Monday, October 03, 2011

Yard Sale Economics

Have you ever had a yard sale? I've been to many, but never actually ran one myself until just recently, when my sister and I helped my mother sell some stuff.
First of all, you get a lot of interesting people showing up, who I'd group roughly as follows:
--low income people buying household items and clothing
--frugal people looking for bargains
--hoarders who just can't walk away without taking "good stuff"
--dealers who want to re-sell items
--collectors who are looking for very specific items
--curious neighbors who always wondered what was in your house

Most of these people will want to haggle. They know that whoever's having the yardsale just wants to get rid of stuff. My sister and I didn't have time to tag everything with prices before all the early birds started showing up, so we found ourselves often just quoting totally random prices that were quite low. Sometimes I wondered if we should have started higher to give ourselves more room to negotiate, but on the other hand, I didn't want anyone to walk away from something they might otherwise have bought-- and I wanted them to buy lots of items!

I took charge of selling my father's old CDs, DVDs and books. Most of the CDs were swept up by a guy who showed up at about 7:30am, with a car already full of stuff from other yardsales. He asked if I'd take $75 for "all the CDs". We'd started off quoting $1 per CD, and I knew there must be a couple hundred CDs at least, so I said I wanted $100 considering he was getting that many, and he agreed. But then I realized I'd undersold myself when we started packing up box after box of CDs for him-- my dad was passionate about music, and he'd collected more like six hundred CDs, at least, and we hadn't even set them all out on the lawn yet! While the guy was looking at other stuff, I started telling our friends who were still bringing CDs out of the house to stop, which made me feel a little sleazy... In the end, the guy ran out of space in his car so he didn't really get "all" the CDs, but he knew he'd gotten a great deal-- I'm sure he's reselling them online somewhere for at least $5 a pop now! I was hoping some other collector or dealer would snap up the rest, but we still had a lot left over at the end of the day.

The hoarder types were funny -- several of them bought bags of random stuff that we never thought anyone would want. My sister had put out a plastic bin of weird junk that seemed so lacking in value that she just labeled it "free." A guy grabbed the whole bin and took it away, and gave us a dollar for it just to be nice!

There were times when it was hard to let things go. Ever since my dad's death, I've struggled with this-- I became a booklover from hours spent as a kid looking at all his bookshelves, and there were other odds and ends that had some sentimental value even though I knew I had no use for them and no place to put them. My sister and I both felt some anguish at moments when people seemed dismissive of the value of things that meant something to us... but there was also one guy who made me really happy. From appearances, at least, he would not have been someone who I would think would have anything in common with my dad, but he kept finding stuff he wanted. He'd buy a few things, then come back for more. You could tell he didn't really "need" any of these books and DVDs, or the old shortwave radio or the tools, but he obviously shared my father's sensibilities in some way, and he kept saying that we had some great stuff. I almost wanted to give it all to him for free, just knowing he appreciated it.

In the end, we cleared about $600, and made a lot of room in my mother's basement and garage. It's sad to think how much my parents paid for the stuff that was sold, as I'm sure it was more than ten times what we got for it, but it's more sad just to say goodbye to some of those things, and it will be harder still when I have a dealer come and buy most of the rest of my dad's books. I just have to keep remembering that it's not about the money, and not about the stuff-- it's about the memories, which will stay with me much longer.


beth said...

You're a good daughter!! It's so hard to do a project like that. You're right to separate your memories from the stuff, even though it's hard.

Laura @MotherWouldKnow said...

It's tough to see off stuff that has memories attached - but even more difficult to throw it away because no one else wants it and no one has room to store memories of someone who is no longer around. Cleaning out an elderly relative's apartment after she died had one major positive outcome for me - I immediately went home and started cleaning out my own house! Still have too much stuff, but not nearly as much as I did before.

Laura @MotherWouldKnow said...

I meant "It's tough to sell off stuff..."

Anonymous said...

Sounds like you had a lot more "stuff" than I did at my recent
"Lawn Sale"!!!

T'Pol said...

It sure is difficult to part with the stuff that belonged to a parent who had passed. I understand the memory angle from my own experience. My dad loved history and he had a great collection of history magazines and WWII related books along with many others. I kept a series on WWII and kept some of the history magazines. They take only a couple of shelves in my library and every once in a while I pick up one, see my dad's name on the first page of a book in his handwriting and smile. I had been blessed with wonderful parents and unfortunately lost my Dad when I was just 27. It has been 17 years since he passed away. The pain never goes away but good memories keep me going.

So, Madame X pick a couple of his favorite things that you can keep and the best of all, keep the good memories in your heart.

Anonymous said...

Amen to T'Pol's comment. I lost my dad over 20 years ago and sometimes still have the urge to talk to him about current events or something happening in my life. Our loved ones indeed stay alive in our hearts. I enjoy your blog and hope you will post more often.

Best wishes from Best Bun.

Anonymous said...

Garage saling is also interesting from the buyer's side. People, especially those that don't ever attend garage sales, price their stuff emotionally. So sentimental things are priced higher and often expensive utilitarian items are dirt-cheap.

You might see a blouse priced at $8, and the owner will talk about what a great deal it is because SHE paid.... but what she doesn't realize is that it matters not what she paid for it. It's a used shirt at a garage sale - it's worth a buck if it's in good shape.

I think the lesson learned is that if an item is really sentimental, you should keep it. Noone else will appreciate it like you do. And if you won't use it, like the huge collection of CDs, be glad someone will pay to take it all off your hands. Don't worry that they got 'too good a deal' - at least those items are being used now.

It was tough even to donate my Mom's things after she passed away. But I think of someone making use of the closets-full of things and know that it's better than our family just storing them.

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Maggie@SquarePennies said...

This is so sweet. Sometimes we treasure photos more than other things, but there's nothing like handling something a loved one used a lot. We keep some of their tools. They are useful and they have that hand worn presence. We try to parcel out items to the family if they will take them, but as you say not many are wanted.