Monday, April 27, 2015

Provisioning a Yard-Sale Expedition

This Saturday, Brian and I spent the morning indulging in one of our favorite spring/summer pastimes: yard sale shopping. We'd seen a flier advertising a town-wide sale in Princeton, which meant that we could expect the yard sales to be reasonably thick on the ground—which, according to Livingston's First Law, would maximize our chances of coming home with something useful. But even if we didn't, we'd still spend a pleasant morning walking around town in the nice spring weather, and we could stop at the Trader Joe's on the way back, so the trip wouldn't be wasted.

Since the yard-sale territory was about 40 minutes' drive from home, we made a point of packing a bag before we left with everything we were likely to need while we were out. And it occurred to me as we did so that, while I've written before about important things to do when preparing to host your own yard sale, I've never actually written about how to prepare when heading out for a day of yard-saling. So here, based on my 20-plus years of yard-sale experience, is my list of:

Essential Provisions and Preparations for a Yard-Sale Expedition
  1. Dress in layers. Particularly if you are planning to be out for several hours, the temperature can change a lot over the course of a day, so it's handy to be able to add or shed layers to adjust. If you are planning to do any shopping for clothes, then the ideal outfit for yard-saling is like the one I favor for thrift-shopping: layers of clothing that allow you to try on other clothes under or over them. On top, your undermost layer should be a snug-fitting tank top or camisole, so you can try other shirts on over it; on the bottom, a long, loose skirt worn over tights lets you slip another skirt or a pair of pants on under the skirt without exposing yourself. (For the fellas, trying on clothes is trickier. You can probably strip down to your undershirt without raising too many eyebrows, but there's really no way to try on pants without taking off the ones you're wearing. Probably the best you can do is to wear a pair of bike shorts underneath, so you can drop your trousers and still remain technically decent.)
  2. Wear comfortable shoes. You are going to be on your feet all day, so it's essential to choose a pair of shoes that fit well and don't cause fatigue. Sneakers, hiking boots, or well-broken-in loafers are good choices.
  3. Be prepared for changes in the weather. Bring along both a folding umbrella and a bottle of sunscreen, so you're ready for rain or shine. A wide-brimmed hat is also useful, though if it's a straw one, you may have to shed it if a rainstorm blows up.
  4. Bring sturdy bags to carry your haul. Avoid bags you have to carry in your hands, since (a) that gets tiring and (b) you'll have to keep setting them down to pick other things up. Instead, go for a backpack or a roomy bag with shoulder straps. This is where all those tote bags sent by charities and public radio stations come in handy. 
  5. Have plenty of cash. Most yard sales are cash-only, so if you run across a great $70 futon when you're carrying nothing but 85 cents and a credit card, you're probably out of luck. Some sellers might be willing to take a check for a large item, but flashing a wad of cash is more likely to close the sale at the price you want. Ideally, your wallet should contain a good mix of large and small bills, as well as some small change, since yard-sale sellers aren't always organized enough to make change for a $20 on a $2 item.
  6. Carry provisions. You may be walking for several miles, and you don't want to get dehydrated or suffer a blood-sugar crash. Stopping somewhere for a bite to eat isn't always an option, and even when it is, the cost of the meal could outweigh all the money you saved on your yard-sale bargains. So make sure you have a bottle of water with you and a portable, quick-energy snack, like a peanut-butter sandwich or a couple of granola bars.
  7. One thing you can't take with you is a bathroom. You may well need one during a multi-hour excursion, however, so make a point of checking a map ahead of time and scoping out the available public restrooms in the area. In our case, we were heading into familiar territory in Princeton, so we knew there would be one at the public library right in the middle of town—which turned out to be very useful information.
  8. While you've got your map out, check the parking situation. In most suburban areas, you can simply pull up on the street next to a likely-looking sale, but if you're in a more built-up area, you may have to put the car in a lot and hoof it. Paying for parking will also eat into your yard-sale profits, so if necessary, figure out where you can stash the car for free. (Years of living in Princeton had acquainted us with a handy side street where parking is free for two hours, and even that limit is rarely enforced.)
  9. If you're hitting a town-wide yard sale, as we did on Saturday, see if there's a map or an app available that shows where the sales are. This will help you full advantage of Livingston's First Law by focusing your attention on the areas with the highest concentration of sales. It'll also allow you to plan out an efficient route to hit as many sales as possible in a given area.
  10. Even if you can't find a map app, bring your smartphone if you have one. It can help you check important details that you might not know offhand, like "Is $10 really a good price for this or would it only cost $15 new?" and "Is this the same brand as the blender we used to have that broke down so spectacularly?" A smartphone would have come in handy for us on Saturday when we came across a make-your-own-book kit that included a free bound copy, which we thought would have made a nice present for a niece or a nephew. The only snag was that we weren't sure whether the company that made the kit was still in business, so the item might have turned out to be useless. If we'd had access to the Internet on the spot, we could have checked on it and made an informed choice. (If situations like this keep coming up, we may want to revisit the issue of getting a smartphone.)
  11. Lastly, if there's anything in particular you're hoping to find at the sales, make sure to write out a list of what you're looking for. You may think you'll remember, but in my experience, these things have a way of popping right out of your head just when you need to know them. And, if you're yard-saling with a partner, run through the list ahead of time and agree on what you're willing to pay for each item, so that you're on the same page when it comes time to negotiate.
So there you have it: Livingston's Second through Twelfth Laws of Yard Sales. May they serve you as well as they have me.
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