Somehow, my daughter has become obsessed with collecting certain toys and stuffed animals. Her list includes My Little Pony, Strawberry Shortcake, Littlest Pet Shop, Monster High, Shopkins, and more. At first, she was sure the best place to find these things was flea markets (thank you internet) and there was about one near us. So we started yard sale-ing, driving as much as an hour away from home to find the things on her list. Okay, and on mine as well. My boys have zero interest in this. Which is a shame because we’ve found a few things for them along the way (Zelda stuff and manga) but they refuse to believe this is a fun and valuable use of their time.

We tend to yard sale as much as we can in a week, so that means if a sale starts on Thursday (or Wednesday!), I jam in an hour or two of yard sale-ing between work meetings. I mean, ya gotta get there the first day or all the cool stuff’s gone! (Thank God work is flexible for me! Although this will obviously stop when school starts again, we’ll be relegated to weekends only.)

We’ve encountered a lot of situations while yard sale-ing. Here’s just a few things we’ve bumped into:

The High-End Yard Sale
These typically happen in big old houses in expensive neighborhoods. People who live in these neighborhoods think their stuff is *gold* and prices reflect this. I had a woman trying to sell about 10 Smurf glasses for $50 and she refused to separate the glasses and sell them separately. Separately they go for anywhere from $6 to $15 apiece. Not only would she have made more money selling them separately, she would have actually sold them. I collected them and needed only two of the glasses but she wouldn’t do it. It’s a set, she said firmly. Well, you can (and probably did, because nobody spends $50 on one thing at a yard sale) keep your danged glasses. We’ve seen platters priced for $15 at these types of houses, and the same platter for three bucks at another yard sale. Beanie babies for $8 at an expensive yard sale and as little as a buck a piece at a regular yard sale. We don’t buy much at these yard sales, they often don’t want to negotiate, and it’s a bummer when we find one. You really have to know your prices when you find these yard sales, so you know you can find the same item for less elsewhere.

The Sad Yard Sale
These yard sales are in low-end parts of a town and their items are typically not in great shape and missing pieces although prices are great. THESE yard sales have whole tables where items are a quarter or 50 cents. While not our ideal yard sale because of the condition of the items, we can sometimes find good stuff. I found an automatic cleaner brush (a round brush that twirls, meant to clean the bathroom) at one of these yard sales, still in the box with all of its parts. I had been looking at them for a while and knew they retailed for $30 minimum. It was just hanging out under a table by itself. I asked the woman how much she wanted for it and she said five dollars. I said, are you sure? And she said yes. I felt bad giving her so little money, especially when I noticed how much her porch sagged and that she was holding a baby too. But at least I bought something and I hope it helped her. My daughter has found dolls she collects at yard sales like this, often missing shoes or other accessories, often naked. But she has become a pro at cleaning toys and dolls, doing loads of research on hacks and finding accessories.

The Sketchy Yard Sale
These are yard sales in bad parts of a city, with scary people, and high prices. We actually just ran into one of these yesterday. It was an hour’s drive from home. The yard sale was advertised as having “hundreds of items,” there were pictures of tables full of items, and the list included Vera Bradley bags and toys, two of our keywords, as well as antiques and furniture. We drove an hour north to a location we’d never been to.
We got there and it was a small city, down a side road where a blanket had been laid out across the sidewalk and into the street covered in items. I drew a breath in and thought about not getting out of the car, but I did see toys and Vera Bradley bags and it was 3 pm, late for a yard sale, so I thought maybe they’d just sold a lot because it certainly was not hundreds of items. My personal “yellow alert” was going off, but I got out of the car with my 13-year-old anyway. She went immediately to the toys and I stopped to look at the VB bags.
An older man in his sixties came out of the row home behind us in mismatched shorts and shirt, his shirt unbuttoned almost to his navel, wearing flip-flops. “Hey there!” he cried and I winced. This was not good.
“That bag there, there’s a bunch of them, but that one? That one’s for $40,” he said, “that’s Vera Bradley.” I nodded my understanding. “Yep, I know,” I said.
“It was my mom’s. She made it to 100 before she died,” he continued.
I dropped the bag back into the box. Forty dollars was not a yard sale price. I had $13 on me. I looked around. There wasn’t much there and my daughter was digging through a garbage bag of what looked like odds and ends and McDonald’s toys.
I walked over and stood closely beside her as she blissfully rooted in the bags. I willed her to look faster and for the man to go away so I could tell her so.
He said, “You see that horse right there?” I nodded at the horse head on a stick he was pointing to. “I rode that around for awhile, in the street, trying to get people’s attention for my sale.” He hooted and waved one hand over his head like a cowboy to demonstrate what he had done, laughing nearly hysterically.
My daughter held up a My Little Pony for me to see and I nodded.
The guy leaned forward to see what she had, saying “You like that? That’s a pony, huh?” I caught a whiff of alcohol. Ugh, red alert! I thought, we’ve got to get out of here. I took the pony from her and she kept looking.
“You can just dump that out right there, it’s okay to make a mess,” he said, still way too close to me for my comfort level. My kid tried to grab the bottom of the bag to tip it but it was so heavy, it simply stretched and ripped. Twice. She continued to fumble with the bag and I inched away from the guy. C’mon, let’s go, I thought at my kid. I don’t know why I didn’t just say that out loud, but I didn’t.
She handed me a plastic cup with a face on it without looking at me and seconds later, handed me another in a different color. She was laser-focused on what she was doing.
The guy had made his way over to the box with the VB bags in it and was pulling them out to show me, yelling, “This one comes with a wallet! It matches! Too bright for you, ain’t it?” he said when I didn’t respond. “What about this one? Twenty-five dollars for this one! It’s brand new! These were all my mother’s. She just died.” I just gave him a strained smile.
My daughter finally stood and I said, “How much for the three things she’s found here?”
He shambled back over and leaned forward to check. “Uh, two dollars for that,” he said, “but look I got loads more stuff!” He reached over and grabbed the back of an old folding beach chair to move it out of the way of an opening that led to the backyard. It was incredibly narrow, like a grassy alleyway, and the walkway quickly disappeared into the shadows of the overhanging trees from the neighbor’s yard. No fucking way, I thought.
I looked at my kid whose raised eyebrows, whose downward chin motion said “Yes?” and I lowered my eyebrows and turned my head to the left in a half shake: “NO.”
“We’re good thanks,” I said, handing him the two ones and said to my kid, finally finding my voice, “Let’s go, we’re done here.”
We hustled to the car. As we were walking I said in a side-mouthed whisper “He smells like alcohol.” My daughter picked up the pace and as soon as the car doors were shut I locked them.
“WHAT is wrong with you?! That backyard looked totally sketchy and you wanted to go back there?! Have I taught you NOTHING??” I burst out. I couldn’t help it. I had been astonished she wanted to go in the backyard!
“What? Okay, so it looked a little sketchy but I thought he had more stuff!” she protested.
I groaned. “Let’s get the heck out of here. This whole city is giving me the creeps.” We put “home” into Apple Maps and we were outta there. All I could think was: my boys don’t even know where we are, if something had happened we are an hour from home and who knows if they could have solved it. I vowed to be more careful in the future.

The Collectibles Yard Sale
These are yard sales where whole collections are being sold. The owner isn’t 100% ready to let them go, is not down with negotiating, and wants top dollar for their collectibles. One yard sale we hit recently had loads of Funko Pops. We know our pricing: new ones range from $9.99 to $13.99 but there are rare ones and those may go on eBay for $30 or more. Unfortunately, many collectors also know their pricing and are intent on making a profit by selling. We go to yard sales for a deal though and aren’t prepared to pay top dollar. So there’s a lot of tug of war and it’s a 50-50 shot that we’ll walk away with the collectible. In this instance, the guy wanted $30 for one of the ones my daughter wanted, $15 for another, and $45 for another. So we only bought the $15 one. It was the only one that fit our budget and he didn’t make much money off of us. These types of yard sales are hit or miss. We really only buy if it’s one that we’ve been searching for everywhere, otherwise, we can live without it.

The Old People Yard Sale
I don’t mind these, they usually have those amazing 25-cent tables and we’ve found some great deals at old people’s yard sales. I love the dishes and glassware we find. However, my daughter was less fond of them as typically, there were no toys. One time, she did find mid-calf Converse, which are no longer made, in her size. She was instantly in love. They were black with hot pink accents and fit her like a glove. She was giving me pleading puppy dog eyes and clutching them to her chest. They weren’t priced so we held our breath and asked the 70-something-year-old woman hosting the sale how much they were. She said, “These? These shoes? For you? Today? Those are 50 cents!” and my daughter hooted with joy. She was less reluctant to hit an old people’s yard sale after that.

The Community Yard Sale
Community yard sales can be exhilarating or exhausting or a combination of both. We went a few weeks ago to a locally well-known community yard sale that included the church in the neighborhood, who rented out yard sale table spaces in their parking lot. The houses were fairly spread apart, so it was a lot of walking and we moved the car twice. People were selling in their front yards, down side streets, and more than yard sales, there was pit beef and other food for sale. At one point, there was live music blasting from the church’s front steps. It was like a block party. This was not a traditional neighborhood, this was a main road flanked by older homes on large lots. Cars lined the sides of the road. We saw a lot of junk but then, we also saw a lot of great stuff. My daughter got a squish mellow she liked a lot, and I got some Pfaltzgraff Christmas mugs in a four-pack for $5, at another old person’s yard sale, and while carrying them to the next one, had a very pleasant conversation with the older gentleman running that yard sale. He asked if my mugs were the Christmas Pfaltzgraff ones and I said “Yes! The lady was very knowledgeable and said they were the ones made in PA. They remind me of my childhood because my mom collected this pattern for a number of years. There’s another box of them!”
“That’s so nice!” the man said, “Those are great, that’s a hard pattern to find!” and I nodded happily.
“Mom!” my child yelled from the end of a table where she’d been digging through a box of stuffed animals. She held up a stuffed Care Bear. “Good job!” I cried. I turned to the man I’d been talking to and asked “How much for that?” and he said, “Just take it.” I was surprised. “Really? Are you sure?” He flapped a hand at us, “It makes her so happy, just take it.”
“Well thank you, and it was nice talking to you.” I would say interactions like this are what really make yard sales so great. I have had some really great conversations with people over found and beloved objects.

The Perfect Yard Sale
So is there a perfect yard sale? Why yes, there is. Lots of good quality name-brand stuff at great prices. Vera Bradley bags for 10 bucks, those Smurf glasses I was collecting at $3 a piece, American Eagle jeans for a buck, or collectible Christmas mugs in a four-pack for five dollars. These are our favorite types of yard sales and we typically buy a good bit when we find them. You know a name brand will last for more uses and you get them at bargain bin prices. Sometimes, you can find stuff with the tags still on them at a particularly good sale. These types of yard sales are obviously our favorite and are rare finds indeed.

Yard Sale Advice
What advice would I give to people just starting out with yard sales? I have a few hot tips:
1. Know what you’re looking for. Know how to identify genuine pieces. Do they have a special stamp, tag, or stitch that makes them genuine? Know what flaws you can fix yourself, like marks on a Barbie’s face, that make the purchase worthwhile despite the flaw.
2.  Know your prices. This is essential. If you don’t know that Funko Pops go for $10, to begin with, you might think $15 is a good price. Do your research on whatever you collect or want to begin collecting. This will help you spot a good (or great!) deal and assist you with haggling.
3.  Know the area. Maybe don’t drive an hour away if you’ve never been there before. (ahem) Don’t go into houses if there aren’t loads of people around and you’re by yourself. We’ve gone to yard sales where people are like: go right in! Have a look around! And I’ve passed if I haven’t been anticipating going in based on the yard sale ad they’d run. An estate sale is something else altogether and usually, there are lots of people, especially if it’s being run by a third party, all the doors are thrown open and it feels very safe.
4.  Get there early. Don’t be a stereotypical “early bird,” showing up before the sale is listed as starting, that’s just rude. But if it starts at 8 am, and especially if you see things in the photos that you want, get there right at 8 am. If you want it, chances are so does someone else.
That’s it! It’s pretty straightforward. We love a yard sale, a community yard sale, or a flea market. We are always on the lookout for the next one. Let me know if you’ve found a great deal at a yard sale or what your hot tips are for yard sale-ing in the comments.