Column: Lessons from a first-time yard sale

When my wife, Vera, first proposed having a yard sale, I gave her a one-word response.


The thought of dragging every item that no longer has value to us out of the house so total strangers can walk up and down our driveway confirming my suspicions that they have no value to anyone else either was just plain depressing.

The more we talked about it, though, the more I warmed up to the idea. And with both a mortgage payment and a day care bill due this week, the thought of a little extra spending cash coming in was enough to prompt me to decide last Thursday that Sunday would be declared Yard Sale Day. Then the alarm went off at 6 a.m. and I briefly thought to myself, “But does it have to be?”

Yet there I was three hours later, sitting in my driveway, a fierce sun pointed directly at my face and every item we own that hasn’t been touched in years neatly displayed along the length of our driveway.

“How much do you think we’ll make?” I asked Vera.

“I’m thinking $300,” she said, no doubt exactly what she figures we’d need to cover the next do-it-yourself home improvement I enjoy watching her do.

It was an ambitious goal, but one that seemed reasonable considering the handful of nicely kept baby items we’d dragged out: a swing, a jogging stroller and pair of jumpers — as well as a flat-screen TV we no longer had any use for. Vera also hung up a “put our junk in your trunk” sign that she was convinced would appeal to our target demographic of expectant millennial women.

As I sat in the chair that morning, I began to deduct a dollar from the target number with every car that passed. We were down to about $270 before our first visitor did a once over of everything we had for sale, turned around and said “good day.”


As the day dragged on, that estimate kept on dropping. By the time we made our first sale more than a half hour in — a window fan that hadn’t been used in at least five years that we sold for $1 — our target was down to $100. We then quickly fetched 45 cents for a paperback book after the woman negotiated me down from $1 and then realized she only had one quarter and four nickels. “Take it,” I said. “No problem.”

When my mother, who’d come over to play with the kids for the day, informed me she and my father had never fetched more than $60 from a yard sale, I told her, “Then if we can walk away with $61, I’ll be a happy man.

As it turns out, the sale netted us a grand total of $192.95 (one more woman talked me down to 50 cents for a book) and a sunburn for me.

Admittedly not much of a yard sale junkie, it was fun to spend a day with people who actually are.

One woman even asked us to hold a few items one day and then locked her keys in her van when she came back the following evening, so we spent a lot of time with her. She also probably got the best deal of the day: a baby jumper, walking toy and motorized swing and mobile for $20. (We’d marked those items down to a total of $40, told her we’d take $10 off for buying all three and when I couldn’t make change Monday, had to knock another $10 off the price. Clearly, this wasn’t her first yard sale.)

Among the toughest items to part with for this Mets fan was a DVD boxed set of the 1986 World Series, which sold for a whopping $5.

Our biggest sale during the event itself came in at $39.50, which included two kids’ chairs, a pair of children’s snow boots and some serving trays we hadn’t opened since receiving them as gifts at my wife’s bridal shower in 2012. A family friend bought the TV for $50 the following evening, so they had an extra set for their grandkids visiting from Ireland this week.

It’s nice to know some of our old belongings are being put to good use. One woman, who bought a DVD of Tom McCarthy’s “The Visitor,” one of my favorite flicks, said the movies she enjoys the most are the ones she’s never heard of before.

I suppose the same lesson of unexpected joy can also be used to describe the feeling of hosting a yard sale. You spend an afternoon with people you never met, selling off belongings you forgot you ever had. Then you enter the evening with that good feeling of a hard day’s work, a few extra bucks in your pocket and a little more space for the items in your life you care most about now.

Hopefully, that feeling will last through next week’s project: a reorganization of the garage and attic.

The author is the content director for Times Review Partners, a division of Times Review Media Group. He can be reached at [email protected].