A while back a commenter asked me to write about my infamous Yard Sale Day. (It’s my favorite holiday.) When I first started out yard saling I felt it was hard to justify my big, bad habit. Mostly it was the guilt derived from driving around town all morning in search of “signs.” Eventually however, I discovered gsalr.com, which is a yard sale mapping service. Now I am much more strategic with my driving. I hone in on the most concentrated area of yard sales and create as tight of a loop as possible, usually involving around 12 sales. What I eventually came to realize was that, no matter what, you can’t beat yard sale prices. Every time I set foot in a thrift store I pretty much choke on my own vomit. I buy clothes when they are a quarter or fifty cents. $6 for a single item triggers gag reflexes. Although, now that I think of it, I did pay $6 for clothes once. It was like pulling teeth, but I shelled it out. I bought Jael and Rahab the matching Cleopatra dresses seen in my blog header, new with tags. I also remember paying $3 for dresses for me, but they were Ann Taylor. In which case the purchase was entirely justified. Otherwise, fifty cents is my limit. Although more often than not, I’m a bag lady. Then you’re talking 10 cents an item, and you just can’t touch that.
A new thing I’m trying to do this year is buy as many of my Christmas and birthday presents at yard sales. Some people are harder to buy for than others, but I’m keeping my eye out. To me, yard sale presents are much more unique and personal than coughing the lolly at Walmart the day before, when things get desperate. And considerably less mercenary.
This particular haul of Parrish style pictures is for my mother. (Hoarders are the easiest people to buy for.) It’s her Christmas present that I couldn’t keep a secret. I knew she would love them. That or I knew she would have my hide if she found out I didn’t buy them for her.I think the most convincing reason to yard sale is being able to find big ticket items I have always wanted, but couldn’t necessarily afford. The savings from finds like these are what keep my husband putting gas in the tank. Last summer I bought up this practically new Cuisinart, with the protective stickers still on the blades, for $10. Even better than that, this spring I scored a Magic Mill III grain mill for $1. I have always wanted one, for the theoretical day when I had a year’s supply of wheat in my well stocked pantry. But I wasn’t going to run out and pay $250 for one. That’s why Jesus gave me one for free. (He likes me like that.)Actually, driving home from that particular yard sale, greedily holding my new find on my lap, I boasted to my husband, “Now this is why I yard sale.” He looked at me incredulously and said, “No it isn’t! You yard sale for all that cheap crap you find that you don’t need.” I let these words sink in for a second and then realized that he was right. In actuality, I really only yard sale for things like this 50 cent gold filigreed cream pitcher and 50 cent ceramic Japanese lemon. Everything else is collateral damage.BUT, I would have you note, it’s only the cheap, cheap crap that I buy and don’t actually need. Because if it’s 50 cents that makes it okay. Right? I see tons of stuff at yard sales that I love and don’t buy. Usually for $1 or $3 or $5. My self control is epic. Paper money is the kind of stuff I only hand over for things I need or might eventually serve a purpose. But if it’s under a dollar, it’s free game. And it’s mine.My favorite, favorite thing about yard saling though, is how individual it is. It’s all the things money can’t buy. You can’t go into Target and pick up embroidered throw cushions, painstakingly crafted by people’s batty grandmothers, for only a quarter. The handmade blanket on the couch is also a past yard sale find. I think really what you find at yard sales, is not just stuff, but soul. You can buy stuff anywhere. But dead people’s stuff is so much more authentic.
I especially love it when I find things at yard sales, right before I am reduced to buying them new. A long time ago I picked up a tortoise shell toiletry set at Ross for $7, which I thought was a good deal. However, the children inevitably decimated it. When I went back to Ross I couldn’t find soap dishes for less than $7 and it was another $7 for the toothbrush holder. I folded and went home. And do you know what? I turned around and found a hideous teal mosaic bathroom set for $1 at a yard sale. Now we’re talking. Another, rather unforeseen benefit of yard saling, is how it cures the greed itch in my children. They need retail therapy too. But instead of taking them to Toys ‘R Us to buy Batman action figures or Polly Pocket, they buy Chinese terrariums, bronze coins, glass paper weights, Indian sabers, and miniature dishes. And they ADORE it. I love to buy them their tiny treasures and laugh as they enthuse over the strangest things. Like mini muffin pans and letter openers with potential. I’m not sure what it is, but they don’t even ask to buy any of the plastic junk at yard sales. They must know better. They like to jump out of the van and play with it for two seconds, but they seem more than happy to leave it behind. On the other hand, it’s open season on free boxes. If it’s free, you can have all the cheap plastic junk you can carry. Curiously though, it all seems to disappear the moment it is left unattended. Mommy shows no mercy. I also love to buy my children things that break. Inexpensive things that break. I don’t back away from buying tiny porcelain pitchers or baby bird salt shakers. Go ahead, bust that stuff up. Antiques are conveniently self-purging. Which makes for a nice turn over and nice variety. Toys at our house are 10 cent yard sale curiosities. No advertising required. As for the logistics of yard saling with children, it seems to be a simple matter of being able to tell them no. If children don’t take well to being told “no,” then yard saling is a lot less fun and considerably more impractical. Our policy is that the kids generally take turns getting out at yard sales. *Unless* it’s a big yard sale. Then everyone gets out. On the other hand, if it’s a small yard sale with six things in the driveway, then only I get out. I call the shots. And I’m not concerned about coming across as “unfair.” Not everyone gets to get something on yard sale say. I don’t buy things just to buy them, or to get Johnny to shut his trap. We only buy the things that fate sends us. The things that were MEANT to be. Some days are just not your day. Yard saling is a dangerous business the minute you start buying things just to buy them. You’ve seen those people. You don’t want to be one. Perhaps, more specifically, your husband doesn’t want you to be one either. Other than being cheap, I have a very specific clothes buying policy. I don’t buy things that I need or things that fit, I buy things that are nice. I buy Gap, Gymboree, Ann Taylor, or plain “new.” I don’t even look in clothes piles unless they are in my designated price range and shine with crisp possibility. Clothes are too easy to come by to merit desperation. We have piles. Of course, we’ve been saving for a while. But what I have found is that there is no use saving something for ten years, or making your husband ferret it out of the sweltering attic, if it’s not quality. Don’t mess around the stained onesies plied at you buy friends. Just walk away. On the other hand, if something is brand new or well made, and only 50 cents, then buy it. No questions asked. It doesn’t matter if it’s for a boy or girl, or will only fit yet to be conceived children, or Jael – when she turns thirteen. I buy it now and save it for later. Another policy is that I don’t buy knits or licensed prints. People often come up to me and comment how nice my children look. They try to put their finger on it and eventually conclude that they just look classic. That’s because no one is advertising for Disney or wearing clothes that are essentially re-purposed jammies. T-shirts and knit pants don’t count as day wear. I think this is how my children can get away with looking “nice,” without having to look “new.” We’re cheap, but we’re not trashy. …Sorta. This dress I purchased last Friday is another instance where I refused to buy something in the store, only then to find it later at a yard sale. I was returning defective sheets to Macy’s and made a cursory check of their maternity section. I was tempted by some dresses on their clearance rack, only they still worked out to be $20. As badly as I always need maternity clothes, I couldn’t do it. Fortunately, a few days later, I bumped into an even cuter dress for only a dollar. Lesson learned.Another of my favorite yard sale finds. My pink patent leather Dooney and Bourke purse, purchased for an unprecedented $40. I didn’t buy it right away. But I did tell my husband about it when he got home, and he promptly pulled his $20 tip out of his pocket and handed it to me. I looked at him like, “Are you sure you’re my husband?” (My real husband doesn’t encourage me to buy $40 purses.) My friend Mackenzie was equally encouraging and Paypaled me another $20 as a baby shower present. She told me to call it a diaper bag. I did. Now it’s going on it’s third baby and still looks awesome. I eventually decided to go back to the yard sale after Googling the purse and discovering that it sold for $150 used and $250 new. I’ve never had a designer bag, but I can tell you this, it takes a beating. This purse doesn’t show any wear. If you ever feel the urge to buy an expensive purse, feel free to remind your husband that they’re a great investment. 😉
In the end, I don’t yard sale to save money. I yard sale so I can spend it. I like being able to go shopping every week during the season. Instead of saving up to buy things every once in a while, or going to thrift stores to buy things because I have to – I get to buy things that I love. Like all the time, and still end up saving money. It’s deliciously impractical. It’s kind of a lottery though and definitely a game for the long haul. I buy things for years down the road. I buy things for birthdays that are months away, for children I don’t have, and for me when I don’t weigh 150 pounds. But all the things I buy are things I can’t resist. They are things that speak to me and are one of a kind. That and they’re dirt cheap. But since yard saling is so hit and miss, I really have to do it every week to get an even spread. Yard saling isn’t something you can do just once in a while and produce a predictable result. I find that only when I’m consistent over the long haul does it start to fill in the gaps and become self-supporting. In fact, it’s become such a vital part of our home economy that I can’t imagine living somewhere where I couldn’t yard sale. Because I would probably wither up and die. True story.