On the surface of it, the host-your-own-yard-sale concept looks pretty nifty. How else can you get total strangers to pay you for the privilege of hauling off your junk?
But then, as happens too often in all our lives, reality rears its buttock-ugly face.
By the time you've finished sorting through all your belongings ... through all those boxes you've totally ignored since your last move in 1973 ... through all the stuff you've held onto for 30 years simply because, well, you haven't thrown it away yet ...
By that time, you have invested approximately 400 hours into a project that may net you tops, if you are very, very lucky maybe $200.
Or 50 cents an hour.
If you're lucky.
And your yard sale hasn't even started yet.
Heck, you still have to sort everything into categories (does a 20-year-old Bullwinkle T-shirt go into the "memorabilia" pile, the "antiques" pile or the "clothing" pile?), price everything (how much, exactly, does one charge for a 20-year-old Bullwinkle T-shirt?), make signs, haul everything into the yard, and deal with one of the oddest breed of humans you're ever likely to encounter: the yard-sale shopping addict.
For the uninitiated, these are people who see your classified ad announcing a 7 a.m. yard sale (complete with the admonition "PLEASE!! NO EARLY BIRDS!!), then show up on your doorstep at 5:30 a.m. fully expecting a sneak preview of your merchandise.
When you relent, these are people who upon discovering that you are not selling what they are looking for behave as if you have personally squandered the most valuable four minutes of their lives.
These are people with two objectives: scoring great bargain-basement deals, and making you feel like you're ripping them off no matter how great the bargain-basement deal at hand may be.
"I've never heard of this company before," growled one woman while eyeballing a brand new, still-in-the-box Gevalia coffee maker.
"Oh, Gevalia, that's one of the best brands around," another potential customer offered, trying to be neighborly.
"It's not as good as the coffee maker I have now," the woman snapped. "And I don't think you can even buy filters for it in this country."
"Oh, yes, you can," the neighborly customer said, ignoring the woman's Hannibal Lecter tone. "I have a Gevalia coffee maker, and it uses standard filters."
"I don't think so," the coffee-maker expert groused. "I don't want it. But I guess I'll take it, even though I know I won't like it. And if I don't like it, which I won't, I'll be bringing it back."
Mere words cannot express the glee with which I report that this woman has not returned to darken my doorstep. Not yet, anyway.
I did have one returnee, however: a woman who had purchased an old desk lamp for $1. Apparently there was something about the appliance she didn't like. The morning after my yard sale, I found the lamp in pieces in my driveway.
I wondered if that was the way she returned merchandise to Wal-Mart. If so, someone needs to tell this woman that, with small effort and a minimum of social skills, she could actually get her money back.
To be fair, the majority of the yard-sale shoppers I met were fun folks. At the top of that list was Dave Crowell, who is exactly the guy you want in your yard if you're trying to palm off your ancient vinyl-record collection. He owns around 65,000 of them and apparently that's not enough, because he bought another dozen or so off of me.
Among the prizes in his home collection, Crowell told me, is one of several released versions of the Beatles' debut album, "Introducing the Beatles," which he said was worth ... well, let's just say that the figure made me dizzy. And only partly because I own what sounded like an identical copy of "Introducing the Beatles."
My copy of "Introducing the Beatles" was heart-stoppingly close, but no cigar.
"This one is worth between $30 to $50," Crowell said after I'd fetched the album. "That ain't bad."
No. Not bad at all for a brand-new record I'd found in a bargain bin, priced at two for $3 about 25 years ago. But not good enough to retire and buy a Winnebago.
In the long run, my yard sale worked out pretty well. Yes, when all was said and done, I had earned maybe 12 cents an hour. But I got my record-album collection appraised. And now I have more room to start collecting junk for my next yard sale in 2025.
Drop by and you'll be able to pick up a swell, slightly dented desk lamp for 50 cents.
Yard sale tips and tricks
BEFORE YOUR SALE
1.Start collecting what you want to sell and cleaning out your closets, storage drawers, garages, etc., two months ahead of your sale. You'll probably find many items you've forgotten or haven't used in awhile. Tip: Ask a family member or friend to join your sale. Two makes the work more fun and you have someone to help you who also has an opportunity to sell items for fun and profit. Better yet, have a neighborhood block sale once a year in addition to your individual sale.
2.Schedule your sale at least one month ahead of time. Pick a date, mark your calendar and, most important, advertise.
3. Sort your items into like categories. Tip: If you haven't used it or worn it in a year or forgotten you had it altogether, sell it.
4. Line up your articles and price them with removable stickers one to two weeks before your sale, then put them in an out-of-the-way spot until your sale. Tip: Shoppers like to see the prices.
5.Collect grocery-store bags for a month ahead of your sale so you'll have a supply for your customers' purchases.
6.Three days before your sale, prepare a money bag/fanny pack with plenty of change. Keep your money safely with you at all times. Have plenty of change ready at the start of your sale.
Tip: Don't lose a sale because you can't change a $20 for a 50-cent item.
THE DAY OF YOUR SALE
1. Make signs motorist can see. Use colored paper with black print. Put your address and an arrow to point the way. Place your signs the night before or early the same morning of the sale. Check the sign from your car. If you can't read it, others will not be able to read it either. Tip: Don't staple to utility poles or street signs.
2. Start early. If your sale begins at 8 a.m. get started by 5:30 a.m. Fix yourself some coffee or cola and start carrying out your articles and placing them in groups. Tip: Ask early arrivals to please come back in half an hour or an hour so you can finish setting up; then you'll be able to devote yourself to your customers and their questions.
3. Keep your pets out of the way, for their safety and as a courtesy to your shoppers.
4. Set your sale up carefully with items clean and attractively displayed. Tip: Try to set up on tables. It's better than a tarp on the ground as items are easier to see.
5. Snag those men who just want to drive by. Put some tools, gadgets, and/or electronic gear out in plain view. Tip: Attention-getting and colorful items should be placed near the street to encourage drive-bys to stop and browse.
6.Have an extension cord ready to test appliances and lamps for your customers. This way there is no need to go inside to demonstrate that an item is working.
7. Let your kids run a lemonade and/or a bottled water stand. On hot days, your customers will thank you and your kids will learn the value of work and a dollar.
8. Put out a sign: All sales final. Avoids problems later.
9. Smile, laugh, talk freely with your customers. Have some music playing. Ask your customers about their day and other sales they may be attending. Be friendly, enthusiastic, and have fun. Your attitude and enthusiasm will show.
AFTER THE SALE
1. Go pick up your signs. Don't be a neighborhood litterbug.
2. Pack up any articles you feel worth saving for another sale, another time. Tip: Be sure to label boxes before you put them away. Leave the prices on. This shortens your preparation time next sale.
3. Remember the less fortunate. Box up and deliver all left over items to the charitable organization of your choice. They'll appreciate it and it may be tax deductible.