What I Learned from Our Yard Sale

We have too much stuff. Our basement is packed and so is our attic. All of us are “savers” but we each have our own preferences. My husband is into anything electronic: old tvs and radios, broken computers and printers, earphones, etc. He also saves every can of paint he’s ever used, as well as every piece of wood of any size or shape. I am into books, objects of sentimental value like maps, photos, dishes, Native American culture and clothing that I will wear again some day:-) My daughter is a craft person, photographer, nature lover and collector of West Coast memorabilia and archaeological artifacts. My son is a film cinematographer, book lover and world traveler. He collects artifacts from all the places he has visited; he also has boxes filled with baseball cards, Magic cards, and other obsessions he was into as a young boy.

All this saving and collecting has finally led to us feeling overwhelmed and frozen by the sheer magnitude of what we need to do to “undo” our bad habits. But this weekend we made a start. Although there were a hundred other things I would have rather been doing, I understood that for my daughter’s mental health (she lives with us currently), and all of us really, we needed to start the process of decluttering. She has begun to feel anxious about the prospect of dealing with all this stuff after our demise.

So, start we did. She and I spent a couple of afternoons in the basement, sorting out what we would attempt to get rid of. Then I had to clean up certain items to make them more saleable. Next my husband had to clean out the garage to make room for the yard sale items to be stored. Finally, on Friday, we moved everything that we wanted to sell into the garage so it could easily be moved outside the next morning.

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It took about an hour to get everything set up the next morning, including putting out two signs at either end of our street. (We intersect with a busy road.) We were all ready to go. We waited….and waited….and waited. For about 2 hours, no one showed up. Then we had a trickle, but no bites. At about 2:30 it was beginning to get too cold to sit around waiting for customers, so we began to slowly put things back into their boxes. We made $3 on our first day, leaving us $1 short of the $3.99 we spent on the yard sale sign. Not a good day!

Sunday arrived. Still hopeful, we again put everything out while I went around lowering the prices on many items in hopes of selling them more easily. A few customers did finally show up. One bought a baseball for 25 cents; another a soccer ball for 50 cents. We had almost broken even on our expenses. I basked in the pleasant sun while reading the Sunday NY Times.

Just when I was about to give up, toward 3pm several people started arriving. About an hour later, my daughter had made $20 on old toys and some vintage clothing. We were ecstatic! But we still had almost the same amount of stuff we had started out with.

We began to bundle things to bring to the local thrift shop. We packed the games and toys into boxes to donate to a business that recycles them for less fortunate children. We dragged most of the other stuff to the curb. Then something really interesting started to happen.

About 4pm the scavengers began to cruise past our trash pile, pulling out things they wanted. One lady left with four Ikea chairs and cushions much to our amazement. A truck stopped by and a woman hopped out and picked up some of our lighting fixtures and threw them in the back of the truck. (Maybe collecting metal to sell?) A neighbor walked by and asked us to save the antique chalk board for her. Another neighbor showed up and told us he would take the two rusty bikes we had put out to the curb so he could refurbish them and give them to poor children. Almost everything vanished by 6 pm!

I had thought that the reason we hadn’t sold anything is that our neighborhood is middle class and everyone has enough “stuff” of their own and certainly didn’t need our stuff. That was the big lesson of the day. Then it became clear that some people cruise Sunday night trash collections to see what they can find for free. No one wants to put for stuff they already have in their own basements and attics. But there are people out there who know a bargain when they see one for free. In the end, although we made hardly any money, we were delighted that mostly everything in the trash had disappeared, and everything else was destined to be recycled.

Baby steps. Most important was that we had finally begun what will be a long process. Now if we can only keep up the momentum! Our winter plan is to go through boxes of personal papers, books, etc. There’s already more space in our basement. If I look real hard, I can almost see the light at the end of the tunnel.

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22 thoughts on “What I Learned from Our Yard Sale”

  1. A story that has a happy ending, Barbara. I am trying to declutter because too much is just overwhelming. There never seems to be enough time to do everything I want to do but as you said baby steps works. I am intrigued by the pickers who come by late. My sister actually found by accident two vintage bed frames ready for garbage. They were in decent condition and when refinished were lovely. It is amazing what people do throw out.

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  2. You are going feel amazing when everything is gone and you start collecting once again. I keep walking around my almost totally collection free apartment. Ahhhh… keep going…

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  3. I had an estate sale when I moved four years ago and am very glad I did. Your story of the scavengers is right per where my daughter lives, with an alley. They only need to put something out & it’s gone the next day. Overall, glad you ended with a good experience, and less ‘stuff’!

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  4. Less stuff has been my mantra of late. We are gearing up for a Spring yard sale before our house goes on the market – and for the scavengers. One way or another, as you are discovering, the stuff has to go!

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  5. Oh yes, we do have too much stuff! Yard sale shoppers must be different in your area than ours. If we were to have a sale, we’d have people sniffing around at 7 a.m. They barely let you get the stuff out. I have given up on having a sale, I’d rather just give it to a thrift store and let them deal with it. Hang on to those signs, sounds like you might have another sale ready this spring. 🙂

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    1. Yes, because by then we’ll have forgotten what an ordeal it is! In our previous house we lived on a busy road, so we did have the experience of overly aggressive “shoppers.” But this was deadsville!

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  6. Looking at all of the things we have accumulated over 36 years of marriage I understand completely the need to downsize. Hopefully your post will give me the incentive to do the same thing.

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  7. And that is why I don’t do yard sales…too much work for little to no return on the time investment. As friend of mine has a few a year, each making her several hundred dollars. I’d rather give to Purple Heart or another charity.
    The other week I had Frank put an old telephone table to the curb, knowing that within the hour it would be gone. I was right…

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