Reflections of a Summer of Yard Sales

The bushy leaves are doing their annual transformation, an ephemeral burst of colours before they crisp up and depart from their branches and find their way to the ground to be raked up, blown away by the wind, or soon to be covered by a thin layer of snow, yard sale season is over.

Not too long ago I called it an end on the yard sale I was hosting, I put away the remaining stock, I put up my proverbial yard sale hat on my second-hand coat rack and declared the season over (although that hasn’t stopped other people from having yard sales).  It was a good season and now that I have accumulated more “junk”, I can start to reflect on the gone season of yard sales, which brought me back to the first day I embarked on a morning filled with yard sales.

The sun was burning by 7 o’clock AM, I just clocked out from my nigh shift, it was the dead middle of summer.  My circadian rhythm started to indicate that it was time to find a pillow soon, but I persisted as I put the car in drive and was optimistic for the day of deals, the gambling like pleasure seeking that yard sales provided kept me motivated and from dozing off.   I had to make a small stop to get my cousin so we could tackle yard sales as a duo.  I pulled up to his house and up the driveway I saw my cousin, evidently he had just woken up and was smoking a cigarette to get his morning nicotine crunch.  A morning full of adventuring ahead us, both tired, we got in the car.  My cousin opened the browser in his antiquated BlackBerry and we looked around the car for a pen.  After the ordeal of finding the pen was over, my cousin started scribbling addresses on a notepad I had in the car.  Hastily written numbers accompanied streets we never heard of.  Who thought this would be the hard part, just finding the places.

I never had the pleasure of planning and executing my own yard sale excursion before the days of readily available electronics, finding yard sales in this era has been assisted with a multi-billion dollar government program called the Global Positioning System (i.e., GPS and GLONASS). The old fashion way of finding yard sales must of been like a 18th-century navigator, with a map and brass navigational tools, plotting the addresses to find yard sales, in 2015 we used Google Maps.  The whole yard sale routine is easier when you plan ahead.  After a few weeks of yard sales I collected a list of addresses and saved their geo-data with Google Earth and exported it to a .kml file that I put on my phone, that way each yard sale came up as its own POI and navigating was easy.  The ability to see all the yard sales on a strategic scale allowed me to plan like I was some sort of logistics manager directing a fleet of truckers.

My first day of yard sales;  we had lots of enthusiasm for the impending sales.   If the small-time proprietors of the yard sale didn’t have anything good for sale (more often than not) usually good conversation was to be had anyway.  Yard sales happened to be a very effective community building tool.  I found one yard sale in particular, the older man, retired from teaching French was getting rid of his teaching stuff.  A map with tactile ridges that represented the mountains was proudly hanging near the rear of his yard sale. Even though it was all in French I thought it was pretty awesome, but I didn’t want to insult him with a low-ball offer, I didn’t need the map anyway.  After some small chit-chat he proudly showed us a book, French-English dictionary that was pretty comprehensive.  The internet did what his book did, a thought that I could not shake as he attempted to sell this book to me and my cousin.   On one of his wooden fold-up tables I spied a pile of books, I originally shrug them off because I couldn’t read french and ostensibility they were all French books.  But my general circuit of looking around came up empty, I decided to give the French books another look, to my surprise I discovered that one of the covers of the books had `Albert Camus` sprawled out on the cover, it was the classic novel The Stranger, and to my surprise it was in EnglishThe graying, balding, retired French teacher who spoke with an undercurrent of mirth, was quick to the draw with a Stranger reference when I exhibited unmitigated interest in the quintessential reading of Camusian existentialism .  Like sci-fi nerds exchanging Star Trek references as a form of socializing, this French teacher and I went back and forth discussing our mutual love for Camus and existentialism, I usually don’t shake the hands of yard sale managers, but in this case my exit was sealed with an handshake and a handful of existential books.

Yard sales can prove to be a point of time to engage with people you never would’ve meet otherwise, asides from making very temporary relationships, yard sales are a place to beget bargains. I happened upon a yard sale, menacing storm clouds were about to call off my yard sale loop, I had only time for one more yard sale. I parked and walked up to the house, which had electronics for sales (contemporary electronics at that).  A 23″ HD computer monitor was for sale, a sticker with the price “15” was at the top of the screen, next to the embedded web cam.
“Damn, this is one of those gucci monitors” I thought.
The thirty-something year old mom-apparent was standing on the porch, a cool strong breeze was reminding everyone that mother nature was about to unleash some rather wet weather soon.
“Does it work?” Curious to why such a nice piece of digital technology was selling for a cool $15.  She didn’t know, yelling into the open door to an unseen figure she said
“Does that computer screen work?”
“Uhhhh which one” the unseen male figure shouted back.  There was a few other screens littered around the sale, but as far as computer monitors goes this one was the most appealing.
“The one that is fifteen dollars” she responded
“Oh yeah it works” that was all I needed to hear.
I enthusiastically withdrew some cash from my wallet and quickly gave her the cash, as I engaged in one my most impulsive buys of the year and yeah, knowing what a steal it was, I didn’t even bother to engage in negotiating.  She explained that her family just bought a new computer, rendering this 23″ HD monitor – which later on I had found out that it retailed for about $350 a few years ago – a $15 yard sale steal. I suppose they buy computer bundles, maybe somehow unaware that a computer monitor will work with any computer with the right ports (e.g., HDMI, VGA, etc).
On the porch there was a 50 inch big screen TV, no price, a pinstripe line apparently ran across the screen when it was on, which made it damaged goods, which meant major deals. As I mentioned, a mean-mugging dark sky was starting it’s moist advance, small rain drops started to rain on this rather small yard sale, giving the buyers immense buying power. My cousin using his negotiating tact ended up stealing away a 50″ screen TV for a very low cost of two dollars. It’s not very often that I could say that someone bought a 50″ flat screen for a toonie.  We hastily loaded the behemoth into the back of the car before the serious down pour occupied the town. On my way out, I quickly bargained for a fully functional TV that was about the same size of the monitor I bought for $10, half the asking price of $20.

Yard sales are the domain of cheap deals, but it can go either way.  I went to one yard sale where the family was selling off commercial restaurant stuff, pizza heater bags, stuff like that.  I thought it was pretty cool and I kept joking that I was going to start my own pizza business, but the deep discounts weren’t to be had.  She knew how much those bags retailed and she wasn’t letting them go for a quarter.  Some people want to extract value form the things they sell, there is nothing wrong with that, this women spent some cash for this restaurant stuff and wasn’t letting ago for fire sale prices. Another yard sale had a stereotypical type of stuff that a movie junkie would have, Simpsons memorabilia, Godzilla play-set with destructible buildings, something the yard sale man used as a Nativity set at Christmas. Some things were very cool, but knowing that he was an expert in this stuff meant that I wasn’t going to part with it with quarters, so I just admired his exotic stock and talked to him about the “best movie ever made” which bought me some film cred, although my movie prowess is a total facade. I just ended up parting with a small fridge magnet of said best movie ever made.

9th plan is a charm

The Platonic form of movies

The summer of Yard Sales was hot and it was exhausting.  Besides the huge discount I got on a screen, most of the stuff I bought was stuff that I realistically could live without.  I bought a few decorations to gussy up my new place, I bought a commercial grade fire extinguisher to wage total combat against any renegade fires that blaze up. But in the end, over all I spent less than $40 and I did get a few good things out of it and I had some good times bonding with yard sale operators.

I ended the season on the other side of the equation, joining the ranks of yard sale job creators. I had a few car loads of stuff that I deemed superfluous and I had to purge and a family member was downsizing, I offered to get rid of much of her stuff at a yard sale.  My modus operandus was to basically give this stuff away for next to nothing and not in the sense of the used car salesmen who says whatever to just get you to show up.  One of my ads read “I’ve priced this stuff so cheap that it doesn’t even make financial sense for me to do this yard sale” and in the case of that particular yard sale, it didn’t make financial sense for me to do it.  I wanted to offer deep discounts to anyone who entered my yard sale.  My goal wasn’t to try to extract as much profit as possible, like so many yard sales I’ve been to before, but to maximize my living space by parting with as much as I could.

Like going on yard sales excursions, my yard sale started not long after my night shift.  I showed up to my yard sale, tired, excited and eager to part with much of my stuff. I put an ad up on the local classified website and made some makeshift signs out of Bristol board procured at the local dollar store. I parked the car on the grass, I opened up my stock room, aka the shed and started pulling stuff out onto the lawn.  It didn’t take long for the early birds to show up and of course they just perused my limited stock I had out and left without as much showing interest in anything.  But by the time I got the stock on the floor it was 8:30 and people started showing up.  I personally greeted everyone I could and in the process I probably branded myself as some sort of used car salesman.

Bundling stuff is a standard tactic in extracting value, I turned that on it’s head and actively encouraged it, I kept empty boxes near by, “Fill a box, I’ll give a good deal” I said more than once. Unfortunately only a few people took me up on that offer.  I also noted that many people were not too enterprising when offering prices, I got a constant barrage of price request. I often gave it away for a quarter or 50 cents.  Most people bought things as soon as they realized they wanted it, meaning that they couldn’t bundle it, which benefited me financially, but like I said before my object wasn’t to bleed these quarters from people.

One particular young lady and her young child were interested in some old board games I had kicking around, I told her that they were $1 together, but she only wanted one, in that case the one board game was $1.25.  Using her best judgement she got the bundle instead at a nice $1.

I attempted to track as much information as I could, but because I didn’t really vet the stuff I was selling I had poor insight into my inventory, but I managed to track all my sales. Between two yard sales I made in the neighbourhood of $150, yeah, I know, I was hardly making minimum wage with the time I invested.  But it sure felt good to get rid of stuff and make a bit of money on the side. I didn’t manage to sell everything and attempts to sell the whole yard sale online hadn’t been successful, so I guess the good folks get to deal with the donations afterwards.

As I rake the leaves in my back yard I note various things that missed my purge dragnet, damn I thought, as I realized I will have to contend with these defiant objects until spring, when I have my 2016 spring yard sale and you are all invited!

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