How to Garage Sale

like a pro


I'm not a garage sale pro, but my mother is. She plays it like a hawk; hovering over a yard full of stuff, targeting a fine thing, and swooping in before her rivals.

Since the Great Adirondack Garage Sale is coming up, comprising over 200 miles of fantastic treasures waiting to be found, here are her tips for success.

She's happy to share. Just don't get in her way.

Early bird

There's a lot of "early bird" thinking. For many who feel that if they don't get there early -- sometimes way early -- they will "miss out."

It depends. If you are looking for televisions or furniture, such pricey items tend to go fast. On the other hand, clothes, books, CDs, DVDs, and knickknacks are the kinds of things that will be much cheaper at the end of the sale day.

Starting at dawn? Not necessarily the best strategy.

Don't show up before the time listed; people probably don't have their stuff out yet. Hovering over them while they are trying to get organized will not help you later if you are into bargaining with sellers. My mom says such behavior "can make that price go up." She calls it the "aggravation tax."

If you are going for "quality" rather than "quantity" you do want to be early on the scene. But it is also important to know what scene will interest us most.

Browse the listings to scope out the possibilities.

There are even more tools we can use, by focusing on certain items and seeing how our interests are distributed on a map.

Exploration strategy

This is where the "keyword search" box on the Great American Garage Sale site is so helpful. Type in a keyword like "toys" and see what sales have toys in them, as seen below.

Entering "toys" in the search box gives us all the sales which have toys.

If you know what you are looking for, come prepared. Pro-tip: bring batteries for the things you are looking for, like kid's toys, to make sure they do work. Bring your own bags or boxes. If you are interested in breakables, bring your own cushioning materials to wrap them in. You may be shopping, but this is not a store.

You can also make the best use of your space in that container by putting small things inside of large things and rolling clothes so they fit in a smaller space. If there's too much to carry in one trip, most sellers are glad to put the items aside after you've paid for them. Make two trips instead of gambling on your juggling powers.

Come prepared with the tools for an enjoyable experience. And plenty of small bills!

My mother swears by her fanny pack, which keeps her wallet and car keys handy, and her hands, free. This lets you more easily walk around with something fascinating to see if the interest holds. That way, you examine it more closely, and you are making sure it will be available if you do decide to purchase. Just showing interest in an item will draw the interest of other shoppers. If you come back, it probably won't be there.

The GAGS site also provides a map showing where the sales are. This makes it easier to group likely places together, and plan a route.

The website generates a map for maximum efficiency... and browsing time.

My mother cautions that you should not try to hit every place available. This just leads to frustration, and the hurrying that follows can ruin a fine treasure hunt. So if you find a place that interests you, spend some time there seeing all that is on offer. My mother says that if you are looking for related items, like kid's clothes, toys, and books, these will cluster together. "You always wish you had spent more time at the fun places."

Real pros use binoculars so they can park nearby and look the place over. If nothing interests them, they can simply drive on to the next prospect.

End game

At the end of the day, the balance shifts. When the stuff was freshly put out, sellers were more stubborn about pricing than when they are facing lugging all this stuff back indoors. So now, bargains abound.

There's good ways and bad ways to bargain. Let's make both parties happy.

Bargain fairly. Don't disparage an item in the quest for a lower price; this is people's personal stuff. They are going to take such comments personally. Instead, tell them how much you like this thing... and then point out a possible flaw. This changes the equation, and might result in some money knocked off the price.

One of my mother's favorite bargaining techniques is to acquire multiple items, and cheerfully ask if there is a "bulk discount." Lots of times, especially at the end of the day, there is one.

It's not how much you find, it's how much you like it.

As the saying goes, one person's trash is another's treasure. Happy treasure hunting!

Plan with the Great American Garage Sale website. Find a place to stay. Find more fun things with our shopping.

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