The Yard Sale Gene: It’s How I’m Keepin’ it Classy Around Here

posted in Around the House, Family Outings on by with 10 Replies

I love yard sales.

I don’t care who knows it.  I love the heck out of a good yard sale and there are several reasons why.

First of all, people actually haul their gross, old, weird shit out of their basements and display it on their lawns in broad daylight.  They don’t clean it up or try to make it presentable or anything.  They just throw some dog-eared 1970’s romance novels in a box, line up 47 commemorative shot glasses, and say, “I’d like 50 cents each for those books and a quarter apiece for the glasses and I have zero qualms about letting the whole world know.”  It’s great.  I LOVE getting a peek at how other people live, and checking out their yard sales is the perfect way to do that.  I’m just fascinated by what kinds of stuff people have, what they think it’s worth, how they’ve taken care of it or not, and that they’re completely fine with having the general public paw through it.

Secondly, but just as importantly, I LOVE a good bargain.  Last weekend I got a lamp for my guest room for $3, an intriguing-looking hardcover book for 50 cents, and, best bargain of all, a cute wooden puzzle with knobs that teaches counting and the difference between your left and right hands for 25 cents.  What else, I ask you, can you get for 25 cents in this world???  A whole lotta nothin’, that’s what.

Perhaps one of the biggest reasons for my love of mosquito-y, mildew-y lawn commerce is the simple fact that it’s in my blood.  Ain’t nobody loves a yard sale like we do in Maine.  I can’t say that I’ve ever even been to a yard sale in another state, although I’m sure they have them.  Outside of Maine, I’ve only lived in New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Virginia, so I realize that my personal experience is limited, but I still feel pretty confident in saying that the art of the yard sale in Maine has reached a level all its own.  For one thing, our summers are SUPER sho…Oh!  There it goes.  Winter time again!  But seriously – we have a tiny window of good weather in which to conduct our yard sales.  So once the temperature climbs above 40 degrees, it’s game on.

Also, having or going to a yard sale gets you out of the house, meeting all kinds of people you wouldn’t ordinarily meet.  Sure, if you’re looking to buy or sell some stuff, you could just use Craigslist.  Or there are all kinds of groups on Facebook.  Or there’s eBay.  And while I too, have utilized those handy internet tools, they lack some pretty fun, face-to-face elements that only a yard sale can give you.

For example, there’s the art of being surly.  How can you convey an arms-crossed-over-a-sizable-dirty-T-shirted-paunch-while-sitting-in-a-nylon-lawnchair surly stare over the internet?  You just can’t.  Why, you may ask, would you want to convey surliness while trying to convince others to buy random crap in the yard?  I guess I don’t really know.  I just know that it’s part of yard sale culture here in Maine. It’s like the surly person is saying, “I dare you to buy this stuff.  Some of it hasn’t seen the light of day since 1969.  But if you even THINK about offering me less than my asking price, I’ll invite ol’ Jasper the Flea-Infested Rat-Bull-Pit-Shepherd to come out of his pen and join us.  So go ahead.  Make an offer.”

On the other side of the coin though, is slightly manic, overly enthusiastic salesmanship.  Some people are just DYING to get you to buy their wares.  If you don’t share their enthusiasm, the friendliness quickly turns sour.  Last Saturday, a particularly wily yard saleslady really turned on the charm.

First, my husband got out of the car.  He took one glance around her sorry-looking lil’ garage and knew there was nothing for him.  But she called his attention to an ancient pair of hiking boots and some weary-looking dry bags, judging perhaps that a man in his 30’s wearing a baseball hat and khaki shorts would be interested in these outdoorsy items.  The thing is that she was right; my husband is into outdoorsy items.  He actually does hike, which is why he doesn’t want your old-ass hiking boots that look like they were handing out blisters before we were even born.

When he got back into the car he said, “You should just go look around to be nice.  I think she really wants to sell something.  She says she has some stuff you might like.”

Um, what?

I don’t know this lady.  How does she know what I like?  She was wearing a  big, goofy fanny pack, and she didn’t really look like someone with whom I’d have a lot in common.

Well, apparently all she needed to know was that I’m a woman.  Therefore, I would just lose my shit over her dusty-looking “antique lace” and assorted “handkerchiefs.”  There was also, gag, something furry.  Like a muff, maybe?  I certainly wasn’t going to touch it.  It was so old that it definitely could have been made out of real, genuine critter, and it unquestionably had tuberculosis-infected hands from the 1890’s milling around in it at one point.


This chick here? Do her eyes look a little glassy to you? She could be dying of consumption right here in this picture. You just don’t know. And her germy hands are all over the inside of that muff.


I mean, really?  Just because I’m a woman?  You think I would want to part with my hard-earned dollars for your icky piles of cloth?  Nope.  No thanks.  I didn’t want any of her worn-out Grisham paperbacks either, and by the time I turned down a Christmas cookie recipe book circa 1988, she was thoroughly disgusted with me.  There really just wasn’t a single item there that I could even pretend to get excited about.  So then I felt bad, which is ridiculous, but I did.  That’s what those desperate salesladies will do to you.

Probably the biggest reason that I love yard sales so much though, even more than the bargains and the fun interactions with characters of all kinds, is that there is actually a yard sale lovin’ gene, and I inherited it from my mom.  She is a yard sale guru.

You should see how great she is at decorating.  Her house has all these perfect, homey touches that look professionally put together, but really, TONS of it came from yard sales.  She will see something that I wouldn’t even have given a second glance, buy it for a dollar, bring it home, and suddenly it brings a whole corner of her living room together.  Or she’ll pick up a hideous piece of “art” because she realizes that the frame on it is terrific.  She gets stuff for me all the time too, which is amazing.  She really has a great eye.

Her enthusiasm for yard sales though, is something I don’t think I’ll ever be able to match.  She will get the inside scoop on who’s going to have one this summer, whether or not she thinks they will have good stuff, how reasonable their pricing was last year, and then check weather forecasts as the weekend approaches.  She will map out a route to follow and leave her house at 6 a.m. on a Saturday morning if she has to.  She is that dedicated to her art.

So now here I am, passing on my yard sale gene to my own daughters.  A couple of Saturday mornings a summer, we throw all three of them in the car with us, load em’ up with bagels, and head out on a treasure hunt.  It may not be the classiest of family weekend outings, but I don’t think the girls mind.  They’ll thank me someday when I tell them how much of the cool stuff they had as kids came from yard sales.  They will, right?  Thank me for something eventually?  Yeah.  Ok.  If they do, it probably won’t be for that.  But for now, we’re bonding over bargains.  And we could do a lot worse.

Now though, you’ll have to excuse me.  I need to go wade through my basement and start preparing for my own yard sale.  I haven’t decided yet whether I’m going to go with surly or overly enthusiastic when I take on the yard sale hosting duties, but it doesn’t really matter.  You’d better make sure to hit the ATM, kids, ’cause you know you’re gonna want to buy all my stuffs.  I’ll be the one in the goofy fanny pack.