT IT IN THE TRASH….!!

  4. CindyM says:

    Hadn’t been to many garage sales in years but started doing it again recently. It’s a rare garage sale these days that has anything of real value, in my opinion. I personally wouldn’t bother putting out for sale most of what people today think is valuable, waste of time. What gets me are the folks who won’t even put price tags on their stuff – like you want to bargain with them for their junk.

  5. Gail says:

    Some Tupperware as long as the bottom is sound can still be sold if you can get the lids replaced and some of the bigger bowls you might use without lids all the time anyhow. I know most TW pieces can get replacement pieces if they aren’t too old.

    That being said, you are so right. I have been at some lousy yard sales and wonder why they bother. I do love magazines so if they don’t have enough for a lot of them, throwing the one or two odd magazine in the FREE box that some people have is nice.

    Clothes that are ready for the rag bag generally aren’t good for quilters. If the item is 100% wool that is something different and might appeal to someone who wants to make felt for quilting and crafts, but worn out shirts, etc. no way. There is to much great quilting fabric out there already.

    Another thing, if you are having a yard sale, don’t be setting up and planning to open after 9AM at the latest. When people see a yard sale sign at 10 in the morning, they expect you to be open by then, not just putting your stuff out. I like to sleep in so that is one of many reasons that I don’t do yard sales anymore.

  6. snafu says:

    The point of having a yard sale is to find a new home for items you no longer use and love. Keep like stuff together like books, kitchen ware, tableware, holiday decor etc. Price items at 80% less than retail…that’s what you’d pay.

    Anyone who sets out broken, worn-out, ready-for-trash, has wasted their time and effort. No one wants junk. Electronic gear can go to a recycler who knows how to dispose of it correctly. Meds can be returned to the pharmacy, batteries & DVDs to Staples type collection depot.

  7. Yael Diamond says:

    I agree completely – I was also recently at a yard sale and I was amazed at the junk they were trying to sell – nothing had any value and needed to be placed into the trash. People will do anything today to try make a buck

  8. Pingback: Yard Sale Should Be The Sale of Last Resort - Saving Advice

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