An Observation: Selling Yards

Each season brings its own set of expectations.

In the fall, at least every other house on your street is required to proudly display the flag of their favorite college football team.

In the early days of winter, you expect to have at least one neighbor that will go completely overboard with Christmas decorations a full two months before December 25.

Yeah, what they said.
Yeah, what they said.

In the springtime, everyone puts their yards on sale. Sometimes, they even sell their garages…or rummage. (Wait a sec…perhaps I’m misinterpreting the nature of the sales.)

From the "Poor Choice of Words" Department...
They’re selling WHAT?!? (From the “Poor Choice of Words” Department…)

Okay, so no one is actually selling their yard…they just put all of their old stuff on display in their yard and hope someone will come take it off their hands.

And we all know that you can mark and label prices all you want, but someone–usually a retiree who wakes up at five a.m. on a Saturday for the express purpose of practicing their haggling skills–will talk you into selling that glass goldfish figurine you bought in 1987 at a 90 percent discount off your asking price of seventy-five cents.

Due to an interesting set of circumstances, I spent roughly one-fourth of my thirtieth year of existence living at my mother’s house. (Relax. I had a “real” job, but I needed a place to live temporarily. No “living-in-my-mother’s-basement” cliches here. She’s never even had a basement anyway.)

As the springtime came, I was preparing to move out of town into my own place again, so we decided to have a yard sale. We dug through closets and piled up old clothes and knick-knacks and advertised an early Saturday morning clearance blowout.

Mom had a few old plastic tarps that we used to set out our merchandise. Whatever we didn’t sell, we would simply fold up into the tarps, drag them off the front lawn, and store them in the garage for another attempt on another day. She didn’t think she had enough tarps, so–unbeknownst to me–she went out and bought a box of large plastic drop cloths…just in case. We used some of our yard sale items to weigh down the corners of the tarps because the wind was blowing just enough to cause problems.

One of our makeshift paperweights was the box of drop cloths.

(Pay attention. That little detail is important to the story later.)

We lived a little bit off the beaten path, but it was a nice, quiet subdivision nonetheless, so we didn’t think attracting potential buyers would be too difficult. Besides, yard sale people in rural Arkansas can sniff out a bargaining opportunity from at least fifty miles away.

As the morning started, traffic was slow, to say the least. A household much closer to the main highway had also chosen that particular morning to sell their wares, diverting some of our expected customers. Still, we did see a few people, but no one was particularly interested in my old paperback of Rudyard Kipling’s “Captains Courageous” or the answering machine I used in college.

Hey, collector's item there. Those folks missed out.
Collector’s item here. Those folks missed out. (Photo courtesy of www.wisegeek.com)

During the incredible lull that was our morning, Mom went into the house to take care of something, leaving me to handle all potential negotiations. I was beginning to think we should give up and just start giving our stuff away door-to-door when an older gentleman pulled up to the house and stopped his car. He wore a plaid shirt and blue jeans that were being held up by bright red suspenders–the most interesting (translation: only) suspenders I had seen all day. I figured he was worth some colorful conversation even if he didn’t buy anything.

I figured wrong.

He barely said a word. He poked around our collection of desk lamps and baskets and VHS tapes and looked as though he was ready to head back to the car when he saw something that caught his attention.

“Ma’am?” he asked me.

“Yes, sir!” I said, eager to finally have something off my hands.

“How much you want for that box of plastic right there? Don’t see no tag.”

I saw the box of plastic drop cloths sitting on the edge of one of the tarps.

I don’t remember putting these out here, I thought.

“Oh, those. I…didn’t get to ask Mom about that one. Umm…”

“I’ll give fifty cents for ’em.”

I made a very quick executive decision in the name of starting some kind of selling momentum.

“Sold!” I said, smiling as he dropped the two quarters into my hand.

In retrospect, I think I heard him chuckle as he went to his car.

Meanwhile, Mom was making her way back out to the yard.

“Mom! I sold something!” I told her.

“Oh, good! What’d you get rid of?”

“That box of plastic drop cloths.”


“I bought those last night. In case we needed more.”

I looked at the sad little pair of quarters in my hand, then held them up in front of my face and looked at Mom.

We both burst into hysterics.

“You mean to tell me that the only thing we’ve sold all morning was something that wasn’t for sale?!?  I paid at least three times that much for those things!” she said, laughing.

(Oh, yeah. I’m a genius.)

The afternoon improved somewhat; in true “Field Of Dreams” fashion, if you build it, they will come. More people made their way down our road, and although word had not gotten out about our extreme discount on brand new plastic drop cloths, other patrons bought a few more of our items to make the sale worthwhile. One lady left with my old Furby, a move I compare to the old man taking Gizmo the Mogwai away from the Peltzers at the end of the movie “Gremlins.”

Don't feed him after midnight? It's ALWAYS after midnight!
That dude came with more instructions than he was worth. (Don’t feed him after midnight? It’s ALWAYS after midnight!)

I haven’t hosted a yard sale since then. I probably would accidentally sell the yard…

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