For American households, the ritual of the garage sale has become the yearly rite of spring. As an accepted part of modern-day culture, the words “garage sale” now appear as an entry in American dictionaries, both printed and electronic.
One such glossary defines “garage sale” as an informal sale of miscellaneous items. Another defines it as “a sale of clothing or used household goods sold from the seller’s home.” Both are adequate descriptions, but until hosting my own garage sale, I never quite knew the true meaning of the word.
I wonder how this cultural ritual, this American penchant for buying things out of our neighbors’ garages, ever got started in Willow Glen. We didn’t do it on Mom’s Day, and I know we didn’t do it in the 1950s when I was growing up. So, I surmise the garage sale to be a product of the 1960s.
It was about that time when the style trend in houses underwent a major change. The backyard garage that hitherto was out of sight and out of mind now stood alongside or in front of the modern family structure, prominently displayed for neighbors and friends. Its new, eye-catching location made it easily accessible and most likely contributed to the garage sale’s sudden popularity.
Like many of my local friends and neighbors, I’d stopped at various yard sales around town and bought items that later ended up as junk in my own garage. I’d seen homeowners relaxing in their chairs under the afternoon sun, hosting yard sales and raking in cash for castaway items. I was anxious to get in on this profitable market and recover my loses for useless stuff I’d collected over the years. Besides, my overcrowded garage was in critical need of a spring cleaning.
I rummaged through household closets and endless junk drawers looking for items to sell. I spent the day in my garage working my way through a series of storage boxes stacked high to the rafters. Each weighty box contained a chain of family memories and keepsakes. The difficulty now was deciding which of the enclosed items were junk and which were treasures.
Sorting my way through 30 to 40 years of accumulated memorabilia brought on a flood of nostalgia: Tattered dolls from my childhood. Dad’s old-fashioned shaving mug with worn-out brush. My collection of warped 45 rpm records from the 1950s. An old Schwinn bicycle with flat tires. Childhood Christmas ornaments. Mom’s broken waffle griddle. And my first pair of metal roller skates–minus the skate key.
Sell or keep? All day long, I made the painful decision, and all day long I was plagued by “what ifs.” What if that old table of Grandma’s with the missing leg turns out to be a valuable antique? What if that old oil painting is really a priceless work of art? What if my unwanted junk turns out to be someone’s treasure? What if I just hang on to this stuff for another 30 years?
I discovered that asking friends to join me in a garage sale can have a snowball effect. What begins as an intimate sale for two families can easily escalate into an onslaught of acquaintances hauling over their junk to sell at my garage sale. This is where things start to get messy. With so many people participating, it’s almost impossible to keep track of what was sold, who gets paid, and how to divide a $5 sale seven ways.
My huge garage sale attracted a crush of people and sometimes in their zeal to check out the bargains, my prize rose bushes and primrose beds were trampled. Skateboards, bicycles and strollers dug up the soft earth of my flower beds and left their tracks for weeks to come.
A yard sale can be a great opportunity to meet neighbors and rekindle old friendships. A “garage sale” sign posted on a front lawn translates into, “Everybody’s welcome!” It invites all who pass to stop in and say hello. This part of my garage sale was the most fun. Several friends I hadn’t seen in years stopped in to pay me a call. All that weekend, I looked forward to my friendly visitors.
A garage sale can be both profitable and fun for the family hosting the sale, but it can also be a pain in the neck to your next-door neighbors. The constant flow of browsers and traffic in front of their home could easily annoy even the nicest of people. Courtesy dictates you check with neighbors before holding your sale, especially if they happen to need the parking spaces in front of their house for company that weekend.
By the time my first garage sale finally came to an end, I was suffering from sunburn and a mild case of exhaustion. I was run ragged that weekend, not only selling things, but bolting in and out of my kitchen making stacks of sandwiches and pitchers of cool drinks for my friends and their families.
Garage Sale Surprises
But despite all the hassles and confusion, once the dust cleared, I was thrilled with my profits and glad I finally got around to cleaning my garage.
That evening, alone in my garage, as I sorted out my odds, ends, and white elephants, I made an unsettling discovery – I was now the owner of more junk than I started out with at the beginning of the sale.