Everyone needs a good pick-me-up once in awhile—a simple reward for finishing that big assignment at work, for getting the kids to bed on time, or just surviving a stressful week. Whatever the circumstances, something as simple as treating yourself to a milkshake could be your version of a pat on the back. For me, that treat is shopping yard sales. A manageable $50 budget and one Saturday a month is my habitual way to make up for all of life’s challenges that I’ve managed to conquer.
As any good yard saler knows, beating the crowds is essential to snatching up the best deals. So, one recent Saturday morning, I was up and at ‘em—showered, fed and out the door by 7, to-go coffee in hand.
Fifteen minutes later, however, with one dead-end hunt from an outdated sign and a quick drive-by past another that looked more like the dumpster behind Toys R Us, I was beginning to feel like the morning was going to be a bust. But just as I was about to turn my empty car toward home, I happened upon not one, but two yard sales, where I skipped away with two mint-condition, mid-century Pyrex serving bowls for only $2.
From there, I set out with renewed vigor to the neighborhoods surrounding our local college. Sure, there’s the chance that you’ll happen upon student-run sales of trash-worthy cast-offs (think sagging futons and mildewy linens), but the potential for sales full of like-new wares for cheap is too good to pass up. These are quick-turnover moving sales at their best.
After following one hot pink sign, I was greeted by a promising yard piled with clothes, DVDs and books. Although I was immediately taken by a brass swivel-necked desk lamp perched like a crane on a folding table in the back, I was somehow able to contain my excitement.
As long as the yard isn’t teeming with deal-scrabbling fiends like myself, I tend to take my time, thumbing through old paperbacks for a good mystery, and glancing at the stemware before going back and making my purchases. An overeager buyer may encourage sellers to jack up prices if they think you’re desperate.
My next destination that morning was the cluster of neighborhoods just beyond our downtown area. A lovely scene of large homes and manicured lawns greeted me as I turned down the oak-lined street where, as experience has taught me, one can often find one-of-a-kind antiques and high-end furniture for a steal. From here I pulled away with a delicate Asian dish and brass bowl to the tune of only $4.
The last section of town I had planned to patrol was the area where I grew up. Made up mostly of young families, this is often a hot spot for neighborhood joint sales packed with a surplus of books, odds and ends, electronics, and décor.
As I rounded the corner and zeroed in on a heavily packed cul-de-sac, I immediately sensed something exciting. Driving on, I discovered the gem of all yard sales: a pop-up estate sale. Treasure hunters were already loading up pieces of antique furniture and the sale, according to the signs, had only started 15 minutes before.
I parked quickly and ran inside. A swift tour of the house and my arms were loaded down with the following: an old terrarium, an oversized frame, a glass bottle, a mid-century pitcher, and a decorative Moroccan brass dish. The final tally? Eight dollars.
I was thinking I’d call it a day with this sparkling haul, but, still on a high from my finds, I decided to make one final stop. In addition to my seasonal yard saling antics, I have made it a monthly habit to peruse local thrift stores as well. Although the prices aren’t as competitive, I’ve furnished and decorated about 75 percent of our home with pieces hailing from one particular store, all while on the same strict budget.
I saw a few hopeful pieces that day, including a gigantic piece of art made from melted wax for $68, but nothing that I could realistically purchase with only $32 left in my pocket. That is, until I stumbled upon a framed painting on the floor. It only took a moment before I breathlessly recognized the sentimental image: a painting of the Aviary at Miller Park, none other than the location of our wedding and reception. At $30, it was the most expensive of my purchases that day, but also the most priceless. And I still managed to end the day under budget by $2. Not bad!
That afternoon, I spent a few hours making my treasures at home in our little townhouse. The antique dishes were scattered throughout to add color and storage to a desk and dresser top. The dusty terrarium was revitalized with fresh soil and lush green succulents, while the bottle, vintage Pyrex, and pitcher now rest in the china cabinet. The oversized frame was spray-painted a shimmering gold and outfitted with a chalkboard surface for interchangeable art. And, finally, the framed painting of the Aviary was lovingly hung in our second bedroom where we will pass it every day and remember.
These are the treasures and the stories that make a house a home. In the end, who can put a price tag on that?