Monday, June 15, 2009

Yard Sale Happiness

There seem to be more yard sales than ever this year. Maybe it’s the economy or maybe we’re all motivated to recycle. Or maybe some of us just have too much stuff. For me it was about the stuff. We’ve got too much of it. Three children generate a lot of stuff. Our basement was crammed with it so we filled up the back of the pick up truck and joined some good friends in their driveway for their neighborhood yard sale. Since we don’t have a traditional “neighborhood”, we have to adopt others. We do the same thing at Halloween. We’ve been trick or treating in the same neighborhood for so many years now that I’m sure the residents think we live there.

This particular yard sale had very reasonable hours of 9am-3pm. So we began setting up at 7am, which I quickly learned is not early enough when your yard sale begins at 9am. By 7:15 there were early birds picking through my boxes along with me. The kids set up a stand and began selling breakfast of painfully sweet lemonade and homemade chocolate chip cookies. They did a brisk business all morning until their interest petered out around 9:30. Lucky for us other neighborhood kids were quick to take their spots and no one made it up the driveway un-accosted by adorable kids yelling “Don’tcha want some lemonade?”

I love to go to yard sales. Love to find treasure in someone else’s trash. But it’s been a long time since I was the seller at a yard sale. I forgot how much I hate the haggling. For heaven’s sake here I am laying out all my junk and asking just a few pennies for it and you’re going to come along and ask me if I’ll sell it for even less than a few pennies? I know, I know. As one of my fellow yard salers pointed out – that’s the point. Still, I’m uncomfortable with the haggling. I’m terrible at it too, because even if the guy said, “Hey, you give me a dime and I’ll take that old frying pan off your hands,” I’d say, “Sure.” I made every deal. Which I guess was fine since my entire motivation for participating in the yard sale was to get rid of my stuff. But by 8:30am I was already thinking “why didn’t I just box all this stuff up and take it to Goodwill?”

At lunchtime the kids had made more money on the cookies and lemonade than I had on all my junk. Next time I think it would be a better strategy to put the cute kids behind the saw horse table full of dishware and I’ll sit on the plastic fisher price chairs out front with the lemonade. Still it was fun to hang out with our friends and we did meet some nice people and send them off happy in the knowledge that they had totally scammed me. As I watched the latest satisfied customer leave with a barely used Calphalon pot for a buck, it dawned on me that maybe the best thing to do would be to give it all away. That way I don’t have to stress over being taken advantage of, the customers are happy, and just maybe all the stuff will go and I won’t have to box it up and take it home. After convincing the other yard sale proprietors in the driveway that my plan made sense, we posted a sign at the end of the driveway that said “Everything’s Free! Really!”

Customers walked up the driveway hesitantly, not sure if the sign was a joke. When we told them otherwise they carefully selected a few items and scurried away asking, “You’re sure?” I smiled and thanked them for coming to our sale. This was my kind of yard sale. I loved it when a very young couple laden three little kids came up the driveway and I was able to make their oldest daughter grin like it was Christmas morning as she wheeled away my daughter’s old pink bike that sat in our driveway collecting rust for the last two years. That smile was worth much more than the $5 price tag that still clung to the handlebars. The rest of the afternoon went on in this fashion. I loved all the smiles we created on grateful faces and wished we’d switched to the new pricing system much earlier. The beauty of it all is that I went home with $60, an empty truck, and the knowledge that I had made lots of people very happy that day.

I don’t think I’ll ever sit on that side of the table for a yard sale again, but just in case you do, here’s my advice:

1. Have your kids set up a lemonade stand with homemade baked goods alongside of your yard sale. It keeps them busy and draws the right kind of customers. People who stop for lemonade stands generally have kids or grandkids and they’re more likely to buy your stuff which is probably mostly kid stuff. Plus it teaches your kids some responsibility, garners them a few marketing skills, and gives them an opportunity to do a little math in the summer.

2. Price everything before you actually get to the yard sale. Put a sticker on everything. I got a pack of stickers at Wal-Mart that already had yard sale prices on it and that made this easier. I didn’t price things before I got there and it was very stressful to price things while the professional yardsalers looked on and dug through my boxes.

3. Set up your stuff at least two hours early or put up a big sign that says “NO EARLYBIRDS!” (although I’m not sure a sign will really scare off the true professionals).

4. Join other families having yard sales at the same time. This way you can share in the expenses and work of signs and advertisements. These signs and advertisements are key to getting lots of traffic. Plus it’s just really nice to have company while you suffer through the humiliation of selling stuff you’re embarrassed you ever bought in the first place.

5. Consider having a rain date. We had perfect weather, but it would have been a miserable day if it had been rainy.

6. Bag up kid’s small toys that are similar in Ziploc bags together. We put toy power rangers in a bag with a power ranger video, Barbies in bags with extra clothes, and all the Cars movie toys together. Gathering up a bunch of Polly Pockets and some extra outfits in a sandwich bag was much easier to deal with, same with legos blocks and hot wheel cars. It’s too hard to price every small toy, bags are easier to handle.

7. Have lots of extra plastic bags for your customers to take home their treasures in and newspapers to wrap dishes and breakables.

8. If you have junk that you doubt anyone would want, but you can’t bear to throw away, consider having a “free” box. You’d be amazed what people will take when it’s free. Now it will clutter their life and not yours and you don’t have to feel guilty!

9. Work out a pricing plan with anyone who’s sharing your yard sale space. Pick a time to go to half price. If everyone’s willing, pick a time to make everything free. I promise this will be your favorite time of the sale.

10. Remember that the bottom line is you don’t want to take anything home. It will just sit in your basement cluttering up your home and your life and your conscience. Make the deal!


  1. You didn't sell any Lego's, did you?!?

  2. Love the 'free' sale! I'll bet the smiles were so much more comforting than the stressful haggling... I'm with ya, don't like selling at yard sales, either!