9 Ways to up Your Thrift Sale Game

it's quality over quantity; sometimes a little extra work can pay off big time if you're having a rummage sale

Laura Buchholz

Summer is a great time to enjoy the best of what life has to offer: sunshine, ice cream, beaches, sleeping with the windows open, and, of course, the most important thing: Rummaging around in other people’s garages for something you can take home and put in your garage. 

As someone who is not a baby boomer and is therefore mostly financially doomed, I have reason to believe that thrift sales will soon become the lynchpin of our new economy. And if thrift sales are the lynchpin of our new economy, someone needs to be thinking about quality. Apparently, that someone is me.

I’m talking, of course, of thrift sales. As someone who is not a baby boomer and is therefore mostly financially doomed, I have reason to believe that thrift sales will soon become the lynchpin of our new economy. And if thrift sales are the lynchpin of our new economy, someone needs to be thinking about quality. Apparently, that someone is me.

Inspired by my recent trips to both the Osseo citywide thrift sale and the Eastside Hill Neighborhood thrift-a-ganza, I have compiled the following handy list of thrift sale tips for those of you who are thinking of putting on your own sale later in the summer. May you learn from others’ mistakes and profit from their victories.

1. Announce yourself. Make sure people know you’re actually having a sale, as opposed to just having some people clustered in your garage for no good reason. A sign is always nice. An arrow pointing to the right house can be helpful.

2. Not everything needs to be sold. Some things can be thrown away, like shirts with huge gashes in the neck.

3. Display your wares artfully. In general, try to hang clothes up to display them. No one wants to rummage through your old laundry pile.

4. Don’t display everything. For example, you don’t need to hang up a shirt with a huge gash in the neck. You can probably throw that in the actual old laundry pile, or just right in the trash to save everyone time.

5. Price your items. This is the Midwest, not Saudi Arabia. Nobody likes to haggle here – it makes us feel vulnerable and alone.

6. Branding makes you memorable. For example, if you’re the person selling the 24-inch, animated hanging vampire in a box for 3 bucks, kudos on also talking about someone else’s miscarriage so everyone else can hear. Branding game strong.

7. Soft-pedal the sell. Shouting “everything is half off!” or “everything is negotiable!” before I’ve even stepped foot in your garage is unacceptable – even more so if you’re selling like three old dishtowels and that’s it. Let people wander and explore. They’ll find that five-inch metal armadillo if they’re meant to. I know I did.

8. Kids’ stuff is hard. It is very, very difficult to make used kids’ stuff look appealing at a thrift sale. Do you have 400 tiny hangers to display every one of those tiny over-washed T-shirts or pair of crumpled elastic-waist jeans? No? Then maybe just give that stuff to Goodwill, because a mangled heap of used kids’ clothing looks like a pile of old meatballs. A collection of dirty dolls with the hair hacked off is scary and sad. Think about the dreams your shoppers are going to have later featuring those dolls. Bag it up and donate. Or at least put a trigger warning on your sign: This Thrift Sale May Not Be Suitable For Sensitive Viewers.

9. Keep the backstory brief. It can be interesting to hear a little bit about the item you’re buying, but “someone died on that bench” has the potential to quash a sale. “Our dad used to balance that tray on his arm stump and serve us drinks” is a little better, but not much. Consider your audience, and err on the side of reticence.

The good news is that the summer is still young, and you still have plenty of time to perfect your thrift sale technique. The bad news is that if you’re under the age of 55, the proceeds of your thrift sales will probably be what ends up replacing Social Security. This is serious stuff! But it can also be fun! Just remember: The important thrifting lessons you learn today can pay dividends in the future. So don’t skimp on quality! Make your thrift sale the best thrift sale it can possibly be, even if that’s not saying much.

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