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Whittling Away: Yard sales


By Dick Brooks

For Capital Region Independent Media

Headshot of a man named Dick Brooks.

Cocaine, alcohol, nicotine and yard sales. All addictive, all life-ruining, but fortunately the first three can be fought, subdued, and in some cases, even conquered. There is no known cure for yard sales. 

As one who is interested in history, I have on occasion wondered who the first Homo sapien was who first hauled all the unwanted junk out of his cave, chiseled a yard sale sign on a flat rock and went into business for himself. 

I’m sure that within a very short time there were dinosaurs parked all over his yard and people walking over his vegetables, haggling over half-chewed bones and broken spear points, trying to get the best price on last year’s bear skin.

What is there about other people’s junk that is so attractive? When the very same kind of stuff is falling off the shelves in the garage, cellar or attic, it isn’t worthy of a second glance because it’s your junk. A perfect stranger’s junk, dumped on the lawn, piled on makeshift tables and spilling out of strange garages, will draw people like flies at a cow-patty tossing contest. 

Why is their junk so much better than yours? I think it’s the hunt. Humans are by nature predatory; the idea of pouncing on a bargain just can’t be resisted. 

Just the thought of a semi-working TV set for $15 will start the saliva glands in a yard sale addict. So what if it is a 6-inch screen, lodged in an 8-foot, 300-pound cabinet, is black-and-white and needs a picture tube? There are people out there who collect these things and will pay good money for it, so the purchase is made after haggling the owner down to $10.

The collectable is strapped to the roof of the Subaru and dragged home where it sits in the garage until your wife complains enough. You then haul the by-then loathsome thing out onto the lawn with the rest of the trash you picked up from a summer of yard sales. The crowds arrive and buy all the junk, leaving you with a clear garage and a nice little bundle of cash. You and the little woman hop into the car and go — you guessed! — yard saleing.

I blame some of this addictive behavior on the Home and Garden Channel. I find myself blaming them for most of mankind’s problems lately but I don’t think I’m wrong. They run shows about yard sale finds that made the sharp-witted purchaser wealthy beyond their wildest dreams.

They bought a painting done by Great Grandma Gertie at a yard sale for 13 cents only to find that old Gertie had painted that horrid picture of her cat Rufus on top of a Picasso she just happened to have lying around. The rusty lunch box they purchased for 50 cents is a rare collectible worth $70,000. 

This addiction has even touched me, as ashamed as I am to admit it publicly. There was this small glass vase on one show; it didn’t look like much but the lady on the show made a big deal over it and appraised it at $500. A couple of days later, while checking out a yard sale (you never know what you might find!), I saw a little glass vase that looked just like the one on the television. I looked disinterested and slowly browsed my way towards it, with a distainful look on my face. I picked up the little beauty and carelessly looked it over. It was in really good shape! The price tag read $5! I had to be careful, not appear too eager. I collected a few other useless things to draw attention away from the prize.

You can’t just pay the asking price or the owner might get suspicious, I haggled her down to $4 for the vase and escaped with my treasure! The next day in the dollar store, I found a whole shelf full of the same little vases.

I wonder how much I can get for the thing at our next yard sale?

Thought for the week ؅— “I find that the harder I work, the more luck I seem to have.” ~ Thomas Jefferson.

Until next week, may you and yours be happy and well.

Reach columnist Dick Brooks at

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