In LA you can always tell when the apartment dwellers are moving on because the narrow sidewalks in front of the low-slung walkups with matching carports are crowded with piles of whatever cannot be taken to the next, maybe even smaller, place with signs reading “Sidewalk Sale.” In the NYC metro suburbs, however, we have actual garages and wide driveways to fill with our castoffs so our sidewalks remain clear.
All of my friends like garage sales, both going to them to find some special piece to fill the empty space on the kitchen display shelf and having them to sell the stuff that they no longer want to dust. Neither my mother nor my husband has ever liked them – both believe that filling one’s home with someone else’s driveway castoffs is a recipe for disaster – so I have neither gone to nor planned any. Until today.
Today was my first and probably last garage sale. The preparation took forever – sorting through closets, boxes, and bags; organizing photos in albums and frames; deciding which books I may read again and which can go to new homes; loading all of the cds into ITunes in order to clear the clutter by selling them. And I stuck a price tag on every item because as one of my friends told me regarding her experience with signs falling or getting blown away, “people need to know how much every item costs so they can complain to you about it”.
Then I ran afoul of the local constabulary by taping the sign advertising my sale to a utility pole. I said to the policeman, “But I went on the town website to see whether there are any ordinances or restrictions on garage sales and there is nothing posted about that.” “Remove the sign,” he replied unsmilingly, so I did.
We had planned to open at 10 am but people began wandering around at 8, poking through baskets and bins and all but shoving us out of the way to dig for buried treasure, none of which was there, as mine was a rather utilitarian sale, and not one with Great Aunt Jenny’s unwanted sterling silver flatware up for grabs. Everyone wanted costume jewelry. Everyone wanted Legos. Everyone wanted everything for less than it was marked.
“How much is this cd?”
“It’s got a sticker on it. See? One dollar.”
“Can I have two for one dollar?”
My favorite person was the man who offered twenty-five cents per cd for all two hundred of them. I refused. He didn’t seem too surprised. Probably a dealer, my husband said.
Then there was the query about the shoes. “How much are these shoes?”
“I’ll give you five.”
“But I don’t know whether they will fit me for that price.”
Evidently they would fit for a lower price. “Try them on,” I suggested. He walked away scowling.
Until today I had no idea that garage saling is such a big hobby that everyone – from seven year old girls to elderly men with canes – does it. I have no idea why, except maybe it’s the thrill of the hunt, the hope of finding the green mermaid Wade Whimsie that you need to complete your collection. I also think people are voyeuristic; I cannot count how many people commented that they came because they live in the neighborhood and had always wanted to see our house up close and look at the back garden. (It’s a traditional 1920s Dutch Colonial house on an uncommonly large lot.)
After this experience, I have concluded that my mother and husband are right; displaying and flogging unwanted appliances and surplus cat carriers is a hell of a way to spend a glorious summer day. If it hadn’t been my mismatched coffee mugs and old Christmas ornaments on those tables, I certainly wouldn’t have been here. And it was barely worth it; the amount of time I spent working on it divided by the amount of money received comes to pitifully less than minimum wage. Maybe I just wasn’t divesting myself of things anyone wanted – like my grandmother’s mixing bowls that one friend asked if I planned to sell or my French Bakelite jewelry that remains in my drawer despite repeated entreaties. My stuff – books, cds, mugs, baskets – is out of favor with the salers. I think I will call the Goodwill or Vietnam Vets the next time I clean. That way will do good for all involved; someone else does all the work and receives the benefit and my basement is still tidy.