I don't know why, but for some inexplicable reason, when a neighbor mentioned to me that she was organizing a neighborhood-wide garage sale, I heard myself saying, "Great! We'll participate in that."
We are not "garage sale people". I haven't trudged out to one myself in nigh 15 years. We went to a few back when we were poor, starving students but almost always came away empty-handed and weary, so it was quickly abandoned for more productive pastimes, like hiking in the mountains. I never found anything I was looking for. "You can't go looking for something specific," one avowed garage saler told me. "You'll never find that one item. You have to go with your options open, that's when you find the deals." No, that was when I found things I couldn't figure out what I'd do with or why I'd have a need for them.
Not that I shouldn't be better at garage saling. My grandmother, bless her heart, organized and worked at countless rummage sales for her church, to benefit her local library, or who knows what other charities she was involved with, and spent days on end sorting and tagging items. She loved the notion of recycling goods and saving money, too. I can agree with the notion, it's just the practice of it that I have problems with. My mother, too, was adept at sales and furnished our home in beautiful antiques and china procured from estate sales, auctions and occasional garage sales. Timeless words of wisdom passed down to us kids, which we never forgot though we didn't necessarily heed: "Always shop the sales in the rich neighborhoods!"
The problem is I just don't have the stamina for it. These garage sale people are a different breed. They started circling in the cul de sac when I woke up at 7:00 a.m., looking for doors to open, waiting to pounce. Come on, I hadn't even had a cuppuccino yet! They arrived the moment the door was elevated, seeking specific items: "Do you have a TV?" No, at least not one that is for sale. "I'm looking for McDonald's Happy Meal toys". I haven't eaten in a McDonald's in at least six years and never ordered a Happy Meal when I did. "Don't you have children's toys or clothes?" Nope, no kids here, but can I interest you in a slightly used catnip chew toy Winston doesn't play with anymore? Then they were sprinting to their cars, off to ply the next neighbor with their questions. They would keep up this pace all day, or until they found those toys.
Some walked up the drive, took a quick look and then departed, not having turned off the pickup truck engine. Others came and talked my ear off, then departed. I didn't sell much. My poor sister sold even less, netting a whopping $2.50 from her haul. Maybe I should have consulted the many books and websites with advice on successful garage sales. Titles promise "maximum profits"; they offer "strategies" and "huge payoffs". One such site advised people to set up your garage like a store, mindful of traffic patterns and display. Yes I can see how that would be helpful: "You see, over here in this pile we have old junk. And over on that table is the older junk." Another site recommended playing soft background music to "set a mood conducive to shopping", and went on to offer specific selections of music that might put people into a buying mood. Other advice: offer bags for their purchases, greet each customer cheerfully when they enter, and provide free coffee. Hello, this is a garage sale not an upscale retail store! If I had retail saaviness, I'd be in business in a fixed location, not trying to hawk old, unwanted items out of my dusty car park.
There is, obviously, quite an interest in these kinds of sales. Why else would ebay be so popular or the Antique Road Show garner so many viewers? I can't figure out, though, if the interest is in collecting things and getting a deal, or in a lust for making a profit from things laying around your house. I'm sure there are psychology studies on this. As for me, I felt that the day was unproductive, that the paltry profit wasn't enough to induce me to spend another day of my life doing this again, and in the future, any accumulated belongings ready for recycling would be, as I have usually done in the past, donated to local charities and homeless shelters. My short-lived garage sale days are over.
copyright 2005 Valerie Schneider