Yard Sales and Writing

By Sherry Harris from NoVA

planefieldAs you may know I love to go to yard sales. I’ve traveled a lot recently and find it hard to resist a sign that says “yard sale” with a arrow pointing down a block. I went to one in Destin, Florida. The things I loved were way too big to fit in my suitcase. How I would have loved to take the chaise lounge below home.

ChairYSdeskYSBut I had a nice chat with the man running the yard sale about his wife’s business of fixing up old furniture. We talked about a desk he had and whether a piece of veneer that was curling up off the top was original or added later.

bedsetA couple of weeks later I went to a wedding in Saint Louis, Missouri. I stayed with a friend who also likes yard sales so we set out early on Saturday morning. I found a lovely bedroom set. Of course it wouldn’t fit in the suitcase but I had to ask how much they wanted. Thirty dollars apiece for the bed and dressers — that was his opening price who knows what it would have been with a bit of haggling. One of the dressers had drawers that were dovetailed so I knew it was old.

Writing a novel is a bit like going to a yard sale.

picnieYou have to leave some things behind no matter how much you like them. Faulkner called it killing your darlings. I loved these picnic baskets but no way to jam them in my suitcase.

pursesYou can’t cram too much in to one book. The scenes start to sag or it ends up a mess that people may or may not want to sort through.

ladderWhat makes your book unique and stand out in a crowd? When I was at a yard sale in a neighborhood full of them this ladder caught my eye. Not only did it make the yard sale stand out but the ladder had a purpose. Each scene should support the plot or subplot.

harleyfullharleyUntil that Saturday in Saint Louis, I’d never seen a Harley for sale at a yard sale. (The guy wanted $21,000 for it, in case you’re curious.) It was unexpected. In writing you have to do the unexpected too. Sometimes I make a list of options a character has in a given situation and pick what might seem like the opposite of what the character should do.

tins-5You have to haggle with yourself and decide what you really, really have to keep. The tins in the background caught my eye. Printed on the bottom of the tin is: Designed by Daher in Long Island, NY 11101 Container made in England. The lady told me they were biscuit tins. I have no idea if that’s true. But I loved the bright colors and they fit in my suitcase.photo-5_2photo-11So two of them came home with me.

Readers: Do you like yard sales or hate them? Is there anything you can’t resist when you go to one?

29 Thoughts

  1. I love yard sales too. One year we went every Saturday morning. I found pretty white pearl ear bobs at one lady’s home. If you don’t get up early, you might as well forget it. I have a small wood hanging on my wall from one yard sale. You never know what you will find. I think that’s the fun of it. I love those cans too. Glad you were able to pack them.

  2. Love yard sales (and flea markets). A couple of weeks ago I went to one that had boxes of DVDs and blu-rays. For $10 I came home with about 50 dvds and blu-rays including the complete “Sopranos”.

  3. I like yard sales in principle, but I try to stay away from them. I have too much stuff already! But I love your parallels between writing and shopping at yard sales, Sherry.

  4. Wait, wait! I have a vintage cookie tin that matches your biscuit tins! (And I’m not parting with it–it’s the one that was always filled with cookies when I came home from school–and I’m still using it.)

    Ah, the thrill of the hunt! Love yard sales (locally the church-sponsored ones are good), and auctions and flea markets. Just yesterday I saw something new: a big hand-painted sign on the road into town that read ‘FREE STUFF at end of block.” I resisted.

    1. That is so cool that you have the same tins! I wish I could have brought all of them home! I can’t believe you resisted the ‘free stuff’ sign!

  5. I love going to yard and garage sales. I had one myself in June (we cleaned out our attic). I thought we had really good stuff and I’d make like a bazillion dollars. I made a whopping $50–$20 of which went to pay for the ad! I ended up donating all the goods to AmVets because there was no way anything was going back into the attic.

    Most of the sales around here are people getting rid of baby clothes and toys. I rarely see furniture, but one of the best deals I got was for a solid wood octagon shaped game table with four upholstered chairs for $100.

    I like going to estate sales too, but most of them are run by estate sale companies and the items are way overpriced.

    1. I agree with you on the estate sales! I see a lot of the clothes/toys sales in our neighborhood too! Maybe that is why the others stood out so much to me!

  6. I don’t often go to yard sales but I do hit flea markets in the area. There’s one at the firehouse on the first Saturday of the month. Great stuff and…you know,…firemen.

    My house is full of vintage stuff that has little $$ value but lots of sentimental value. Estate sales are wonderful fun.

    Sherry, you should road trip down South to the 127 Sale. Hundreds of miles of yard sales along Route 127. My mother-in-law has been to the Tennessee end and says it’s like a carnival in some spots.

    1. I have always wanted to do that 127 Sale, Ramona! I almost made it last year but at the last minute it didn’t work out. I think it would be great research!

  7. You know, every time I hear people talking about yard sales (the bigger, the better!), I think of hobbits exchanging mathoms. They just keep sharing the same items within their own community. Sound familiar?

  8. I love shopping at yard sales and thrift stores equally! It’s like a treasure hunt, where I carefully browsing tables, racks, and shelves for items that catch my eye. As a Montessori teacher, baskets and wood pieces always catch my eye. “Can I make something for the classroom with that?” is a common internal question.

  9. My partner and I love to do yard sales when we are on vacation. None of the local ones are worth the bother. I’m looking for hard cover first editions of authors I like and she’s just browsing to see what catches her fancy.

    When we’re upstate visiting #2 son at his vacation home we go with his mother in law. She’s a huge yard sale watcher. She also knows a lot about antiques and sells stuff on e-bay.

  10. I used to love yard sales, entertaining and helped me furnish empty rooms . . . now my home is already overfull. I don’t want the work of organizing a sale, so I give a little away now and then, trying to reclaim space.

    1. They are a ton of work to organize! That is great that you donate instead. I hate to see useable stuff out on the curb for the trash!

  11. I really liked your metaphor and I love yard sales. But I need to weed out rather than acquire. I must say that I have read so many of you authors on line so that I usually special order or reserve your books. What that prevents me from doing is browsing, and that is a delicious experience for a bookaholic.

  12. I used to go to yard sales every week when we lived on a Navy base. They were the best sales ever. But looking back I think it must have been sad for a lot of people having the sales, because they were having to move and get rid of all their excess quickly. We were civilians and didn’t have to move. Now I think of it differently, because I realize that we benefitted excessively from something that couldn’t have been easy for them.

    I’ve only been to a few yard sales in recent years. Like Lil mentioned, I need to sort through what I have and simplify my living space a little! I’ve recently started to do that with a sence of purpose. I’ve found a lot of things that had never been unpacked through maybe 7 or 8 moves… possibly more. I found MY baby beads from Salem Hospital—a mystery of it’s own, because they are blue. Could explain a few things. 🙂

    1. As a military wife moves are sad but they also brought a sense of adventure that is hard to beat. Very cool that you found your baby beads, Reine! And maybe all beads were blue.

      1. Oh yes, the adventure was certainly there for our friends and neighbors. I could feel that. I also know that a lot of us wouldn’t have been able to buy most of the things we did if they weren’t priced so favorably. Everyone always seemed happy for the cash, too. And some were counting on it for travel pocket money. But still… y’know? xoxox

  13. I loved your article, Sherry! And I also love going to yard sales, especially with a good friend. 🙂 It is exciting to find a great deal and being able to share that excitement with a friend makes it even more fun. The same is true of a good book…you want to share that story with a friend, too!

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