Treasure hunt

Yard sales and estate sales can save you money, if you get up early enough

click to enlarge Inland 360 Editor Mary Stone came home from her quest with some new books and a teapot. - AUGUST FRANK/INLAND 360
August Frank/Inland 360
Inland 360 Editor Mary Stone came home from her quest with some new books and a teapot.

I’ve dabbled for years in exploring the world of secondhand merchandise, and I’m in good company.

Most of us want — or need — to save money. Many of us hope to reduce the impact of our purchases on the environment. Some of us are looking for unique items that can’t be found at traditional retailers.

I recently decided to up my game in the yard sale and estate sale arena (we’ll save thrift shops for another column) by tagging along with maven Sarah Baney, ears pricked for tips and tricks of the trade.

Baney was modest.

“I’m not sure what great insights there are to have about yard sales,” she said, as we set out in her minivan, a good deal earlier than I usually leave the house, with a list of Lewiston sales.

Our excursion was organized by location, starting on Normal Hill, proceeding to the Reno Addition and progressing increasingly farther south into the Orchards, guided by ads she’d seen and our trusty phone map apps.

She has, she admitted, engaged in the “occasional wild goose chase” trying to locate an elusive sale. Approaching our first stop of the morning, chosen for proximity in this case, she walked up and took “a scan.”

“I like to buy very low,” she explained, as she surveyed the inventory — and prices.

Does she look for anything in particular?

“It’s mostly just whatever catches my eye,” she said. “I like vintage Christmas stuff.”

Baney shops for her family of four and does some resale, so her purchases are diverse.

“I also find a lot of household stuff — stuff that we actually need,” she said.

Especially at estate sales, she’ll pick up new — or maybe opened, with just one or two missing — boxes of garbage bags or laundry soap or other staples.

“I don’t have to give more of my family’s money to Walmart,” she said.

The folks in line waiting for the doors to open at the estate sale we hit were chatty in their anticipation. No one was interested in providing their full name, but one frequenter shared that she furnishes and decorates her home primarily from such sales.

“I can do an entire bedroom for about $250,” she said.

It was there, at my first estate sale, where I came close to acquiring a new set of furniture I truly didn’t need. Having recently shopped for a couch (which I ultimately found at Lewiston’s St. Vincent De Paul), I knew what a great deal it was.

I also got a kick out of some risque salt and pepper shakers, which I both regret not purchasing and know I would have no actual use for.

Baney came away with an assortment of mugs, many of them Christmas-themed.

“I always try to hit estate sales early if I can, because generally I like them better,” she said, acknowledging that, even then, “it’s kind of a gamble. You don’t know for sure.”

That means persistence is crucial. Baney estimates she hits upward of 100 sales a year.

“I go every weekend I can,” she said.

With experience comes wisdom, and a certain comfort level.

“When I was new to yard sales, I was shy about it and kind of embarrassed,” she said of bargaining, for example. “Now, I’m that person: ‘Will you take a buck for this?’ ”

As we cruised up to another house, the parking situation was lively, with drivers jockeying for spots that wouldn’t block mailboxes or driveways.

“It’s like taking your life in your hands at these sales,” Baney said. “All bets are off.”

Stone (she/her) can be reached at

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