Sunday July 8 2012 827 pm
Never mind the fireworks. Last weekend, my family participated in one of the truly great American traditions: the yard sale. This event was precipitated by a concentration of crap–er, I mean high-quality personal belongings we no longer needed–in our basement so great that we could no longer move about freely. Various financial obligations being what they are, we decided to see what we could get for some of it, and the sale was on.
The kids were beyond excited, especially when we promised them a percentage of the profits in proportion to their work contributions. They really did work hard–if you’ve ever put one of these sales on, you know what slogs they are–and earned their money.
They also received a bit of an education. Because while of course it was nice that we made a bit of money from the sale of items we no longer needed, to me the most interesting aspect of the day, by far, was the opportunity for human study the yard sale brought to our driveway.
Here are a few of my observations from a yard sale:
- The vast majority of people will not pay more than $5. “For what?” you ask. For anything. A brand new toy in the box, a suit, a good-condition sweater that retailed at $60, a you-name-it from Pottery Barn in mint condition, heck, even some furniture. Possibly a car. If it’s more than $5, ninety-nine times out of one hundred, people will not consider it. The two exceptions to this rule appear to be a fully functional play kitchen–with accoutrements–and some decent furniture.
- Certain people arrived with clear, specific missions in mind. Obviously pressed for time due to the need to cover all of the yard sales on their lists that morning, they emerged from their cars, bypassed the piles of goods on display in favor of seeking out the owners, inquired about their target items (“Buttons? Do you have buttons?”), then politely took their leave. One neatly dressed man who drove up during a quiet, early afternoon period was on a particularly notable mission. “I’m looking for any type of ammunition, or firearms. Older, or new. Do you have anything like that?” He glanced at me, then stared pointedly at my husband. When we both replied that we didn’t “have anything like that,” the man asked if we were sure, then thanked us and left. We wondered if he was hoping we had a secret, well stocked bunker, or if he was an ATF agent trying to reel us in–or perhaps both.
- The prime feature of our yard sale was little kids’ stuff: toys, clothes, toddler gear, etc. We sold lots of toddler and preschool toys, but the thing that baffled my husband and me was that there was practically no interest at all in below-basement-priced, good-condition kids’ clothes. I remember buying some of my son’s clothes at yard sales when he was little; do people not do that anymore? Is the economy in better shape than I think it is? We sold maybe a dozen pieces of kids’ clothing all day. My old, well worn shoes, on the other hand, were a big hit. This I just do not understand.
- It doesn’t matter how low you price some stuff; people will want to bargain you down. I couldn’t help laughing at one woman who approached me with a perfectly good sweatshirt we’d priced at $1. “Would you take fifty cents?” she asked. Sure. As long as people were nice and reasonable about this stuff, we always said yes.
- On the other hand…there was the guy who, how can I put this in a non-obscene blog? I’d set out some nicer jewelry at higher-than-yard-sale prices, completely comfortable with the fact that it might not sell. This individual took an interest in two of the pieces and began to bargain with me. Initially, I believed he was negotiating in earnest. He named a price for both that was lower than the price for just one of the pieces; I countered. He began to cite numbers in a way that made it clear he didn’t think I could add or subtract. He became insulting. When he threatened to walk away, I invited him to do so, because it was obvious we weren’t talking about jewelry anymore. Hey pal, it’s a yard sale. Take the alpha-dog act somewhere else, please.
- Making up for Alpha-Dog and others like him was the woman who, at the end of the day, left us money when she didn’t have to. After we cleaned up all the stuff that hadn’t sold and tucked the toys, clothes and household goods to be donated to charity back into the garage, we dragged a pile down to the mailbox and put up a sign that read, “Free stuff.” As the late afternoon sun sank lower, people stopped by and pulled things out of the free pile to take home. I just happened to glance out my living room window to see one woman who had been at our yard sale earlier in the day open our mailbox and count out a few dollar bills, then place them inside the mailbox. She then took a couple of items from the free pile and left. Lady, I don’t know who you are, but thank you.
- Finally, I learned this lesson pounding a sign into the ground for the sale: ground nests filled with swarms of hundreds, possibly thousands of large, evil-looking insects (possibly some form of bees?) can look exactly like harmless little anthills. Ten-year-old “Jack” and I luckily escaped when Emmie called out to let us know she’d spotted a single bee. I looked up and saw a small swarm, then a large one…then I realized it was growing exponentially as I watched. I stood, fascinated for a moment, then moved when I understood I was being a complete idiot. Jack and I escaped as fast as we could at that point, and from the safety of the interior of our minivan, the three of us then watched the insects take over the entire field like something out of a Hitchcock movie. Yikes.
So yeah, we made a little money last weekend. But the people- (and insect-)watching? That was priceless.