A Field Guide to North American Yard Sales: 15 Documented Species

Who remembers the hit 1980s sitcom “ALF”? ALF was a furry, chest-high alien with a caustic sense of humor and a vaguely Brooklyn accent.  He crashed his spaceship into the suburban home of the Tanners, a mild-mannered, droopy-faced family of four.  Most episodes revolved around ALF’s hilarious refusal to assimilate to the customs of his hosts.  alf

Back on ALF’s home planet, they ate cats for dinner and used lint as currency (dryer vent or belly button, I’m not sure which).  Gravel and foam were also quite valuable.  Gold and platinum were almost worthless.

ALF taught us kids a valuable lesson: To fear the government and its Alien Task Force.  That the true value of objects is culturally assigned: One planet’s trash is another’s treasure.

And that is the spirit that must fill one’s heart and mind on Saturday mornings in June — the peak of the North American Yard Sale Season.   As a public service to the Amateur Bargain Hunter, the team at Projectophile has assembled an Official Field Guide to this semi-legal informal economy.


The Collector Sale:  Who knew that the “Last Supper” was available as a plate, plaque, cigar box and belt buckle? Ever had the urge to collect Alvin and the Chipmunks memorabilia or Drunk Hobo figurines? Maybe now would be a good time to start.

Jesus' facebook page?

There was no Facebook in Jesus’ time.

I wasn't kidding about the Drunk Hobos

I wasn’t kidding about the Drunk Hobos

alvinand chipmunksThe Reluctant Multi-Family Sale Family Sale:  In many communities, neighbors band together to hold sprawling, block-long, collective yard sales. The amateur bargain hunter may be lured by the festive atmosphere and the promise of better selection. However, I’ve found that most of the individual families simply don’t have anything to offer, but feel pressured to participate, thus diminishing the overall quality of the event.

The Church Rummage Sale:  Much like the Reluctant Multi-Family Yard Sale Families, church members scrape up whatever they can find in their crawl spaces because they fear they might not get to heaven without contributing.  And a warning for those of us who are uncomfortable having conversations about Jesus with total strangers while cornered in dark, musty church basements — there may also be proselytizing.  On the upside, Church Rummage Sales usually offer tasty and reasonably-priced (sometimes free) hot dogs, lemonade and cookies to the weary bargain hunter.

The Underwhelming Selection Sale:  ­ This seller just cleaned out her junk drawer and put it on a card table on her lawn.  May also be spotted at the Multi-Family Sale.

Picture 001

Something for everyone!

The Creepy Hoarder Estate Sale:  This gentleman hasn’t thrown a damn thing out since 1959. And now he’s dead. And his relatives don’t know or care what’s in there, they just need it gone.  That’s where you come in.  With a free afternoon and a quality dust mask, you may find some real treasures. A must-see for collectors of vintage porno mags. But please don’t forget to sign up for several weeks of counseling afterwards, cause you’re definitely gonna need it.

The Playing-Hard-to-Get Sale:  This is your chance to play Indiana Jones at a yard sale.  These folks didn’t bother to sort it, price it, or tag it.  They didn’t even take it out of the bins. They just opened the door and let you in. It’s anyone’s guess as to what is for sale and what is not, or what lurks in those dozens of unopened crates and boxes.  We recommend going in with a working knowledge of the region’s poisonous spiders.  


“Throw me the 50-cent Barbara Streisand Album and I throw you the whip.”

The Office Supply Thief Sale:  75% of Americans admit to stealing from work. But most people limit their office larceny to a roll of toilet paper or a fistful of those really nice mechanical pencils.  But this guy, he’s taken it to felony proportions, and doesn’t care who knows it.  If you are unable to pocket enough post-its from your own employer, this might be the sale for you.Office_SuppliesThe Frustrated Avon Lady Sale: You were expecting a crate of records or romance novels, but instead you found a table of half-used face cream or off-brand shampoo.  Like the Office Supply Thief, this sale pops up several times over the course of the Season; the bargain hunter is advised to take note of the address for future avoidance.

avon lady

This sale was described as "Personal Overstock."

This sale was described as “Personal Overstock.”  Everything you need for a night on the town, including Cold Sore Gel and Condoms.

The “I’m Pretty Sure You’re Not Supposed to Sell this Stuff Out of a Garage” Sale:  Food is usually sold at grocery stores or restaurants. But don’t tell this guy.
Picture 006Also, I know that the sale of Prom Dresses isn’t regulated by state or federal authorities, but I still don’t think you should have that many for sale on your front lawn:

Always a bridesmaid?

Always a bridesmaid?

The “I’m Uncomfortable with the Number of Children you Seem to Have” Sale:  Also known as “I’m Uncomfortable with the Amount of Sh*t Your Children Seem to Have.” This is America, but does each of your kids need his/her own junior off-road vehicle?  Avoid taking your own offspring to this sale, as it may heighten their sense of entitlement.
Picture 007The Grandpa Just Died Sale:  If you plan to get old, this would be a good chance to stock up.  It doesn’t seem like Basic Old People Equipment has changed that much in the last couple of decades.
granpadiedThe Crazy Christmas Lady Sale:   Is there anything that CAN’T be made Christmas-themed? Now is your opportunity to find out. And make “Christmas in July” jokes, starting of next week.
santa mugsThe Electronics Graveyard Sale: Call me a paranoid Luddite, but I don’t think the remote controls in your house should outnumber the actual humans.  But if you disagree, head to this sale, cause I’m suuuuure it all still works.
Picture 004The Gold-At-The-End-of-the-Rainbow Sale:  These are the sales that make it all worthwhile.  For us, it’s the “Trust Fund Art Student Moving to New York and Leaving Behind Hundreds of Dollars in Barely-Used Supplies” sale.  Or the “Bold Young Interior Designer Moving to New York and Abandoning her Collection of Framed Marimekko Prints” sale.  Or the “Stylish Young Fashionista who Gained Weight and Must Part with her Barely-Worn Size 8 Anthropolgie Sundresses and Designer Horizontal Striped Shirts” sale.

I wasn't kidding about that Marimekko print.

I wasn’t kidding about that Marimekko print.

When it comes to Yard Sales, you may not find the Emerald City at the end of your Yellow Brick Road, but perhaps you will discover inspiration in an unexpected place:


Time to dust off those dreams of staging your very own production of “The Wizard of Oz!”

*All photos from sales in the Chicago area the weekend of June 21, 2013.


10 thoughts on “A Field Guide to North American Yard Sales: 15 Documented Species

  1. “The Last Supper” will have me laughing all day (along with the Avon Lady). I went to an estate sale a few years ago and they guy must have had at least 100 Last Supper items. It was, well, pretty amazing. You never know what you’ll find! Thanks for the great post and photos!


  2. Pingback: A Field Guide to North American Yard Sales: 15 Documented Species | West Coast Review

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