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Photo by tamara garcevic on Unsplash

My husband and I were driving by a garage sale, and we began to talk about them. Jeff suggested that I write a blog about, then proceeded to tell me what to say. I stopped him, and suggested that he write a guest blog. This is his blog.

I was inspired to write this blog by a family in our neighborhood, who has been having a “yard sale” on and off for a total of about 8–10 weekends this summer. I put “yard sale” in quotes because they are not really having a yard sale at all, but seem to be running a weekly thrift store out of their home each weekend. And this is the second summer that they have run multiple yard sales. An older woman, with her hair in a babushka-esque scarf around her hair, just hangs out all morning and into late afternoon, sitting there . . . waiting for people to pop in and examine racks of clothing, some dishes, a few small appliances, some shoes, etc.

I, myself, popped in last summer because I saw a fairly new-looking bike my wife might like to ride — a comfy cruiser bike with a basket. I had seen a similar, brand-new bike in a retail store for about $300. Rather than making a B-line straight to the bike, which would tip off my sole interest in stopping, I meandered to the table of glasses and dishes, and noted the price of many items was not $1 dollar or so, but $10, $15, and so on. A bad sign. Then I looked for just a moment at the clothes — not too closely, as they were mostly women’s clothes. Then, I went to the bike, and I was immediately dissuaded from making an offer, because there was no price on the bike — just a sign saying “for sale.” As I was walking away from the bike, the old woman asked, “$270, because its so new.” I just replied, “No. Thank you, though. Have a good day.” As I have heard people say, I made two visits to their yard sales that day — the first and the last. They had violated a primary custom and understanding of garage sales — that these types of sales are not to make a lot of money, but to make a little money while getting rid of crap. If I wanted to pay almost the price of a new bike, I would add another $30, and go buy the bike new.

I grew up going to yard sales with my mom and my Aunt Sue. Occasionally, my dad and my Aunt Mary would go, but mostly I remember my mom and my Aunt Sue, getting up early on Saturday mornings, armed with hot coffee and a newspaper listing the sale locations. This was way before the Internet and smart phones. In my childhood, and pre-teen years, I would often tag along with them. My mom is a good yard sale shopper, but my Aunt Sue is the queen of yard sales, known in our family as “the chosen one” to find great things at great prices — lots of big scores — like a $200 Waterford crystal bowl for a couple dollars. From these women, and from hosting a few yard sales ourselves when we moved to a new home, I learned there are unwritten rules, protocols, and customs that apply to yard sales. Those hosting the yard sales should know and understand them. And violations of these customs should be punishable by leaving the seller with a yard full of crap they have to haul back into their garage at the end of the day. These are mostly rules for the sellers. There are rules that apply to buyers, but they are much simpler and more succinct: Don’t be an asshole, and don’t be an unrealistic cheapskate.

Rule number one — the prime directive for yard sales: yard sales are to get rid of crap and clutter — stuff that is taking up space. The money you earn is a secondary benefit, and the money earned is just enough to justify the time and effort you spent putting on a yard sale. Commit to this with an understanding that going into the yard sale, whatever does not sell gets donated. One way or the other, this crap is leaving your house by the end of the day. This attitude and approach are beneficial to both you as the seller and to your customers.

Rule number two — put a price on the item that is exactly double what you are willing to sell it for (or maybe just a bit higher). This asking price should NEVER be over 50% of what the item costs brand-new. It doesn’t matter whether the item is ten days old or ten year’s old, if it costs $100 new, you should never try to get more than $50 for it, and should probably take $25. So, you put $8 on the item, the buyer offers $2, and you sell it for $4 (or $3), because you need this crap out of your house (and/or you are not taking this crap to your new house). Don’t get greedy. Get that crap out of your house.

Rule number three — don’t spend ANY money on your yard sale. If you buy those little colored stickers to write out the prices, buy pre-made YARD SALE signs, buy multicolored Sharpies, or any other supplies, you are starting out in a deficit. You will need to recoup that investment. This runs counter to rule number one — get rid of that crap. When I see signs made out of cut-up cardboard boxes, an old door resting on milk crates to display the wares, and price labels made from torn up bits of white masking tape, I know that this yard sale host has the right attitude and approach. Even better is the big cardboard box with “EVERYTHING IN THIS BOX $1 EACH” written on it. That seller is ready to deal. For bonus points, have another box that says, “EVERYTHING IN THIS BOX FREE.”

Rule number four — critical mass. You have to start your yard sale with enough items to attract attention. If you only have a few items to sell, you’ll need to combine your stuff with other people’s stuff. Ask your sister or friend if they have any crap they need to sell.

Rule number five — be mindful of the clock. Most big items should sell before noon. Around noon, put out a sign that says “Make an offer! Everything must go!” Understand your alternative is hauling that crap back in your house or hauling it to the Salvation Army or Goodwill.

Finally, let’s address the basics of being a purchaser — the no asshole/no total cheapskate rule. If something has no price, make an offer at half of what you are willing to pay, then haggle. This is expected and appropriate, but don’t offer $1 for an item you would actually pay $5 for. That’s taking cheapskatiness to a new level. And, if something is marked as 25 cents, pay the damn 25 cents. If the $50 shirt is marked at $1, don’t haggle too much. If you are able to bring home an item, and proudly play the “guess what I paid for this” game, then you have haggled enough.

As an adult hosting a yard sale, I still remember a man who violated both buyer rules — the asshole and the cheapskate rule. We were selling a small, non-stick skillet, and had it listed for 50 cents. At 50 cents, for a buyer, this is usually a question of whether you need a skillet or not. This is not really a haggling price. Even if you are compelled to haggle, you do half of the price. This man with a heavy Russian accent lifted the pan and said/asked, “10 cents.”

I replied, “How about half? A quarter?” I paused and said, “25 cents,” just in case there was some language or cultural barrier here.

He paused for bit, then repeated, “10 cents.”

I paused for a moment, pondering whether to teach this heathen a lesson in not overstepping the rules and being an asshole cheapskate, but then I imagined him cooking eggs in that pan the next day and him thinking “10 cents! I am the king! 10 cents, baby! 10 cents!”

I could not deprive him of such joy, and I also remembered the rule that yard sales are to get rid of crap, and any money earned is just a bit of salve for having to part with your possession and the work in putting together a yard sale. It was nearing the late afternoon, and I just said, “OK. 10 cents.”

He grumpily fished around in his pocket for a dime, put it in my hand, and marched back to his truck, pan in hand. The pan was gone, he got a pan, and we got 10 cents. Win, win, win.

Written by

Writer and storyteller, immigrant, wife, mom, knitter, collector of jokes, lover of cheap, sweet wine.

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