Yard sailing: How to Navigate the Treacherous Sea of Yard Sales

“YARD SALE!!!!!!!!!”

With this single exclamation and an out-thrust finger, my wife has nearly caused quite a few wrecks and has engendered in me an acute fear of getting my eyeball poked out. She can’t help herself. It’s in her blood. And it’s in mine. I love a yard sale, whether you call it a yard sale, garage sale, rummage sale, roadside sale or whatever. I come from a long line of yard sailors. Within my family, there are those so gifted in the art of yard sailing that they could be considered yard captains and yard admirals!

So when she crows in triumph and thrusts out her navigating finger, I duck and set a course for bargaining adventure and cheap treasure.

Charting Your Course [Finding a Yard Sale]

When you first set off, you’ll discover that finding the yard sale is often the most challenging portion of the trip. This is what sets a genuine yard sale [aka garage sale, rummage sale, roadside sale or junk sale] apart from a flea market, thrift store hunt, church sale, used book sale, estate sale or moving sale, but I’ve found that many of the priciples for navigating a yard sale apply to the latter group of sales as well.

Part of the reason that finding a yard sale can be so hard is that some folks don’t bother to advertise. There’s a whole group of clueless nabobs out there who decide to have a yard sale, then simply toss things out on the lawn and wait for someone to come by and buy their junk. If there’s a sense of justice in the world, these nabobs will end up with all of the junk they put out and a sunburn to boot! The only advantage to this type of sale is that if you do stumble upon it, there’s usually plenty of loot to sift through.

Those who do advertise, don’t usually understand how. Most never bother to submit a free listing to their local ad bulletin. Instead, they’ll make hideously small signs with addresses and directions and even lists of items they’re selling written in teensy-weensy letters on an 8 x 11 sheet of copy paper. Sometimes it’s hard to even make out the all-important words “Yard Sale.” Some yahoos don’t bother putting a date on the sign, so you don’t even know if you’re chasing yesterday’s news or not until you get there. And trust me when I say that people are disgustingly lazy when it comes to taking down their old signs.

The funny thing is that some people try to make their sign stand out by printing or writing their ad on bright neon paper. I always appreciate the bright colors, especially if someone had the brains to make that sign in the shape of an arrow pointing unambiguously in the direction of the sale. But I do feel the need to mention that, while bright colors do help me see notice your sign, they won’t help me read tiny words from a moving vehicle! Let’s be honest here: We yard sailors are not going to hold up traffic just to read your ill-thought-out sign.

If you’re going to bother to have a yard sale, give yourself a chance: List your sale in the ad bulletin. Make your signs big with big letters on bright paper, preferably in the shape of an arrow. Yard sailors only need to see three things on your sign: the words “Yard Sale,” the time[s] and date[s] of the yard sale and the street address where the yard sale will occur. We don’t need itemized lists of what you’ll be selling; we’ll discover that when we get there. People who provide those silly lists are only hurting themselves. Frankly, if I see posters with those sort of lists and I don’t necessarily see something that excites my interest, I usually ignore the ad entirely, whereas I will go without fail to the yard sale that was simply advertised as “Yard Sale.”

Avoiding Pirates and other Pitfalls [Avoiding Bad Yard Sales]

Once you’ve discovered the alleged yard sale, you should take a moment to quell your initial excitement and scope out the joint. Is it a mess or is it neatly arranged? If you can’t tell the difference between the alleged yard sale and a messy yard, it’s probably not worth it. If they don’t care enough to try to pass off their castaway junk as something worth buying, why should we yard sailors bother to stop. You might call it a junk sale, but no one’s going to buy it if it looks like garbage!

Now ask yourself: do you actually see anything you’re looking for? Don’t be ashamed to drive on by. It’s your time and money, and not every sale has something to offer everyone. Don’t just stop out of guilt, even if you did accidentally make eye contact with the seller.

Also, if they seem to be selling an inordinate amount of stuff that is still in the original packaging and especially has NASCAR logos all over it, avoid it like a plague of locusts! That’s not a yard sale, it’s retail piracy! Retail pirates are generally found at flea markets, roadside sales and the occasional alleged yard sale. They are the blight of bargain hunters everywhere.

You should also be on the lookout for the perma-sale. Perma-sales look like real yard sales, but there’s one key difference: a typical yard sale lasts for 2-3 days tops, but usually they only last a day. Folks just don’t have time to sit around selling stuff they’ve decided they no longer want. The folks who run perma-sales think of it as a business. Nine times out of ten, they aren’t even selling their own junk. That’s right, they’re selling other people’s junk! They go to thrift stores and used book sales, they buy out the remains of other people’s yard sales at bargain basement rates and a lot of time they even advertise in the ad bulletin, requesting items suitable for a yard sale. Since they have all the time in the world [all summer long], perma-sale pirates won’t haggle over their prices, which is a shame since everything’s generally over-priced.

You see, there are only two types of sellers in this market: Those who want to get rid of their stuff and make a few quick bucks in the process, and those who want to make money [pirates!]. Money sales are easy to spot. Either their prices are too high [Let’s face it: your yard isn’t exactly Wal-Mart or one of its competitors, so quit trying to price items like you are!] OR there are no price tags on anything! I HATE no-tag sales! I do NOT want to make you an offer. Just tell me what you actually want for your junk and we’ll haggle as necessary. Don’t make me guess! Who are these people anyway? Here’s the irony: those who are in it to make money usually don’t make squat. Those who are in it to get rid of stuff usually get rid of stuff AND make money to boot!

Rules for Rooting through their Loot

There are a few rules I like to keep in mind when I’m bargain hunting:

[1] Keep it cheap! I don’t get up early and rush out to go yard sailing to get over-charged. No matter how much I think I want something, if it’s not a bargain, it isn’t worth it. If I want over charged, I know where Wal-Mart is.

[2] Don’t get it unless you really want it. I’m like everyone else. I have way too much stuff. I have so much stuff that my wife gives it away. In fact, I recently went to a yard sale and found a lot of my old stuff. [No, I did not buy it back!] Just because something’s cheap or even free doesn’t mean you have to take it. [This is the path that leads to the dark side of perma-sale piracy!] In fact, there’s no rule that says you have to stay and linger when a cursory glance has [sadly] confirmed that this sale holds nothing for you. Nor is there a rule that says you have to find some little cheap trinket to buy just because you stopped. Don’t buy crap you don’t want! Don’t buy something because you think you might be able to fix it. It’s broken! That means it’s trash. Just thank the seller for their time and head on out.

[3] Safety first. Generally speaking, there is always some mean little old lady at these things who has sharpened her hips and elbows into lethal weapons. She will be the one blocking whatever looks most interesting to you. It really isn’t worth the lacerations, whatever it is. She can’t stay there forever. Either come back later or forget it. Also, big dogs bite. They can say that mutt is friendly and loves kids all they want. If it’s growling or barking, don’t force your kids to lose an arm for the sake of goodwill and a fist full of trinkets. Get out of that yard!

[4] Always bring change. Just trust me. They’ll slap you with an unwanted upsell every time if you don’t have change. And Heaven forbid you find that perfect buy only to find out the seller can’t bust a twenty!

[5] If it’s electric or requires batteries, insist on a demonstration. If the seller won’t provide batteries or an outlet to demonstrate that the product works and you’re still not sure if you want it, mentally determine how much you are willing to pay to haul away their junk if the item doesn’t work and haggle accordingly. If they won’t knock down the price, don’t buy it.

[6] Give no quarter to resellers. They’re everywhere. They come to yard sales at the last second, just when deals for the average Joe ought to be the sweetest, and haul everything away in a flash. Why? Because you may want one or two items, but the seller is tired and wants rid of their junk and this nice greasy reseller is willing to haul ALL of it away. Your sweet deal will end up in a used book store, a professional flea market booth or some over-priced perma-sale. The point is: if you really want it, you’d better snatch it up before you have to pay for it triple the price elsewhere.

Used bookstore owners and professional flea marketers can be a particular bane. When a church or library has a bag sale, some unscupulous resellers will bring in a blasted bodybag and indiscriminately sweep everything on the table into the sack! There’s only one way to combat them: Ask a mean old lady to show you her best elbow stabbing techniques! [Make sure she doesn’t try them out on you. On second thought, just hurry to the next yard sale and get there ahead of that blasted reseller!]

[7] Have fun! After all, you don’t have to be here. You wanted to go yard sailing!


Sirius Knott


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