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Summer Classics: Trash vs. Treasure - Sudden Write Turn Freelance Writing

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Summer Classics: Trash vs. Treasure

The first year, we invested in good signage.
The first year, we invested in good signage.

Another street sale is in the books. Yard sales, garage sales and street sales are a true summer classic. We have all set up first apartments with garage sale finds, or found some treasure we’re sure will be a hit on the Antiques Road Show. This year, we learned from a customer, whose mother was visiting from Lithuania, that this kind of thing is peculiar to America. Her mother was fascinated by all these people selling all this stuff right in their front yards.

It was our third time organizing the biennial event – not every year because we need a year of rest in between to forget how much work it is. Just like the other two times, at the end of the sale I swore I would never do it again. Let’s see how long it takes for us to accumulate enough junk until our attic is again impassible.

Where does this ‘stuff’ come from? It’s the detritus of life. Furniture pieces and housewares replaced by newer or better versions. Toys and books we kept on-hand for, and now outgrown by, nieces and nephews. Old window blinds that no longer match new wall colors. Tchotchkes that were cute in their native gift shops. Odd lamps. Excess.

We got rid of nearly all of it, out of sheer will. Here’s how:

First, it has to be a Street Sale. Determine the minimum number of households to fund the newspaper ads. We’ve averaged about a dozen each outing. Together, it is a critical mass of treasures sought by the perfect storm of treasure hunters. As I tell our neighbors – it’s better together. On our no-outlet street (a/k/a “dead end”), it is traffic mayhem. And I do mean traffic.

Advertising is a must. Yes, print ads still work! Perhaps because most newspapers now also have an online presence, as our local daily does, along with a handy interactive sale finder map. The ad is simple: Town, Street and nearest cross street, date, time, “follow signs,” and this gem: Something for everyone.

With so many households, the advertising is fairly true. Also, there is the slightly unnerving power of Craigslist to summon all manner of bargain hunters from their nearby crevices.

Big yellow signs. At nearby major intersections. “STREET SALE” + an arrow is easy for drivers to see.

“Out of my house and into yours.” Have we made decent money on our sales? Yes. Is that the object of our sales? No. We price low to move merchandise, and if someone picks up an item and looks like they might put it down, I tell them we’ll take half of whatever it’s marked. Everything is negotiable. Basically, we do not want to carry anything back inside the house.

Offer something for free. (Just like the free e-books you can download when you subscribe to websites.) I call this seeding the lawn. I spread out a red blanket and toss 10 or 25 cent items onto it throughout the day. When potential customers approach, I say that items on the red blanket are free. People always stop to look, and kids love it. And I get rid of more junk faster.

Furniture and unusual items draw people in. If a friend or family member hears about your upcoming sale and mentions some chair or table they want to get rid of, take it. It’s a draw. A friend of mine was trying to get rid of an antique washing machine. We put it in our street sale and it was a big attraction all day. And, someone bought it!

Know when to fold ‘em. Do you really want to sit in your front lawn for 2 more hours to try to sell old Christmas lights and coffee mugs? No, it’s not worth the $1.50 you might get, if they sell at all. Box it up and put it to the curb. Go sit on the porch with a cold drink, count your day’s earnings, and watch pickers come by and clean off your curb. Done.

One more rule we are determined to master:

Before we acquire anything else, ask ourselves, “Will this be in our future street sale?”

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  1. My town organizes a street sale. Its a day of mayhem. People travel from great distances only to gaze, graze, and prarouse our crap. Its lovely, and horrible at all the same time.

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