The stuff that used to be in our attic is now on our back driveway, stacked on shelves, covered by tarps. Today we’re going to put prices on the stuff (Priced to move!), and tomorrow we’re hoping strangers will come by and give us money for it (Strangers only, please; I don’t want any friends seeing this junk…also, I have an irrational fear of accidentally selling things that I borrowed from friends and forgot to return). We’re having a yard sale. If you want to dress exactly like I did fifteen years ago, now’s your chance.
A yard sale puts one in a philosophical mood. One wonders, for instance, about the alchemy by which a thing changes from a possession to mere junk to be hauled off or (hopefully) purchased by a stranger. One wonders about the reverse alchemy by which mere junk to be hauled off is transformed again into merchandise. Here is recycling in a pure form. Unless, of course, a person who buys my junk simply adds it to his own junk pile rather than getting any use out of it–something that I suspect happens pretty often.

Today’s Audience Participation Friday topic is junk. Let’s hear your stories and well-thought-out opinions about yard sales, salvage yards, re-gifting, and treasures found among trash. Here’s one: my sons, while playing in a construction dumpster, once found two fifty-dollar bills in two little gold gift boxes. You may ask why my boys were playing in a construction dumpster. If so, you probably don’t have boys.

I will also welcome tips for making more money at a yard sale.

  • Drew
    1:37 PM, 15 July 2011

    Keep your eyes on the goal! Is your goal to get rid of junk or to make money? If it’s to get rid of junk, then price things pitifully low, and take any offer within reason. I love garage-saling. (Huh, now that I write that, it looks like something one might do by tying a sail to a garage and hoisting it into the sky.) But in the last few years it seems that more people look on it as a money-making venture than a junk-removal system. (Granted, in perfect conditions, it can be both.)
    If your goal is to make money, remember this: everything you hauled out to the driveway and doesn’t sell has to go back inside! Are you sure you want to wreck your back twice?!

    Also, as a parent with small children who think they need something at every garage, I love it when people put out the “FREE” box filled with all the toys from a zillion Happy Meals. It allows me to browse in peace while the kids discover treasures. We parents thank you for your consideration in this matter. : )

    BONUS JUNK STORY . . . sort of. A few weeks ago I watched the 70s-era documentary “Grey Gardens,” about the aunt and cousin of Jackie Kennedy who were living in squalor in what was once a beautiful East Hamptons estate. The house was falling to bits, filled with trash, cats, racoons . . . and these two crazy people who were once high-society types. I actually could only watch about 20 minutes of it, before I got really freaked out.

    After I turned it off, all I wanted to do was clean the house. Every crumb, every speck of dust I saw was an accusation.

    • Jonathan Rogers
      3:46 PM, 15 July 2011

      You make good points, Drew. The real goal is to de-clutter rather than to make money. I shall keep my eyes on that goal.
      I liked “Grey Gardens,” though, like you, I didn’t see the whole thing. It is my practice to fall asleep during movies–even good ones–and let my wife tell me what happened the next morning. She’s a superb storyteller, and I frequently enjoy her version better than the real thing.

    • Sarah Boyt Culberson
      7:21 PM, 15 July 2011

      I get the same motivation to clean and purge closets after every episode of “Hoarders”.  My kids don’t like it when Mama watches it anymore…..

  • Rob Y
    3:18 PM, 15 July 2011

    My brother had a friend in college who supplied the dorm with bagels each night.  He procurred these and other treats by “dumpster diving” around the streets of Chicago.  Knowledge of these exploits prepared me for a later encounter. About six years ago, I took my new bride to a Washington Redskins football game. Before entering the stadium, we passed by a man selling pretzels. What he said made sense:  why pay $8 inside the stadium when you could pay him $4 for the same pretzel.  My wife was pregnant and hungry and we quickly purchased the pretzel and shuffled in for the game.  After a couple bites, my wife remarked that this pretzel was not delicious. After another bite, she proclaimed it stale.  After another bite, she discovered a piece of chewed gum stuck on the pretzel.  Gross.

    • Jonathan Rogers
      3:43 PM, 15 July 2011

      So, Rob, I take it your wife wasn’t one of those pregnant women who craves pretzels and gum? That’s a pretty disgusting story. Thanks for sharing it.

    • sally apokedak
      5:57 PM, 16 July 2011

      That is sooooo disgusting. 

  • Patrick J. Moore
    3:37 PM, 15 July 2011

    We’ve tried yard sales. After the fee for the permit; the hours of labor involved in gathering, sorting, pricing, and displaying the junk; and then the high tax rate on the little profit you make if any… we don’t do yard sales anymore. It’s more of a fundraiser for the city where we provide volunteer labor than anything else. Since breaking even was the goal of our last attempt we realized we’d be better off just giving away the thing we don’t want anymore.
    If we know a friend is trying to have a yard sale we might donate our stuff to them. They always claim “put prices on it and we’ll sell it for you” but it just isn’t worth it in my opinion. “You put prices on it yourself and you can keep whatever you make on it.” Or we’ll just load it all up and haul it to Goodwill or Salvation Army. Sometimes with specific items, like kids cloths, or fairly new stuff that just didn’t turn out to be what we wanted when we purchased it- we just give it to a friend we know would have a use for it.

    I don’t re-gift as a rule. To me a gift should be something new- either made or bought specifically for the person it is being given to. That is true for all regular occasions where one might be given a gift: birthdays, weddings, Christmas, etc… But like I said above, I think things should go to people who want and can use them. I don’t consider them gifts when giving things away on no particular occasion- just because I know a particular person has need, want, or use for a particular item I happen to have (because someone gifted it to me) that I have no need, want, or use for. Gifts for normal gifting occasions should be new, but I guess I also consider it new if old junk is fixed up and made into something useful or artful, because it’s never been quite like that before and no one else has owned it that particular form.

    Now, I do have a friend who with other of her friends regularly re-gift their worst gifts to each-other for laughs.  Those hideous lamps mom picked up at a garage sale as birthday presents, because she thought they would look “marvelous” in her daughter’s home,  the nicknack that Uncle Joe carved by hand as a wedding gift and no-one can really figure out what it’s supposed to be… sometimes I get ridiculous gifts and I “give” (not gift) them to this friend so she can gift them to one of her friends and share the laughter that “so-and-so actually seriously bought this for so-and-so as a gift! Can you believe it?” Just the wondering at why such gifts might be originally given is quite hilarious sometimes… or sad that the person obviously doesn’t know the person they are giving the gift to very well.

    I don’t usually go to yard sales myself. If I notice a table with CD’s or Books I might stop- I’ve had some good finds in those categories. I also keep an eye out for nice solid wood furniture, because sometimes you can get that stuff for a steal at the yard sales of people who either don’t know what it’s worth or just want it all to go- but for the most part, when I do happen to stop along the way, all I tend to see is another person’s junk that they want too much money for.

    • Jonathan Rogers
      3:56 PM, 15 July 2011

      A quick re-gifting story: Two different pairs of friends got married in what I call “The Summer of the Picnic Set.” In the mid-nineties, people loved to give newlyweds little wicker suitcases with plastic picnic ware inside. My friends–call them Couple A–got several of these picnic sets. They were nice picnic sets, but one doesn’t need more than one–maybe one more for a spare. Couple A were running out the door to the wedding of the second couple–we’ll call them Julian and Mary Elizabeth–when they realized that they hadn’t gotten a gift. The young wife went to the room where the extra wedding gifts were stashed and grabbed a picnic set that she thought Julian and Mary Elizabeth would like. She was starting to wrap the thing when she decided to open it and make sure all the parts were there. And there, inside the basket, was a card that read “Much love, Julian and Mary Elizabeth.” Couple A nearly regifted to the very couple that had given the basket in the first place!

      • Jonathan Rogers
        3:59 PM, 15 July 2011

        PS: We’re selling one of those picnic sets cheap in our yard sale. Picnic like the Rogers family!

        • Drew
          4:25 PM, 15 July 2011

          Did you get it from Julian and Mary Elizabeth?

      • sally apokedak
        6:05 PM, 16 July 2011

        Hysterical. And thank God she opened that basket. Oh man. 
        I re-gift gift cards but never re-gift anything someone actually took time to buy for me, even if I don’t care for the thing. Even the year my husband bought me five flashlights for Christmas—one was a headband flashlight to help me in my work under the cars and in the dark attic, he was always so thoughtful—I didn’t re-gift, though I’m sure he would have loved if I’d given them back to him on our anniversary. But no, the next present I gave him were the lovely wind chimes I’d always wanted. 🙂 

      • Loren Warnemuende
        2:17 AM, 18 July 2011

        That’s great! I didn’t realize picnic baskets were a mid-nineties fad, but I guess it makes sense now why we got a few. One had an awesome big basket that still holds blankets in our living room. It’s a little worse for wear after four kids and a visiting dog, though. No chance it’ll be sold.

    • Drew
      4:23 PM, 15 July 2011

      Patrick, where do you live where they make you get a permit for a yard sale? That would certainly put a dent in our local economy should that happen here. In the spring, from Thursday through Saturday you can probably spend the entire day browsing garage sales. There’s a house in our neighborhood that has one every weekend.

      • Patrick J. Moore
        5:52 PM, 15 July 2011

        Oklahoma City: even regulate the number of yard sales you can have in a year, what you can lawfully sell with their permit, and what your hours of operation will be. Without a permit they fine over 200 dollars, and it seems they have police officers that just drive around checking for permits. One stopped by to check ours.

        I must admit it is only 7 dollars for the permit, but when you are selling old junk, that could be at-least 14 items priced to go in the blistering Oklahoma sun. The last time we tried to do one here we were tempted to give stuff away as door prizes to thank people for stopping- hardly any of the few that happened by that day were picking anything up.

        • sally apokedak
          6:12 PM, 16 July 2011

          Oh, this kind of stuff just drives me nuts. I would never have a garage sale if I had to get a permit. Not that I’ve had many. I’ve only had one in my life. Let the kids keep the money we earned. They were about ten and they split a couple of hundred dollars. Not too bad. But, no, I wouldn’t purchase a permit. I’d pay the kids 200 dollars myself to haul the stuff to Goodwill, rather than give the government seven dollars for permission to sell my stuff. 

        • Loren Warnemuende
          2:14 AM, 18 July 2011

          Hey! We were just in the OKC area visiting family! I avoided the yard sales, though…. 

  • Becca
    4:13 PM, 15 July 2011

    Do Feechies have yard sales? Do they attend them?

  • Aaron Roughton
    5:58 PM, 15 July 2011

    Selling price of a child’s t-shirt in good condition at a garage sale:  $0.50Allowable deduction in Turbo Tax It’s Deductible ™ for the same shirt:  $6.00
    Actual tax savings of taking a $6.00 deduction (assuming itemization and 28% tax bracket):   $1.68
    Value of removing garage sale hassel:  Priceless

    On another note, Ebay is like a big virtual garage sale.  Currently on ebay is an item of particular interest to me:

    And check out Amazon:

    I happen to know that there are only about 500 of my cds in circulation (because I still have 500 in my closet).  Most of those I gave away.  One time there was one selling from a used bookstore in Jacksonville, FL on Amazon.  I actually called the store to see how they ended up with it, and they said it came in with a large lot of used cds from a thrift store in south Florida (where my parents suspiciously live).   Since my music sells in such low volumes, I should have taken the time to put GPS trackers in each cd for marketing purposes.

    • Aaron Roughton
      5:59 PM, 15 July 2011

      Hassel.  Nice.  Apparently I was thinking of David Hasselhoff.

    • Jonathan Rogers
      8:11 PM, 15 July 2011

      An amazing coincidence, Aaron: there are two copies of that very cd in our garage sale pile. 
      I kid you; I would never part with mine. I do like the subtle plug of your cd, though. 

    • sally apokedak
      6:35 PM, 16 July 2011

      But you failed to tell them how to buy the CD from you, Aaron. And you didn’t link to the place they could hear the music. I had to hunt that down. And it sold me.

  • Loren Warnemuende
    2:28 AM, 18 July 2011

    I’m not a big garage sale fan, but I firmly believe in getting things second-hand or free. My favorite shopping place for my kids’ clothes and presents (for them and nieces and nephews) is the children’s consignment sale our church has every fall and spring. But it always amazes me how many beautiful things just fall in our laps.
    My favorite yard sale experience was when we had to clear out my grandmother’s home. In her attic were stored things that her parents had stored and never unpacked when they moved from Massachusetts to Pennsylvania in the ’50’s. One discovery was a set of china including a butter dish with a stick of practically petrified butter inside! We also sorted through reams of books and papers stored by my grandfather, a pastor and theologian: my mom discovered a message given by C. I. Scofield given the Sunday after the Titanic went down.

    When we finished sorting everything, we made the “we’re keeping” pile and the “is it valuable?” pile and had an appraiser look things over. He basically said we had good taste, so it was with a light heart that we set the rest out to be sold to the lowest bidder. Imagine yards of damask tablecloths…. Beautiful, but how much damask does one really need?

  • Terri DeFoor
    10:03 PM, 22 July 2011

    Jonathan, I hope your yard sale went splendidly!  Karen and I (also known as the “laughable” sisters) have had quite a bit of experience in the world of second hand junk.  A few years ago she thought it would be a great idea for us to open a booth at the Big Peach Antique Mall, and so we did.  I am the big sister, but after we grew up I seem to have become the one tagging along behind her and agreeing with every idea she comes up with.  So, along with our Mama and another friend, we all became “The Dixie Hens.”  And then we all became competitors for the junk we hunted.  
    Karen and I would map out the Saturday morning yard sales the night before, and head out at the crack of dawn, ignoring all those futile warnings against “early birds.”  I noticed very quickly that she was trying hard to out pace me to the junk pile so she could spy treasures with resale potential ahead of me.  So I decided that we should take turns driving since she, the passenger, always had a good jump on me, the driver.  

    We would pile up our odds and ends, trying hard to protect them from other prying eyes, while searching out the next old priceless item.  “That’s my pile.”  We started saying that a lot.  Some of our things were old and some were just used.  When it came time to put a price tag on our inventory, we would use a description so that when the item sold, we would remember what it was.  Once or twice, Mama just wrote “Thing-a-ma-jig” on a ticket.  If an item sold quickly, we would kick ourselves for pricing it too low.  Items that sat ignored in the booth for months were finally marked off our inventory and taken to Goodwill.  

    Suffice it to say that our husbands were not able to retire early and live on our “Antique” business, despite the acquisition, once in a while, of something that almost could have made it to the spotlight on “Antiques Roadshow.”  Almost.  For example, I once bought a pig-shaped cookie jar for fifty cents and sold it for $100.00.  

    But really, we can now finally admit, our little business was a great excuse to explore other people’s junk.  We closed our booth long ago, moving on to other business ventures like beauty products and purses.  But once in a while I get the urge to get out the old yellow “Dixie Hen” tags and try again.  It’s hard to break the habit of calculating how much one might make on this or that yard sale find.  That is, if you don’t count the time it takes to find the inventory, clean it, price it, haul it out to the booth, keep it all presentable, and keep books that tell you (and Uncle Sam) how rich you are getting.

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