By LESLIE LINSLEY Citizen Columnist
Yard sales offer a terrific opportunity to find some real treasures. Yard sales have become an American tradition across the country in one form or another. In the Midwest they are often called Swap Meets. Flea markets are similar but more organized. They all have the same goal and that is to sell things that have lost their usefulness to their owners. When we go to a yard sale we expect to find things at unbelievably low prices.
Here in Key West, yard sales have become a regular Saturday outing for many. The list of locations and sometimes descriptions of what can be found are printed under their own heading in the classified section of the paper. If you are visiting the island this is a wonderful way to feel like a local, get a peek into some island homes and maybe find a treasure or two for pennies. You might even find things that are not familiar in your town, such as a maritime artifact or artwork by a local artist. It's always fun to take something home from the place you visit, especially when you get a real deal.
Over the Memorial Day weekend I had a sale at my house. I had recently closed my store in town and there were a lot of items I wanted to get rid of. This is the key phrase, both parties win when the goal is for the homeowner to be rid of things and the prices are ridiculously low. This is what yard sale goers expect. When prices are too high people are turned off. A yard sale is an "as is" affair and no one is expecting gift-wrapping.
Sometimes finding the unusual can dictate a decorating direction. I've discovered that if you approach the yard sales with an open mind you can be quite surprised. I didn't know I needed the cute little Roseville planter that was a real bargain, even if it was in pieces. I was able to glue it together and it has looked great in my garden for years. I wasn't looking for such an item, but that's the fun of bargain decorating ... to be able to spot a gem and, if need be, evaluate, on the spot, how fixable it is. It's often good to have a yard sale partner to egg you on, and sometimes keep you from making a big mistake.
The idea of a yard sale makes many people I know salivate with anticipation. Some people were born to this rummaging around for those "things" that speak to them or finding that certain something they weren't looking for but must have once it's found.. Finding a brass candlestick for two dollars that you didn't even know you wanted spurs us on. Most of us don't come to a yard sale looking for anything in particular, but we hope to find a treasure in the sea of everyday objects.
I once found two Jack Baron paintings at a yard sale. Most off-islanders would not recognize the value of this local artist's work from the past and this is another reason we are attracted to yard sales. It's the "what if" factor. What if the little china teacup turns out to be Minton china and we bought it for fifty cents? What if the painting we bought for two dollars turns out to be quite valuable? I paid $200 for my Jack Barons, which probably sounds like a lot to the uninitiated, but I knew it was a bargain.
One of the unofficial rules of yard saling (it has now become an unofficial verb and accepted as a sport) is when the ad says "positively no early birds" we honor this request. Another rule is to be polite. This is not a competitive sport, except now and then when more than one person spots a desirable item at the same time. But, by and large, protocol intervenes and everyone is quite polite, deferring to the other more often than not.
If you are having a yard sale the following tips might be helpful:
1. Put price stickers on everything the day before the sale.
2. Display your goods so people don't have to rummage too much through boxes or piles. A piece of plywood or hollow core door on two saw horses serves as a temporary table.
3. Just because it's a yard sale doesn't mean you can't display your merchandise in an attractive way. Arrange things such as furniture or coffee table accessories in an eye-catching way.
4. Put related items together. For example, arrange kitchen items at one end of the table. Line up books so the titles can be read on the spines. Some people put books on end in milk crates.
5. Clothing is a good yard sale item. If you can hang them on a temporary clothes rack this makes it easier to see the items. Display sizes on stickers that are large and visible. Use a Magic Marker for this on neon-colored stickers.
6. Price your items to sell. Be flexible. Always be prepared for a lower offer.
7. Have plenty of change. Lots of one-dollar bills and coins.
Leslie Linsley has written more than 50 books on crafts, decorating and home style. She resides on Nantucket with her husband, photographer Jon Aron, and has a store on the island that specializes in her one-of-a-kind creations. Her latest book is "Key West, a Tropical Lifestyle" (Monacelli Press), with photos by Terry Pommett.