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Throw a Virtual Garage Sale

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The price is right these days to use the Web to clear your home of unneeded clutter. Not only can you run a free classified ad letting the world know about your yard sale this weekend, but you can put the whole sale online and skip spending long hours tied to your cash box in the summer heat.

This is especially good news if you live in an apartment with no yard or garage, or if you just don't have time to put a whole garage sale together.

Two sites that offer free listings are and Here’s how to make a virtual garage sale work for you:

List an item individually if it is valuable enough that you can imagine someone driving across town to pick it up. Or, smaller items might be grouped together to make a package that will draw interest. For example, put your spare garlic press into a box with steak knives, meat tenderizer, cutting board, pizza cutter, hot pads and sauce pan and title it “Treasure Box of Kitchen Tools — Garlic Press and More.” List the rest of the contents inside the ad. College students setting up temporary households will jump at the chance to outfit their kitchen quickly and cheaply.

Keep prices reasonable. Unless you are offering collectibles that are likely to fetch a tidy profit, set the price in the range of 10 to 30 percent of what the item costs new. Just like at a traditional garage sale, if your set of dumbbells doesn’t go as quickly as you had hoped, you can start slashing prices. Just edit the ad as many times as you like until it expires.

Never underestimate the power of the word “free.” If money is less important to you than getting clutter out of your life, sell it for no more than the price of the gas it takes to come and pick it up.

Use an effective title for your ad. You don’t have to use rhyme or mysterious riddles. In fact, it's probably better if you don’t. If you have an object the readers need, they’ll want to know it fairly quickly, or they may move on to the next seller’s ad without reading yours. Briefly state the most important facts about your item in the title. If you are selling your wedding dress, include words like “ivory,” “size 10,” and “like-new condition.” The body of the ad is where you will have space to break the word bank about how gorgeous and elegant it is.

Upload a picture of your item. If you don't own a digital camera, a photo is not entirely necessary — especially if you are giving the object away for free. But it helps enough that if you've been thinking about buying a digital camera anyway, now is a good time to do it. Or borrow one from a friend.

A couple of photography tips: Place the item in adequate light to show off the attractive details. Get close and fill up the frame. You are selling your drill, not the entire workbench. Drape black fabric behind the item, if appropriate, to dress it up a little and to reduce visual distractions.

Use common sense for safety. Your advertisement is set up to be anonymous until you decide to contact an interested reader. Include in the ad what part of town the reader would need to be able to get to. But you may not want to give out your address or other contact information until a serious inquirer needs it in order to make the purchase.

If a buyer responds to your ad in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable, you don’t have to continue negotiations. Set up meeting times when you know someone will be home with you. Unless you are experienced with online payment methods, accept cash only — no checks or money orders.

That said, online garage sales tend to retain the neighborly feel present at the traditional version. Buyers love to get a good deal. Sellers are thrilled to see their old possessions go to a loving home.

Give yourself a deadline. Beyond a certain point, telling yourself an item might sell someday just leaves you with more clutter around. Write a date on your calendar to take unsold inventory to a local charity. Or give the charity a call. Some organizations will arrange to send a truck for your donations.

Have some fun — go shopping! We don’t advocate collecting more junk, naturally. But while you are busy posting your own ads, take a look at some others in order to find decluttering tools such as garage shelving, cubby units, book cases, baskets, closet organizers, filing cabinets and more.

© 2006

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