Top Ten Rules for a Good Yard Sale


I love yard sales. The Bargain of the Century is always waiting on the next block, at the end of the trail of hand-lettered day-glo signs. Will it be a perfectly good 12-string guitar for $15? Will it be a new snowboard for $20? Will I find the missing Tijuana Brass album that will complete my Herb Alpert collection? Who knows? The only way to find your treasure is to get out there early Saturday morning and start hunting.

As an inveterate tag sale fan, I have run into the same problematic behavior over the years that make these things more difficult, complicated, tasteless, and just no fun. This list of dos and don’ts applies to the sellers, many of whom seem to ignore all logical tenets of human nature and make their yard sale an unpleasant experience for everybody.

So if you’re planning a garage sale, yard sale, rummage sale, or whatever you want to call it, pay attention to these rules and you’ll make more money and more friends and wind up with a much smaller pile of useless crap afterwards that you’ll have to take to Goodwill.

1. Put up simple, straightforward signs.

Yard Sale

Nice and straightforward.

The aforementioned day-glo posterboard is the standard. Hell I don’t even check the newspaper anymore. I just drive around looking for squares of fluorescent color. Your sign should say “YARD SALE” and the address and a big arrow. Maybe the hours. That’s it. Do not list your items on the sign. You don’t want to cause a fiery rear-end collision because somebody is trying to discern whether you’re selling Michael Bolton T-shirts or Milton Bradley’s Twister. Brevity is key. And make sure you have enough signs to direct people all the way to your house. Don’t put all your effort into the one big sign that pulls traffic off the thoroughfare and then strands people in a strange neighborhood.

2. Price all your stuff.

Don’t give me that “I’m open to negotiation; whatever’s fair, make me an offer” garbage. That’s just laziness. If you want to have a conversation with every single person who wants to buy something, well, there is something wrong with you. Also, if I come into your driveway and pick up a ball peen hammer and offer you 50 cents for it and you laugh at me because it’s a $40 hammer and you won’t take less than ten bucks, I’ll be insulted and angry. And I’ll have a ball peen hammer in my hand.

3. Find some tables.

It doesn’t matter if it’s an ironing board, a ping pong table, or an old diving board sitting on two upturned trash cans. Display your stuff on a raised surface. No one wants to bend over repeatedly to pick things up off the ground. Plus, you’ll make people feel like looters after a tornado.

4. Know the value of things.

Photo by Evelyn Giggles

Just the way a book should be priced.

It really frosts my buns to walk into a yard sale and see prices that are way out of whack with the SYSE (Standard Yard Sale Economy). People charging $5 for old LPs? No way. They are a one-dollar item. Six bucks for a paperback book? Wrong. Paperbacks are 50¢ at most. And clothing. If you’re pricing any single article of clothing at more than $5, it had better be a vintage red leather Michael Jackson jacket. And Michael Jackson had better be in it. Again, it’s a yard sale, people. The point of a yard sale is to have strangers come into your yard and give you money to take away your old crap. That in itself seems like a pretty good deal. Don’t get greedy. Attend some yard sales yourself, and you’ll get a feel for the current SYSE.

5. If you don’t want to part with it, don’t put it in your yard sale.

I went to a yard sale where every time I picked up a sport coat or a tie or a nice leather belt, the woman in charge told me how sad she was to see it go because it belonged to her late husband. Look, lady, I don’t want to be a part of your grief therapy program. I came here to find a decent Panama hat, not listen to someone recite an obituary. If you really don’t want to sell something, put it in a sealed plastic container and slide it under your bed where it will stay until your kids will have to deal with it after you’re gone.

Yard Sale Finds

This is about as much of a sales pitch as I want.

6. Don’t give me a sales pitch.

In fact, other than a greeting, please don’t talk to me at all. If I am looking for something specifically, I will seek you out and let you know. Just relax. You may not realize it, but it drives people up the wall when you make some remark about every item a customer lays his eyes on. “Oh, that computer keyboard still works.” Really? Because the moment someone says that about something before I even pick it up, I am convinced it is just the opposite. Yard sale goods are notorious for their lack of warranty. “I got a lot of good use out of that radio. Used to be in the basement by the pool table.” Really? Is it waterproof? Will it still work after I cram it down your throat? No one is interested in the story of any of your stuff. Knowing where something came from or who owned it just makes it seem more used. On that note…

7. Try to clean things up before you sell them.

It’s nice that you folded up these Oshkosh B’Gosh overalls, size 6X, but you really should have washed off the strained spinach puke first. And I don’t think anyone is going to buy stereo components that have a half inch of dust and a network of cobwebs covering them. And I’ll bet you guys really enjoyed that beef stroganoff that’s splattered all over this camp stove. Gross.

8. Corral your kids/dogs.

It’s a yard sale, not a petting zoo. I love dogs and kids, and I’d usually prefer to strike up a conversation with either of them than an adult. But if you think it’s cool to let your big dopey Golden Retriever run loose in the yard sale and jump up on people and thrusts his snout into everyone’s hoo-hoo, well, you should be hit in the head with a ball peen hammer.

photo by extremx via flickr

If Drinkin’ Don’t Kill Me, the Memory of This George Jones CD Will.

9. If a CD is unplayable, throw it away.
Look, the vast majority of CDs you find at a yard sale are by bands like Hoobastank, Sugar Ray, Creed and Nickleback. So they were unplayable when they came out of the factory. But many of us still browse the stacks, hoping to find the odd George Jones collection or maybe a second copy of Born To Run we can keep in the car. Don’t make everyone go through the process of opening the case, taking out the CD, seeing it covered with scratches, and then put it back while mumbling, “What an asshole.” This goes for everything else, too. If it’s broke, don’t sell it.

10. Make sure your yard sale is clearly marked.

This goes back to the subject of having good signs. Tie some balloons to the mailbox. Put a big poster on a sawhorse. Shoe polish the windows of a car. Anything. Because, I tell you, there’s not much in life that’s more embarrassing than browsing around all the crap at a yard sale, silently cursing the proprietors for not pricing anything, making fun of the poor style and quality of several items, and then being chased out into the street by some slob who just really needs to clean up his front yard.

   Check out all of Bob Wire’s posts in his blog archive.


Have an off-white Christmas with Bob Wire.Think of it as Gonzo meets Hee Haw: Missoula honky tonker Bob Wire holds forth on a unique life filled with music, parenthood, drinking, sports, working, marriage, drinking, and just navigating the twisted wreckage of American culture. Plus occasional grooming tips. Like the best humor, it’s not for everyone. Sometimes silly, sometimes surreal, sometimes savage, Bob Wire demands that you possess a good sense of humor and an open mind.

Bob Wire has written more than 500 humor columns for a regional website over the last five years, and his writing has appeared in the Missoulian, the Missoula Independent, Montana Magazine, and his own Bob Wire Has a Point Blog. He is a prolific songwriter, and has recorded three CDs of original material with his Montana band, the Magnificent Bastards. His previous band, the Fencemenders, was a popular fixture at area clubs. They were voted Best Local Band twice by the Missoula Independent readers poll. Bob was voted the Trail 103.3/Missoulian Entertainer of the Year in 2007.

You can hear his music on his website, or download it at iTunes, Amazon, and other online music providers. Follow @Bob_Wire on Twitter.


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