How To Sell Everything and Travel around the World


It’s just . . . empty.

After my two-day liquidation sale, the house is emptier than it has ever been.

Empty closet
The result of my first liquidation sale.

One of the ways I am funding my trip around the world is by liquidating my possessions. People ask me all the time, “How does it feel?” That question is usually followed up by, “I don’t think I could do that.” (Continue reading to find a list of tips on how to have a successful sale.)

I am surprised, pleasantly so, at how easy it is to see my stuff get distributed to others, particularly friends. There hasn’t been even a moment of regret or sadness or longing or second thoughts, although I did get emotional describing what my dad’s books have meant to me.

When I was a little girl of six or seven, I used to squeeze into the small space behind my dad’s creaky old brown leather lounge chair that nestled into a corner of our living room. Built into the wall behind the chair, just above floor level, were a set of shelves that contained all the wonders of the world. As Dad relaxed after work and watched TV, I would eagerly pull a random volume from the Britannica Encyclopedia set off the shelf, open it, and be transported to another place, another time. I didn’t care what the topic was; even then, my eager young mind devoured statistics on foreign lands far, far away or a detailed description of how dolphins and whales work.

Also tucked away in this secret kid-sized space behind my dad, who sometimes drifted off into a nap with a loud snore, were a set of books titled The Harvard Classics Five-Foot Shelf of Books. This treasure really did take up five feet of shelf space, and contained a large sampling of some of the greatest literature ever written. While volumes like The Odyssey and passages from the Bhagavad Gita were way over my little-girl head, I nevertheless thoroughly enjoyed feeling the soft, worn pages and smooth leather covers as I tried to comprehend what I was reading.

A friend was buying these and other special books at my sale. She listened attentively as I described how meaningful the books were to me, which made parting with them very sweet. And what made this transaction all the more special was when she told me what she was doing with them: she is shipping them to India, to a library she is building there. I can’t imagine a more fitting tribute to my dad than seeing his books end up in a library in India!

Before the sale, I had invited family members to come from out of town and take whatever they wanted. I made sure they got family heirlooms and other important items that I want to keep in the family. My nephew, his wife, and their two teens and preteen all had fun going through my closets, drawers, boxes, and shelves. They each got items they wanted, such as the television set, pots and pans, walkie-talkies, and my antique vanity set. I felt really good about seeing a lot of my valuables and treasures go home with them.

Getting ready for a liquidation sale is no small task. I spent more than a week going through closets, drawers, and shelves, filling boxes with things that I have acquired over the last forty years or more. Memories unexpectedly flooded back to me as I unearthed trinkets, blankets, games, and so many other things that filled my home.

I decided to have the sale indoors, as there was too much stuff to haul outside. I borrowed several long tables, turned three rooms into a store, enlisted the help of a half-dozen friends, and spent hours and hours sticking tiny white price tags on every single thing. (I was still pricing stuff during the sale!) I had a canopy outside, too, with tools, garden equipment, and other outdoor stuff for sale.

Here is what I learned from this first sale:

  • Don’t call it a garage or yard sale. When you sell everything, it is a liquidation or estate sale. (No, you don’t have to be dead to have an estate sale.) This way, people don’t expect “garage sale” prices.
  • Price everything. From chairs and lamps to can openers and toothpick holders, people simply will not buy stuff without a price tag.

    Candle holders
    Price everything.
  • Clean and wash everything. Items sell much better if they are not dusty or rusted or just plain dirty.
  • Group like items together. I had a table with nothing but office supplies on it. I displayed all the glassware and pottery on shelves on a hutch in the kitchen. The games were beautifully and artfully stacked by a friend who knows how displays work. Collectibles and small antiques were gathered on two long tables.
  • Take the time to make nice displays. Make it easy for people to see what you have. For items of value, go on E-bay to see what similar items are selling for. Don’t just guess. You could miss out on good money.

    Wash everything and make nice displays.
  • Buy or borrow waiter-type aprons, the kind that tie around the waist and hang to the hips. Fill them with pens and labels and change for your friends who are helping.
  • Post the sale on your Facebook page.
  • Make a flyer and distribute it on community bulletin boards.

    Sale flyer
    Make flyers.
  • Tell everyone you know you’re having a big sale. Friends love supporting you and having a “piece of you” to remember you by.
  • Put an ad on Craigslist early on the day before the sale. If you post days early, you can’t repost for several days, and your ad will be buried way down the list.
  • Make good signs. All they need are the words “Estate Sale” or “Liquidation Sale,” the day and time of the sale, and an arrow pointing the driver in the right direction. Don’t bother with an address or phone number. Just get shoppers to you with arrows. Keep it simple! (I made my signs on poster board and taped them to cardboard boxes. Then I placed a huge rock inside each box to weight it. Worked GREAT! I got lots of compliments on my signs.)

    Sale signe
    Make good but simple signs.
  • I also put up a big poster board in the yard, facing the street, that said “MUCH MORE INSIDE!” for those who drive by first to see if they want to stop. That made a big difference.
  • Assign friends to specific areas of the sale if it’s spread out like mine was.
  • Have snacks and drinks for your helpers.
  • To maximize your profit from the sale, don’t price stuff ridiculously low. Don’t bargain on prices too early in the sale. If someone offered a lower price, I would say, “It’s still early in the sale, so you could come back tomorrow when the prices drop to see if the item still here.” People usually don’t argue after that. They buy.

    Group like items together and price them well.
  • During the sale, make people feel welcome, but don’t stalk them. Be friendly, engage in small talk, and encourage them to browse.
  • Have a shelf of toys, books, and other kid stuff at kid height. While all my toys were priced, I usually just gave one to a kid who had been playing with it while mom or dad shopped. I did this just before the family left, whether or not they bought something.
  • Have music playing in the background. Don’t play it too loud to talk over. Choose music on the slow side; it’s been proven that people shop longer with slow music. I played a smooth jazz station on Pandora.
  • Have a free table near the entrance/exit. I had the “FREE STUFF” sign facing in toward the sale so people saw it on the way out rather than on the way in. People love this table.
  • Have shopping bags available for people who buy a lot of stuff.
  • Relax, enjoy the day, and appreciate the friends who come to help! I could not have done this sale without them.

Since I am not leaving until October, I did hold on to things I want to make my remaining time comfortable. I still have my couch, chair, kitchen items I use all the time, lamps, curtains, and other things that I need while I’m here. Those things will go in the last sale. (I am keeping about ten boxes of stuff, mostly clothes and kitchen items.)

My first sale was highly successful. It took planning, effort, and friends to pull it all together. I made a couple thousand dollars, and I still have lots more to sell. I will be having a sale every month until I go.

The biggest lesson I learned from going through the process of purging my personal belongings is this: when I finally do settle down again after traveling the world, I will be a minimalist.

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