duck-shaped pain


Where I Look At Other People's Crappy Stuff

I've been sort of nervous today. Tomorrow, I'm going to be interviewed for a story that will appear in the local paper, and I've been trying to figure out what I'm going to say. So I've been stressing about getting the house and car clean, instead.

The article is going to be about yard sales. I go to a lot of them. It's actually my main activity on Fridays and Saturdays, unless I have to go do something dumb, like go to work. I've been going to them since I was a little kid. My mom, my aunt, my grandmother and any other various relatives that happened to be around (except my dad, who hated the whole idea) all piled into one or more cars every weekend and set out on a quest to buy other people's crap. We aren't great cooks, most of us, so instead of having family recipes to hand down to each generation, our family's whole body of knowlege consists of how to buy lots of things for next to nothing.

My maternal grandfather is the king of wheeling and dealing. He has so many legendary trades under his belt (all of which have a story, the most infamous being the Whole Side of Beef for Turquoise VW Bus With Flames Painted On It trade) that some people borrow him whenever they need to buy something. I've had him go out and negotiate prices on every car I've bought, because he can always get it a lot cheaper.

Going to yard sales is a lot more fun than going to the mall. It's more of a challenge. Finding something good at a yard sale has a lot more luck involved in it than finding something good at Target, and you'll always end up with a better story. It's sort of a great equalizer. There's rarely anything you can't afford at a yard sale (unless it's a car or something or the people holding it are insane or very, very in love with their stuff) - the big factor separating the haves from the have-nots at yard sales is timing.

You'll never find something that you're looking hard for at a yard sale. If you want, say, an electric can opener, there will be none. Even though, when you weren't looking for one, they were everywhere. You won't find what you're looking for until you put it out of your mind and get on with your life. Every day is like a blank slate -- you start over new with every yard sale. Luck at one doesn't guarantee luck at any others. It's sort of like Zen shopping.

Shopping at yard sales changes your whole attitude towards stuff, too. Since you don't spend as much money as you would buying things new, you don't always have as much invested, financially and emotionally, in what you buy. You're less hung up on, "this is my stuff. These things are a reflection of how successful I am and show my station in the world." Yard sale shoppers, however, know that everything is impermanent and stuff comes and goes.

My family was pretty well off when I was growing up, so it wasn't until I was older that I realized a lot of people think of yard saling as a poor and lower-class activity. When people ask where I got my stuff, they get kind of weird when I tell them where it came from. Oh well -- they don't know what they're missing. Things in stores are so overpriced, anyway. And, this way, all my wonderful mismatched furniture and dishes and items all have a story behind them. The Planning. The Sighting. Fighting Other People Off. The Bargaining. The Victory.

Yard Sale Rules and Superstitions

1. If you don't find something at the first yard sale you go to, your day is probably shot. This only applies if you got to said sale right when it opened, because yard sales don't get any better than that.

2. You can usually tell how you yard sale excursion is going to go within the first couple of sales. If you're only at your second one, and you're already thinking, "Damnit, I got up early for this?" you should probably just go home. It isn't going to get any better.

3. The larger and more elaborate the sign, the worse the yard sale. If the sign has glitter on it or balloons attched, just stay away entirely. Good yard sales don't need to have people lured to them. However, the reverse is not true. A crappy sign isn't a good indicator of anything.

4. If the yard sale sign says "Nothing Stolen" on it, stay away. It's all stolen, probably from me.

5. The worst yard sales are subdivision yard sales, where all the houses in a given development decide to all have sales on the same day. There's usually only one or two houses that have a decent assortment of stuff. These are the people who were going to have one anyway, and someone got the bright idea to make it some sort of neighborhood event. So everyone has a sale, not matter if they had anything to sell or not.

6. Methodists have the best church yard sales. I have no idea why this is. First runner-up: Mormons.

7. People who don't price their things are EVIL.

8. People who tell you how much they originally paid for everything they're selling are also EVIL. Like what you paid for this back in 1975 has any bearing on how much I want to pay for it now.

9. People who have yard sales in their back yards are potentially EVIL. The problem being that, if it's in someone's yard, you can't scout it out from your car and decide whether you want to go or not.

10. People who have yard sales but are actually selling items from their home businesses are also EVIL. Please keep your Watkins products and pantyhose crafts away from me.

11. People who go to yard sales a lot hold the best yard sales. They know what reasonable prices are and they have a lot of crap to get rid of.

12. If you have a especially bad yard sale, people will remember your house for years to come. Same if you have an especially good one.

13. Be careful when you're looking for a yard sale. Some people's yards just look like yard sales, and pointing this out to them can be a delicate situation indeed.

14. Estate sales can be the best yard sales of all, but not when they're run by the family. Prices tend to indicate the level of affection someone has for that object. This is similar to rule 8.

15. It's a yard sale, not an antique store. Don't expect anyone to pay for your precious old item (by the way, "old" does not equal "valuable") what they might pay for it in an antique store. The expectations are different at yard sales.

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