Thriftygal’s Guide to Garage Sales

By | June 27, 2016

I love the house where I grew up and where my parents still hang out, but there’s one area that I’ve long-despised. My parent’s basement: the birthplace of generations of spiders and my hatred of junk. Dad thinks every piece of paper deserves consideration. Mom used to work in retail and couldn’t resist a deal. My two older sisters and I have five degrees between the three of us and created a shrine for those textbooks that stole so much of our student loan money.

So the bottom floor of my parent’s pad screams out for attention and naturally, “organize that hellhole and throw a garage sale” claimed a top ten spot on my Retirement Goals List, a feat I recently crossed off. Here’s the before and after reveal because I hate cliffhangers. This is the smallest of the four rooms down there.


My sister and I worked for two weeks straight, devoting 8-12 hours of our day each to clearing, cleaning and cursing. We also hauled, sorted and organized. I’m so happy we did it, but I’m more happy that we’re done.

If you’ve ever read any clutter cleaning books, you know to put all your stuff into four categories: Donate, Throw, Keep, Sell. Here are my similar categories.

Category 1 – Responsibly recycle

Investigate how to return it to mama earth as gently as possible. We just literally Googled [item to recycle] + [city].


The best part of this picture is that my sister didn’t know I was taking it. I love the look on her face. 


We dropped off a whopping 30 boxes of newspapers, coupons, cardboard, old books and older magazines to a paper recycling place. This took six trips over two weeks in my parent’s van.

Paper yellows. Paper molds. Paper rots. Paper stinks. Paper is a fire hazard. Paper invites bugs. Don’t be a paper hoarder. Throw out your junk mail as you get it. Or better yet, recycle it!

Oh, the paper shredder guy may ask you out.

Scrap metal

We made $4.28 from various scraps of metal we found in the basement and garage. It was conveniently located at the paper recycling place. This will be the last convenient thing to occur in this Operation.


We took two trips to drop off old lightbulbs and tar and other random chemicals we found in the basement and garage to a chemical recycling drop-off. There was a giant sign that warned us “Don’t get out of the car.” So we just drove up, unlocked the back door of the van and people took out our heavy chemicals while we sat in the air conditioning. I could get used to this.


The chemical recycling place doesn’t accept paint anymore due to budget constraints, so now their website offers suggestions like “paint something else!

We eventually put all the buckets of paint outside with a giant “FREE” sign and got rid of about half of it that way. The rest we let dry out in the hot sun for a few days and threw in with the garbage per the helpful website’s less perky suggestion.


We dropped old electronics off at an electronics recycling place. Remember boomboxes? The item on the left is an ancient channel changer. At one time all of these things were cutting edge and you had to pay a pretty penny for it. Now, you can’t give them away.



The electronics recycling place doesn’t accept old TVs and they directed us to a parking lot of a gas station that had a giant dumpster somberly moonlighting as a television graveyard. I’m not sure this is a responsible way to recycle it, but there weren’t any other options.

Category 2 – Keep, but organize

I swear I’m not as miserly as I seem. I sold most of my things when I left Australia, but I do enjoy some stuff. I find the feeling of needing something and then having the item that fulfills that need on hand and easily available quite satisfying indeed! I have my clothes. I buy toiletries when my old ones run out. I kept my law school diploma. I’m talking about the actual diploma that lives inside a frame. It used to hang in my office, but now sits in my “do something with this again one day?” box.

Here’s a little bit farther into the room from the first picture. I read that you’re only supposed to keep things that spark joy, but I feel few sparks when I handle stuff, so I struggled with that idea. Luckily, the stuff in my parent’s basement that we kept were my parent’s things and they were better at assessing the spark.

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Category 3 – Sell

You would think someone named Thriftygal would love garage sales, but I don’t. I tend to view everything as junk and when I go shopping, I want to know that the items on my Needs list will be available. I am a fan of Craiglist/Gumtree because you can search for specific items. We put some of the bigger items on Craigslist – such as our broken fridge.

Fridge: 9-year old GE stainless steel fridge. We had a repairman come out and he said it needed a new compressor. If you know anything about fridges and care to fix this beauty, I’m very impressed with your mechanical abilities.

And someone came out and bought it! Instead of having to pay $15 to haul it away, we made $40 by selling it to someone and gave it a second lease on life.

You most certainly can get nice things at a garage sale. My mom had a lot of brand new kitchen stuff and my dad had a lot of gardening tools in wonderful condition that he’s too stiff to use anymore. I aimed to make $500 for my parents. No cliffhanger. We made $565 and I attempted to twerk in celebration.

Here is my “Lessons Learned List” that I made.

Lesson 1: You will have no idea what will be valuable one day. It’s better not to keep stuff just because you hope it will appreciate. My mom had collectible Barbie dolls she bought back in the day and which have been chilling in the basement gathering dust. She paid $40/each for two of them a couple of decades ago and we resold both for $20. If we had tried harder on the eBay thing, we may have gotten $25 each. Maybe.


Collectibles are mostly junk. Collectibles are meant to be unopened, so there are a million of them for sale out there that are in brilliant condition. You won’t receive a return on this “investment.” Old toys have resale value because another person in the world decides it has value and is willing to pay you for it.


We did have a couple of water guns that we found in the basement. They are vintage Super Soakers still in the box and apparently worth a little bit of money. You can’t guess which toys will be valuable and which ones won’t be.

Lesson 2: Ebay requires time and patience that I do not possess. We did try to sell my sister’s old wedding dress on Ebay, but our 3-day auction was unsuccessful. I was ready to start my wanderings again and my sister needed to get back to her life on the coast. We ended up donating the dress to Goodwill. Maybe we’ll try Ebay again with the water guns.

Lesson 3: Some people are miserly and some people are generous. Several people gave me more money than the price on the item. Many many more people bargained and bargained and bargained. I get that it’s a garage sale and that’s how it works, but I’d still rather be in the generous category than the miserly category. With garage sales, that difference could be a single dollar. A cheap way to feel good about yourself, eh?

Category 4 – Throw

We threw out so much trash. It’s sickening how much we threw out. I worry about our planet. Next time you buy something, imagine where every bit of that purchase is going to end up in 15 years. Gah, I hate stuff.

Category 5 – Thoughtfully donate


We took about 40 CDs to a CD store (which, for a family of five, is not bad) and Mr. CD owner gave us a whopping $3 for the six discs he deemed worthy. We left the rest behind as a donation to the store. He said they’d at least use the plastic cases again. Win. Win.


We donated our books to my favorite place — the library. Except for the old textbooks, which they had no interest in. We included those in our hauls to the paper shredder place.

Old sheets, blankets, pillows, copy paper and folders

The animal shelter takes these items to use for the animals. Except for the copy paper and folders. I imagine they use that for their business.

Everything left over from the garage sale

We took many trips to the Goodwill and Salvation Army.

Oh, the Goodwill guy may ask you out.

17 thoughts on “Thriftygal’s Guide to Garage Sales

  1. Christiane

    Have been there 2 years ago when I had to clear my parents home. Finally hired a professional to clear out all we did not take with us. Not the best way but I just could not do it item by item.

  2. banyanbat

    I guess everybody accumulates clutter that they hate so much at least once in their lifetime, but only a few have the courage to face it and get rid of it. You nailed it there and not just that, but you enumerated this boring chore in such fine words that it felt as if you are describing a nice walk through the woods. I really liked the way you put it.

  3. Lance Ulrich

    I’m retiring at 48 and moving from Houston to Colorado. My little one bedroom apartment managed to accumulate 4 truckloads of crap which I tried to take to Goodwill. I got turned down on some of it, can you believe that? There is nothing worse than… Goodwill Rejection. On the plus side, the Goodwill Guy did not ask me out so I’m counting my blessings. BTW – would you like a (slightly used) push broom? 🙂

  4. Rajen

    very interesting read…sooooo much work…we don’t have any recycling facilities in our small town except for cans. we give away our downsizing stuff to charities and churches for the needy. all we have to do is haul it to them or for large items they’ll pick’em up…

  5. Vicki@MakeSmarterDecisions

    Terrific post! Thanks for including so many details. We haven’t had a garage sale in years (MANY) – so we will use this as we start to plan a fall sale. We are getting ready to downsize next year and we don’t want to wait until we are getting the house ready for sale. I hardly have the patience for Ebay either – and the fees/shipping can really take away the profits. I think donating is really important too.

  6. Melinda

    I love the way you write and your humor is great. Keep on writing. You are very, very good at it! Thank you for your website!

  7. Zach Bobbitt

    Great post! It was thoroughly entertaining. I apologize if someone has asked this before but could you possibly make a post about your favorite wealth/ personal finance books or books you would highly recommend reading? Thanks! 🙂

  8. moonwaves

    Having just had to move, I am definitely losing a lot of the joy I used to get from stuff. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say I’m learning better to judge what really is joy and what’s just nostalgia. I did get rid of most of my college books and I have to admit it coat me a bit of a pang. But I left college in 1995! It was time. I’m taking my time unpacking and trying to get rid of even more now – never want to go through a move like that again.

  9. zeejaythorne

    That is so much work for one little room. I’m glad you had your sister’s help. One perk of this project you didn’t mention was the free weight-lifting workout you received.

  10. walter

    Congratulations on your Forbes articles?! you finally broke the internet?! at least your parsec or galaxy. now you can demonstrate how sticky your prose is. no pressure though. think of this as a little stepping stone to your book(s), when they come out.

  11. Jacqui

    I love this post! I feel the same way about stuff. I hate it. I’m constantly decluttering yet it still multiples (household of 5). I often feel that I’m wasting many chunks of my life moving stuff from one location to the other and I’m working on changing that.

  12. Millionaire Confidential

    All the more reason to collect experiences/memories and not things. When I was in high school, I offered to help my sister’s boyfriend move. EPIC fail in not telling me he lived on a second story. As we are moving all his things, I just kept thinking to myself, never accumulate things.

    Once I got married. We have moved around so much that we always think before we buy, do we want to move this?

    I would be the worst garage salesperson, I would pay people to take the stuff away!!!

    Congrats on your journey. Happy to have stumbled onto your site.

  13. Eatie Gourmet

    Re: collectibles… The one real Jewel in our parents’ house when we cleared it out was a Joe Namath electric popcorn popper, still sealed in it’s original box. I think it was a ‘premium’ for opening an account at a bank, as they used to do back in the way-back machine. Of course my brother took it. I think he’s waiting for Broadway Joe to pop off before he puts it up for auction or something.

  14. Mr Crazy Kicks

    Its very satisfying clearing out junk. I can not say that I would not pickup anything at a yard sale though – did you say there were some nice garden tools…


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