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Sunday, July 27, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 a.m.
How to's for life A monthly guide

By Judy Averill, Seattle Times desk editor
It must be summer; the signs are everywhere. Garage sale, leaving-the-country sale, 4 chicks garage sale. Everyone at some point in their lives will probably take part in such a sale. The trick is to have a successful sale and have fun doing in it.

The crowds are often drawn to the biggies, where blocks of houses work together — the really BIG sales that offer everything from baby clothes to potential "Antiques Roadshow" treasures. Here's how to do one, and declutter at the same time.


Know your limits. Get started by defining the geographic boundaries of the sale. Will it be a block, a subdivision, a neighborhood? If you live in an area with a homeowners association or neighborhood group, check in before getting started. It may already have a scheduled community sale, may help you organize one, or it may have a ban on them.

Introduce yourself to neighbors. Go door to door or host a potluck.

Lend a hand or even a table. If someone says they don't have much to offer for sale, suggest that they share a table with a neighbor.

Use the Web. If someone on the block is computer savvy, set up a Web site where sale items can be listed.
Most of the suggestions here are written with a block sale of about two dozen homes in mind. However, if you think you're up for organizing a really, really big sale that covers a much wider geographic area — such as the ones in the Issaquah area and in Seattle's Greenwood neighborhood, which have included more than 100 homes — Seattle Public Utilities has a detailed 27-page booklet called "Your Guide to Planning a Neighborhood Garage Sale Day." The guide is available online (PDF) or call 206-684-7666.

• Pool your money to buy an ad in the garage-sale section of a newspaper, mention the number of homes participating and a few words about what's for sale. If you have one, give the Web site address for a list of sale items.

• Post signs on community bulletin boards or in yards. Place notices in community and church newsletters.

• Make your sign stand out. In big, dark letters write "MEGA SALE" or "BLOCK SALE." Is your sign still ho-hum? Turn the kids loose and let them tack on ribbons to flutter in the breeze or sprinkle glitter to catch the sunlight.


Having trouble parting with the goods? "Unclutter Your Home: 7 Simple Steps; 700 Tips and Ideas," by Donna Smallin, Storey Publishing, 1999, can help. The book suggests asking:

• Why don't I use this item more often?

• Does it have any sentimental value?

• Could I get another one if I needed to?

• What is the worst possible thing that could happen if I got rid of it?

The item is up for sale if you haven't used it in months, it has no sentimental value, it's replaceable and Mount Rainier won't blow if it's gone.
Involve the kids. Give older children a sales table of their own. Once they figure out that they might make a little spending money, they might be more willing to say farewell to old toys, books and clothes.

Tag it. Keep masking tape or colored stickers and a marking pen handy so you can price items as they are gathered.


How much is that 1964 Skipper doll (you remember her, she's Barbie's little sister) worth? Look through pricing guides and books on collectibles, check the asking prices on online auctions or compare prices at consignment shops and yard sales. So what is Skipper worth? According to one book, about $150 — if a dog has not chewed on her.


OK, your signs are up and the goods are laid out on the card table. But is that enough? A few of the more creative newspaper ads have touted free coffee mugs, a live band and even massages. You don't have to rub anyone's back to draw attention. Just set a festive mood.

• Offer your neighbors small awards such as ribbons, gag trophies or latte coupons for the best display, most coffee mugs or strangest sale item.

• Tie a balloon at each house participating in the sale.

• Wear Hawaiian shirts and funny hats. Hey, nothing says fun like an aloha shirt and funny hat.

• Designate a photographer. Have someone take photos of the event to share later in a newsletter or at a potluck.


Cash talks. If someone makes a reasonable offer with cash, make the deal and move on. It's OK to haggle, but remember you've already invested too much time and space on that nicked table or white suit.

Try bundling or unbundling. Small, low-priced items like cookie cutters and toy soldiers sell better when rounded up and packed in clear plastic bags. However, pots and pans may not sell as well as a set as they might individually. Who buys $30 of pots when they only need one $2 omelette pan?


• If your block has limited parking, ask area businesses, churches and others if you can use some of their spaces during the sale hours.

• Have volunteers ready to point out parking spaces to drivers.


A reality of life is that there are less than honorable people in the world and they sometimes appear at sales.

• Say no to checks. They bounce. Politely point the shopper in the direction of the nearest ATM.

• Say no to holding. You've held on to that item long enough, so don't hold it for anyone else or you could be stuck with it forever. Sell the item to the first person who makes a reasonable offer.

• Say no to outrageously low offers.

• Say no to anyone who wants inside your home. If a shopper asks to use the bathroom, give directions to the nearest business or park.


Don't despair if items go unsold. If you don't sell an item at the end of the day, you may be able to trade it, sell it through an online auction or donate it to charity and get a tax write off. Take a hard look at the item. Is it usable? Be honest, does the item really have a second life?

If the item is usable, here are a few resources that may take it:

• Seattle Goodwill has a list of donations centers, hours and what it will take.

• Community Services for the Blind and Partially Sighted offers information or to arrange a pickup in King or Snohomish counties, call (206) 767-2177.

Northwest Center for the Retarded can be contacted at 1-800-446-0219 for housewares donations.

Reusable Building Materials Exchange is a free listing for building and landscape materials.

• Organize a community exchange or take part in one that is already scheduled through Use it Again, Seattle!. Their web site explains how the free exchanges work and what items are eligible. There also is a directory of businesses that repair, rent or sell used goods.

• For a primer on Internet auctions and how to avoid fraud, see the Federal Trade Commission's page.

If the item doesn't have a hope for a second life, dispose of it properly. Coordinate with neighbors for a single trip to a disposal site.

• Seattle Public Utilities has an online list of household hazardous wastes and sites that will take them. Phone: 296-4692.

• Recycling and Disposal Stations (transfer stations or dumps) web site lists times, dates, locations and what can be dropped off. Phone: 684-8400.

Sources: "Unclutter Your Home: 7 Simple Steps; 700 Tips and Ideas," by Donna Smallin, Storey Publishing, 1999; and Seattle Public Utilities and Reusable Building Materials Exchange.

Illustrations by Susan Jouflas, Seattle Times news artist

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