Yard Sales

Updated February 21, 2017 | Factmonster Staff

The Yard Sale
Your patriotic duty
by Gerry Brown

Summer has us all in her sweaty palms. The cliched images of "Summertime in America" surround us: Going to the beach, barbecues, ice cream cones, picnics, slurping big semi-circles of watermelon, the fireworks on the Fourth of July.

But there is another American warm-weather institution that often gets little more than a passing glance. The yard sale. There is nothing more American than the yard sale. That's right. Think about it for a minute. America is all about starting over. Millions of people have come to this country for hundreds of years looking for a fresh start.

The yard sale gives everyone involved a new beginning of sorts. The yard-seller gets rid of possessions that have either outlived their usefulness or were never useful to begin with and earns a little pocket money to boot. The buyer gets a great deal on sometimes hard-to-find items. There are two great benefits to be had with the yard sale bargain, or any true bargain for that matter. The first is obvious. Buyers are getting something for less money (sometimes much less) than it's worth. So therein lies the obvious financial attractiveness of the types of bargains usually found at yard sales. The second benefit is somewhat more subtle than, but often superior to, the first. It is the euphoric feeling of knowing that you are getting such a great bargain on something that you might have really been willing to pay more for.

Take for instance a typical yard sale item. A hideously ugly set of Christmas mugs. The seller who got the mugs as a gift two years before is finally ready to pull the plug on the possession. They never came close to actually being used, and the guilt that prevented them from simply trashing them or "regifting" them has subsided enough to find them a place on the yard sale table. So the ugly mugs, which sold for, say, $12 at Wal-Mart, are now up for grabs at the yard sale for $5. Someone who doesn't hate the mugs?and maybe even loves them?sees them and decides to buy them.

"Just because you might be selling your first baseball mitt, doesn't mean anyone's going to give you more than a few bucks for it..."

But since it's a yard sale and, by the strict yard sale code, all prices are negotiable, the prospective buyer makes an offer of $4. Considering it's well past noon and this is the first person to show interest in the item, the seller accepts. The seller is happy with the thought that he is ridding himself of the stupid mugs that were only collecting dust in the cellar or attic. Also, he was smart enough to anticipate the haggle and never really hoped to get more than four dollars anyway, so the benefit is two-fold. The ugly mugs are carried off and now the seller can use the $4 to rent Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon as he'd been meaning to do for weeks.

The buyer of the mugs is happy because she got a like-new set of Christmas mugs?that she guessed retail for over $10?for a well-earned bargain price of just $4. She feel like she got a great deal too. Everyone wins.

The yard sale is just a collection of dozens of transactions just like this one but sometimes it is even more. It can be a catharsis. It is an opportunity for closure on past folly. Remember that exercise machine you bought 10 years ago, the one that mocks you more each day as it sits unused except as a place to hang laundry or organize shoes. Sell it at the yard sale. You'll get rid of that constant reminder and maybe pocket twenty or thirty bucks, enough for a beer and some baby back ribs at Chili's or a ticket to the ballgame.

Still doubting the power of the yard sale transaction? Just look at the success of Ebay. All Ebay is, is a giant internet-based yard sale. But while Ebay gives you a much wider selection you don't have as much chance to get the great steals that can be had at your local yard sales.

That's not all that is great about the Great American Yard Sale. Who among us has not at one time or another dreamt of being his or her own boss? Who wouldn't like to be the captain of the ship, set her own hours, decide how things are run? Having a yard sale is like operating your own small business even if it's just for one day. Now what is more American than going into business for yourself? There's no one to answer to. You can start when you want and quit when you want.

Having your own yard sale does involve a little work however. It takes some time to figure out what you're going to sell, advertise around the community, and to set up. Then you have to haggle back and forth with people off the street, some of who can be simply rude or clueless. But don't take anything personally. Just because you might be selling your first baseball mitt, doesn't mean anyone's going to give you more than a few bucks for it.

So this summer, go down into the cellar or up into the attic and gather up all that stuff that you know you really don't need and get yourself a fresh start. Be an American, have a yard sale.
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