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DOWN THE ROAD A PIECE: Brush up your etiquette

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Posted: Wednesday, June 12, 2013 3:00 pm | Updated: 2:54 pm, Wed Jun 26, 2013.

Now that Memorial Day weekend is over, the 2013 yard sale season has begun here in Maine and will soon be in full swing, with sales blooming like ragweed on lawns across Maine, from Kittery to Fort Kent, Rockport to Rangeley.

As this robust industry awakens to another season of wild, raucous, unmeasured, completely unregulated and untaxed retail activity – a Libertarian’s dream – I thought it would be a good idea to review some of its unique customs, just so you won’t be embarrassed by committing a yard sale faux pas. Note that I said “customs.” There are no rules for yard sales – that would smack of regulation – but you should know that in yard sale circles, “customs” are to be observed.

As you begin your first yard sale tour of the season, there are some things you should keep in mind. First, whenever possible, you should always make your yard sale experience part of a tour. A visit to several sales gives you more variety – and variety is the spice of yard sales. Oh, that reminds me of something else: Never buy spices at a yard sale no matter what the price. I can’t remember exactly why you shouldn’t, but, as I recall, it was a pretty good reason.

According to custom, yard sales are made up of items that come very close to being thrown on the town dump or transferred to one of our many modern, high-tech, digital transfer stations. That’s because before any yard sale, a family will go through the stacks of stuff they want to get rid of and make two piles, one for the dump and another for the yard sale. Often, it’s a close call. Comments such as, “Oh, throw it on the yard sale pile for now, we can always take it to the dump later,” are common during yard sale preparation. The point is, most of the stuff in the average yard sale is pretty close to being worthless, so anything a family can get from a yard sale is considered found money.

Another thing to know about yard sales is that when the signs say the sale will be from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., you shouldn’t come pounding on the door at quarter to 6 in the morning. Early birds are assumed to be dealers and they’re difficult enough to deal with at any hour of the day, but most difficult before 6 a.m.

Almost as bad are members of the eBay crowd, who like to scour a yard sale or two before breakfast and post a few dozen items online before lunch. Then, while you’re slaving away in your yard, the eBayers are sitting with their laptops in the “free WiFi” coffee shop down the street keeping track of the bidding on their precious items.

But back to yard sales and the people who visit them.

When you see a worthless item priced at $10 sitting there on a lawn, you should never just whip out a ten and hand it to the yard sale host and move on. In yard sale circles, it is considered a violation of etiquette to pay the asking price for any item, without first giving your host an opportunity to hone his or her haggling skills.

Although yard sales are serious business, you should try and have fun at the sales you visit. And one more thing. Please don’t text me bragging about how much you made selling your yard sale finds on eBay.

John McDonald is the author of five books on Maine, including “John McDonald’s Maine Trivia: A User’s Guide to Useless Information.” Contact him at

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