House & Home

Yard Sale Etiquette

By Nancy Twigg

Friends call me the "Miss Manners" of garage sales. You see, I believe there's a certain ethical code governing the time-honored act of buying and selling secondhand stuff. Contrary to popular opinion, a yard sale is not an anything-goes free-for-all. As in any social situation, there are certain things you do or avoid doing to ensure you are polite and considerate of others.

My husband, Michael, and I are avid garage sale shoppers, and we have seen many examples of bad manners among shoppers and sellers. Here are a few of the faux pas we've seen that could have been easily avoided by the simple practice of good yard sale etiquette.

Garage Sale Buyers' Blunders

* Being an "Early Bird"
If the paper says the sale starts at 7 a.m., don't show up at 6 a.m. and don't drive by the night before in hopes you will beat the other shoppers to the bargains. Yard sale shoppers who peer in garage windows with flashlights or knock on doors at 5:30 a.m. give the rest of us shoppers a bad name.

* Not Respecting the Seller's Property
Walking unnecessarily through the yard, stepping in flowerbeds, and blocking neighbors' driveways are definitely in poor taste. If your children accompany you, see to it that they respect the seller's property as well.

* Carrying Only Large Bills
While it is the seller's responsibility to have adequate change, producing a $20 bill for a 25-cent purchase is extremely inconsiderate. Save small bills and change throughout the week for your Saturday yard sale trip.

* Loud or Obnoxious Behavior
Just because the seller is up early doesn't mean his neighbors are. Driving a noisy vehicle or speaking and laughing loudly will not endear you to the seller. Aggressive haggling or obnoxious negotiating tactics aren't welcome, either.

* Not Respecting Other Buyers
If you want to buy a large item or more items than you can carry, ask the proprietor to mark the item or start a "pile" for you in an out-of-the-way place. It is rude to claim items as yours while you continue shopping if you haven't made any effort to let the proprietor and other shoppers know you intend to purchase them.

Garage Sale Sellers' Blunders

* Not Pricing Items clearly
I don't know which is worse: not pricing items in a way that is easily understandable or not pricing items at all. Buyers shouldn't have to work at figuring out the prices. If your pricing system is too confusing, some shoppers will get frustrated and leave without making purchases.

* Accommodating Early Birds
Allowing early shoppers to get the bargains is unfair to the shoppers who respect your wishes. When sellers accommodate early birds, they only provide positive reinforcement to this inconsiderate behavior. Politely but firmly tell early birds that the sale is not open for business yet.

* Trying to Sell Used Stuff at "New" Prices
If your stuff means that much to you, take it to a consignment store or sell it through a classified ad or on eBay. Yard sale shoppers are looking for bargains, not prices barely below what you'd find at a discount store.

* Being Careless with Yard Sale Preparations
For the buyer who thinks she has found the item of her dreams, there is nothing worse than hearing, "That's not for sale!" Remove things you do not want to sell from the sale area (lawnmowers, bicycles, wagons, etc.). If that isn't possible, cover them with an old sheet or dropcloth, or use masking tape to rope off areas that are not part of the sale.

* Not Taking Down Old Signs
After the yard sale is over, your yard sale signs are litter that should be disposed of just like any other garbage. Carelessly leaving old signs up ad infinitum is extremely inconsiderate to both shoppers and neighbors who must look at your weather-beaten signs for months to come.

If you have ever violated any of these social graces (as either a seller or buyer), take heart. Yard sale fanatics are a forgiving bunch. Just make a silent vow that in the future, you will always be on your best bargaining behavior.

Nancy Twigg is the editor of Counting the Cost, a free twice-a-month e-zine devoted about simple, frugal and abundant living. She is also a popular conference and retreat speaker as well as the author of two books. To learn more about Nancy's work, visit