Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Last Yard Sale

“This is almost certainly the last yard sale we’ll ever do.”

That was a comment at one of the 11 yard sales I visited this morning. There was a similar sentiment at another one of the sales. I found these comments noteworthy because they came at two of the most successful sales I saw today.

A yard sale is rarely a financially impressive return on the time that the people organizing it put in. Imagine it as a challenge on a reality TV show: “We want you to raise money by selling the excess items you will find in this house — but you cannot sell anything that is necessary to the functioning of the household, and you must raise enough money to pay the salaries of the camera operator and lighting and sound technicians who will be recording your efforts.” Not likely, right? Along the same lines, the time you put into a yard sale is not likely to bring in as much money as putting the same amount of time into your own day job (or a job search, if necessary).

Yard sales make sense not for the money they generate but as a way to focus your efforts on taking away clutter and freeing up space in the house. The value of the freed-up real estate (such as shelf space and closet space) is greater than the money that comes in at the yard sale. But how many times can you go through the house and find enough clutter to hold a yard sale? Only about three or four times, over perhaps a period of five to ten years. After that, most of the clutter is gone. Search again, and you’ll still find clutter, but it won’t be nearly enough to hold a yard sale. You won’t want to sit outside for a day with five or ten boxes of stuff hoping to bring in $100. It makes more sense to load the boxes in the car and take them to a charity. Nor does it make sense to save things up for a few years for the next yard sale. That’s not a good use of real estate either.

This means that yard sales make sense as a transitional event. After you find that your material life is decidedly out of balance, a yard sale is one possible step in the process of getting things back in balance. Once that process is complete, though, there is no more reason to have a yard sale. When people declare the last yard sale, they’re saying they have their material lives under control again. And what that becomes a trend, as it appears it may be, it‘s a sign of a fundamental change in the consumption side of the economy.