Confessions of a Yard Sale Failure

I am a yard sale failure.

I’ve been purchasing other people’s crap for 14 years. You could call me a bit of an addict. Estate, moving, yard, rummage, tag, garage… no matter what you call it, there’s a certain thrill in perusing the lives of others, spread out among a couple of tables, priced at a bargain basement price that shows no shame from those desperate to unload. It’s even better if it’s an estate sale, because you’re combing through dead people’s things. I’m not gonna lie, though, divorce sales are really depressing.

I’ve held a few myself. My first was in high school, with my friend Katie. We printed “GARAGE SALE” in big bubble letters on hot pink posterboard and put them up at 6 in the morning. I don’t remember if we sold anything. Most of it wasn’t even ours. I do know that we had fun. There may have been lemonade. I certainly wasn’t upset when nobody bought anything.

Not so with our last sale. This one was solely for the purpose of unloading some stuff. I had it in my mind that the whole city would be throwing punches to buy my crappy painted picture frames and “vintage” plates. I started the day with high hopes. We did sell some stuff. Unfortunately, I had purchased three garage sale signs the day before for $40. So, we broke even.

The ironic thing is that 90% of the stuff for sale were things I myself had gotten secondhand.

The circle of life.

I suddenly became so offended at the yard sale practices that I myself had perpetrated time and time again: The slow drive-by, followed by the quick speed-off. The 5-second browse. The picking up and putting down, picking up and putting down, picking up and putting down. I may have even yelled at a few people. You know, in that “passive aggressive ear shot” kind of way where I’m not necessarily talking loud enough for them to hear me, but loud enough so that they might. Hopefully. But not. But yes.

Turns out, I am highly offended when nobody wants to become the third-or-fourth-hand-owner of my discarded garbage.

Seeing as how we’re moving in 3 weeks (oh yeah… we got the clear to close… more on that later), I figured we need to unload a lot of our stuff. Over 100 books. A guitar. A computer. Some of the antique bottles from the wedding (I kept most of them). About 50 pieces of additional miscellanous glassware. Some crappy vintage luggage. A board game. Weird kitchen shit.

An hour before the sale began, we had somebody pull up to the house and sit in their car for 15 minutes. When I started setting stuff up 30 minutes before, and had about 7 items out on the table, a lady came up, and when I told her the sale wouldn’t start until 8 (because I wasn’t going to race back and forth with her standing there waiting for gold, rifles, military items, or tools), she angrily walked away.

Once we opened, we had 8 drive-bys, and one guy who perused for 5 seconds before saying, “Interesting…” and getting back in his car.


Thankfully, we had a pop of traffic. The guitar went, as did the computer. Some books. Some re-gifts (sorry…).

OK, so enough exposition. What have I learned?

1. Advertise early and often. Post pictures. Get descriptive. I started posting on Craiglist on Wednesday, again on Friday, and listed some individual items Saturday morning. I have no idea if it drew a crowd, but it sounds like good advice, doesn’t it?

2. Post signs. Lots of them, at busy intersections, and enough to get people there. Last time, I think I put one sign up pointing left, then no sign pointing right, so people just aimlessly drove past our street. Whatever. Also, don’t write in pencil on a paper bag. Commonsense.

3. Price fairly, but not too low. Come on. Your stuff is worth more than that. Also, don’t try to give stuff away for free. I felt like maybe that would help build word of mouth. But I think people find it offensive when you don’t let them pay 50 cents for a muffin tin. They feel homeless and dirty, like somebody who can’t afford a secondhand muffin tin but desperately wants to make muffins.

4. Don’t take it personally. Seriously. If you’re having a garage sale, you probably go to garage sales. That’s a fair assumption, because only people like us could accumulate so much shit that they in no way want. Nobody wants to buy your grandmother’s stained pillow for 25 cents. Honestly? You knew that when you put it out there. So when somebody scrunches their nose up when they look at it, it doesn’t mean they think that your grandmother was a racist whore. It means they’re grossed out that you put a stained pillow outside on the ground and have the audacity to want a quarter for it.

5. Get comfy. Nobody wants a sweaty hawk with a fanny pack hovering over them while they pick through a pile of 1950s cookbooks. Get a nice chair, some coffee, some water — and please, some sunscreen. Get your laptop and blog and listen to weird indie rock. Don’t pay any attention to people. Trust me, your stuff will sell like hotcakes.

Also, I’m having a moving sale. Come buy my stuff. No… really.


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