Garage Sales: Clean Life, Clean Finances

Garage sales can be ubiquitous in some communities, as a driveway is suddenly populated with a fondue set that hasn’t been used in 20 years, an old power drill that still works, furniture exiled thanks to a major redecoration, and books that have been crowded off shelves. The owners make money from the sales and neighbors pick up bargains, but the payoff can be psychological as well as financial.

As noted in a New York Times article, researchers are finding that clutter can “negatively impact mental well-being” as well as increase levels of cortisol, a stress hormone. In short, cleaning the clutter out of your house can clean the clutter out of your mind!

With that in mind, be strong and start organizing to declutter. One expert, as noted in the Times articles, advises people not to touch the items they’re trying to get rid of. That is, if you know you’re trying to get rid of something, have someone else hold it up and say, “Do you really need this?” By not touching it yourself, you are making it easier to get rid of.

Setting up the sale

So you’ve decluttered your home and are ready to start selling. What’s the best way to organize your garage sale?

The Family Handyman website makes a number of suggestions:

  • Pick a time of year when it’s not too hot or cold. For many, that means spring or fall, although you can adjust if you’re in Phoenix or Fargo, for example.
  • Start early in the day. Interest tends to wane by early afternoon.
  • Consider your location. Are you getting plenty of foot or car traffic in your area?
  • Give a lot of thought to pricing. Be willing to negotiate — especially for big ticket items. Know how low you’re willing to go in advance.

The WikiHow section on garage sales offers some shrewd advice:

  • Remember your goal. You want to clear your house, not make a financial killing. Do you really want to bring unsold items back into the house?
  • Go big! Many would-be buyers won’t stop unless you have a lot to sell. If you don’t have a large inventory, consider getting together with friends and family to create a bigger sale.
  • Get coins and currency. Garage sales are cash businesses, so have plenty of singles and coins available so you can easily make change.

What about laws and taxes?

Fortunately, it’s not likely a garage sale will create a taxable event. Some jurisdictions specially note that a garage sale does not require a sales tax. Massachusetts, for example, exempts garage sales as “casual and isolated.” And it’s highly unlikely you will sell anything for more than you paid for it, thus generating a capital gains tax. And you probably won’t need to declare your proceeds as income. However, there are lots of state and local rules, so if you’re unsure, consult a tax professional.

Finally, keep in mind that some towns may require a permit to organize a garage sale, so call your town hall to find out what the situation is where you live.

Good luck cleaning out your house!

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