Most weekends, my husband and I go to yard sales or estate sales. We don’t actively search for them, although I do know people who make detailed plans to hit yard sales: laminated maps, printed lists, and a very carefully planned route. There are just so many that we can’t help but pass at least a couple on our way to or from Saturday morning coffee.  These are events I have come to enjoy since moving to the US because I have never seen them in the UK. In Britain, we have car boot sales where people pay to use a parking space and then fill the boot (trunk) of their car with things they want to sell, but I’ve never come across either yard sales or estate sales there.

The sales advertise themselves via handwritten signs attached to lamp-posts. Sign writers, take note. Good signs have the date. “Today” is not much use if the sign has been there, flapping in the wind, for the past month. If I don’t usually go down that road, I don’t know if today is really today or was three months ago.  Good signs have large bold lettering. I can’t read a 16-point font sign driving along the road. If your sale is down the road on the left, don’t post the sign immediately at the turning. Give us a warning and time to change lane! If you draw an arrow on your sign, make sure the average person can figure out where it is pointing. I’m pretty sure you aren’t directing me to a sale in a treehouse, but I’m not always sure. Also, don’t write an essay on your sign. When and where are all I need to know. I’ll figure out if it’s worth stopping as I drive by. If I’m struggling to find the info in a mass of text, I’ll give up. Finally, please don’t say ‘Huge sale’ or ‘Biggest sale ever’. Those always seem to be the tiniest, with the junkiest stuff for sale.

Bad sign: yard-sale-sign-fail

The average yard sale has  tables of books, some old furniture, clothing and shoes, and a bunch of odd knickknacks (some odder than others).  Despite all those stories about people finding priceless paintings or rare Ming vases at yard sales, I’ve never found anything like that.

I like estate sales more, although I felt a little uncomfortable at the first few I attended. It felt odd browsing through someone’s life, all put up for sale after their death. However, I enjoy it now  – mainly because it allows you to see inside all kinds of houses. The most amazing house so far had a lovely wide staircase and huge windows, and backed onto a private lake. The most grungy was a very run down house with a terrible mildew problem and at least 20 lamps hanging from the ceiling in one room, plus creepy dolls. Most are predictable, but some have such an eclectic mix of art and literature that you really wonder what kind of person lived there. Some would have been very interesting people to meet.

A lot of the things in our home come from yard and estate sales. A handy chrome rack to stash unpaid bills, framed artwork, a like-new watch for just 25¢, book shelves, clothing, numerous books, and a hideous wooden monkey (that I did NOT want) – all yard sale deals.

Even better than yard sale purchases are FREE things! I’ve not seen people in England leave free, unwanted items in their front yard for others to take ( perhaps because the local councils can be pretty strict about how you get rid of things in England), but here you’ll sometimes pass a house with a pile of stuff and a sign saying ‘free.’ Our most recent free-in-the-street find was a drum. Well, two drums. My husband loves drums – playing them and fixing them up. When we picked them up they looked like this: drums before

And now, after some sanding, staining, and lacquering,  they look like this:drums now (I should confess that my only contribution to this transformation was opening and closing the back door so my husband could take them outside to spray with lacquer.)

So there you have it – one person’s trash can look very nice with a bit of effort!