Yard Sale Mania

By March 7, 2012Newspaper column

I asked my friend Patrick if he’d found any good stuff lately? He’s an inveterate yard sale devotee as well as a dumpster diver. “The other day I bought an electric transformer,” he told me and described an item you could never find if you had gone in search of it. But that’s the fun of yard sales. Collecting seems to be an American passion. Everyone who likes to go antiquing, rummage around at a flea market, or scour the paper every Saturday for yard sale locations is probably not looking for anything they need. Most of us scroungers are simply hoping to uncover a treasure.

An innocuous ad for a yard sale makes two or three people I know positively salivate. Finding a teapot for two dollars that turns out to be Minton china spurs us on. What if the next time it’s an original painting by a well-known artist and overnight you’ve won the equivalent of the lottery? Some people were born to it, this rummaging around for those “things” that speak to us on some deep level. Others of course look for bargains, or that certain something they weren’t looking for but must have once it’s found. Buying can be an obsession for some and just plain fun for most of us. Patrick totally ignores the “Absolutely No Early Birds” statement in a yard sale ad and claims that if anyone objects he just waits patiently. He often regales us with anecdotes about the interactions that go on among yard sale attendees and the sale givers, each haggling within the protocol of good yard sale manners. Once in awhile someone crosses that line and forgets that the idea of a yard sale is to get rid of things. My friend JoAnn has become her own interior decorator in true Key West fashion, pulling perfectly good things from trash cans to supplement her rental house. She’s giving Debra Yates some competition in this arena. There are many folks around town who have become experts at spotting things, perfectly useful things, put out on the curb for others to take. I once called Michael Pelkey to tell him about a headboard I spotted on the curb on Olivia Street. It hadn’t been there ten minutes but Michael said. “Saw it. Not worth the effort.” And that was that. Evaluation made, item rejected, – A sign of a real “Junktique Pro”.

A walk down Duval Street proves something about the buying patterns of people on vacation. Americans love to shop. We buy souvenirs to remind us of the places we’ve been. We buy gifts. We buy art and we buy particularly unusual or beautiful items we may not see elsewhere. The pursuit of a collectible is as much fun as the acquisition itself and, if one isn’t careful, can lead to obsessive behavior. Who among us doesn’t know someone crazy for something?

Things that people choose to collect may have interesting historic backgrounds, they may be especially well designed or they may continue to increase in monetary value because of their rarity. And then there are things that challenge the imagination, like those front yard appliances disguised as “art.” For whatever reason, there is never a dearth of collectibles or people who want to collect them.

Accidental Collections

Many collections started by accident. Perhaps you bought a Toby mug at a flea market, then another at a yard sale and now you find yourself looking for Toby mugs wherever you go A collection can start with anything that attracts your interest for whatever reason.

Piece By Piece

A collection is usually not purchased as a whole, but rather collected piece by piece. That’s part of the allure. First you have the experience of finding a new piece and then you have the experience of seeing it displayed with the rest of the collection. There is no end to the number you can add. Each piece is a reminder of a different time or place where the item was purchased.

Personalized Collection

A collection is an individual and personal statement. Sometimes a collection is visited upon the unsuspecting. My husband’s uncle had the misfortune of being nicknamed “Bunny.” Need I say more? Everyone knew exactly what to give him for Christmas and birthdays. He had glass bunnies, ceramic bunnies, stuffed bunnies, large and miniature bunnies. And because they were gifts he could never give any of them away.

Collections To Consider

l. Oversized crocks filling a niche of shelves.

2. Black and white photographs of family members grouped and hung on one wall. Betsy Smith did this in her bathroom.

3. Baskets hanging from a rafter or beam, or lined up on a bench or shelf always within easy access for practical uses.

5. Michael Pelkey collects ironstone pitchers and yellow or white pudding molds. Check out the pictures in my new book, “Key West: A Tropical Lifestyle” (Monacelli Press).

6. Quilts on beds, as wallhangings, tablecloths, over a sofa or chair. Damaged quilts can be cut up to make fabulous pillows covers.

7. Early Key West memorabilia framed all together on one wall or arranged on a small table.

8. Carefully arranged books filling an entire wall as the focal point of an otherwise stark and uncluttered room. Great for the soul!

9. A collection of shells in a rustic basket on a table is simple and lovely. Their different shades of natural colors, shapes and patterns together create a work of art as nice as any you could buy.

10 Key West art, if you’re into collecting for the possibility of long-term increased value.









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