The Art of the Yard Sale

I have a treat for you today, readers. Here is a special guest post by my brother, Bradley Hyland Johns Jr, yard-saler extraordinaire. The text is his and the photos (of Bradley’s latest yard-sale blowout) are mine. If you’ve never held a yard sale – or even if you have – you’d better strap yourself in. 

So when did it dawn on you?

At what precise point in time did it hit you like a ton of Legos? Or a stockpile of DVD’s? Or an attic-weathered trash bag full of clothes? When did you first realize that you, too, could hold your very own yard sale of epic proportions?

It was a very young age for me. A late nine or an early ten I’d say, though others may contest it was in the womb. Let it be known that the yard sale is a collision of two personalities: the veteran bargain hunter, and the determined treasure hunter. I’m a proud member of team latter.

A yard sale isn’t executed by having your garage drop a finger and vomit sporting equipment onto a driveway tarp that should have been thrown away in ’87. You do not create signs stating “HUGE YARD SALE THIS WAY” on a Friday night because it just dawned on you that you bought your children too many action figures. And you especially don’t have a yard sale because your cloth-shitting baby has outgrown toddler-hood and has stopped shitting on said cloths. This is why we have a ‘free’ section on Craigslist and a trash can out back that smells perfectly gnarly. (Take a deep breath before you open Pandora’s Box, because it really does smell like death in there. We all have that can.)

To have a successful yard sale, you have to have the weird stuff, the fun stuff, the brainy stuff, the art stuff, the old stuff, the new in box stuff, the music stuff, the shiny stuff, the pet stuff, and even the stuffed stuff. Stuff stuff in your stuff if you have to. Years of accumulation are a must. The key is to have different things that will appeal to your very different customers. You’re firing on all cylinders if three out of five customers make a small purchase.

I operate on a four sign minimum. Signs go out at least 24 hours prior to the sale. Craigslist and local circular ads are a must. Understand that the old folks don’t hop on Craigslist or very frequently–or ever–so put it in the paper.

I spice my signage up! Large, clear writing, always with an arrow. Date, address and time–naturally! I must confess, I do need my signs quality-controlled prior to implementation. Apparently, “YARD SALE! HUGE LIKE YOUR EX-WIFE” is getting a little carried away. If you’re doing the yard sale with your mother, I would also recommend passing on the following verbiage: “HOLY CRAP JUST COME!” or “JESUS CHRIST, TURN HERE”.

My mother and I have a gig every summer in Brigantine, New Jersey, at the family beach house, known as the Epic Yard Sale. Mom and I frequently buy at other yard sales, estate sales, estate auctions, and even take on other people’s stuff to sell at our Epic Yard Sale. We have a driveway filled with an eclectic array of priced goods, and it’s a constant flow of unique-smelling people from 6:30am-2pm.

We had some characters come through this year.

At one point it was me versus Grandma. A kiddo, maybe ten or twelve, was poring over my Pokemon cards.  He finally turned to Grandma and asked to buy the box.

“No, it’s too much!” she said, like she knows the first thing about the value of trading card games.  I considered my approach.  Grandma was certainly on a power trip.

“How about twenty-five cards for a dollar?” I offered.

The kid’s eyes went wider than Grandma’s backside and he petitioned her again: “Pu-lease Grandma!”

“No-no, it’s too much money.”

By now, I’m thinking why the hell did you take your poor grandson to the yard sale with you if you won’t spend a dollar to make him happy? It became apparent that Grandma had to be defeated.

I leaned over and whispered to the kiddo, “The price is now twenty cards….for free. Tell Grandma.”

The kid was visibly shaken by his good fortune and Grandma heard the unfortunate news. But here’s where I may have crossed the line. In the nicest voice I could muster, I delivered the following: “Is free too much money, too?  I think he should take a few.”

I gave the kid a heaping pile. Yard Sale Pit Boss: ONE. Grandma: NOTHIN!

I felt a little bad about the whole thing and worried about karma for a couple hours and then I hit a royal flush in Atlantic City that night so I put the whole damn thing to bed.

Yard saling goes hand in hand with “picking.” You can make good money as a picker, as the History Channel has informed so many Americans. Watch that show with a massive grain of salt, though.

Picked for $20, worth $100? Show me the off-camera sales record, and I’ll believe it. Something is only worth what someone else is willing to pay. Auction Hunters, American Digger, American Pickers – I say enjoy them lightly, and invest very little heart. Stick to Antiques Roadshow for real-time knowledge and non-scripted antique pleasures. It’s quality television, and don’t let any meat-head tell you otherwise.

Shall we talk numbers? All the work that goes into a yard sale is very much worth it! I’ll usually net $300-$500, which I consider to be decent weekend money.

Here are a couple examples of my better picks, with actual realized sales:

Collection of Magic the Gathering Cards (a target item for me)
Picked: $25 (Craigslist)
Sold: $800 (eBay)

18Kt (unmarked) gold ring
Picked: $5 (Yard sale)
Sold: $350 (Local gold/silver exchange store)

Hundreds of Little League baseballs
Picked: $20 (estate sale)
Sold: $300 (eBay)

Box of old board games
Picked: $10 (estate auction)
Sold: $550 (eBay)

Large box of new rollerblade wheels
Picked: $20 (yard sale)
Sold: $250 (eBay)

A small baseball plaque (given to an old MLB Hall of Famer – one of one piece!)
Picked: $5 (estate auction)
Sold: $500 (eBay)

You’ll also suffer financial hits, but knowledge is the gain. Examples of recent misses:

Diving equipment
Picked: $500 (from a friend)
Sold: $450 (yard sale / craigslist). Hours of work invested and no profit!

Magic Card collection
Picked: $200 (Craigslist)
Sold: $0.

Have not been able to sell that last one and will be lucky to make $80. The kicker:  $150 impound fine for my non-permitted parking when I picked up the collection. There are more misses, but I’d rather not revisit them because I’m trying to instill my picking badassery today.

The treasure is out there! Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Hunt for it, buy it, research it, hoard it, sell it at your yard sale, and then learn about the next thing. Though stay out of Prince George’s County, Maryland. I call dibs!

I hope you found this blog wildly entertaining and mildly educational. If you have any questions for me about picking, yard saling, or treasure hunting in general, I’d be very pleased to answer them. Reach out to me at That’s master “treasure hunter.” (Don’t judge. I created the email account when I was twelve years old. It was a proud moment.)

Alaina Mabaso, thank you for letting me hijack your blog. What a privilege! Carry on.

Anyone who wants to learn more about Mom and Bradley’s yard-sale career can visit their internet empire


Want more Bradley guest-blog action? Click here.


Add yours →

  1. Why doesn’t Bradley have his own blog??

  2. This is great — brought back some memories!

    Back when we had a car, my husband and I used to go yard saling, which we referred to as “sailing the seas of yard.” We had rules about how much we would offer for things — if we could pick an item up with one hand, we started bidding at a nickel, two hands was 50 cents, and if we needed help to lift it, we offered a dollar. We would slowly cruise by the yard and peer at it before getting out of the car just to make sure it wasn’t a BTBC (“Broken Toys and Baby Clothes”).

    We’re now moving out of the country and have TONS of stuff which would make for a great yard sale (the result of a decade of packrat life). I love bargaining with people and had fantasies of being the most poker-faced yard sale matron in our neighborhood this summer. But sadly we didn’t have time to organize a sale last weekend, so it’s all going out free on the curb.

    • What with everything on your plate, you could be forgiven for skipping the yard sale this time. But the beauty of marriage is that you’ll have many years to accumulate more stuff than you ever thought possible. Your yard sale matron days are just beginning.

Don't let me have the last say. What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: