Angela’s Top Twenty Tips for Fun, Fast, and Fruitful Yard Saling

Annalee's Childhood Drawing of Our Scavenging Adventures

Annalee’s Childhood Drawing of Our Scavenging Adventures

  1. Get your vehicle ready the night before. Fill the gas tank, clear out the trunk, make sure the GPS is in place and ready to go. Take a moment to clean your windshield if necessary.  (Visibility is important when scanning for bargains!)  If you want to go the extra mile, clear out the Cheerios and string cheese wrappers.
  1. Check local ads, determine the scope of your travels, and plan your route with Google maps. If possible, check the street view of each destination. This will prevent time from being wasted with the drive past-turn around-go back error. Be sure to factor restroom breaks at public places into your route.  As you drive, have all of your passengers on the lookout for yard sale signs. Many people don’t advertise at all, and some piggyback off the advertisements for neighbors’ sales.
  1. Take measurements of absolutely everything you might need them for. Window dimensions, jeans inseams, dining table lengths, the sofa you want to replace, or the picture that needs a frame. Something happens in the euphoria of high level yard saling that causes people to lose perspective on size. The belt that you think will be a perfect fit for your husband may, in fact, be 8 inches too large or too small. Either way, it’s an insult.
  1. Make a list of everything you’re looking for. I keep a running list in Note Pad (on my phone), so as items come to mind in the course of daily life I can jot them down on the spot.  Remember that yard sale finds can often provide cheap replacement parts for things you already have.  For instance, if your crib mobile has gone kaput, you can buy an ugly one at a yard sale for next to nothing and pitch out everything but the wind-up mechanism.  So scan your house for items in need of repair and try to imagine yard sale solutions.
  1. Pack snacks, beverages, paper towels, a trash bag, ponytail holders, Tylenol, sun screen, an umbrella, music CDs—just about anything you can think of that will provide for optimal comfort and good cheer. If you’re shopping with children, this will be your “whine prevention” kit.
  1. Carry plenty of change and small bills. This not only speeds up the checkout process, it also prevents the problem of having to pay more for an item because the seller doesn’t have exact change.
  1. Carry a Sharpie plus large stickers and/or hang tags with you. If you buy something that you’ll be coming back to pick up later, mark it in bold writing:  “SOLD and PAID FOR –Jane Doe  555-5555”
  1. If you think you might buy fragile items, bring along something to wrap them in, as well as a sturdy cardboard box to pack them in. My favorite cushioning items are worn out towels, old pillow cases, and odd socks. The socks are particularly helpful, as you can easily slide in everything from Christmas ornaments to drinking glasses to carving knives, and be on your way in less time than it takes the seller to grab a sheet of icky newsprint.
  1. Carry a measuring tape. You’ll need it to compare the item in question with the dimensions you noted previously, and you don’t want to depend on the seller to provide one.
  1. Carry a multi-bit screw driver. It is shocking what people consider broken or unusable simply because some of the screws are loose.  Just make sure the price is established before you make the on-site repair!
  1. Carry batteries of various sizes to test electronic gizmos.
  1. Carry swatches and samples of things with which you’re trying to coordinate: wall paint chips, dinner napkins, neck ties, etc.
  1. If you think you’ll be buying a lot of bulky items, bring along a rolling cart of some sort. It’s no fun trying to navigate the deals with an armload of Tupperware containers.  An unused umbrella stroller can be decked out with tote bags to work well as a yard sale shopping cart.
  1. Have eBay and Amazon pulled up on your smart phone’s browser. This will enable you to quickly determine if the seller’s price for a particular item is fair. This will also give you some evidence to present to the seller if the price is way out of whack. THIS MUST BE DONE WITH GREAT HUMILITY AND TACT! The goal is to gently inform the seller of fair market value, just in case he isn’t aware of it. It’s entirely possible that it’s worth more to HIM than what it’s going for on eBay, and that’s perfectly fine. If he isn’t willing to adjust the price and you really want the item, leave your name and number and ask him to call you if it doesn’t sell and he’s willing to come down.
  1. As the day wears on the pickings get slimmer, but the deals get sweeter. Don’t be shy about making lower offers late in the day. Chances are the leftovers are going to end up at a thrift store anyway, and many people would rather sell cheap than haul stuff.
  1. Before you buy it, make sure you have a place to put it and a way to haul it. If you need your spouse’s okay for a purchase, get it before you finalize the deal with the seller.
  1. Be VERY careful crossing streets and driveways. A busy yard sale can be hazardous for children and adults alike as people in a hurry pull in and out of makeshift parking spaces. Always look twice before you open a car door into the flow of traffic.  Train your children to stop immediately—on a dime—the instant you tell them to, and to come when called without hesitation.
  1. If you’re shopping with kids, have an established signal for a two minute warning and for load up time. Gathering the troops quickly and efficiently is one of the most helpful skills in speed scavenging. If you’re caravanning with other families and the kids are in different cars, make sure you have a foolproof head counting system.
  1. Try to make it as much for the kids as possible. Of course, you can make it more appealing by giving them a little money to spend. But you can also plan things like yard sale scavenger hunts or bingo games that only require the items to be discovered—not actually purchased.  If you comprise the lists of things that you yourself are looking for, even better!
  1. Remember to be courteous, kind, and forbearing. Stuff is just stuff, and people are more important.
Published in: on November 5, 2014 at 2:07 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Into gardening? Check out our FREE activity sheets on garden beneficials to help kids identify and appreciate the good guys.

I’m writing a gardening module for my grandkids (as part of a study on self-sufficient living), and I’ve put together a little activity to introduce them to garden beneficials. Since many fellow homeschoolers are also interested in gardening—specifically using sensible, sustainable practices—I thought I’d share it with our online friends.

The Beneficials’ Bios page gives a brief description of some common garden helpers and how they work for us. You can refer to the pictures on the Beneficials Bingo sheet as you read about each one. When you’re finished, you’re ready to head outside for a scavenger hunt and a game of Beneficials Bingo. We’ve rearranged the pictures on the Bingo pages to create different versions for those who’ll have more than one student participating. Here are the different pages: Beneficials Bingo Card 1 Beneficials Bingo Card 2 Beneficials Bingo Card 3

This FREE Lilly the Ladybug Coloring/Activity Book from Earthbound Farms also makes a great introduction to the basics of organic farming.

And finally, if the height of summer has you fighting a losing battle with weeds and water loss, you might want to check out our previous post on recycling cardboard as garden mulch.

Thinking about spring cleaning? As you clear out your old clothes for the thrift store…

1997 - Christopher and Annalee, dressed up as an immigrant family during our study of Ellis Island.

Don’t forget how much fun it was to play dress up! Why not get one last little bit of use out of those clothes by letting the kids enjoy them for a few days? A temporary dress up box can spark imaginations and add new excitement to pretend play. And when the kids are tired of them, you can simply take them on to the donation center.

Published in: on March 9, 2010 at 9:09 pm  Leave a Comment  

Adventures in Repurposing: Cardboard Mulch

For more and more families, online shopping is becoming the norm rather than the exception. But when the delivery truck leaves and the packages are emptied, shoppers are left with an inconvenient remnant: a pile of cardboard boxes. The good news is that if there are any areas in your yard where you grow things on purpose—or where you want to make sure nothing grows at all—you can turn those boxes from burden to blessing by using them as mulch.

Whether you have a large vegetable garden or a small bed of flowers, some form of mulch is probably advisable to help retain moisture, prevent weed growth, and keep topsoil in its place. Mid to late winter is the perfect time for a preemptive strike against the weeds and seeds that are now lying dormant. Since I’m kind of obsessed with using free materials to solve problems, I’ve tried a lot of different mulching experiments. (I’ll spare you the details of the sweet gum ball fiasco of ‘05.) So I was relieved to come across a method that worked so well, was so easy, cost so little, and solved a disposal problem.

The concept of cardboard sheet mulching is simple: Lay down flattened boxes in any area in need of mulch. Overlap the edges so tenacious weeds can’t find their way through a crack. Small boxes fit well between individual plants, and larger boxes are great for pathways between garden rows or for large areas, such as landscape islands. We were thrilled to discover that our seemingly endless supply of Apologia Science shipping boxes fit perfectly between our garden rows.

A quality box will last most of the growing season, but it will decompose over the course of several months. This is a great bonus if you need to add organic matter to your soil. If you plan to leave the cardboard in place, you’ll want to remove any plastic tape or shiny labels, as these won’t break down well. Otherwise, you can simply put the boxes in place, tape and all, and remove them when you’re ready to revamp the area. I like to wet the cardboard before placement, as this makes it conform more readily to the contours of the ground, and it prevents any existing soil moisture from being wicked away by the cardboard.
Once you get your layer of cardboard in place, you’ll notice that things look really, really ugly. Unless aesthetics mean absolutely nothing to you, you’ll probably want to add a superficial layer of secondary mulch. In our garden, we add a 2” cover layer—about ¼ of what would be required as a primary mulch. We’ll use just about any natural material that’s available free or cheap–maple leaves, pine straw, pine bark, hay, or as shown in the photo, compost. Then everything can be tilled into the soil together when the time comes.

If you have an area that’s already sufficiently mulched, you can extend the life and efficacy of the mulch by adding a cardboard underlayer. Simply scrape aside the existing mulch, lay down the cardboard, and replace the mulch, one small section at a time.

Cardboard sheet mulching has provided us with better weed control and moisture retention than any other method we’ve tried, and our earthworm population seems to thrive beneath it as well. It also reduces the soil compaction caused by foot traffic. Perhaps most importantly, we feel good about the fact that we’re taking one tiny step toward responsible care of the world with which we have been entrusted. Reusing the “trash” that we already have rather than purchasing a new product (such as weed control fabric) saves an additional manufacturing process, commercial transport, and dollars that could be put to better use elsewhere.