This weekend, my wife and I finally took steps to get rid of a large amount of clutter in our garage. We had spent a couple of days last month cleaning out closets and cabinets in the house and then several long, hot hours doing the same in the garage. The result was a mount Everest-like pile of stuff that occupied a large percentage of the garage and it was time, today, to get rid of it. We decided on the age-old method of removing clutter…selling it to someone else.
We have had garage sales many times since we bought this house and we have managed to make some money doing it. Of course, the money is not the real reason to have a garage sale; the main reason—and this is one that many people forget—is to get rid of the junk that has been piling up in your life for years. It just helps to make some money doing it. You can tell a lot about people from the stuff they sell in a garage sale. Not the least of which is how bad or good their taste is. Some people put stuff out to sell that simply awes you. You wonder why they would be parting with such a treasure. That they are selling it means that, to them, this is junk. It is as if they are taunting you saying “you want this old thing? You should see what I got to replace it.”
Of course, for every item that falls into this category, there are 20 that are the exact opposite. You look at these items displayed on the folding card table and say to yourself “someone not only actually thought this up, someone actually made it, but these people actually bought it.”
This actually highlights one aspect of garage sales that many don’t consider. George Carlin had a routine he called “A Place For My Stuff,” in which he says “did you ever notice that everyone else’s stuff is sh*t and your sh*t is stuff?” We peruse garage sales and comment to ourselves or to our spouses (or whomever we drag along with us) on the worth of the pieces of life we are studying. Never mind that someone actually valued this trinket enough to buy it, but that they cared enough about it to not simply throw it away.
Think about what you do throw away. Things you bought or made or had made for you that you collected over the years. These items contributed—even if only the smallest measure—to the life you have lived and now they are set out in a garbage can waiting for a trip to the landfill. Yet some items we can’t bring ourselves to relegate to that fate. It is to these things we assess a greater value and we can’t bring ourselves to destroy so we hold onto them until it gets crowded (or until your wife tells you to get rid of them). These are what garage sales are for. But then we have to do an even more difficult thing. We have to put a number on that value.
Pricing garage sales can be the most heart wrenching thing to do next to taking an unwanted animal to the shelter. You have to put the little sticker on the statue that says “World’s Greatest Dad” (or maybe it is the Darth Vader Pez dispenser) that just yesterday sat with pride on your bookcase (alright, on the top shelf behind the books gathering dust) and write a number on it. After what must seem a lifetime of agonizing, you scribble a dollar amount and put it on the card table certain that it will snapped up in the first wave as people knock each other down in an effort to be the one who lands such a treasure. You might even think you should put a higher price on it since it will obviously be in such high demand.
Then, after spending hours putting everything out and making sure it is visible and priced and organized, you sit back and wait for the shopping rush. And you wait. And wait and wait. Finally, after you get up to get your second cup of coffee, a car drives by—slowing down as they look at your display—and then it drives on looking for someone else’s junk. What? What’s wrong with my stuff, you ask.
Finally someone stops by and begins to pick through your collection of pieces of your life. Surely the inherent worth is obvious to them and they will offer even more than you priced. They pick up this trinket and turn it over and look at the sticker and then put it back down. After several minutes they turn and get back in their car and leave. Not even a “Gee this stuff is great, but I can’t afford such extravagance in my meager home.” They simply leave.
Not everyone leaves though. Others come and many buy. Once the people finish arriving (usually about the same time as the sun gets the hottest) you decide it is time to call it a day. You count your money (not as much as you hoped but it’s money you didn’t have this morning) and clean up. Then you see the Pez dispenser still sitting on the table. With a sigh, you realize that no one thought it was good enough and you wonder where people’s values have gone. But that is how it goes. One man’s treasure is another person’s trash. So you dust it off and put it back on the bookshelf until next year.
We made a whopping 17 bucks this morning, even though only three cars stopped. Turns out the signs I put at the entrances to the subdivision fell over. So we rebuilt Mount Everest (albeit a bit smaller) and we’ll probably have another sale in a few weeks.