What Is a White Elephant Sale?

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  • Written By: Dan Cavallari
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 01 October 2019
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A white elephant sale is a type of sale similar to a garage sale or yard sale in which used items are sold by a non-professional group. Such sales are often fundraisers for non-profit groups, and members of the community can donate unused items for sale at the white elephant sale. The items themselves can range in quality and condition depending on what has been donated to the cause, and in many cases, many of the items are obsolete, broken, or otherwise not worth very much. In other cases, however, hard-to-find items may be present at the sale and be sought after by many buyers.

As a fundraising tool, the white elephant sale is exceptionally popular, though it was even more popular before the days of online auction sites and message boards. People within a certain community could get rid of items that were no longer useful to them, and buyers could find old, antique, or obsolete items that may be of particular interest to them. The white elephant sale is often seen as an effective fundraiser, but also as an effective tool for encouraging community interaction. The sale is often promoted as a fun event for the family.


Some of the disadvantages to the white elephant sale include the quality of the items, the low profits, and the space required to run the sale. The quality of the items sold at the white elephant sale depends entirely on what is donated to the cause; some people may donate items just to get rid of them, and the items themselves may not even be in usable condition. In other situations, the items may be quite valuable, but the person donating the item may simply have no use for it. White elephant sales may procure a decent profit, though this is certainly not guaranteed, and profits must be measured against the costs of running the sale. Many sales run for several days, and they take up a fair amount of space that must sometimes be rented, so overall profits after expenses can be quite low.

If the white elephant sale is a yearly event, items that are not sold in one year may be stored until the next year. This can add yet another cost of operating the sale, as the group running the sale will often have to rent a storage unit or other space in which to keep the items until the next sale.


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Post 2

@ajvician – I don’t blame you. I was frustrated at the first white elephant sale I attended.

Now I find that part of the fun of a white elephant sale is searching through all the items to find my treasures. I admit that not every white elephant sale is worth your time nor are they for everyone.

There are some very long running and well known white elephant sales that have become like time-honored traditions for their participants. And yet you will still find some people that are very critical of them.

My advice is to learn something about any white elephant sales you are interested in attending; know what you want; and get there early. It is also important to have a good breakfast so you can keep up your energy and not get cranky.

Most of all, try to have fun and remember that most are fund raisers for non-profit organizations that help a lot of people

Post 1

This article was interesting to me. I was brought up thinking that a white elephant is something useful that someone else can still get some use out of, but the owner no longer wishes to keep it for various reasons.

For instance, I have a tablecloth, that is beautiful and in good condition, but it doesn’t fit the table that I have; that is what I would call a white elephant.

I am glad that I read this before attending a white elephant sale, because I would have been disappointed to see broken and obsolete items.

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