The Stuff You Sell

One of my favorite George Carlin bits is about the accumulation of stuff and the difference between “shit” and “stuff” and the maintenance of supply lines.

Last Saturday was the garage sale. The saga leading up to the sale and the events that followed are here and here, but the sale itself is worth a quick recounting.

I have hosted but one other garage sale and it was a resounding flop in terms of turnout and sales. That we made any money at all was due largely to the sale of furniture and appliances. Nearly everything else from that sale ended up at the dump or Goodwill.

The dump, you say?

Yes, Goodwill has its standards but garage salers and their patrons do not.

This time we wisely chose to pool our resources with others in our little hamlet. The association that runs things organized and promoted and even sponsored a hockey equipment swap during the afternoon to drum up business.

We opened the garage at 8:30. Not ready, but in order to fan out into the driveway. We had customers within ten minutes despite the fact that the sale was advertised to begin at 10AM. Later that day a neighbor reported that people were knocking on her door at 9 to ask her if she would open up early. Seasoned garage sale customers are a hardcore lot. They arrive early. They have want lists. They know how to haggle. They often have their own shopping bags and they are quick to dismiss your stuff as shit.

“I don’t see anything here worth looking at,” was the pronouncement of one of our early patrons. She arrived with two other women and were apparently in hot pursuit of old jewelry. Not the 15 to 20 year old costume crap I had out, but heirloom quality stuff that people mistakenly put out because they never knew it belonged to Great-Auntie Julia or came back from Europe with Granddaddy. It’s shaming enough to know you’ve wantonly accumulated too many things of questionable value but to have it labeled so publicly by a stranger is enough to make you want to brand yourself with a big W for “waster” or an interlocking pair for “Walmart Whore”.

The first 30 minutes saw a steady stream without sales until the first deluge flooded down the alley and then it was a blur of wheeling, wheedling and taking people’s money. If I was able to do this kind of intense people interaction for more than a day at a stretch, I could be a salesperson. I am very good at wearing resistance down. I didn’t spend 17 years bending middle school students to my will without learning a trick or two about the art of persuasion. But I am only a tad and a bit more able for people overload than Rob is, and I would ultimately punch out and never return if I had to work sales.

Rob fetched, carried and made the occasional transaction if I was occupied or during the two breaks I took between 8:30 and 3PM. Too many people makes for an uncomfortable and unhappy Rob. Although he claims to have no great expectations for his natal day, he has modest dreams of peace and quiet and hosting a garage sale doesn’t fit the bill.

When I had time, I watched the people. They ran a range, but for the most part they were either older or younger families. For once having girl clothes was a coup. Normally when I have tried to rid myself of Dee’s cast off’s myself or through the garage sales of my best friend, I have run into the “This is such cute stuff. Too bad I just have boys.” Nothing but mama’s and papa’s of girls this time, and they swooped and snatched and made off with nearly every item of clothing and every outgrown toy.

Dee was promised the proceeds of the sale of her toys. She sought me out every so often to check the balance sheet I was keeping and keep track of her earnings. She did well, too, as she watched her stuff float out of the garage in the hands of other children. At one point though she sidled up slightly teary eyed and said,

“Why are those older kids making fun of my stuff?”

Two preteen boys were joking with an older sister who was sufficiently embarrassed enough to shuffle them out and away as quickly as possible. I assured Dee that the boys in question were simple minded and she recovered, but I knew how she felt. It’s humbling to put your stuff on display for humanity regardless of its level.

Except for a few items which I googled for pricing estimates, I mainly pulled random figures from the air and applied them without rationale. It occurred to me after the last garage sale that people are willing to part with anything from a quarter to a couple of dollars for items that are valueless but will balk at the idea of paying 5 or 10 dollars for usable items that would cost them three or four times as much on Kijiji or eBay and more than that brand new.

And it’s next to impossible to give things away.

Last time we had this old color tv, circa 1988, that we eventually stuck a “free” sign on. Plenty of people looked, asked, were assured it really did work, and still walked away. “Free” has negative connotations it seems. This time I wrote “it works. $2” and sure enough it was sold by noon.

Conversely, you can’t sell stuffies. Even for a quarter. But stick them in a box marked “free for the taking” and people suddenly need a stuffie. But only one. Despite being free with no stipulations, people don’t feel right about taking more than one. I found one woman debating over four of the furballs.

“I work at a shelter downtown,” she explained. “They would make great additions to the toy baskets we make for the kids during the holidays.”

“Really?” I said. “Well then please take the whole box.”

I nearly had to twist her arm, but in the end she took them gratefully.

Normally I like to give things away when I know that they are needed. The remains of the sale went to the County Clothes Closet, an organization like Goodwill but the money remains in our county for grants to volunteer and community groups. But I found the sale gratifying. I am a bit tired of bits of our life wandering “free”.

6 thoughts on “The Stuff You Sell

  1. I’m glad you posted this. I’m in charge of a fundraising garage sale to be held a week from now, and you gave me some advice without knowing it. Do you have any more ideas that will help this clueless person??? 🙂

    1. Stella, I would recommend checking out Best Garage Sale for 100’s of free tips on having the best money-making garage sale rather than one just to get rid of clutter.
      The best tip I can give you here is to make sure you have signs everywhere saying who you are raising funds for. I have found shoppers won’t bargain as hard when they know the money is going towards a good cause.
      Good luck with your sale.

  2. I never realized how exposing a yard- or garage-sale can be until I had one. You’re right in your expression of the vulnerability you spoke of in putting your stuff out thre. I never noticed anyone else holding a garage sale who seemed in the slightest concerned, but for me, it was almost painful.

    Glad yours was a success. Always a bummer to go through all the work and have a poor turnout.

  3. i almost felt violated when i had my pre-move garage sale. and the things i thought cool? like a real unicycle? nobody cared! but the junk lawnmowers were sold before i opened… congrats on getting rid of stuff, and transforming it into other people’s shit!

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