You Can’t Take It With You


Is my old crockpot in here?

Is my old crockpot in here?

The transiency of life cannot be better expressed than when one visits a secondhand store or garage sale. Items that may have been vitally important to the current owner now lay scattered amongst other bric a brac of a life’s journey, some more curious than others. The nondescript Bundt cake pan, once used for many a family party, now sits next to a knitted potholder, a long-ago gift from an ancient relative now long past. Both have outlived their usefulness to the seller and await new hands to breathe life into them once more. Baby buggies that once carted little ones to the park in days gone by now hold slightly ragged, overly loved stuffed animals; their purposes outgrown and their appeal long gone.

Such is life. When we finally leave this Earth, it is starkly true; you can’t take it with you. We return to dust without all the stuff that up to now has defined us and we meet our maker (or whatever destination) with only our essence intact.

Published in: on 2009/04/30 at 3:23 pm  Comments (4)  
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Garage Sale Nation

9-9-2006-261We have become a Garage Sale nation. Each year, homeowners (and others without garages – read “Yard Sale” in this case), across the United States begin a ritual of summarily decluttering their homes, attics, basements, etc., in a frenzy of spring cleaning. It’s as predictable as the customary harbinger of spring; the robin’s return to the garden in search of hidden wormy treasures, and like the red-breasted avian, thousands of us dive into our accumulated stuff, seeking to whisk away the cobwebs of winter and start anew. No sooner does the last frost coat the budding trees than we as a nation seem to emerge from a long, drawn-out winter solstice, eager to divest ourselves of last year’s dust and face the sun, in some areas a deeply missed friend.

And in that sunlight we emerge, cardboard boxes in hand, bringing forth the unwanted Christmas presents, the too-tight pants, the slightly broken toys, the lonely gym equipment, all aimed for one final destination known as……

The Garage Sale.

Call it what you want: Yard Sale, Rummage Sale, Moving Sale, Estate Sale, or the perennial biggie, Garage Sale, it’s all the same: It’s us shamelessly displaying all our unwanted junk over driveways and on lawns, on tables and under awnings, all in an effort to clean house maybe make a small profit along the way.

We plan for these things months in advance, simultaneously watching the calendar, the weather reports, and gauging the competition’s ads in the paper.

 There are detailed plans to draw up in the process. We have signs to make, advertisements to write, price tag labels to be made, change to be stocked, and neighbors to survey to see if they’d like to contribute some of their junk in the off chance that we don’t have enough stuff to set out on sale day. Prior to this, of course, the stuff for sale has to be acquired, dusted off, fixed if necessary (or labeled “make offer” if not), washed, sized, and assessed for sale-worthiness. It’s almost a job in and of itself.

Some are better at this than others; I’ve been to garage sales guided by beautifully crafted signs, having read extremely detailed advertisements, and seen wares set out the likes of which Sam Walton would have been impressed. Boxes and boxes of carefully set up records arranged in alphabetical order greeted the customers at one such sale.

Another lady, clearly a garage sale expert, had racks and racks of clothes, all categorized by size, gender, color, and price, complete with stern instructions on how to properly try on said clothing and reminders to take the items off the hangers. Someone who clearly had a lot of time on their hands had individually labeled tiny glass Christmas ornaments with dates of manufacture, quality, comparable prices, and relative value on auction sites such as eBay. Another mother, clearly proud of her organizational skills with six children, had each toy lovingly set in category order, some still in boxes, some still with instructions, and even had a testing station complete with batteries.

Sometimes the items for sale are there under difficult circumstances, and parting is bittersweet. One older gentleman, having apparently amassed a sizeable collection of tools over the years, had on display wrenches, screwdrivers drill bits, hammers, sockets, and other gadgets known only to the serious handyman. He had these separated by brand, quality, price, and category, and had gone so far as to polish the tools so they shone in the morning sun. He was so proud of these tools on display that I wondered why they were even for sale, until I noticed the slight tremor in his scarred hands.

Perhaps it was time to pass these relics on to a younger generation. Perhaps retirement had proven inauspicious for hours spent in the garage or maybe his wife worried for his safety. All I can say is that when the first hammer exchanged hands and was carted off, those tremulous hands seemed to have difficulty in pocketing the dollar they earned.

There are different genres of garage sales too. You’ve got your run-of-the mill junk sale with the usual suspects of Tupperware, Christmas ornaments, and trinkets. There are the kid’s clothes sales, and those sometimes even sub-categorized into age group; I’ve seen ads in the paper saying “baby items,” versus others saying “cool teen gear.” I personally appreciate the specifics of a good garage sale advertisement so as to attend only those with stuff I really want.

There are the “antique” sales with local ephemera and remnants of local county fairs of years gone by, newspapers documenting famous events, and rarely seen, ancient toys (read: no batteries required). This latter type of sale usually is geared towards the prospective buyer’s nostalgia and a yearning to return to simpler, familiar times.

Then there’s the sale, which I personally have had difficulty in comprehending, based on the amount of work that goes into putting together such an event: The Perpetual Garage Sale.

These savvy sellers, seemingly with a never-ending supply of castoffs, put on virtually weekly sales, turning their driveways into mini-malls. Each time the sale is presented the same: The same advertisement appears in the local paper practically word-for-word a copy of the previous incarnation; the same items appear in the same spots on the driveway or within the garage on tables; the trusty cashbox is set up; and the same signs appear stapled to telephone poles or pounded into the ground all over town.

Having hosted a meager two garage sales during the entire time these sellers have put on easily ten times the amount, my hat’s off to these intrepid folks; clearly they possess greater degrees of patience or they make a living from this form of commerce.

But for me, between the setup, anticipation, fear of a rainout, and the inevitable junk-run to the local thrift shop of the leftovers, the novelty has worn off at least in the hosting department. I wish my more tenacious competitors all the best – they’ve got the spunk and strength of character to plod on beyond the initial sale and as a result they probably make more money than I’d ever see in one weekend sale!

I’ll stick to carting my kid from sale to sale each weekend, pay my respects to my tough neighbors, and hopefully find a bargain along the way.

From: Second Hand Roses: Lessons From the Junktiquing Road, copyright 2009 Dawn Edwards