garage sales

Three years and the basement still yields enough junk for a garage sale. How can this be?

When Dee and I moved in, we brought only one U-haul plus a Chevy Avalanche truck bed of belongings. That was twenty years worth of life that included no fewer than six moves, a marriage and a child from years zero to four that Rob and I pared down to the essentials plus toys.

Toy purging is a long tedious process that would test the patience of the Dalai Lama.

Before we arrived, Rob stripped the living areas in order to make room for us, but he didn’t do much in the way of purging. Partly because he needed the girls to help him go through their mother’s things – and they weren’t ready – and partly because he is a bit of a pack rat. Not Oprah intervention proportions, but he saves things because they might be useful someday. And while every once in a blue moon I donate, toss or garage sale away something I wish I’d kept – this type of reasoning will pack the empty spaces of one’s existence as firmly as a gluten laden breakfast plugs up a colon.

Every summer since then, we attempt to dig out and reclaim more space.

Progress has been slow.

Sometimes, it’s not even visible to the naked eye.

This summer – breakthroughs.

First, Edie moved into her first solo apartment. She has the entire basement of a home to herself and … too exciting for words … storage space. Two small rooms that are nothing but shelves and a home for all the boxes with her name on it currently taking up a 1/4 of the south west corner shelving in our basement.

Second, Dee has noted and began to see the wisdom of decluttering, AND she can be reasoned into selling – not donating, she’s eight after all – her less interesting possessions. I am loathe to foster monetary greed in the child, but if it empties the basement, I’ll cross my fingers and hope my karma stream isn’t polluted to the point of cockroach reassignment.

Finally, Rob is tired of clutter.

Oh, he’s been tired for a while, but when weighed against reno work, us time, family time and him time, purging and restoring order often fell off the to do list. But this summer, reno is being finished up with an eye towards simply basking in our space and the space … needs to be “spacier”.

I will, of course, never achieve my dream of near empty.  A room with a view via ceiling to floor windows with next to nothing from one end to the other save my mat and a few bolsters, maybe a book or two. However, I will take purged and orderly. I will take it and be sincerely grateful.

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”.

I got nothing people. The last two weeks I have barely been able to squeeze in writing time between the family issues and the March to the Garage Sale.

The upside is that the garage is clean. Drive a car in and park it clean. All the junk that was not sold was swiftly transported to Goodwill (don’t fret – it was good junk) and the stuff they wouldn’t take went to the dump. 

We made two dump runs and two Goodwill trips and as a result, we can walk through every room in the basement now too.

However this left precious little time for blogging, commenting on blogs (sorry) or writing in general. Not good because I get antsy when I am not writing. Also not good because I have a new contributing writing gig on another blog that I need to get started on. It’s a sweet little site and I have a shot at pieces being picked up by a news service for posting on their site too. But I gotta get on it this week as well as get back to regular contributing at Moms Speak Up.

As wonderful as a crap-less house is it will not impress publishers. Will it? No, no, of course not. It’s words on a page, stupid.

I promise to get my pictorial on the garage sale up this afternoon or tomorrow, but in the meantime, let’s share stories about how life interferes  with the lives we imagine who would like to lead. Post here or link back.