Susan Dromey-Heeter's Budget Vogue: What makes us stop? Fear and loathing on the yard-sale trail


There are things of which I never grow weary: clean sheets on my bed, chocolate-chip ice cream, a great pedicure,a refreshing swim and, of course, thrift shops.

When I keep things simple, life can be incredibly rewarding, incredibly fresh, delightfully fun. For me, the simpler I keep things, the better it gets.

Which is why, using my very best thinking, my very best insight, my incredible experience in developing the knowledge that simple is best, I have to ask myself: Why do I stop at yard sales?

In basements and garages around the state, spring cleaning is well under way, which, for better or worse, makes this yard-sale season.

Of course, dear readers, you know I love a bargain. And, as you also may know, I tend to limit my bargain hunting to facilities created for and devoted to thrift, their merchandise meticulously organized - menswear on one side, women's on another, individual sections for kitchenware, children's goods, socks and accessories.

When I stop at someone's driveway or yard, on the other hand, I'm never sure what I'll find. Is that the draw? Is that the pull? Is that my mind inviting me to partake in some chaos? Hmmm ... questions to ponder.

As yard-sale season arrives, I spot the signs, see the makeshift stores and, on occasion, slam on the brakes to check out the goods. It's all simply a treasure hunt, albeit with the original pirates orchestrating the sale.

Perhaps that's my reservation: The original owners of the goods, the purchasers of the items, are standing - right there - watching me determine whether I am going to buy their stuff, whether I am going to deem it worthy of my taste, my money, my ownership. Their eyes follow me as I study a vase, check out some books, investigate knickknacks they hope I can't live without. It's pressure, man, pressure.

I once held a yard sale in Anchorage, Alaska, where my husband and I had just moved from Europe and had loads of stuff to sell. I put an ad in the Anchorage Daily News announcing the sale - "Euro Trash or Treasure - You Decide" - feeling pretty smarmy about my advertisement.

But when people arrived (they have early birds in Alaska, too), I was shocked at what they did not buy: the blue polka-dot tea cups from my favorite Dutch store, Hema, the Merry Christmas plate from Germany ...

Huh? Was my stuff not good enough? The unsold goods eventually ended up in Value Village, a wonderful thrift shop on Fireweed Avenue in Anchorage, but I still recall feeling a little perturbed at what did not go after I'd put so much effort into designing my makeshift boutique.

Maybe that's the codependent in me. I know the effort behind the orchestration of a yard sale. It's at least two days of life devoted to one sale. It's a lot of work, a lot of bargaining, bickering, boundary setting.

Now don't get me wrong; it can be fun and exciting, too. But after that day in Anchorage, my heart sank. Granted, we made some cash, got rid of a lot of stuff, but, whew, the emotions of hearing the comments on my purchases.

"What is this thing?" "What would I do with this?" "Wow, this is hideous!"

So, much as I love bargains, I believe I do so particularly with anonymity attached. I'll probably never know the person behind my latest wonderful purchase of the black and white Coach messenger bag from Fairtide in Kittery, Maine - never know the story behind its donation, never know who carried it last. And that, dear readers, is my happy land of anonymity.

And yet I suspect I will brake at a yard sale or two this season. Who can resist a bargain?

Maybe I'll just wear a mask.

Happy Budget Vogueing - in thrift shops, on the streets, in yards and driveways.

Susan Dromey-Heeter's "Budget Vogue" column appears the first week of every month in the New Hampshire Sunday News. Email her at

NH PeopleLifestyle

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