Got clutter? It really can be someone else's treasure. Here's how to make your sale a success.

By Brooke Showell
March 14, 2012
Got clutter? It really can be someone else's treasure. Here's how to make your sale a success.
David Hillegas

It's a win-win. Selling what you no longer need means you can finally meet that goal of simplifying and decluttering. And if you do it right, you can pull in a nice stash of cash in the process. Here's how to sift through and organize your goods, attract local bargain hunters and visiting beach-goers, pick the best prices, and more.

Decide what to sell

From provincial art that didn't make it into your modern renovation to the ice-cream maker and beer mug wedding gifts you never even took out of their boxes, the possibilities for what you can offer at a tag sale are endless. Some prime candidates from your coastal digs: forgotten hobbies (the fishing pole you used exactly once), items that don't fit your beach house vision (a grizzly bear statue), and outdated technology. Weed it all out with these rules:

Sell anything you don't use, suggests John Trosko, a professional organizer in Los Angeles. Items you haven't worn, played or cooked with, displayed, or read in the past 12 months can go.
Choose a top 10. Keep only a small percentage of any particular category, such as board games, posters, picture frames, or candles.
Involve an impartial third party. Their support may be the boost you need to say goodbye to that sea horse sculpture.
Set a goal. "If you are having trouble parting with your treasures, create a goal with your family for what you'll do with the proceeds from the sale," John says.
Let it go. To ease anxiety, think about the new life your possessions may have. "People love that items that have become useless to them become useful to someone else," John says.
Don't get too sentimental. If you truly have a hard time getting rid of something you know needs to go (for instance, your child's outgrown baby clothes), John suggests taking a picture of it for memories.

Pick the right date

Choose a day when your area gets the most traffic—typically Friday, Saturday, or Sunday—or consider a two-day tag sale, with the second day dedicated to heavily discounting what you don't sell the first time around. Keep in mind that veteran tag-sale shoppers hit the streets early. Run your sale from about 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. to attract the most shoppers.

Spread the word

Community newspapers and Web sites are ideal places to start advertising. Double-check the submission deadlines, and use descriptive words such as "elegant," "tasteful," "designer," and "beautiful." Ask to hang fliers at local coffee shops, markets, B&Bs, libraries, and other places both residents and weekenders tend to frequent. For larger sales, Web sites such as Craigslist and Tag Sell It ( are great places to reach a wide audience of bargain hunters. John suggests setting up a public event page on Facebook, where you can invite online friends and post photos of the goods.

Create good signage

Frank Isganitis, co-owner of the LimeRock Inn in Rockland, Maine, has become a tag sale authority from the many popular spring sales he holds on the historic mansion's grounds. He makes it easy for drivers to find their way with large signs at nearby intersections. Follow his how-to:

What you'll need: Sturdy corrugated/cardboard paper that can withstand wind and weather, self-adhesive letters, a stake to plant it into the ground.
How to do it: Use the lettering to display the sale's address and hours (include an arrow that points in the right direction).
When to post it: Plant signs around the neighborhood the evening before the sale. (Check the town rules first.)
How to attract people: The morning of the sale, tie a few helium balloons to the signs for extra visibility. Remember to take them down after the sale ends.

Grab attention

"People scan tables very quickly, so you have minimal time to grab their attention," John says. "Things need to be displayed attractively and preferably in a mini-environment where someone could actually picture using it." Set up vignettes of similar items, such as dishes, pottery, or furniture, as you would in your home—for example, if you're selling a chandelier, hang it from a nearby tree. "Clean everything immaculately, so people want to buy it and use it immediately," John adds. Position your most enticing items near the entryway of the sale, where they're easily visible.

Organize the goods

Create a simple, comfortable, organized environment. Rather than placing items on the ground, use folding tables, which you can cover with inexpensive tablecloths to look more elegant. (Arrange them so they're accessible from both sides, to help crowd control.) Set up a full-length mirror for people trying on accessories or clothing, and have an extension cord for testing appliances. "If you're selling a stereo, display it on a table where you also have records or CDs, run a cord to it, and tune it to a fun local station," suggests Jonathon Papsin, co-founder and CEO of Tag Sell It.

For small items (baby toys, measuring spoons, mismatched silverware), John suggests that you group them in large, clear plastic baggies, and sell the bags for a flat fee of, say, $5 each. Place children's items, such as inflatable pool toys, games, art supplies, and puzzles, low to the ground where kids can see.

Make 'em enticing

Secondhand items can look beautiful (and fetch a better price) if you take a little time prior to the sale to present things well. Try these smart tips:

Clothes: Hang freshly pressed dresses and tunics on a garment rack (easier for buyers than foraging through a big box).
Gardening tools: Fill ceramic pots or vases with simple flowers for display (a great last-minute gift for local house-guests) or group tools into sets and tie them together with packets of seeds.
Linens: Use raffia ribbon to tie stacks of freshly ironed sheets or towels.
Holiday decor: Tie ornaments on attractive hangers or to a tree so people see how pretty they look on display.

Pick the right price

An item's tag sale value is typically based on condition, working order, and demand—the better shape it's in, the better price you'll get.

Price properly. Charge 10 to 30 percent of the item's original cost. Furniture and mint-condition items often fetch higher prices. For more substantial treasures, know the lowest dollar amount you will settle for, and set the price a bit higher.
Research. Visit a tag sale in your area or a Web site such as, which helps you price your things.
Display prices clearly. Once you've assigned a value, label each piece with the dollar amount.
Be flexible. Stand your ground on pricing, especially in the first hour, but you may want to remain flexible as the day progresses. "When people who were interested in a particular item circle back around, you might be willing to negotiate," Frank says.

Simplify shopping

Most tag sales are cash only, but if you plan on selling pricier items consider an application such as Square ( that allows you to accept credit payments through your mobile phone. For the checkout process, have plenty of change on hand, plus a calculator, receipt slips, and boxes and shopping bags to take purchases home. If you're selling larger items, such as furniture, provide a business card for a local moving company—let the movers know in advance that shoppers may be calling for day-of pickups. For any leftover goods, make arrangements with a charity like The Salvation Army or Goodwill to pick up any unsold items.