Yard Sale Know-How

April 22, 2010 at 4:08 pm , by

Why do I love spring? For all the usual reasons having to do with better weather, lighter clothes, longer days, brighter moods. But there’s one thing that really makes the season stand out in my book: It’s time for yard sales again!

I am crazy about yard sales. I love the serendipity of them, the crazy karmic luck that sometimes leads you to just the thing you’ve been dying to own (even if you didn’t know it). I’ve found many of my best-loved, and even some of my most valuable, possessions at yard sales. My favorite example: a small, stunning oil painting by a semi-famous artist who has pieces in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art. I picked this little gem up at moving sale for 25 bucks. And I still delight in a $195 Williams-Sonoma chrome citrus press that was new in the box. Cost to me: $5. It would never have occurred to me to go out and buy such a thing. Now every summer I make gallons of fresh lemonade with it.

Of course, to do yard sales well you have to have a strategy. Here are the five most important things I’ve learned from my years of experience:

  • Plan your route. Most yard sales are held on Saturdays, so by Friday get a copy of your local newspaper classifieds or Pennysaver, and choose the four or five most promising sales to visit, from closest to home to farthest. Choose the sales based on the merchandise available as described in the ad, but also make judgments based on address. Yard sales on nicer streets in fancier zip codes are usually better—it’s just a fact.
  • Be an early bird. Many people say in their ads that they don’t welcome them, but trust me, a sale that is advertised to start at 9 o’clock will going strong by 8:30 90 percent of the time.  And the good stuff goes first.
  • Have the right attitude. Do not go to yard sales with a shopping list of things you need. You will be disappointed. Go to yard sales prepared to discover things you did not know you needed. In the long run, you’ll be very happy to have had this need pointed out!
  • Never, ever pay full asking price. Remember that people are holding yard sales partly to make money, mostly to make room in their garages and basements. Their desire to have stuff taken off their hands trumps their need to show off their bargaining prowess. So don’t be shy.
  • Have fun. Take a girlfriend who shares your love of yard sales, or better, a carload of them. That way, if you are so overwhelmed by a garden ornament’s or croquet set’s cheap price that you can’t see that the only thing you’ll ever do with the thing is to one day put it up for sale at a yard sale of your own, you’ll have someone there to knock some sense into you.