The Multi-family Garage Sale Flop That Succeeded

I had a dream of a well-organized multi-family garage sale. Alas, it did not happen. Life intruded, and the sale flopped as a sale but succeeded in unexpected ways.

I planned to follow the advice of Jessica Reeder about how to throw a successful yard sale. However, I disregarded her first bit of advice - start planning early - and that pretty much sealed the sale's fate. Consider this post one where you learn from my mistakes.

The problem: we held the sale last Saturday, but I didn't start advertising until the Wednesday before. And I only posted a Craigslist ad. I didn't even share the event on Facebook or Twitter. When Saturday rolled around, the reality of my fail sunk in. I faced the embarrassing prospect of organizing a garage sale for my neighbors where no one shows up. Desperate, I did a crash advertising campaign on local parents forums, yardsale listing sites, and social media 45 minutes after the sale started.  

Shortly after this, my Dutch neighbor strolled by on a smoke break. He said to my wife and I, "yard sales are never worth it, you're better off just giving the stuff away." Nice. Not a feel good comment, yet I couldn't have thought of a more perfect sentiment to characterize the venture at that point.  

As you'd expect, not many people showed up. I'd say maybe 20 people came by during the five hour sale. Andrea and I netted $22. Sad. We couldn't even give stuff away to those who did show. Even sadder. It was fortunate that we weren't doing it for the money. We just wanted to declutter our home and make sure our stuff went to people who would use it.

So the sale was a flop in its ostensive purpose. However, some unexpected good resulted:

  • I rallied three neighbors to participate. Two we had never met before. I enjoyed the simple pleasure of communing with neighbors. And we helped our community flex a cooperative muscle. It built my faith that more is possible in our 'hood.
  • Ahree, one of the neighbors we had never met, sold over $100 of stuff despite the low turnout. She wasn't disappointed, or at least didn't show it. Her and her husband invited us to brunch. And while the slowness of the sale was awkward for me since I was the organizer, Ahree took it in stride and even boosted the sale by making signs. We also had a fun chat about Shareable and her work in user experience design during a long, slow stretch.
  • Our next door neighbor, Lala, spontaneously donated both of her street-side parking spaces for our sale, which made a far superior retail space than our isolated carport. Our sale might have been an even bigger flop with out that help. The support felt good. Thanks Lala.
  • Since not many folks showed up, I took the time to reorganize our storage space to make room for the neighborhood tool library I'm planning. Our storage unit was a disaster. I couldn't get stuff out of it nor put anything in it. The situation had nagged me for years. The shelving I put in solved the problem. When the sale was over, I moved some stuff straight into storage instead of having to haul it into the house. Organizing our storage unit saved me work and paved the way for a future Year of Living Shareably experiment. Next steps: Freecycle the remaining stuff, then launch the tool library.
  • Two neighbors, both expecting babies at the same time, met at our sale. My wife told them about our nanny share and how good it is for Jake. I added that it saved us around $10,000 last year. The neighbors exchanged numbers and planned to explore nanny sharing together. The prospect that they could save a lot of money and get better childcare from our tip felt good.
  • As planned, we donated whatever we could get in the car to St. Vincent de Paul (similar to Goodwill). So, we did succeed in reducing clutter in the house. However, when we got to the donation area, there was a huge cube truck filled with stuff. The guy who took our donation said that they fill one truck a day, and that it all goes to the landfill. Well, that's a story for another day. In the mean time, donations to St. Vincent de Paul and the like will be a last resort after Freecycling.

So while the sale flopped as a sale, it was a success in other ways. I was surprised to feel a sense of accomplishment at sundown. We had brought needed order to our material life, redistributed still useful stuff, brought neighbors together, and set the stage for more community life.

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My son Jake "helps" set up under mom's watchful eyes.
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Expectant parents exchange numbers in order to explore nanny sharing together.
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Our neighbor Ahree closes a sale.
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Our reorganized storage unit. Trust me, it was a disaster before.

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