Sunday, May 26, 2013

I Love Yard Sales

I love yard sales, and I think it’s because I consider them the physical counterpart to writing mysteries.  Here’s how I see the two.  First, there must be an idea for a story.  That’s easy because the newspaper publishes the sales going on each weekend.  That’s the story—Mystery writer gets up earlier than usual and takes on the secondhand world.


Now we need a plot.  For our yard saling story, it’s better to be a plotter rather than a pantser.  This is what I do the evening before.  I sit with the newspaper listing of the sales and a county map.  I then work out the order my husband and I (of course we both go.  We’re both writers, aren’t we?)  will visit the sale locations.  Usually it’s the ones nearest where we live, then those on our side of town, ending with the ones on the other side of the community.  Like all good plots, it’s necessary to leave open the possibility that we’ll pass by other sales on the way to those already in the plan or plot.  There may even be some advertised by signs on telephone poles luring us to places far removed from our original plan.  It’s best to know neighborhoods and detour only for those you have a hunch will pay off, not those known to carry only junk.  You’ll know this because you may have been drawn here before only to discover it wasn’t worth the rewrite, er, detour.


The clues come next and this is the fun part.  The goodies purchased at the sales are the clues, because you never know what you’ll find that, together with your other purchases will complete this story to your satisfaction.  Always strive for the happy ending where you achieve some feeling of accomplishment. Some articles you jump to the minute you alight from the car only to discover they are not worthy of your consideration.  They’re rusted, ripped, dirty beyond saving, chipped, too expensive and can’t be bargained down to your price or you already have twenty tea cups just like those.  Others seem like a steal, but when you get them home, you decide you don’t like them and you delete that part of the story.  Don’t be swayed by what other s are considering or your story will sound stale.  Be creative.  I find the little things, like clues that don’t seem on the surface of it to be significant, are the most exciting.  The twenty-five cent basket that looks just right on your outdoor table, or a picture frame that fits with the décor of your home in Florida.  An aside here: my husband warns me against buying items that we have to transport from one home to the other.  He claims my purchases for the other house are why we’ve downsized to a small car, but he was the one who jammed the secondhand convection oven in the trunk of the car making me leave my big suitcase home…grumble, grumble.  Sometimes shopping with a partner is as bad as writing with one.


There’s always a dark moment and sometimes, surprisingly, it comes too early in the day.  You’ve been stopping at sale after sale and you’ve found nothing.  Or you walk up to a sale and a yard flag you didn’t know you wanted, but now can’t live without grabs your attention.  Just before you hand your dollar to the seller another buyer steps in front of you and takes it.  Now you know who the villain is.  Sometimes you feel there is no way out of the dark moment.  This happens when it rains, a sale is cancelled or you find no sales advertised in the paper.  The best rescue for your story is to go to a consignment shop or Goodwill or Salvation Army and buy something there.  If you can’t do that, then another alternative, which I consider cheating although sometimes necessary, is to shop the internet and buy something or do it in a nearby mall.  I warn you this ending is a bit like reading the first manuscript you ever wrote that you’ve stashed in your bottom desk drawer.


I can’t remember doing yard sales without buying something.  I don’t purchase an item just to say I came away a winner, but I do admit one item makes the whole venture more of a short story than a novel.


Friends ask if I’ll ever find I don’t need anything at yard sales and stop going.  We don’t yard sale because we need thing.  We do it for the adventure, the fun, the quest.  Will I ever not go?  That’s like asking if I’ll ever stop write mysteries.


Yard sales yesterday?  Mostly rained out, but I did get that cute little fishy frame.  I’ll take it to Florida.  I’ll hide it in my suitcase with that sweater I bought last week.  And the tablecloth and napkins, placemats…  Don’t tell my husband.




  1. Then there's always heightened suspense brought on by the quest for a bathroom midway through the day's trek,or the question of whether that new treasure will actually work when it's plugged in, or fit when tried on.

  2. Lesley,
    I share your love of yard sales and mysteries! You never know what you're going to find at/in either one. It's the intrigue, the not knowing, that keeps me going to yard sales and reading and writing mysteries. Kind of like searching for buried treasure or gem hunting; I love those too!

  3. Another yard sale/flea market veteran here. And, hmph, thinking about some of those rambles, I just got the germ of a short story idea.

  4. I'm so glad this post inpired you, John. We should collect al lthe mystery writers who love yard sales, flea markets, consignment shops and write a collective murder mystery. Teh theme would be something like this: Twenty mystery writers set out on a yard sale quest, each one finds one item that is significant to solving a murder.

  5. I never thought of comparing garage sales to mysteries. It's an interesting concept. I used to love going to garage sales, especially when I was teaching elementary school. I found so many things for my classroom. However, now even though I've had 4 or 5 garage sales, I haven't sold all those hundreds of kids books and science items and what knots although I did sell a large paper wasp nest, but that was one I'd taken down from a tree after the frost killed the wasps. I also had lots and lots of bones, turtle shells and other things from my science center I sold. I'm afraid to go to garage sales anymore because my house is already overflowing with books, and I really don't need anything else, but I agree it's a fun treasure hunt to go to them.

    Do you ever feel guilty not buying anything when you stop? I do which is another reason I
    rarely go anymore. I can't bare the look of anticipation on the seller's faces that turns to disappointment so usually I buy some small thing whether I want it or not.