Take a weekend stroll through the prosperous streets of leafy west London this summer and you are likely to encounter numerous front gardens filled with rails of designer frocks and crowds of neighbours happily recycling each other’s cast-offs.
Yard sales are the latest trend to cross the Atlantic. They have been popular for years in America, especially in Hollywood. Pamela Anderson flogged her float from Baywatch, chain mail bra and other assorted underwear. Tori Spelling offered used make-up and wedding presents from her first marriage… all for charity of course.
Last year, Torchwood star John Barrowman brought yard sales to Britain with a huge clear-out of his home in Cardiff that included clothes, ornaments, a wetsuit and even his Peugeot 407.
Now two fifty-somethings in Acton in west London, Clare Gittins and Nicola Easton, are spreading the word further by launching a website, londonyardsale.co.uk.
“It all started when we did a yard sale of our own,” says Clare. “I was very proactive, talking to neighbours and putting up flyers, and I found that other people wanted to join in and do their own sales. In the end it turned into a community event with around ten neighbours joining in.
“I think getting together to hold community events is the future for yard sales, as they help people to overcome their British reserve and inhibitions about letting other people see the contents of their homes.
“We put balloons and posters at each end of the street and attracted a mixture of neighbours and people who were wandering past. I managed to get rid of a huge, hideous glass vase I have always hated, for £3. My brownies went down a bomb and we made £100 in a couple of hours, some of which went to charity.
That success inspired the couple to launch their website, which offers free listings of events across London, with the rest of the country to follow. It contains advice on running your own sale and a matchmaker service that puts people together with other potential sellers.
Clare says yard sales are an idea whose time has come, and envisages the idea spreading across the country. “It’s green, it’s great fun and incredibly easy, and it helps you to de-clutter your home,” she says.
“It is mainly women who come to these sales, along with a few blokes who have generally been dragged along. That means the most popular items are definitely clothes, so it’s essential to have a full-length mirror available and a discreet corner where people can try things on. We made a pop-up dressing room in a passageway down the side of the house.
“Jewellery always sells well, and you can sell electricals at yard sales, so it’s a good idea to have an extension cable available so that people can check that items work.
“It’s amazing what people will buy. The biggest thing we saw changing hands was a three-year-old combination microwave fitted with a French plug which probably would have been thrown out, but which someone happily took away for £20.”
As well as evangelising on the internet, Clare is now planning her next sale. “My brownies were such a big hit that I have invested in packaging, so I can sell pre-packed boxes of four,” she says. “I am expecting my neighbours to form a queue…”
Clear out your clutter
If this has inspired you to have a clear-out, Clare offers these simple steps:
1 Set a date four to six weeks ahead and allocate time to gathering up the stuff you want to sell.
2 Talk to your neighbours and let them know what you are doing. You may well find they want to join in.
3 If you have a local website, use the forum to chat to others about the sale and invite them to come along.
4 Print out flyers (email firstname.lastname@example.org for a template) and post them through letterboxes in your road and surrounding streets.
5 It’s best to run your sale with someone else, so recruit a friend or family member to help you out on the day.