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July 28, 2008 / Maleesha Kovnesky

The Garage Sale

Part of our Year Of Downsizing culminated this weekend with a garage sale.  This garage sale has been a long time coming.  We actually tried having it last weekend, but no one showed up.  We got up at 6 AM to move stuff out into our driveway, I made a pot of coffee, and we waited.  After about an hour, we went and checked the newspaper.  Our ad hadn’t gone in!  We called the lovely staff at the Bozeman Chronicle and they apologized that “they had just switched over to new software and lost our ad.”  We had the “confirmation page” but they had no record of the ad we placed whatsoever.  So we tried again this weekend. 

I hoped, hoped, hoped that a good story would come out of the sale, but I got nothing.  There was the usual garage sale ladies that insist on buying something, anything, for fifty cents.  “I’ll give you fifty cents for it,” is what they teach at How To Shop At Garage Sales seminars all over the country.

Does every country have garage/yard sales?  If you don’t know what the heck a garage sale is, allow me to explain.  A garage sale (sometimes called a yard sale) is something that Americans participate in when they realize that in order to purchase loads of new junk for their homes, they are going to have to get rid of lots of their old junk first.  So they set out all of their junk in the driveway, put price tags on it, and put up big fluorescent pink signs at nearby intersections advertising the garage sale.  People from all over town see the signs and think “Perhaps they have a nice set of wine glasses” or “Maybe I will find a painting that is worth $10,000 but the silly owners are selling it for $3.”  You can sell almost anything at a garage sale.  It’s completely unexplainable. 

Garage sales test the boundaries of human emotion.  I realized this as some women came to look at the baby clothes we had for sale.  I had separated the clothing into sizes, placed the clothing into bags, and put price tags on the bags.  Still, a pair of pregnant women showed up and rummaged through the bags, trying to put together individual outfits.  Every now and then one would make a comment “Oh I wouldn’t pay a quarter for that,” and “Wow, look at that stain!”  A stain on infant clothing?  Stop the presses.  What the hell?  You’re at a garage sale.  You want impeccable duds for your spawn, get in your Saab and drive thyself to Baby Gap. 

Another strange behavior at garage sales is the fact that people sometimes ask for stuff.  My husband was selling some camping gear.  Someone came and bought a bunch of it.  “This is just what I was looking for,” the person said.  “Do you happen to have a <ITEM>?  I’m also looking for an <ITEM>.  Look, people.  If we have it, and we are selling it, it’s laying in our driveway.  We’re don’t have a hidden stash of secret items inside.  What is this, Needful Things?

This was our second garage sale.  Our first was held several years ago in Colorado Springs.  We had an “indoor” garage sale.  Don’t ever do this.  But we were garage sale newbs.  We learned a lot.  Our first mistake was starting the sale at noon.  We thought the garage sale was clearly advertised: “Garage Sale: Noon.” 

Don’t ever start a garage sale at noon.  I know what you’re thinking: it’s a free country, if I want to have my garage sale at noon, by golly I will have it at noon

That is what you think.  When the first carload of blue-haired ladies trolls by your house at six A.M. to see if you’re accepting “early birds,” you will remember what I said.  By ten A.M, we had a GROUP of people standing on our front porch.  Awkward.  These people kept ringing the doorbell, demanding to know why the garage sale hadn’t started yet.  I didn’t know that there was an entire population of people who lived to purchase other people’s used crap.  But there is.  And you will learn this if you ever have a garage sale and do not follow the global laws of garage saledom.  We had everything clearly marked, since it was an indoor garage sale, to separate our stuff from the for sale items.  This did NOT stop people from picking up our personal things and asking how much we wanted for them. 

Me:  “Those dishes aren’t for sale.  That’s why they were in the cabinets.”

Them:  “But how much do you want for them?”

And because I was a garage sale newb, I actually sold a lady my houseplants that weren’t for sale.  She wanted to give me five dollars a piece for them.  She climbed right up on my kitchen chair and retrieved them from the top of my cabinets.  I was too stunned to say “no.”  I was a little shocked that I would sell my wimpy houseplants for $5 a piece.  Afterwards, I felt violated. 

We sold a lot of things we liked a lot but we just didn’t have room for it anymore.  Thankfully we won’t have a need to have a garage sale again for a really long time.  We are committed to living (mostly) junk free lives from here on out.  We still have plenty of stuff in our house made in China, but you really can’t escape that even if you try. 

If you are going to have a garage sale, I would suggest the following practices:

  • Advertise just a couple of days ahead of time. 
  • Check the day before to be sure that your ad really went in.
  • Do NOT include your phone number.  If you include your phone number in the ad, people will call you all week long, asking if they can come preview your junk.  They will make up all kinds of excuses, like they have to work the day you’re having the sale, or their Aunt May is having open heart surgery that day so they won’t be able to make it.   
  • Never hold a garage sale indoors.  Never. Never.
  • Realize that many people attend garage sales as a hobby.  These are the people that will insist on bartering.  They will want to pay fifty cents for something.  Just be prepared for this.  Mark up your knickknacks to a dollar, just so they can knock them back down.  Everybody wins.
  • Have directions to Baby Gap on hand, so you can direct traffic there.

Good luck.  Shopping at garage sales is a lot more fun than having them.

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5 Comments

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  1. Audrey / Jul 29 2008 11:20 am

    My family and I had a garage sale in June in Spokane. In the ad we stated the sale started at 9am and NO EARLY SALES. At 6:20 I was dragging stuff out of the garage when the first car pulled up. I’m not one for confrontation and so I yelled through the back door “Alicia (my older meaner sister) get your ass out her”. The man asked what time we opened and I said 9 and not until. The man then asked how much we wanted for a bike. By that time Alicia finally got her butt to the door and screamed, “Tell him it’s effing triple price before 6:30 am!!!” Needless to say the guy left and didn’t come back at 9.
    Garage sales are a lot of work for not a lot of profit. I’ve heard a rumor that someone will buy your garage sale. Next time I think that is what we are going to do.

    Yes. The expectations people have of you at the garage sale are sometimes more than you’d bargained for.

  2. david / Jul 29 2008 9:13 am

    Wow — good tips. I’m planning on conducting my first-ever yard sale within the next week or two, and will take your warnings to heart.

  3. crisitunity / Jul 29 2008 6:58 am

    I have been trying to clean out my house this year, but I have been taking all my stuff piecemeal to the Salvation Army or the VA. I don’t have the kind of stuff that would do well at a garage sale anyway – no baby stuff, no furniture, just knickknacks and clothes and TOO MANY BOOKS. (Try finding a place to donate books. Just try. Libraries will hang up on you.) I’m glad you had a good one.

    I think they call it a “boot sale” in England – a boot being the trunk of a car.

  4. fawnahareo / Jul 28 2008 3:07 pm

    Fun post! Holding a garage sale is not for the faint of heart. I can imagine the hordes walking through our front flower garden in the stampede into our yard. And the rules are you have to start early because how else can you set up before the early-birders come?

    I once scored a wonderful rocking chair that wasn’t for sale! The had mattreses and some other miscellaneous items in the shed that were being sold, but I spotted a wooden rocking chair buried under a mound of other stuff. So I asked them, “That rocking chair isn’t for sale, is it?” The woman hesitated, saying it belonged to her sister. But she phoned up the sister and the sister took my first offer (must have offered too much!).

    I was so pleased, since I was pregnant and new rocking chairs are so darned expensive.

  5. morethananelectrician / Jul 28 2008 12:59 pm

    We have local Child/Baby consignment shop that we barter with. My wife is a master at this system and can keep the kids in clothes that fit a remarkable prices.

    I will not participate in a garage sale at the house. I will just rent a dumpster and save the bartering at my place.

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