Funny about Money

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. ―Edmund Burke

Yard sale adventures

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It’s twenty after five and I’m done in…and I didn’t do much of the work.

VickyC is still trying to shovel out the mountains of clothing and other personal effects left after her mom passed last April. She’s already sold over $1,500 worth of clothing on consignment. But bags and bags of perfectly fine clothing—some of it very attractive—were rejected by the consigner. So, she decided to throw a yard sale. Another of her friends and I offered to help out and to bring some of our own yard-salable stuff to the big event.

And what a yard sale she’s got going! We convened at her central-city home right at 7:00 a.m. One of her house-mates put up the yard sale signs on his way to work, and shortly customers started to show up.

In addition to hundreds of clothing items and mountains of towels, sheets, and bedding, she offered several pieces of furniture, including a Thomasville coffee table and a handsome red upholstered love seat. I brought the security cameras M’hijito had installed to record activity in the backyard during the late great swimming pool vandalism adventures, plus some old stereo components and a few pieces of kitsch. A male friend contributed two electric guitars and an amplifier.

People will buy the darnedest things…and not buy the darnedest things. The clothing, as expected, sold well, even though there was so much of it we had no hope of hanging it up or even of spreading it out in any way to display it effectively. Buyers just pawed through stacks and bags of stuff, apparently undisturbed by the absence of merchandising flare. Someone paid $100 for one of the guitars, but no one would pay $75 for the love seat, which was clean and in nearly new condition. It took all day to unload the coffee table. Someone bought two of the stereo components, neither of which was the receiver. The cameras, hard disk, and electronic stuff to connect them to a TV set were stolen.

VickyC collected over $300 today and probably will sell more tomorrow, provided it’s not raining. Rain wasn’t predicted until Sunday, but gray clouds lowered overhead all day and it wouldn’t be surprising if we got rain by tomorrow.I collected $21 and change, and VickyC gave me a lamp that I coveted for M’hijito’s house as consolation for the theft of the electronic goods.

Staging this yard sale was an enormous amount of work, especially for the proprietor. We hangers-on didn’t do much, other than help drag a few tables around and spread out the loot, and then drag it all back into a secure area when VickyC was ready to close for the afternoon. Was it worth it?

Really: is a yard sale worth the amount of work it requires?

Only, IMHO, if you have a lot of stuff to get rid of and you can be pretty certain it’s the sort of stuff that will sell. Around here, that means clothing, children’s toys, tools, low-end cookware, and (sometimes) small household items. And by a lot, I mean a lot:a houseful of stuff left by a deceased relative, or everything you own when you decide to not to rent a truck or pay a moving company to decamp to another state.

Given the time and effort it takes to put together even a fairly small yard sale, I don’t think it’s worth the effort unless you can make at least $300. We held the sale open from 7 in the morning till around 2:00 p.m.—seven hours—and VickyC had put in many, many hours more than that. I’d estimate she put in at least 20 hours, bare minimum. That meant she earned about $15 an hour, not a bad wage.

In my case, however, if you count VickyC’s $15 asking price for the lamp as a fair trade for the $800 worth of security camera equipment that was ripped off (I hoped to get about $30 for the stuff, at yard-sale rates), then I came away with $36 for the seven hours of my time at the sale plus another hour spent gathering my junk, cleaning it up, tagging it, and hauling it downtown. That’s $4.50 an hour…a far cry from the $60 an hour my time commands on the freelance market.

So, no: in ordinary circumstances, I doubt if yard-saling is worth your time. Financially, I would have been better off to have spent today marketing The Copyeditor’s Desk or writing the proposed CE Desk book. Had I donated my junk to Goodwill, the deduction from my income taxes would have been worth more than my yard-sale proceeds. It was a choice people-watching opportunity, and I enjoyed spending the time with my friend. But beyond that, I don’t see it as a particularly efficient way to generate sidestream income.

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Author: funny

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3 Comments

  1. Is a yard sale worth it? Here is another consideration. I gave up on yard sales after being vandalized the night after my last one. Did I somehow offend someone? Perhaps the lady who said as she drove by my yard, “Don’t sell that; I’ll be right back with the money.” A customer holding cash showed up just minutes later. What would you do? Next morning, our vehicle parked in the drive was damaged. Was the vandalism related to the yard sale? Don’t know. But I decided not to expose myself to the public in that way again.

  2. One never knows. In my neighborhood, it’s not a good idea to leave a car parked outside–though people do, because they use their garages as storage sheds or own more rolling stock than they can park in the garage. Around here, sooner or later a car left on a driveway or on the street in front of your house will be stolen or vandalized.

    One neighbor jumped in his car, turned on the ignition, realized he’d forgotten to grab his coffee cup, left the engine running while ran back in the house, and darted outside to find someone had driven off in with the car in the time it took him to retrieve his coffee. Ah, middle America….

    One issue Kathy’s comment brings up is that yard sales tend to bring people into the neighborhood that you might wish were not casing the joint. In my last house, we had a neighbor who ran an off-the-books business of collecting junk and yard-saling it. He would throw an event about once every three months, and since he was good at publicizing them, the whole street would be parked up for hours. Most people were very nice, except for the lady who let her kid crap all over my front sidewalk — as I stood there watching! — and the characters who looked suspiciously like gang-bangers.

    I’m sure this is one reason some cities and HOAs ban yard sales.

  3. This post has been featured on the 89th Carnival of Money Stories at Retire at 40.

    Great article. Yes, the pros and cons of having a Yard Sale must be weighed up.