Save the Earth, Make Some Money and Help Someone Out

I have very little knowledge I can bestow on the world. However, there are a few things I am very passionate about and one of those things is rummage sales.

My earliest memory of going to a rummage sale was when I was 9 years old. I bought an antique clock and an old wooden box with rosemaling painted on it. I have been hooked on going to rummage sales ever since and have built myself a huge antique collection. When I was a teenager, my purchases were of antique furniture at rummage sales and when I bought my first house at the age of 21 my entire house was furnished with my finds. As a mother now, I purchase all of my children’s clothes at rummage sales and spend $10-$20 for their yearly wardrobe. For the price of one shirt at a department store my kids have a TON of clothes and very nice ones too! Also, noteworthy to add, I never thought I would have three children so after I had my first two children and they had outgrown all their baby clothes and accessories I sold them at a rummage sale (see… I didn’t say I was very smart) so when I found out I was expecting with baby #3 I went out and purchased everything we needed to equip a baby for the first year for $15 at rummage sales!

Now the downside to all of this purchasing is that I accumulate a lot of stuff and since I like to switch the look up in my house frequently and my kids grow out of clothes at an alarming rate, I in turn have to host my own rummage sales every year. I started having rummage sales when I was 22 years old and have held one or two for the past 15 years.

Since I have a lot of experience on this subject I thought I would share with you some things I have learned along the way to have a successful rummage sale yourself.

First things first…determine if having a rummage sale is the right fit for you.

  • Do have a rummage sale if you want to de-clutter and downsize your household.
  • Don’t have a rummage sale if you don’t have a lot of items and variety to sell (if I only see two tables of items being sold, I keep driving. I don’t waste my time stopping for small rummage sales.)
  • Don’t expect to make a lot of money. People are coming to rummage sales because they want things cheap. If people want to spend a lot of money they will go to department stores and buy things brand new.
  • If a rummage sale isn’t the right fit for you and you still want to get rid of things, donating them, selling on Craigslist to get more money for items and selling to consignment shops are your other options.
One of my rummage sales from 2009

One of my rummage sales from 2009

How to plan and execute a successful rummage sale:

  • Have an area in your house that you can set things aside you want to sell throughout the year. I have a chest of drawers and a corner in the basement that I am constantly putting things that I want to sell. I also have Rubbermaid totes that I am constantly putting the clothes that my kids have outgrown. This saves time so you are not scrambling through the house trying to determine what to get rid of at the last minute.
  • Make sure you have plenty of tables that you will be able to set up the things you are going to sell. We have quite a few tables but I also use old doors and lay them across sawhorses or buckets for makeshift tables. My brother found an old store clothing rack at a rummage sale that I use to hang up clothes but you can also run rope between two objects for hanging up your clothes.
  • What to sell? Anything! Remember the old saying “One person’s trash in another person’s treasure.” Take for instance worn out jeans or clothes. If you price these cheap (25 cents) a sewer may come along and buy these for quilts or the buttons. Perhaps you have a broken wooden chair. This may be perfect for someone to put in their garden with a flowerpot on it. Obviously you can’t make a lot of money on these items but you’re not filling up the landfills, you’re helping someone else out and you’re de-cluttering your house.
I like to find pieces of furniture on the side of the street and repaint them and sell them at my rummage sales!

I like to find pieces of furniture on the side of the street or cheap at rummage sales and repaint them and sell them at my rummage sales!

  • Make sure you price everything. I use the little stickers found in the office supply section of stores. They cost about $1.00 for a pack of 300. I hate asking people what something costs when I go to rummage sales. If they have nothing marked I usually just turn around and leave.
  • When it comes to pricing there are no real rules for this. It’s ultimately up to you and how much you feel something is worth or you can do some investigating online. Just keep in mind people who shop at rummage sales are looking for deals. I generally price kid’s clothes from 10 cents to $2.00 depending on the condition of it. People buy the extremely cheap clothes for play clothes and they are willing to pay $2.00 for things in good shape. Adult clothes are generally hard to sell at rummage sales. I also mark these very cheap (25 cents to $1.00). Remember you don’t have a fitting room and as a rule don’t allow strangers into your house to try things on. People are taking a chance that things will fit. They will take a chance if something is only a $1.00. For everything else price it according to how badly you want to sell it. Some of the bigger items that I desperately want to get rid of I price low to ensure it sells. Other things that I only want to sell if I get a certain price for it I mark high and may come down lower because people like to dicker at rummage sales. Keep in mind everyone’s views on the worth of an object is different. I once had a rocking chair for sale with a $40 price tag on it. A lady came and told me I was crazy and if I wanted to sell it she would pay $15. I told her I was firm on the price and she continued to berate me. While she was standing there yelling at me a man came and handed me $40 and took the rocking chair!
  • Mentally prepare yourself for rude and annoying people.
  • Make sure you really want to sell a particular item. I’ve had seller’s remorse too many times to mention.
  • You can hold your rummage sale anytime. Here in Wisconsin I usually try to have mine at the beginning of Spring. Avid rummage salers are eager to get out and start bargain hunting. I try for April but it is tricky to set a date due to the weather. You have to be flexible and jump on the first nice weekend you see. Summer rummage sales are easier to set dates for but you usually don’t get as much traffic. The most common days for rummage sales here in Wisconsin are Fridays and Saturdays. I once had a rummage sale on a Wednesday and it was my most profitable rummage sale day ever!
  • I start my rummage sales at 8 am. Mornings are very busy. Afternoons are usually slower and then it picks up again late afternoon. I usually close at about 4pm but will stay open later if I have a lot of people stopping. I once stayed open until 6 pm because it became so busy and I made the most money between 5-6 pm that day.
  • Consider getting other neighbors to have rummage sales on the same day as you. People are more apt to stop if there are a lot of rummage sales in the area. I have never done this because I hate commitments and breaking them if something comes up and I can’t have it.
  • Get friends and family to bring their stuff to your rummage sale. This gives your rummage sale more variety and items for people to pick from and more reason to come. Make sure that you put your initials on your sale stickers so that it’s easy to divvy up the money.
My mom likes to buy used children's furniture and repaint it. She then sells it at my rummage sales and makes a lot of money!

My mom likes to buy used children’s furniture and repaint it. She then sells it at my rummage sales and makes a lot of money!

  • Advertise your rummage sale. This is another thing I really don’t really do a lot of since I can’t always pinpoint when I’m having a rummage sale. I once put an ad in the local newspaper for $30 and it ended being a cold day with snow flurries. I still had the rummage sale since I paid for the ad. People still came to that rummage sale but I didn’t have a stellar day. I usually just put an ad on Craigslist the day of the rummage sale and put signs around my neighborhood. This works for me because I live in a busy area.
  • When advertising make sure you give a comprehensive list of what you are selling. If you just write “Rummage Sale” and give the date and address people will not be intrigued to come.
You never know who might want one hand painted bar stool!

You never know who might want one hand painted bar stool!

  • Make sure the items you are putting in your rummage sale are clean and well-organized. I always have children’s clothes grouped by gender and size.
  • To get people to stop it helps to have eye-catching, colorful things close to the road. I bought a flag pendant a few years ago and string it between two trees in the front of my house. I have big, bright colorful signs at the end of my driveway and some of the bigger objects for sale right up front for everyone to see. I also park a car in front of our house because for some reason it gives people the mindset that it must be a really good rummage sale if other people are already there (yes, you have to use psychology with rummage sales).
  • Have a plan for your children if you have any. Having kids and a rummage sale is a big pain in the butt.  Kids love to “help.” Sometimes this is more hindering than helpful. Since my first born was just little she has got to have a bake sale while I am running my rummage sale. This kind of helps. However, my middle son got banned from my rummage sale two years ago when he was 3 years old because unbeknownst to me he was walking up to all of the customers and telling them they couldn’t buy anything because it was our stuff. I kept wondering why people were putting down handfuls of things and walking away until a kind lady told me what my son was doing. Also, my kids get “seller’s remorse” and even though they originally told me I could sell a certain toy they end up hauling it back into the house.
My daughter's first bake sale at a rummage sale! She made a lot of sales!

My daughter’s first bake sale at a rummage sale! She made a lot of sales!

My son and daughter having a lemonade stand at one of my rummage sales.

My son and daughter having a lemonade stand at one of my rummage sales.

Another one of my daughter's bake sales!

Another one of my daughter’s bake sales!

  • The things you will need on the day of the rummage sale are a “sales table” for people to put down their purchases, plastic bags, newspaper to wrap up breakables, money to make change (people often come with $20 bills), paper, pen, calculator, extra price stickers, sharpie and tape (if you want to make signs on any of your items or tables).

 Rummage sales are a lot of work. There is no doubt about it but there are a lot of benefits too. I generally make between $200-$400 per rummage sale, de-clutter my house quite a bit and get to meet new neighbors and see ones that I haven’t seen for a while. Plus in a small way you are saving the earth and helping out people that may otherwise not be able to afford things if you weren’t selling them at your rummage sale!

57 responses

  1. Great Post!!! You certainly have patience in all you do, and writing is included. If you know of, or come across rummage sales with fabrics, sewing accessories, ribbons, and wrapping paper kindly let me, Melissa. Thanks for sharing, and the pics. Be Blessed, Mtetar

    • Rummage sales are great places to find sewing things. Fabric, thread and buttons have become so costly at stores that in order to make sewing affordable rummage sales are the way to go. I picked up so much fabric for free at a rummage sale last summer because the lady was sick of sewing and just wanted to get rid of it! I now use it for simple projects and embellishing my kid’s clothes since I don’t really know how to sew. My Mom does sew and I just gave her a bunch of fabric from that sale because Iris needs some summer dresses and pants!

      • Hope you can share your mom’s creative ideas. Every state, and town is different with quantities, qualities, and cost of course. They’re great for savings. Be Blessed, Mtetar

      • Hope you can share your mom’s creative ideas. Great savings, but depending on the state and towns quantities, qualities, and cost varies of course. Be Blessed, Mtetar

  2. We call them garage sales… it took me a minute to make sure I was on the same page as you, as a rummage sale down here is different… Okay, now that that is straight… I love them! I grew up going to them and wish I had more time to just grab some singles and head out on a Saturday morning! Last year I got my nephew a great cozy coupe for $5 – and a few Clorox wipes later, it was one of his best birthday gifts!! My parents subdivision has a community wide garage sale once or twice a year, and all of us neighboring subdivisions tend to be really active on those same weekends! We take advantage of their publicity! 🙂

    • Oh, I got distracted from my point – garage/rummage sales are one of the best ways to stimulate the economy because it puts money back in the hands of the people! And, you are right, it’s very eco-friendly cause it keeps items out of the land fills! 🙂 Okay, now I’m done!

      • Kate, it is so funny that you mention the Cozy Coupe…we own one (that I also got at a rummage sale for $5). My kids still use it and once when I was having a rummage sale the kids were driving it around the driveway and left it up front. People were stopping left and right and asking if I was selling the Cozy Coupe! Since I wasn’t they still ended up looking around and finding other things they needed! I definitely recommend putting a Cozy Coupe at the end of your driveway whether you are selling it or not!!! haha!!! Also, what are rummage sales in Texas?

      • A rummage sale here is more of a group activity. For example, a church would hold a rummage sale and allow their members to have space or for them to donate items for the church to sale to raise money. Or the YMCA would host the sale, etc. but it is usually a much bigger event than our single garage sale. Lots of times schools will let their parking lot be used and different clubs (like band or cheer leading) would host a rummage sale to raise money by selling their own items along with donated items. Does that make sense? I’m struggling to use my words properly to describe it!

      • Oh my! Yes, it does make sense! Plus I just looked it up online and that is the exact definition of it! Everyone around here just uses the term rummage sale even if it is just at their house! Now I don’t know if I should go and edit my whole post and change it to garage sale or yard sale. Yikes! Thanks for bringing this to my attention!

      • Lol! Don’t change a thing! Every part of the nation has it’s own regional terminology!! And I really wasn’t critiquing you, I was just admitting to my own confusion! 🙂 your post was awesome! And I love garage/rummage sales, no matter what name is out on them!

  3. Where I live most of the neighborhoods (including ours) will hold a neighborhood sale which is nice because then if you aren’t selling enough to have a sale of your own you can share a neighbor’s driveway so people are more likely to stop.
    You have some great tips!

    • Thank you! I LOVE neighborhood rummage sales! My husband and I just went last weekend to one! It was way out in the country which normally would be too far too drive for one rummage sale but since there was a ton we ventured out and had a good time! Teaming up with a neighbor is a great idea!!

  4. Great advice, all of it! And the tip about parking a car out front works — those are the sales I usually stop at!

    Our subdivision holds a neighborhood garage sale the first Saturday of June. I think I’ll try your tips then (or beg for help!).

  5. Melissa, you neglected to tell them that rummage sales are also great entertainment, jocularity galore, and a day or two of laughter at what people can say or do !! We always have a great time visiting with our customers ….. it’s just the setting up and tearing down … that is a pain and lots of work !! Looking forward to YOUR RUMMAGE SALE !! I think I’m calling my next one ” EXCELLENT TRASH SALE ” !!!!

    • Yes! That is what I spend on their wardrobes! I usually get the majority of their clothes for .25 cents so it goes a long way! It saves us money for other fun stuff! Here people call them rummage sales, garage sales, yard sales, tag sales, estate sales…they are all basically the same thing…people selling the crap they no longer need!

  6. That’s it–I’m sold! Our neighborhood hosts a huge rummage sale every June and I never know how to tackle it. With your knowledge (and lots of questions to come–prepare yourself!) I will participate in my first ever rummage sale! THANK YOU!

  7. You are right about rummage/garage sales being a lot of work…So much so that I don’t want to have them anymore! I’ve had 2 and they were quite sucessful, but the “haggling” drove me nuts! If something was priced at $1, they wanted it for .50 cents; if it was .50 cents, they wanted it for .25 cents! Now, if I know someone who’s having a sale, I’ll donate my stuff to them. Good for you for being so patient and making it a success!

    • Haggling drives me nuts too! I don’t mind coming down on some higher priced stuff but yes, I have had the people who want a .50 cent item for .25!!! When I go to a rummage sale I never ask for a cheaper price unless they have signs up that say “make an offer.”

  8. Wow – so much detail, information and pictures! This is really helpful Melissa! It sounds like you are a PRO at this! I love the re-finished, colorful furniture – great merchandising to draw people in! Since my kids have fall birthdays, we don’t have a ton of outdoor toys (this is okay too), but I plan on scouring rummage sales for a bike and other toys for outside. I scored 2 Thomas train toys for $0.50 last year! I am such a bargain hunter and have fun stopping at rummage sales while we’re on walks with my kids.

    • Thanks Cathy! I think all of our outdoor toys and bikes are from rummage sales except for one scooter that we bought Bency a few years ago for his birthday. It now looks just the same as the rummage sale stuff. Kids are hard on that stuff and it’s expensive at stores so I like to buy it used so I don’t feel bad when they mess it up!

      • Good call! Yeah, some used stuff DOES look brand new too, depending on how quickly kids may outgrow things. And I agree, I don’t feel bad about my kids losing or breaking 2nd hand toys either. Great point!

  9. I would so buy all of that painted furniture! Your family is so artistic! I am so jealous! I need to get back into these sales. We end up donating most of our stuff because we don’t accumulate enough for sales (at least enough that is worth anything – thanks a lot kids) but I too love to find treasures from other people!

    • Thanks Courtney! I cracked up at the “thanks a lot kids”!!! I have found that Bency is getting really hard on his clothes and I don’t know if I’ll have much to pass down to Cesar! Good thing I love going to sales!

      • Yeah, I definitely was able to save a lot more of Zoe’s clothes than Mikey’s; boys are ROUGH. Poor Troy has been completely in old handmedowns until just recently when we finally outgrew the stash that everyone had given us. I have to go shopping this week to get him bigger clothes because he keeps outgrowing everything! I think he may be giving his handmedowns to Mikey by next year (which is bizarre considering that they are 5 years apart)! 🙂

  10. You’re so resourceful! We don’t have many garage sales here. I know I would love browsing through such sales. The closest thing I do is probably browse through all the want-to-sell forums on the Internet. Such good deals!

    • I was just trying to figure out if I knew where you live. Are you in a different country? My neighbor is from Poland and she told me that until she came to the US she had never seen a rummage before. They don’t over buy there and they use things until there is no use left in them…which is very smart!!

  11. That was a very informative post. I am horrible at rummage sales. I don’t like all the planning and preparing that goes into them and am usually running around like crazy getting ready at the last minute. Also, I never make much, sometimes less than the advertising cost. On that note, my neighbor asked me to have one with her as soon as the weather allows. Now I usually donate everything to Good Will or Salvation Army and take the tax deduction. It makes me much happier. I still love to go to them though! 🙂

    • This is exactly why I told people the whole story. I don’t think a lot of first timers realize how much work goes into them and they are not going to be making enough money to fund a trip around the world or anything! I really do enjoy them but I know they are not for everyone!!!

  12. Wow! Melissa, you are very successful at this! I always wanted to do one when I used to live with my parents but they never wanted one! (they don’t go) but I do, I love stopping by and look at what’s there! Last year I saw a huge ELMO chair when we were passing by with the car and I asked hubby to stop by, he said we will come back in 15 minutes, when I came back the chair wasn’t there anymore (of course I was mad at hubby!) 😉 I’ve considering having one because our garage is full and needs a good clean-up. The tips you provided us are great, don’t know how you do all this! You have a lot of patience Melissa! I would not know what to do about the prices, knowing me I would sell everything at $0.25 cents ha!ha! not kidding me! I am the worst negotiator, ever! ha!ha! Love all the pictures of your little ones, they are so cute! My favourite is the last one of Iris; too cute! 🙂 She will be an expert at these rummage sells 🙂

    • Oh, thank you Ingrid! You are so nice! I thought everyone was going to think I was off my rocker with this post! I’m happy I helped some people out! I can relate so much to your Elmo chair experience. I think I finally have my husband trained and he stops immediately if I see something or else he knows he is going to be in big trouble!

  13. What a wonderful post. You are great at what you do!
    I hate hosting rummage sales. I personally would rather donate the items and use the tax write off. I just feel a level of awkward violation of people rummaging through my junk. Plus working all day at hauling everything out, selling all day, and hauling the left over items back, making about $100 or less. It just doesn’t equal out to an hourly rate that I am fond of. I do love the idea of the kids doing a lemonade stand. How cute is that?

    • Hi! Thanks for stopping by my blog first of all and thank you for the compliment! I know exactly what you mean about the violation. There is nothing worse than a person flipping through your clothes and saying to the person they are with, “Hey, look at this shirt..haha!” and it was one of your favorite shirts that you used to love to wear but it just no longer fits so you have to get rid of it!! I will be checking out your blog when I get a chance!

  14. My mom has a garage sale every year. She makes sure that the grandkids clothes are washed and pressed. It looks like a department store. Last year after her husband passed away a guy from town stopped in and started bugging her. She told him to get out of there and if she didn’t she was going to shoot him with a bb gun. I told her she couldn’t do that. She digressed.

  15. You are one smark cookie, Melissa. Very wise. I used to go to yard sales all the time with my grandmother. She used to by McCoy flowerpots for less than a buck and had a nice little collection of them. Although I haven’t been to a yard sale in years (I need to start that again) I go to thrift stores, consignment shops, and children’s consignment sales. There is a group here that holds a large consignment sale 3-4 times a year. You tag your own stuff and take it there and for a weekend all the parents in the area descend on this sale. I’ve taken lots of Mia’s clothes and a few toys to each one and always walk away with $100-$200. Then I buy her stuff for the next season at great prices. (Nolan’s clothes are handed down to us, and I pass them on to a mother in need.) Anyway, if such a sale ever comes to your area, I recommend it for selling your clothes – you might get more money for them.

    I’m a Craigslist junkie and have found some super nice furniture on there. I’m just very patient and will wait for just the right thing for dirt cheap and then I’ll pounce. Just got a World Market TV stand for cheap. Also, what you do with re-painting furniture – there was a lady on CL who did that with dressers and bed frames and such. She painted them with really crisp paint and put on new knobs and resold them. I talked to her once and she said that’s what she did in order to be able to stay home and take care of her baby.

    • Oh wow! That kid’s sale you have in your area sounds amazing! As far as I know we don’t have anything like that around here. I’ll have to look into it! Yes, repainting furniture is definitely a way to get some extra cash. I have done it most of my life and kind of gave it up the past couple of years with having a baby and two other kids to look after but I’m hoping to do more of it this summer since they are all getting a little more reliable. It will never make me rich but it’s fun and a little extra something!

      • They are popping up a lot these days. I talked to someone who lives a few states away who has the same set-up. Also, if you volunteer to work a shift, you get to keep a greater percentage of your sales, and/or get a discount on your purchases. You may not get things for 25 cents…I think you have found the best possible formula for that with yard sales…but you may find some really nice things that are still at a great price. I just went to a spring sale and got about 10-15 outfits each for my daughter and my neice and spent abotu $50. Everything looks brand new.

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