tips for shopping neighborhood garage sales (Eastmoreland 2013)

28th Annual Eastmoreland Garage Sale map, marked

This was my third year attending the Annual Eastmoreland Neighborhood Garage Sale, Holy Grail of Portland yard sales for the sheer number of houses participating—over 130!—and the higher income-level of households (as indicated from real-estate values) and their more-upscale-than-average, trickle-down possessions. The first year, I found my beautiful white Heath Ceramics teapot for $1. Last year, Jeff and I went on Sunday because Saturday had been pouring rain but discovered that a lot of the houses only set up on Saturday (because who wants to give up both days of a weekend selling hand-me-downs when they don't technically need the money?), and the holdovers seemed shell-shocked from getting soaked the day before, so pickings were sparse. This year, Jeff was up in Seattle with friends at a pro-baseball game, so I went on Saturday both alone and car-less, which proved challenging but worth it.

vintage white, gold, and turquoise tile coffee table

I got to the sale at about 9:45 a.m. after a forty-five-minute, two-bus ride (for a 10-minute drive!), the sale having started at eight. The first house I came across right off the bus had a round, low-slung, mid-century tiled coffee table out front, white with brass legs and a turquoise-and-gold star-cross design in the center. The tag read $45. My eye never leaving the table, I asked the woman, Donna, if she had any maps, and we commiserated at the stinginess and secrecy of the neighborhood association with their maps. She said a friend of hers had some down on SE 31st Avenue. Then I got to the point: "That's a great table." She said it had been her mother's, that the legs unscrewed and you could either place them straight or at an angle. I asked if she'd take $30. She countered at $35. Sold! I knew if it didn't work for my own place, Jeff could easily resell it at his space at Hawthorne Vintage. We exchanged numbers and arranged that I'd pick it up Sunday or Monday. That table turned out to be the only mid-century-modern furniture piece I saw the whole day.

restored 1976 Airstream Caravanner for sale

large lambskin rug, 28th Annual Eastmoreland Garage Sale

I'll spare you the play-by-play, but by late morning I had found myself hefting around a four-pelt lambskin rug too big to fit in my bags. Everyone kept staring at the bulky sheepskin as I walked by, possibly in envy but more likely in pity because it was midday and too warm for a fur coat. Soon after coming across the lambskin, I snagged a gold-metallic, fake-leather pouf for just $1 and found my arms and bags neither wide nor big enough to tote the awkward, slipping load, even though so far I was only carrying three purchases—the sheepskin, the pouf, and a pair of curtains—none of them heavy. Fortunately, I had meandered over near a bus stop and decided to make a run home to unload and have a snack. Unfortunately, that meant I lost almost three hours of the sale because that particular bus line doesn't run often. At least I had a book and something to sit on.

By the time I got back to Eastmoreland at 3 p.m., there were only two hours left. The afternoon wasn't as fruitful as the morning, though I found a pair of shoes, a bit of silk yarn, and an entry-way wall organizer. Sellers were packing up early, so at five I walked up the hill for some groceries, since I had room in my bags. Overall, it was a tiring but productive day, even though I'd only covered maybe half the map.

Here's the breakdown:

$35.00    vintage tile coffee table (down from $45; retails between $300-400)
$20.00    New Zealand lambskin rug, like-new (down from $25; retails new from $200-600)
$  1.00    faux-leather pouf (down from $2; unsure of origin, maybe Target?)
$  2.00    pair of Pottery Barn cotton curtain panels (down from $4; retails new around $45 each)
      .50    partial skein of sari-silk yarn (full skein new retails around $10)
$  3.00    Hannah Anderson Swedish clogs (down from $5; retails new at $68)
$  3.00    Umbra cubby organizer, new-in-box (down from $5; retails new at $30)

Saturday was a beautiful, warm sunny day for the Eastmoreland Sale this year. Besides collecting a few furnishings for the new apartment I'll be moving into next month, I also got in hours of exercise and fresh air—the perfect multitask. On Sunday, the poor householders and shoppers in Eastmoreland got drenched (that's June in Portland, for you, fifty-fifty odds), while I stayed cozy and dry at home, checking tasks off my to-do list.

porta potties at Duniway School

If you've never been to an all-day neighborhood yard sale, here are some tips:
  1. Find a sale map as early as possible. For some strange reason, most of the Portland neighborhoods don't make their maps available digitally or ahead of the sale, which can make planning hard. (Seriously, PDX Neighborhood Associations: PDF downloads, please!)
  2. Circle the porta potties (aka honey buckets). Shopping with a full bladder can be dangerous.
  3. Bring hand sanitizer. Though modern portable toilets offer sanitizer dispensers, bring your own little bottle because you never know when you might pick up something sticky or dirty while shopping, true for all thrifting hunts.
  4. Take highlighters to trace your routes and mark places you might want to return to or pick up items you bought but don't want to carry around.
  5. Carry water, or plan to buy lemonade from children's stands. Dehydration headaches are never fun.
  6. Bring snacks, or else plan to eat hot dogs from someone's stand.
  7. Wear sunscreen and a brimmed hat, even on an overcast day. Nobody likes sunburn.
  8. Wear comfortable shoes. You'll be on your feet, moving, for hours.
  9. Stay home on rainy days. Even great deals are not worth getting wet and uncomfortable. But if rain doesn't bother you, wear a visored jacket or slicker rather than taking an umbrella since you'll be less likely to knock over or bump into things and people.
  10. Bargain, haggle, make an offer! Most Eastmoreland folks were pricing things rather high this year (I overheard a French-speaking trio saying the same thing) but sellers were ready to make a deal, even early on Saturday morning. However, nobody likes to be low-balled, so be fair. If it's a four-dollar item in good used condition, offer half, a ratio I found was usually accepted eagerly. If it's a never-used or higher-value item, maybe offer two-thirds of the asking price, and if you really want it, accept the counter-offer gleefully or else haggle further.
  11. Use your smartphone for pricing, directions, and pictures. If you're not sure of a fair secondhand price, take advantage of technology to look the item up on the spot. This was my first year with my own smartphone, and though I only looked up a price once at the sale (for the lambskin), it made the difference between wondering whether I was getting overcharged and knowing I was getting an amazing deal.
  12. Follow your gut. If you really like something and it's beautiful and useful, valuable to you, make the deal right then because if you wait, odds are it'll be snatched up by someone else (true of all secondhand shopping). Plus, if you do change your mind later, the item can always be resold.
  13. Buy only what you need and love for your own home and lifestyle, not just because something's a good deal. Otherwise, you'll end up with a garage or closets full of someone else's junk.
  14. Bring plenty of sturdy bags and, if on foot, a shopping cart. If in a vehicle, plan for plenty of hauling space. You never know when you might find that perfect furniture piece or hobby or sports item. Many sellers are perfectly willing to hold items you've purchased for subsequent pick-up later that day or the next, but confirm this before buying.  
  15. Travel light, especially if on foot without a car. If you come by vehicle, packing light becomes less of an issue but you'll still be doing a lot of walking and carrying back and forth to the car, as well as moving the car around the neighborhood. I didn't bring my big camera this year and just used my phone camera to save space and weight, though that also meant I didn't take as many photos. Consider the trade-offs when packing.
  16. Be open. As with other secondhand shopping, you never know what treasures you'll find.

This upcoming weekend is the annual Maywood Park Garage Sale that Jeff and I will be attending for the first time, Maywood Park being a cute little neighborhood in far-northeast Portland that incorporated itself years ago in a failed effort to prevent the 205 freeway from splitting up their burg. It's still a pretty, pine-filled neighborhood of century-old houses with safe streets and so a good place to raise kids. I have friends in Maywood Park doing just that, who are selling on Saturday. See you there!

(Edited to add: Sadly, we didn't end up attending the Maywood Park Sale this year; I was too busy getting ready to move. Next year, though!)

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