23 Sep Our Final Yard Sale

Last Saturday, Jill and I held our final yard sale. I say “final” because I don’t want to do it anymore. Actually, the selling is fun. What I don’t want to do is store the stuff we sell. For years we accumulated — in our basement — things of interest, but not necessarily things we could use. We’d buy them cheap at auctions, flea markets, and yard sales and tell ourselves that we could always sell them at our own yard sale if these things weren’t quite right for our house. Buying stuff speculatively and storing stuff long term has been easy because we have a huge, and dry, basement (1400 square feet).

Recently a friend, on walking through our basement, said, “I think you guys are on the hoarder’s spectrum.” He was joking but also kind of right. Since returning from my From Our House to Animal House book tour in August, after living in my camper van for four months, I’ve felt a pressing need to slim down in every way: get rid of the extra 20 pounds around my waist (I gained 10 of them this summer), get out of debt, and get rid of all the junk in our house. Mind you, because we live in such a cabinet of curiosities, this house will never look spare. But there is a lot we could unload. I’ve got a room full of stuff I’ve been meaning (for years) to put on eBay, for instance.

Here’s the thing about re-selling that most people seem to forget: you can make good money at a well-managed yard sale, but you can never make back the money you’ve invested in all the things you are trying to unload, even the stuff you got cheaply. Why? Nobody coming to a yard sale expects to pay anywhere near retail for your stuff, no matter how lovely and unique your stuff may be. In an antiques store, sure, you can put any price you like. But out there on the street, you’ve got to be realistic. So, yes, Jill and I made good money at our yard sale, but it took us two weeks to prepare for it (pricing items in advance is a big help and will sell many more items) and some really nice things we nearly gave away.

By the way: never try to flat-out give away stuff at a yard sale. Almost nobody wants a give-away because a give-away, from the start, has no value. And it defeats the fun of a yard sale, which is the bargaining and final triumph of walking away with a Deal. We donate whatever doesn’t sell. The truly junky stuff we put in the alley and it’s almost always gone by the morning. (Baltimore alleys –and their scavenger culture — are an interesting world unto themselves.)

Jill feels some sadness at leaving the yard-sale business. She loves to wheel and deal. I’ve noticed that she also loves to catalog and price the items. It appears to be very gratifying work for her, probably because it sets the world in a certain order. Just yesterday we tested our resolve by going to a flea market. Remarkably, we came away with only a few small items. In our old mode, we might have loaded up the van.

“Never say never,” Jill has cautioned me. I know we will one day be sorely tested by a to-die-for bargain that we’ll know we could sell at a tidy profit at a yard sale. The question I will pose to Jill at that moment might go something like this: Do we really want to lug this home, store it, and then gather more stuff to make a yard sale worth the trouble, all the while burning up hours of our time hauling and storing and then repairing and pricing all that junk when instead we could hop in the camper van and head for the beach? I ask you, my dear, which seems the better use of our precious time?