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!