How Yard Sales Created and Almost Destroyed a School by
(275 Stories)

Prompted By Yard Sales

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I had always thought of garage and yard sales as something with which I would never be involved. The only yard sale I had ever hosted was my children’s project. We had gotten to the point of toy creep and our house looked like a kiddy version of hoarders. My husband and I lowered the boom. Some of these things had to go, either straight to the garbage if broken, or to be donated if in good shape but rarely used. My capitalist kids had a third idea. They would sell these toys in a yard sale.

I stayed away from yard sales for many years after that experience, but starting Cherry Preschool with no money meant I would have to become a garage and yard sale lover.

They actually sorted through their toys and put pricing stickers on things they no longer used that were still in relatively good shape. There was none of their typical bickering as they had found common cause. They were going to make a ton of money. They also set up a lemonade stand to attract customers and posted signs on the trees on our block.

After they arranged the toys on our front lawn, they learned a painful lesson about sales. In order to be successful, they needed buyers. They imagined kids would flock to their sale from far and wide to buy their wares. Instead, the two kids who lived next door were the only ones who showed up. Being slightly younger than my children, they were very excited by all of the merchandise. Unfortunately, they had no capital to invest. I think their parents gave them each a small amount of money, and that is what my kids earned. At least all of the unwanted toys had traveled next door, hopefully to be enjoyed.

I stayed away from yard sales for many years after that experience, but starting Cherry Preschool with no money meant I would have to become a garage and yard sale lover. I have shared the origin story for the preschool I created with a group of parents and teachers in earlier stories, The Sharing Tree and Betrayed by a Church.

Yard sale treasures

What these tales don’t capture is the importance of yard sales in creating and almost destroying our school. First the positive. When we started the preschool, we had no toys, storage units for them, tables, chairs, easels, art materials, or supplies… in short, we had nothing. One Board member was in charge of finding all of the things we needed as cheaply as possible. While we had neither money nor supplies, we did have lots of energy, creativity, and devotion to our cause. And she had an empty garage in which she squirreled away the treasures we bought or scrounged, usually for free or with money from our own pockets.

Anyone remember these?

In addition to cleaning out our own children’s playrooms (for years they would visit the preschool and exclaim, “I used to have a toy like that!”), we scoured the city for summer garage sales. We washed and fixed and schlepped everything from the garage to the east side of our building, which was unoccupied that summer. Our haul was quite impressive. Many people were even willing to donate items they had hoped to sell, so in addition to toys, we found shelving, tables, discarded office equipment… pretty much anything in which we could display and store our yard sale toys.

Year one with some of our yard sale finds

At this point, we were so fond of yard sales that someone came up with the idea of having one as one of our first fundraisers. So, we put out the call to our parents and the community that we were collecting donations for what we called “Spring Pickin’s.” Seemed like such a great idea. Each classroom could feature a different category of items: children’s books, clothing, baby equipment, household items, furniture, and “lots more.” This was the spring of our first year of cash-starved operations, when we were calling ourselves Evanston Developmental Preschool (also called “The Mental School” by the kids who couldn’t pronounce our fancy name).

It seemed like a great idea

Our eager volunteers priced and set up the items for sale, and we even took out ads in our local paper and posted flyers all over the community. OMG, were we ever unprepared for the number of people who crowded into our little school. We had a staircase to the lower level that only permitted one-way traffic with people squishing up and down those stairs. Good thing no one reported us to the Fire Department. As an extra incentive, I think we also had a bake sale. Needless to say, the building was trashed. I guess we made a bit of money, but we lacked the security to protect ourselves from having people take many of our offerings and probably some of our toys as well. It took countless hours to clean up the building and restore the school to be ready for the kiddos on Monday.

I guess the lesson learned was that going to yard sales was fine for procuring inexpensive items. I suspect some folks even find treasures in their midst. But having one is another story altogether. Won’t be doing that again.

I invite you to read my book Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real and join my Facebook community.

Profile photo of Laurie Levy Laurie Levy
Boomer. Educator. Advocate. Eclectic topics: grandkids, special needs, values, aging, loss, & whatever. Author: Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real.

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Characterizations: well written


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    You certainly were creative in the ways that you set up your school, Laurie. I love that poster from your foray into trying your rummage sale. The actual experience does sound like a nightmare. You have my total sympathy there. Glad you got it off the ground and ran your wonderful enterprise for many successful years, despite this setback.

  2. Betsy Pfau says:

    Oh yes; and as for getting rid of used kids’ toys, I always donate to Good Will, but sometimes to my kids’ consternation. Even though my “baby” is 31, I still get flack when she’s home for giving away some very early electronic game (maybe Duck Hunter?) that she hadn’t played with in YEARS, but she now considers a classic. She even brought home an ancient MAC processor at the end of one school year, promising that she would play some game on it. Needless to say, it has never been turned on. She lives in San Jose and before the pandemic came home once a year, but now it will cost us at least $50 to dispose of, IF we can convince her to part with it.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      I just shipped a huge box of my son’s treasures to Newton (at great expense) because we sold the house and I knew he would want some of his childhood treasures like Star Wars and baseball cards and his Dungeons and Dragons things. Also, his Rubix Cube and a book about how to master it. Maybe he will teach his sons? Of course, I had to toss most of his things. Hopefully, he won’t notice?

  3. I can sympathize with your children’s hard lesson learned, Laurie…sales and marketing was never my forte either.

    You are such a good and smart mom to have shipped your son’s treasures to him…I still have quite a bit of my daughter’s stuff that she doesn’t really want but doesn’t want me to throw away either. Many years ago, my mother took it upon herself to get rid of a lot of my treasures (admittedly taking up a fair amount of real estate in her closets) in her own garage sale while I was living in Hawaii…including my full hippie regalia tie-dyed wardrobe from stockings to overcoat, AND my bespoke forest nymph wedding dress with faux tattered hem and beaded headband. I guess I should have thanked her instead of being disconsolate.

    I love your poster, by the way…glad you kept it!!

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Oh, Barb, so sad you lost all of the treasures of your youth. I’m sure that’s why you are holding onto your daughter’s. I kept my kids’ stuff as long as I could. My daughters ended up tossing most of it after that went through everything. I had to make those decisions for my son, and I hope he feels like he has enough treasures. Tossed all of those participation trophies and certificates and wondered why I kept them for so long.

  4. Marian says:

    Amazing story, Laurie, and what an experience. At least you and the school recovered from it. How awful that people trashed the place, but I guess when you are dealing with the “general public,” that’s what could happen. I know that for me even my one benign yard sale was enough.

  5. Suzy says:

    Sorry your rummage sale turned out to be such a disaster! I agree with others that your poster was great – love the kids peeking over the fence! And yes, I remember My Little Pony all too well, thanks for the picture of one of the ponies. I also like the fact that you supplied the preschool with toys from your own children, and that when they visited, they would say “I used to have a toy like that!” Classic! Thanks for this great story!

  6. Laurie, I know from friends in my summer community how much work is involved in organizing a successful tag sale. For years a committee of volunteers ran a 2 day sale and silent auction for a charity called FISH (Friends
    in Service to Humanity.)
    I always found some good things to buy , and donated my home organizing services to the silent auction.

    But as of last summer no more sale & auction – the gals on the committee said it was just too much work! Too bad!

  7. Risa Nye says:

    What an experience! With all the best intentions… Sounds like the school was able to recover and provide lots of entertainment and enrichment with those previously loved items!

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