Yard sale finds

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The yard sale season came to an abrupt halt this fall when it became too cold to stand in a stranger’s yard looking at their crap. On a mild day anything can be interesting, worth purchasing even. But when it’s freezing the eye turns critical and exacting.

Before the end of the season, I rescued a smooth, sweet-faced seal and a glazed bowl from a woman with an admitted pottery addiction. I hear ya, sister. Let me take those off your hands.

Seals with adorable faces always remind me of that classic meme.

seals clubbing

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Yard sale finds

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A few weeks ago I bought a pine tree. Just a small one–an indoor Norfolk pine. Someone had bought the other one or I would have gone home with a pair. Just as well. My house is turning into a jungle. Better to collect plants now and stock up on oxygen before Boston goes all Beijing. Anyway, it’s doing well after transitioning from a pampered home where it was probably fed fancy fertilizer. Here, it just gets water. It seems to like looking out the window though.

pine tree

For the record, I went to this other house sale with the cool door back in August, but no one answered the knocking fox. I even tried the door, but it was big and heavy and stuck or locked. I bet they had good stuff. 

Yard sale finds


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How cute is the print from The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Boook Art? Answer: super cute. Also, a museum dedicated to picture book art? Amazing–and apparently two hours from my house. Yes, the elderly caterpillar may be a bit creepy, but I choose to think of them as a colorful, spunky duo with excellent eyesight. I bought it from an older woman and her 30-something daughter who said it had been hers–I assumed when she was a kid.

“Don’t tell anyone I don’t have kids,” I told her.

“That’s great!” they agreed.

“Would you like a minute to say goodbye?” I asked.

“It’s OK. We’re glad it’s going to such a good home.”

Which made me wonder why they assumed it was going to a good home. I could be a collector-turned-destroyer of picture book art. I could banish it to the basement. I could despise caterpillars and torch the print.

More likely, I will find a good spot for it on the staircase or in the bathroom, because every bathroom needs a whimsical caterpillar print.

At home, I noticed the exhibit was in 2004, nine years ago. I quickly did the math (well, not that quickly) and realized that the previous owner–let’s say she was 30–must have also bought it as an adult. How interesting.

Yard sale finds

Can you be mildly obsessed with something? If so, I’m mildly obsesses with Pinterest. I see the line and I’m not stepping over it. Nope. I saw these painted oars in stylish designs on Pinterest and decided I needed one even though I don’t have a log cabin or canoe.

painted oar

Todd Farm is an antique / flea market on the North Shore that I’ve been meaning to go to for years, so naturally I picked a rainy weekend to visit when the vendors were sparse but the bargains were plentiful. I’m sure they were even more plentiful if I were out there at dawn with a flashlight among the hardcore bargain hunters, but there’s no need for that.

I scored this vintage oar for $20 and am torn between its patina and sprucing it up with some color. I’m also torn between hanging it above my living room mirror or along the staircase as a decorative bannister. My indecision will probably paralyze me until spring. Cat appears for scale or because she’s hoping to be a model.

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Yard sale finds

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I never understood why museum goers enjoy gazing at the portraits of strangers. I mean, why? Even someone noteworthy like George Washington, a fine subject with perfect curls, is not a face I need to study. Art for art’s sake, perhaps. Or maybe I’m meant to have a moment of communion with the father of our country.

But this weekend at a yard sale I spied a luminous rendering of a woman I’ve never met staring back at me from the driveway. I walked around browsing the goods, but I kept going back to her.

“What’s the story with the portrait?” I asked the young woman selling it.

“Oh, that’s Jane,” she said. “But we call her Edith. It was done in the fifties. She was a neighbor.”

Several questions sprung to mind:

Why Edith? She was a plain Jane but Edith did seem to fit more. I thought of Edith from All in the Family, Edith from Downton Abbey.

Why would anyone have a portrait of a neighbor?

Why did this young woman keep it for so long?

Who painted it?

Was Edith part of a neighbor love triangle?

I didn’t pry. But I wish I had.

“How much are you asking?”

“Twenty dollars,” she said. “I really don’t want to sell it.” In the background her husband indicated that he did. “We’re moving to Michigan and we can’t take her with us. Really.” He silently pleaded with me to rid them of Edith.

Indeed, Edith, rendered in pastels and trapped in her vintage frame, is not cut out for Michigan. She doesn’t have the outerwear. For $15 with a couple of shirts thrown in that Edith would never be caught dead in, I brought her home and propped her up to see where I might hang her. Every time I look over there she’s looking at me. Such a starer.

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Yard sale finds

At a raucous yard sale with kids and dogs milling around the merch, I ask an old woman how much she’d like for her vintage olive suitcase.

“Can’t take any money for it, dear,” she says. “I can’t remember the lock combination.”

I test it out and confirm that yes, the suitcase is locked, but since I intend to use it on my stack-of-suitcases nightstand, it hardly matters. Though it does feel strange to buy something you can’t open or use for its intended purpose. It also feels wrong to take it for free.

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“Wait, is there drug money in there?” I ask.

“I should think not! It’s empty.”

I offer her some money, but she won’t hear of it, so I head home with a small suitcase that a stranger tells me is empty, but that makes me wonder, especially when my cat sniffs it all over. If you are a retired spy and know how to bust open a locked suitcase, let me know.

In addition to the mysterious suitcase, I also score a couple of necklaces and tops before something compels me to buy this kitschy fisherman needlepoint from a woman who says it was her mother-in-law’s, and who perhaps isn’t sorry to see it go. I add it to my wall of eclectic art.

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Yard sale finds

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If you ever shopped at the original Filene’s Basement in Boston, you know if you saw something you coveted  you had to grab it, despite who was holding on to it at the other end. Bargains are strangers to politeness. At a yard sale today, I spied an antique wooden toolbox that another shopper had her grimy hands on. Not one to actually take it out of her hands, I waited until she walked away, debating the $20 price and what she would do with it. No debate necessary from my point of view; I got it for $15. It was my only find, aside from a $3 bag of potting soil that a guy nicely hosed down for me (you can keep the slugs, thanks) and put in my car. The soil will go right in the toolbox, which I plan to use as a planter, while the other woman berates herself for walking away. But given the sad state of my plants after the heat wave, she’ll probably get the last laugh.

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Note to the child selling lemonade: people do not like when you act as a personal shopper and follow them around, asking them if there’s anything they’re looking for and would you like to buy some lemonade? No, no I wouldn’t, because I’ve seen kids in the kitchen and you’re . . . germy. But I’m a sucker for an articulate kid who seemed disappointed that “nothing was too my liking” and gave him a quarter for his icky Crystal Light. Kid’s gonna be a salesman. At least when he’s older I can hang up on him.

 

Yard sale finds

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A 7-day heat wave ends tonight. And weeks of a yard sale shopping drought ended this morning. Traveling and weather have thwarted my bargain hunting, but today, in 90° temps, I made it to the handful of sales that were on (picture sellers languishing in the shade of a tent after dragging their belongings out into their hot yards) and got exactly one thing. And that was enough.

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The lump in the bed is not a giant pea but my cat enjoying the cool sheets.

I found the loveliest patchwork duvet cover that looks like vintage tea towels sewn together. At Anthropologie it would be $325. At a yard sale, it was $20 for the cover, bed skirt and two shams. I hesitated because it was a full size and my bed is a queen, and while I’ve made that mistake before (but this chenille bedspread is so cute it HAS to fit), this time it was the perfect size, proving once and for all that the full / double bed designation is a strange one.

Yard sale finds

This weekend I headed to the Marblehead Art Walk, which was a bust. This was likely due to the fact that I missed it by an entire week (May is disappearing faster than I thought, apparently), so in wandering around looking for art or the art-making workshop I was keen to attend, I realized there was no art. But all was not lost. I hit up a few early-season yard sales and was pleasantly surprised to find (wait for it) art.

Everyone needs a pineapple oil painting, no? This one is heavily textured, like a pineapple, but the frame is a little staid for my tastes, which I probably should not have said to the seller after she gave it to me for $5, but no worries; I went to the paint store and they mixed me up a sample of an avocado green for $3. That little sample tub is my tip of the day, people; if you have something small to paint, samples are a bargain. Or does everyone know that already? Anyway, this weekend will involve funkying up the frame.

Turns out the seller is a poet so we chatted about people and organizations we had in common (You love Grub St.? I love Grub St.) and she even invited me to join a local writing group, which I must say, I hadn’t expected when buying a pineapple painting.

pineapple painting

But why stop there when I could dig up a second piece of art–this one of a madame that will go in my bathroom, if you must know. The style of the drawing (or watercolor? This is how little I know about art) is reminiscent of Toulouse Lautrec, yet it’s signed something like Lilead or Iliad, which must be wrong, because the Interweb turned up zilch about the former and a million references to Homer for the latter. Who cares. The vibrant red frame is perfect, no painting necessary.

madame drawing

I also found a packet of Bookmarks for Cooks (can’t bring myself to write in my cookbooks), which should help when I make a note like “Add more cheese.” I expect most bookmarks will say “Add more cheese.”

Finally, I scooped up this gold, worn heart locket, which is as oversized as it looks, for 25 cents. Come on! I don’t yet have the right dangly chain, so if you have one, get in touch. I need to wear this puppy before the steampunk movement passes.

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Yard sale finds

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The season has begun.

At a school fundraiser, I spot two things you normally don’t see on the bargain-hunting circuit: a man playing bagpipes and a girl cradling her ferret–two odd lumps that both emit strange sounds. But I will not be distracted by the hoopla. But in fact, I was distracted: by the time I make it over to a unicycle for sale, it’s gone, which is probably just as well because in what scenario am I actually mastering the thing and not falling on my face?

You might think given the unicycle and the picture below that I have kids. I don’t, but I like mini cookie cutters as much as the next kid, and they’re just the right size and shape for animal crackers. And, like I always say, where there’s a rooster banner, there’s a reason to celebrate. The tiny Halloween-themed notebooks I’ll hand out to trick-or-treaters in October.

Maple and yard sale finds

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Given my newfound collage mania, I buy a couple of books–one of photographs, one on constellations–that I’ll try to rip up without thinking I’m going to hell. A vintage Clue game for $1 might also make its way into a collage; the furry tail in the photo will not. And my favorite find: a one-of-a-kind wood-carved painting of an aviator bunny in a polka-dotted plane. My friend pointed out that carved in the bottom corner is “July ’72,” the month and year I was born, like it was destined to be mine. I think it actually says “Judy ’72,” and while I don’t know Judy, I really wish I did. I think we’d get along.

yard sale books

Ugly gift contest

Some families have sweet, wholesome traditions of hanging their stockings by the fireplace while little ones run amok in footie pajamas; others leave cookies for Santa on a special plate while trimming the tree and singing Deck the Halls; in my family we have a new ritual: the annual ugly gift contest. This is the second year we’ve scoured yard sales and thrift stores to vie for the prize: an ugly bargain.

The tradition got off to a rocky start last year when my entry was confiscated by officials at Logan Airport for being too ugly. OK, not really, but you can read the story here. This year, I skipped the whole flying thing and drove to Virginia for Christmas. I wasn’t taking any chances. With my ugly presented nestled safely in my luggage in the backseat, the TSA couldn’t touch me.

Crowning the winner would be tricky as everyone in the family offered a contender. How would we determine, impartially, who won? We tossed around the idea of a secret ballot, but when the nominees were unveiled all at once on the table, one thing became clear: no vote was necessary. We had a clear winner.

My entry: evil-eyed moon in gross mustard color with flexible joints

My entry: evil-eyed moon with flexible joints in gross mustard color. Third place.

Mom's entry: an undeniably ugly figurine / statue thing with sea life in relief, appropriately rendered in the letter "U" for ugly.

Mom’s entry: an undeniably ugly figurine / statue thing with dolphins in sculptural relief, appropriately rendered in the letter “U” for ugly. Runner-up.

My sister and brother-in-law's entry: a flamingo orb with a neon flashing and glowing ball set in an urchin-like vessel.

My sister and brother-in-law’s entry: a flamingo orb with a neon flashing and glowing ball set in an urchin-like vessel. Winner.

Yeah, the last one. While the orb (?) was the original gift—ugly enough on its own—my brother-in-law stumbled on a starfish . . . receptacle (?) that housed the flamingo egg (?) nicely. We still don’t know what to make of it. My mom tried to give an award to the winning couple from a bag of seemingly regifted items; the winners declined more crap.

In many ways I was the loser: not only did my moon come in last, it also garnered a few likes from the crowd, which was dispiriting. Regardless, I’m still calling it a victory, because when I packed up the car to come home, not one piece of that junk was in my trunk.

Sleeping in a field of flowers

I bought this dog bed that we’re going to pretend is a cat bed at the yard sale of a pet store owner in Marblehead who used it in her shop as a bed for the store’s dog. You’d expect a used dog bed to be a lot furrier, but it turns out the shop’s dog was a giant stuffed animal. The pillow was much poufier, so I replaced it with a more cat-friendly pillow in hopes of keeping my couch fur-free.

I paid five bucks for the bed, originally $115 from bowhausnyc, so I figure I saved $110. But at what cost? I worry Maple may get a complex from sleeping on a dog bed, but then she does make occasional barking noises and fetch things.

Yard sale finds

Today’s find: a dirty bird. As my friends will attest, I have exactly one coaster, which means I’m scrambling for a place for guests to put their drinks. I spotted this tile with an odd-looking, geometric bird for $2. Dusty and sticky, I cleaned him up like a duck plucked from an oil spill, where he now sits on the coffee table—coaster count doubled.

I also found a book titled Grilled Pizzas & Piadinas, which is handy because I’ve been working on perfecting grilled pizza of late (perfecting, failing, perfecting, failing, eating anyway) and am interested to try to make piadinas, a type of flatbread used to wrap sandwiches or as a crust-like bundle for something sweet.

In addition to a sparkly metallic bracelet and a couple of CDs that the DJ sifting through the same box thought fit to pass up (The Sinatra Christmas Album and Corinne Bailey Rae, if you must know), I picked up the book Plastic Ocean for my ocean-loving friend who likes to snuggle up with a good book about the ocean’s flotilla of garbage. I mean, don’t we all?

Yard sale finds

It’s a good day when I find original art at a yard sale. Thank you, artist around the corner who dug out some old pieces and decided to stick them out at the yard sale. It’s a sweet hillside town, rural, I think, but it’s the spacious sky with a great swooping cloud that makes me pick up the painting three times before I decide to buy it for a mere $10.

I’ve been trying to gather more information about the objects I find, especially the stories behind them, so I ask if she remembers the location depicted in the painting.

“Do you know where that is?” she asks.

“The little painted houses on a hill make me think Guatemala or maybe somewhere in South America,” I say.

She laughs at my guess that turns to be way, way off.

“I painted that from the top of the Kendall Square garage in Cambridge,” she says, smiling. “Do you know that area?”

“I’ve parked in that garage next to the cinema so many times,” I say. “I can’t believe that’s Cambridge. Local art!”

I even catch Maple admiring it.

I also find this cute vintage-inspired bag (purse or reusable grocery tote, depending on the day) and toss this retro bracelet into it at the next yard sale where a woman says, “I love your bag.”

I also score a strawberry pot, which just about saves the strawberry plant that was just waiting for a roomy replanting. In the soil from another pot I fish out a peanut from a local squirrel that’s getting to work collecting for the winter. It’s a game: the neighbor scatters peanuts around and the squirrel plants them all over the neighborhood. Every time I find one I hide it again and hope that the squirrel will find it in its new spot. I picture the fuzzy guy looking at the map, digging around my basil, and coming up empty handed. Something tells me my tomatoes will disappear next year.

Yard sale finds

If your grandmother left you a necklace of darling green beads, you might restring it to suit your taste, but I bet you wouldn’t sell it at a yard sale.

You would? Heartless.

But would you sell it for 50 cents as if it’s costume jewelry you picked up at the mall on a whim?

That’s just a slap in the face to grandma.

I rescued the necklace from the traitorous adult granddaughter and was pleased to find it goes with a remarkable number of outfits. That’s grandma for you; she had style.

At another stop, I scored a pair of woven chairs for $7, which are tucked under my table, happy in their new home. But not as happy as I, given that they sold for $75 each at Ikea (which seems a bit steep for IKEA, no?) and work well with my table and pared-down style. While the mom took some toys off one chair so I could put it in my car, her daughter kept putting dolls on the other one, propping them up as if to say, They come as a set. I didn’t take the dolls, but I found a couple tops and a funky belt.

And rest assured unknown grandma: I will never sell your necklace at a yard sale.

 

 

 

 

 

Cat hammock

I’m not crafty, but the layer of cat hair on the couch has pushed me toward Martha Stewart tendencies.

I’ve made a cat hammock.

I used the bones of wooden magazine rack and a fabric cushion cover bought at a yard sale 10 years ago (seriously) that was just waiting for the right project. Let’s pretend this is the right project and that it’s sewn beautifully and not at all lopsided.

Maple likes it. Even if I had to toss her in there, forcing her to look relaxed.

Yard sale finds

Everyone’s on vacation this week, leaving me with a smattering of sales. Outrageous. But I manage to find a couple of things: some pale pink Sperry topsiders that I refuse to pay $100 for when I only occasionally want to look like I belong on a boat, but $3? It’s a deal.

I also find this weird No Pets sign for a quarter, which makes me wonder what it was used for (a store?). I ask the woman selling it, but she has no idea. I determine she’s a mean SOB because who bans pets, especially cute black dogs with alert stances? I plan to add it to a wall collage of other interesting finds, like Bert.

Yard sale finds

This week’s Marblehead haul included a crock for my birthday plant, a vintage box for stacking plants, and an amateur portrait of a very serious Bert. Rest assured, Bert will not be living in the garden, but nailed to the wall in the living room. Sorry, Bert.

I’d been hoping to score a planter at Brimfield, but the prices were high, especially for those stamped with a little number like this. Must be valuable, but I just wanted a solid, vintage-inspired container for my plant. This one was marked $30, but I talked him down to $15, getting it for $14 when I realized that’s all I had in my wallet. Whoops.

On the back of the Bert illustration was a handwritten note: “To Peter, Happy 4th Birthday and Happy St. Patrick’s Day.” I decided it was a keeper when I heard someone call out, “Peter, how much are you selling this for?” Sandy-haired Peter was now my age, the two of us children of the 70s. “You sure you want to sell it?” I asked. He seemed unfazed, and couldn’t remember if it was from his father or grandfather. For that, I asked if he’d sell it for $2 instead of $3. A man should know who drew and framed a portrait of Bert for him when he was four. But Bert, just so you know, I would have paid $5 for you.

Tips for shopping Brimfield: a primer

How to tackle Brimfield

Only at Brimfield can you find taxidermied animals, buckets of toy soldiers, Smurfs, vintage shift dresses, anchors, and rainbow parasols. For the uninitiated, we’re talking about the Brimfield Antique Show. It’s Day Two of the show that runs July 10-15 this year, attracting collectors and designers (excuse me, Martha, mine!) from all over the country, so take advantage of this sublime summer and head out to Western MA for the day. Can’t make it? The show comes around again in September.

I hit the show yesterday on opening day after scanning the tips of Brimfield organizers and scouring blogs for the inside scoop. But the suggestions read a bit like those over-the-top-cautious hiking tips to bring 17 layers, enough water to hydrate a camel, and a tent and sleeping bag in case you get stranded. Here, I offer my own tips that you may find handy.

When to go

The show is held in May, July, and September each year, so pick your favorite season. In May you have the possibility of rain, and in July, the hot sun; but September sounds just right. This week promises to be sunny and hot, as evidenced by my flagging energy at Hour Two. The show runs rain or shine, and while the elements won’t deter diehard collectors, rain may dampen (ahem) your experience. You can buy a poncho, look ridiculous, and suck it up, or you could just go another day.

Strategy comes into play when planning the time of day to visit, too. Go in the morning and you’ll find yourself on the road at 3 a.m. to compete with dealers when the gates open; but you do have the best chance of seeing the goods that get snapped up first. Go at midday and it’s a bit quieter, but the height of the day could mean you’re contending with the heat. Go in the evening and you could be one happy camper; while you miss some initial bargains, you can shop at twilight and the dealers may be ready to deal. Imagine what you could score on the last evening on the last day of the show.

Parking

Pay $5 and park in the middle of the mile-long stretch. Five bucks is reasonable (you could probably pay less but have to hoof it even farther or pay more for no reason that I can deduce) and you’ll be able to walk back to the car with your purchases. Or to take a nap.

For your trophy room?

Water

Everyone recommends you bring water. And yes, it gets HOT and you get tired and no one wants to get dehydrated in a dry field mobbed with people, but you know what? Water is heavy. A buck or two will get you cold water on the spot.

Food

Experts advise packing snacks (again with the carrying) for healthier choices and to sustain you. But where there is fair food (hot dogs, steak sandwiches, and fried dough!) there is happiness. Splurge on fries. You’re gonna splurge on that stunning chandelier anyway, so what’s another $10? I found a nice variety in the food corral, actually: Greek salads, Ben & Jerry’s, mac n’ cheese and some killer apple cider doughnuts. Life is short.

What to wear

This is no time to debut the gingham espadrilles. Wear comfy shoes that you can walk all day in and don’t mind getting dirty. The fields are dry and dusty or wet and muddy. Wear light layers and check the weather. In July, dress like you’re going to the beach. May and September could go either way: beachwear or a scarf and hat. It’s New England.

Sunscreen

Wear sunscreen. If you need inspiration, read this graduation speech from 1997.

Know your prices

A little legwork in advance could put you in a strong negotiating position. But all the research in the world will not stop you from shelling out an exorbitant sum when you spot the rare, speckled ostrich feather you need to complete your collection. Still, dealers expect haggling; just do it in a respectful manner. Try, “What’s the best you could do on this old ostrich feather?” It’s like negotiating a salary; let them name the price first because it might be less than you expected.

And bring cash—more than you think you need. Then go back to the ATM and get more.

I hoped to pick up some crocks for my patio garden, after scoring this white one at a yard sale for less than $10. But my failure to research meant I had a good laugh when I realized some vintage vessels cost upwards of $80. Geraniums just didn’t seem worthy.

Grab it

You snooze, you lose. If you circle around feigning disinterest, someone will grab the item you covet before you can finish hemming and hawing. But then, you shouldn’t exclaim, “OMG, it’s a 1970s Topo Gigio doll in mint condition!” either, because you lose all bargaining power, not to mention your self-respect.

If you see something you decide to come back to, good luck—not only because it might be gone (likely), but because the place is a rabbit warren of labyrinthine paths designed to disorient you. I like to think my navigation skills rival that of a GPS, but after a while, all the booths and dealers and fields start to look alike.

A picturesque scene today, but a dizzying maze of booths tomorrow

Transporting the goods

Show regulars suggest bringing a cart. I suppose if you’re a serious collector or have an unlimited budget, by all means, bring a cart at the risk of looking like an 82-year-old hitting the grocery store. But be aware you’ll have to park your cart outside most stalls; plus, they’re unwieldy and prone to running over errant feet. If you’re just hoping to pick up a trinket or two (and not a stone urn), ditch the cart and bring a backpack. Also, there are entrepreneurial porters who will sweat for you as they wheel your bargains to your car.

Mason jars breed like rabbits at Brimfield

Bathrooms

Bring a clothespin. When nature calls, your only option is a portable restroom facility, which we all know is a much fancier phrase for the stifling little shack that shields you while you pee in a hole in the ground. Just know that the best part of leaving Brimfield is not riding home with a carload full of treasures, but the promise of a clean bathroom.

Pets

Pets are not banned from the show, but they’re not exactly encouraged. It can be a long hot day for a beagle, and one innocent wag of the tail could mean you end up owning a broken (fill in the blank with the priciest item you can think of). But if you dog is cute (and it is, obviously), put that fuzzy face to work to get yourself a bargain.

Measurements

Bring a tape measure (not an impractical ruler like yours truly) so you’ll know for sure that the red Formica table will not possibly fit in your car—or your kitchen. Take a moment to collect yourself. I know how you feel. I left these red lockers behind. Sigh.

You shiny, lovely things

Go with your gut

The most important tip: if you love it, buy it. It’s as simple as that. Don’t worry about whether it will “go” with your decor. It’s your decor; make it go! If an object moves you or raises your blood pressure in pure joy, buy it and love it unconditionally. Until you decide to sell it at a yard sale.