This summer, I’ve become a
purchaser of other people’s junk yard-saler. I don’t think there was any way to avoid this; I believe it’s in my blood.
When my sister and I still lived at home, on Sunday nights, we would pile three-in-the-front-seat of my Dad’s old pick-up truck and go, what we affectionately called, ‘junkin.’ We’d scout out the neighborhood and see what people were putting out in the trash for pick-up the next day, hoping to find something to salvage. Now my dad is a skilled craftsmen, so he was always looking for a remodel project. So, this idea of hoping to find a treasure in someone else’s trash is something I’m sure I am genetically programmed to do. But amazingly enough, I’ve never really done the yard-sale circuit. A few times with my mom, but it wasn’t something I got into.
I’ve always wanted to be a hard-core yard-saler, but to be honest, it was always kind of awkward. There was this unspoken expectation to buy something, and I would feel bad if I didn’t buy anything; I felt like the sellers were just looking at me with these hopeful, puppy-dog eyes which sort of obligated me to walk away with something.
And then there was the whole bartering thing:
“Um, hi… how much is this?” (holding up an insulated thermos, just because I’m curious).
“Five dollas,” (in the raspy smoker-voice).
“Ok, thank you,” (putting it down).
“I’ll give it to you for four dollas. I originally paid twenty-five dollas for that. Keeps it warm for 12 hou-whas.”
“Oh, Ok. Thank you. I was just looking.”
“How about I throw in a couple of cans of soup with it?”
“No, really, that’s OK. I was just looking.”
“How about – ”
“Um, good luck with your sale today. Have a nice day,” (conspicuously speed-walking to my car, trying not to look conspicuous).
So, rather than deal with all that, I just said forget the whole thing, and I avoided it all together. Well, my friend Karen gave me a tour of her amazing house and all the items in it that were yard sale finds. Well, that hooked me – and about 4 of my other friends. She offered to take us rookies under her wing, and for the past three Saturdays, we’ve loaded up the mini-van, armed with our lists and small change and pounded the pavement. If we didn’t look like white trash, I sort of felt like it, then.
So how’d we do? Overall – successful. I’ll spare you the boring details, but we all came home smiling. For me, it’s been a lot of the little things I’ve needed (a veggie-and-dip portable tray with cover, a mini-food-processor, air-popper, cupcake carrier), but who wants to spend real money on that stuff? Thankfully, I didn’t.
However, there is a little bit of technique involved for this not to be a frustrating experience. I’m probably the least qualified to write on this, but here are a few things I’ve learned, if you are itching to get started:
* Have a list of sales: Just going by signs on the road is fine, but it can be a little confusing. We scoured Craig’s List, and we have had more than enough to keep us busy. You can map it out the night before if you want, but we have used the GPS on our phones, and that has been fine. We also will stop if we see signs on the road, too.
*Bring small bills: Nothing is more awkward than bartering the price down and then asking if they have change of a $20. Also, do not bring more than you can afford to spend. I’ve brought about $40 each time, and I’ve probably spent about $20. If you are on the market for a higher-priced item, then bring cash accordingly.
*Make small talk: That has helped me with my fears of awkwardness. Now, granted, when you are going with a group, it definitely is not so awkward. However, after the group parted ways, I hit a few by myself. I found that if I said hello, asked how their day was going, was friendly, etc, it was much less awkward for me to leave if I didn’t buy anything. I would say goodbye and thank you and wish them luck, and it seemed to ease the ‘no-sale’ parting (now, this is just me, and this might be all in my head, this awkward pressure. For normal people, this probably is not an issue even worth mentioning).
*Go early: Obviously, you want the best finds, so the best selection is early. Also, I’ve found that I got a little tired by 1 or 2 o’clock. It gets hot, you get hungry – the morning is definitely better. If you choose to blitz the whole day, then you will definitely want to see the next tip:
*Pack snacks and water: Re-fuel! You will be happier if you aren’t hungry, and you can last longer!
*Have a vision: Whatever you buy, have a vision for how you will use it or why you need it. Avoid buying just because it is ‘cute,’ or it is a ‘great deal.’ Otherwise, you are just buying someone else’s junk (as my husband calls this whole endeavor) and making it your junk. Be realistic – if it is something that would be great if it were ______________ (sanded, painted, fixed- you fill in the blank), and you know that you will never get around to do it, skip it. Again, it will just make their junk your junk. And now you just paid for it, too.
*Learn the best sellers: Usually, the best people to buy from are the ones who are not out to make money but just want to get rid of stuff. These sellers practically give it away; they just want the stuff out. Typically, they are great to barter with. If you notice that the items are priced high, the sellers are probably looking to make money, and they might be tougher to barter with. By all means, try – but usually the people who just want to clean out are the best. That being said, moving sales are excellent choices (Just be aware of tag sales hosted by companies; they get a little cut of the profits, so those prices might be a smidge higher).
*Pick your neighborhoods: We have had the best luck in the more affluent neighborhoods – definitely in quality and sometimes in price. Sometime wealthier people paid a lot for their stuff, so they might want to get some money for it; on the other hand, they are wealthy, so a few dollars here or there means nothing to them – not worth it for them to nickel-and-dime you. Also, these more affluenct sellers seem to display their items neatly and organize them by categories, which indicates, at least a little bit, that they probably took care of their items. And, it makes the shopping much more enjoyable. When the layout is mess, personally, I’m overwhelmed and have no motivation to sift out a treasure.
*Barter: Yes, I hate it, but it’s really not that bad. Even if it is something as simple as “Will you take $4 instead of $5?” or “Can I have both of these for $1 instead of $1.50?” Most people are agreeable to a small deduction, and even if it is on principle alone, it just makes me feel like I got a good deal.
*Hit or miss: Some days – and houses – are hit or miss. Not every house will be a goldmine, nor will every day. But if you can see it as a fun morning of a treasure hunt, then it’s not so disappointing. Bring a friend or family member – then at least you get to spend some quality time with them. Or, if you like to be alone, then just see it as getting some alone time.
So, that’s my ‘professional’ advice. There’s lots of good stuff out there, and I’m loving my new summer obsession. But here’s the real upside: in America, we all just keep accumulating new stuff; if these items can be recycled at a yard-sale – and at a lower cost to you than re-purchasing – I say it’s a win all around.
One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
(Someone please tell my husband that.)