Sunday, May 2, 2010

Scenes From a Yard Sale

Now, I love bargains and yard sales as much as the next person, but if you're stupid, it's gonna cost ya.

As I may have mentioned, we're moving soon... this week, in fact. Since we've lived here for 12 years and my husband grew up here, we had a lot of stuff to get rid of. One thing about being in the storage biz is that you know what happens to all the "stuff" that people accumulate over their lives: it grows out of your house and into a storage unit that you pay for, for years and decades, until you finally die and your kids have to go through it and sell it. And, to boot, you never enjoyed it because you couldn't even see it while it was packed away in storage.

We are not hoarders or pack rats; my neighbors have told me that they look forward to our semi-annual dumpster days, when we have a garbage bin deposited by the curb while we purge the garage and house. I do keep sentimental mementos (kids' artwork and cards, photos, yearbooks, my old Duran Duran and U2 LPs, that sort of thing) but most of the "stuff" (antique furniture, dishes, knick-knacks) is meaningless to me. I'd rather sell it to someone who needs/wants/will buy it than keep it in my house. I've even started to classify some items as "aspirational purchases": those things I buy in the hopes that I'll take up a new hobby and become a master of it, like my soldering iron or scrapbooking supplies or breadmachine. They become reminders of failed attempts and I have no more need for them.

And thus, we had a garage sale. Everything on the driveway and in the garage was for sale. Piano, couches, filing cabinets, mugs, fabrics, clothing, old surfboard and wetsuit, Christmas junk, Hanukkah lights, children's Haggaddah for Passover, miscellaneous crap... it was all for sale. You could make us any offer and we would entertain it.

Unless you were a clumsy negotiator.

I've lived in Italy and that's where I learned to barter. As a shopper, you tend to know what something's worth to you and whether or not you'd buy it at the listed price - if so, you'd offer the seller about half the price and see what he/she would negotiate back. And then the seesaw began until a good price was agreed upon. I did this with some vintage Chinese pieces in Chinatown, too, and the old man who ran the warehouse smiled as he pretended to stick a knife in his heart. "Oh, you killing me! You killing me!" he howled. But I got my chests for a steal... and he even loaded them into my SUV for me.

Back to the yard sale. Knowing how the art of the deal happens, I was surprised by how some people have no game when it comes to bartering. I had a pair of gently used Calvin Klein slingback heels - I bought them new at their retail price of close to $100 and they are gorgeous - and I was offering them for $10. One woman wedged her meaty foot into them and offered me $5. I said $7 firm and she waddled away. Now, if she had expressed any interest in the shoes, I would have wheeled and dealed - and may have landed at $5 eventually. But she didn't really care about the shoes. So, like the Seinfeld "soup Nazi," I was like, "No shoes for you!"

Similarly, a man picked up a French textbook that we bought last May for about $80 - it's in rough condition but has its 2 CDs still intact. He had some sort of a scanner for books - it's clear that he buys and sells books, raping yard sale sellers in the process - and he showed me that the book was "only" worth $16 on Amazon. I had had it listed for $10, so I shrugged. "What do you want to pay for it?" I asked. "$1.50," he said, and to my amazement started to list all the costs involved for him if he buys the book - listing it, shipping it, blah blah. As if I don't know that the buyer on Amazon actually pays for shipping. Dipshit. I took the book out of his hand and put it in my house, then crossed my arms and waited for him to leave. (I later listed it on Amazon for $14 and the buyer will pay the shipping. Dipshit.)

One woman tried to tell me that my 9-year-old had told her something was "2 for a dollar." Are you kidding me? My kid has no idea that that even exists! I finally got her stuff totalled up -- $13.50 -- and she tried to hand me a hundred dollar bill. I said I wouldn't change it for her, so she asked me to hold her stuff on the porch. After an hour or two, my husband put it back out and we sold most of it. When she came back, she said, "But I promised I'd be back!" Like the $14 of crap would have made her life better. I said, "I don't even know you, why would your promise mean anything to me?"

"Because I'm human," she said, picking up an old Boggle game. Turning it up and down, she said, "Oh, I use these for therapy." (Huh?)

Good thing. Seems like she could use it.


  1. that lady was crazy... and mom, I know what 2 for a dollar means. But you will NEVER hear me saying it. back to the lady. I never said one word to her, only smiling when she talked to me (like I knew a word she was saying because of the accent). she even asked my mom if a dvd player was a computer. whats the comparison? I mean a dvd player (one thing) and a computer (another thing that looks comletely differetnt). CRAZY LADY

  2. I have a good friend who has yard sales all the time. If someone tries to offer below the price, she instantly doubles it. Oops you lost! I once was selling a really pretty unused black clutch bag for 2 dollars. UnUSED. 2 DOLLARS and some lady said I'll give you a dollar. Really? A dollar? A lot of insane troubled people go to yard sales though; it's not that surprising.

  3. I was there when that happened!! he was CRAZY!