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How to host a garage sale like a celebrity

Insider tips from expert sellers to help you stage the sale of the summer.

Insider tips from expert sellers to help you stage the sale of the summer

Collage of Martha Stewart and Chloë Sevigny cut out and put on a pink picture of a yard sale with clothing racks, a BBQ and other miscellaneous house items on a front lawn.
(Credit: iStock; Getty Images; Walt Disney Television; art: CBC Life)

For a long time, buying secondhand was considered uncool. But if you ask Jen and Matt Schachtebeck, the founders of Toronto's Hogtown Flea and owners of vintage store Coffee and Clothing, the perception around sustainable shopping has definitely changed over the past few years. 

Spurred by increasing concerns about the climate crisis and the wastefulness of the fashion industry, people are turning more toward vintage.

"Because of social media, gen Z were some of the more early adopters to push this change to thinking about the way we shop and consume clothing, and how that affects our environment," Matt said via email.

"Millennials, on the other hand, are slowly starting to come around and move from mall-shopping to secondhand shopping. This generation was raised in the peak of 'mall life,' and the experience of our social structure being driven by consumerism, so they are a little slower to the sustainable movement in terms of clothing consumption," he said. 

"It's easier for millennials who are parents to get their foot in the door.… Secondhand for kids is definitely the way to go — they grow out of and get bored of things way too fast to warrant buying anything new." 

While the mainstreaming of vintage may have been led by gen Z, the image of sustainable shopping is also being elevated by a recent spate of celebrity closet and tag sales. But these aren't your old-school auctions or events that keep fans at arm's-length (think Kardashian Kloset or the Annual goop Celebrity Closet Sale). 

Instead, celebrities like Martha Stewart, Chloë Sevigny, Jemima Kirke and Canada's own Sloan have turned to hosting (and attending) their own sales of used clothing, housewares and merchandise. This adds an element of intimacy to the usually one-sided relationship between celebrity and fan, and elevates the act of thrifting itself. 

"Bella Hadid, Dua Lipa — everyone and their mom is dressing in archival fashion," said New York–based Liana Satenstein, a Vogue contributor and owner of closet consulting service Schmatta Shrink. She adds that celebrities opting for more vintage has helped make it a stylish choice for the general public, too.

People are also drawn to owning "something that no one else has," Satenstein said. She would know, having organized Sevigny's aforementioned closet sale in May, which was co-hosted by Mickey Boardman, Lynn Yaeger and Sally Singer. 

"People want a history with their clothes," Satenstein added. She said that some of the items at Sevigny's sale might not have sold on a third-party retail site, but in the context of celebrity, became desirable "because someone really loves her, and they love her vibe and aesthetic and her history with her clothes."

But you don't have to be Chloë Sevigny to throw the (garage) sale of the century. If you follow these basic tips, then you too could make a tidy profit off of cleaning out your old stuff. 

Research 

Do your research ahead of time by checking out other local sales for cues. When do they usually happen? What types of items are being offered? How are they being organized and priced? Take note of what works well and what you could improve on at your own sale. 

Make sure to also check your local bylaws to see if you'll need a permit, and familiarize yourself with any other regulations that will impact how and when you'll host your sale. You'll also want to review Health Canada's rules pertaining to items sold at garage sales.

Timing

According to the Schachtebecks, weekends in the morning and early afternoon are the best times for a sale.  

Make sure to set the date of your sale far enough out so you have time to sort through your stuff, price it, and market the sale. 

Curating your items 

When it comes to curating your sale items, the Schachtebecks say the amount of items on offer doesn't really matter. "You can have a successful sale with just one table or multiple tables," Jen noted. "As long as you keep the items organized into groups and price points to make it really easy for the shopper to browse."

Displaying items on tables and clothes on racks (versus on the ground or in boxes) will make it easier to catch the eye of people passing by. The Schachtebecks also recommend organizing your items by category (think toys, clothes, books, dishware) and having prices already marked to remove any guesswork.

If you or a friend has a knack for it, you may also want to consider styling your items into little vignettes — think a coffee table with books, candle holders and floral arrangements or your dishware set up for a dinner party. 

Pricing

"Garage sale pricing can be tough because you're not going to get full market value on some items if sold individually. Be prepared to make bulk deals to help sell the lesser-priced items, and know what your bottom-dollar price is for some of the items worth more," Jen said. 

The Schachtebecks also recommend looking up any item you think might be worth something on eBay or Facebook Marketplace so you can get a good gauge of its value and not underprice it. Jen says that Etsy "can be a bit overpriced" and isn't always a realistic reference point.

Depending on the size of your closet (or sale), Satenstein recommends enlisting help with the labour of sorting and pricing. 

Finally, think about having bags available for your customers. "There have been plenty of times we haven't bought something because we didn't want to carry it around or were without a bag," Jen said. Consider it a guilt-free way of parting with your extra reusable bags.

Marketing your sale 

First, the basics: on the day of the sale, put up easy-to-read signage around the block and around major intersections to drive customers your way. Be sure to mention which modes of payment you accept (cash, card, Apple Pay and so on) so people can come prepared.

When it comes to promotion ahead of time, online is the way to go.

"Facebook Marketplace is a great place to showcase a sale, and the best way to do that would be to show off some of your more unique or 'showstopper' pieces to make [buyers] want to come out to your sale," Jen said. "Include a list of what types of items are available in your sale, but keep it vague so people know they need to come out to see it in person — 'Mid-century furniture available' versus, 'A dining set, console, 2 side tables available.'"

Online neighbourhood groups or swap groups are also a great place to advertise your sale. If you'd like to organize a larger group sale, the Schachtebecks recommend reaching out to your local neighbourhood associations to see about options.

"Larger group sales always do better for everyone as it drives more people to travel further because they know it will be worth their time," Jen said, adding that if you're in need of a big clear out, applying for a vendor spot at a flea market might be your best bet.

In addition to having good visuals, Satenstein says it's ultimately about making it fun. "Think of it as [if] you're throwing a party, but with clothes that you're going to sell."

Make it into an unmissable event

You can turn your sale into a party even if you don't have a big celebrity guest of honour. "It's about having a really great experience for everyone who's coming," said Chris Hessney in The Great American Tag Sale with Martha Stewart. Hessney was the event planner behind the massive, multi-day sale, which included a celebrity cocktail party and preview. 

Consider putting on some music (a selection from what you're selling, perhaps?), creating a photographable moment (maybe with a Polaroid camera and a fun backdrop), setting up a play area for kids, or offering food and drinks (again, just make sure you check local bylaws). 

Satenstein was able to get Dunkin' Donuts and Williamsburg Pizza to bring food to folks waiting in line at the Sevigny sale. "I was like, 'What can we do to make this more fun for everyone and have them see it out and stick it through?'"

"Resales should be fun and it should be an experience, because shopping in itself is an experience … I think it's time that we do that for other people's closets," she said.

While celebrity sales create a feeling of exclusivity and also access to the person — exclusivity is harder to market for the average person. But consider what story you can tell about your sale. Are you a green thumb who can offer gardening items and tips? Are you a collector with an original set of Star Wars VHS tapes? Are you an empty nester with enough kids' clothes to dress a small army?

Giving back 

If you feel self-conscious about asking people to pay money for your used stuff, consider that a circular economy puts less stress on the environment and resources. There's also no shame in trying to find a second life for your things while making a little money on the side (Sevigny reportedly gave part of the proceeds of her sale to charity and used part to fund storage for items she wasn't selling). 

If you really aren't interested in turning a profit, you could consider donating some or all of the proceeds of your sale to a worthy cause, and setting up a donation pickup for anything left over. As Martha Stewart said in the TV special about her sale, which sent more than $800,000 US to the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, "It's about doing good while you're living good."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Eva Voinigescu is a Toronto-based journalist, producer, and YouTuber. Follow her @EvaVoinigescu

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