jlsathre

jlsathre
Location
Illinois,
Birthday
July 30
Bio
I'm a lawyer in my past life, who got the kids through college and decided to try something different and a little more fun. A used book store sounded like a good idea, so that's where I am for now. I just hadn't counted on a recession or E-readers and am a little afraid there's going to be a third act. In the meantime, I have plenty to read and a little time to write. Not a bad way to spend a day.

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Salon.com
MAY 21, 2012 10:35AM

The Sadness of Garage Sales

Rate: 25 Flag

When I'm not at the bookstore, I can usually be found looking for books. And once warm weather hits, one of the best places to find books is at garage sales. Which is a good thing, because I love garage sales.

I love not knowing what I'll come home with on any given day. I love finding something that I actually need or something unique that I don't. I love finding something that I would have acutally bought at a store, but now don't have to. I love the randomness of it. And the mutual satisfaction--me with my purchase and them with their sale. 

It's always been my theory that if you want something, you'll eventually find it over the course of a season of garage sales. Although I admit that I'm having some trouble finding cookie sheets that look better than the ones I need to throw away. Still, it's early. The season is young.

Saturday was a good day. I came home with some like new Ugg boots close enough to my size that they'll work, a 24 x 24 Georgia O'Keefe framed print, a new coffee maker that I later saw got terrible reviews, but that worked fine this morning, and the last two books in the Hunger Games trilogy that people have been asking for. It was a good day. 

It was better than the previous week when I came home a little bit depressed. It happens sometimes.

There are tells with garage sales. A lemonade stand next to the street tells you that the tables are mainly going to be filled with kids clothes and toys. Drive on if you're not thirsty or don't have kids to buy for. A table with lots of unopened boxes of toothpaste and Hamburger Helper tells you that this is an extreme couponer and that prices are going to be higher than you like. A sale with any type of price tags other than stickers or masking tape tells you that this is a business and not really a garage sale. And a sale with tableclothes on the tables tells you that this is an older couple, often times getting ready to leave their house for a downsized apartment or assisted living.

It's the last ones that leave me drepressd. We stopped at one the previous weekend.

Every table had a tablecloth--neatly pressed and with the overhangs on all four sides evenly draped. There were no haphazard groupings of unmatched items to rifle through and no overflowing boxes that might have had a treasure hidden at the bottom. Rather, everything was displayed on tables, cleaner than most things found in my cabinets, and organized by type, with enough space between each item to showcase the individual pieces. The garage floor had been swept.  

You know that this has been a project; that the couple has done it together, probably over a period of weeks. It was their reason for skipping church on Sunday and for parking the car in the driveway the last few weeks, even though they don't like to do that.

There have been little arguments about what would go and what would stay, with some things being negotiated. 

"You can keep your salt and pepper shakers, but only if I can keep my Lincoln books."

"I'm not sure we'll have room for both the china cabinet and the bookshelf."

 "I suppose we could combine them."

And there have been discussions about what they would need.

"We're going to need the TV tables."

"We can eat at the dinette."

"But there won't be room for a TV in the kitchen." 

Prices for each item have been discussed and finally agreed upon as reasonable, although not always in line with actual garage sale prices because they aren't garage sale shoppers. 

Everything has a history, which you find out if you pick up one of the little spoons or the hat with the hat pin. There is no quick sweep here, because they want you to know the history. There are items from travels, including twenty year old travel books--kept for many years, but no longer needed. Clip-on earrings bought at stores that are closed now and worn to cocktail parties and company dinners. Gloves worn to church and weddings and, perhaps, funerals. Serving pieces from family dinners and potlucks, a few with small chips that don't affect function. All items that their children, if they have any, had no interest in and that there is not enough room for in their downsized space. 

I walked between the tables, fingering the costume jewelry and looking through the neatly stacked pile of older hardback books. The couple watched. There weren't as many people here as at the sale across the street. 

I didn't see a thing I wanted. Or needed. I bought a book anyway.

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garage sales, downsizing, aging

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It's for the reasons you stated that I stay away from garage sales: I find them depressing. I'd get carried away more thinking about the stories behind the items rather than looking for a bargain.
I held two in my life time and took part in neither myself. Less painful that way. Next downsizing will be giving to the goodwill.

R♥
We are getting ready for our "downsizing" garage sale now and we participate in the annual town wide sale each year that we are around for it. Still I have a barn and garage full of stuff that seems to be reproducing on its own as soon as we get rid of it. I love participating and meeting the people and haggling. However, I dread selling something that will one day re-appear on Antique Road Show.
Oops, forgot to say I rated this. R
FusunA--Ahh, yes, but you're missing out on the good stuff too.
Gerald--I better not hear that you used tablecloths.
I am NOT selling my Jolly Penguin Race.
That sort of sale really cuts down on the 'haggle factor' doesn't it? And one does tend to leave with something, anything really, it's a question of manners really and something second nature to the northern breed.

On the other hand you have annual sales held by individuals that are almost community events, eagerly anticipated and attended by throngs from far and wide. There's coffee and fresh baked cookies, folks catching up with those whom they rarely see in their social circles, a sense of friendship that continues sale after sale, year after year.

Thanks for this post and the memories it brings, they're some of the most cherished things I've ever found at a card table and utterly priceless.
I like how you share the humanness of garage sales. For me, I want to feel like its a beginning, or at least a turning point, to life. Part of the process and the need to move forward with less encumbrances and baggage. Yes there is a garage sale or two on my horizon!
Very nice. Writing about garage sales is great...so much material to work with, literally and figuratively, of course.
I always give my stuff to Good Will when I downsize... my hope is that when I leave here I'll reduce everything I own to one cubic yard... the word "downsize" translates to families now and flashes back to images of farm auctions during the Great Depression. Makes me crazy.
I volunteered at a thrift shop for years and one woman freaked out when she found out most of the stuff came from the deceased.. Where did she think it came from?
I have sold online for 14 years and that is why I have very little. I dont want someone to have to do this.
HUGGGGGGGGG
excellent writing.
Con--It's either the Jolly Penguin Race or your walker. Your choice.
Brad--When I lived in a smaller town and had one, it really was like a social.
asia--Moving forward...I'm going to try and think of it like that.
Maureen--No two are the same--that's for sure.
jmac--I like the one cubic yard idea. So would my kids.
Linda--You're thinking ahead. I downsized a lot when I moved from a house to a small apartment. If only I didn't keep going to garage sales...
femme--Thank you.
I love yard sales and garage sales and estate sales. Terri say's I'm hooked, but I think one day I'll find a Picasso and retire.
"You know that this has been a project; that the couple has done it together, probably over a period of weeks. It was their reason for skipping church on Sunday and for parking the car in the driveway the last few weeks, even though they don't like to do that."

A novel in two sentences--wow! R
Garage sales can be depressing and sometimes I feel like a vulture because the downsizing elderly couples have the things I am looking for. The cherished books, old china, and the valuable art pottery that won't fit in their retirement homes make me very happy once they find a place in mine.
Scanner--Not if I find that Picasso first!
V.--Thank you.
Miguela--I think you're making the couples happy by buying and appreciating their things.
Garage sales are cheap fun for most of us. We all need cheaper entertainment these days. Very well written ma'am. I'll be Baaaack! R Duke
Not having a garage has put a kink in my holding garage sales so I just give everything away. I held a lawn sale once and got so depressed I wanted to walk out on the highway with my eyes closed and my arms outspread! Everyone who stopped asked, "Is that all you got?" /R
Very nice story, right on the money. I'm not a frequent garage sale shopper but where I live it is difficult to be unaware of them. Usually the "book people" are out looking for first editions when the garage doors open at seven or eight a.m.
jl, I like your list of tells. We've met some delightful older couples at the latter type of sale. We particularly remember one couple, whose now former house on a prominent corner we often pass, still sweethearts after 50 years. We often wonder out loud how they're doing in their new place.

For anyone in the LA area, take note that this weekend in Lake Arrowhead there will be dozens upon dozens of garage sales. The whole mountain spring cleans and puts out their stuff on Memorial day weekend. Plus (this is the exciting bit for me) the libraries in Blue Jay and Lake Gregory will be clearing out too. It's my annual habit to go to both those sales - then spend the rest of the weekend looking for used bookshelves.
I no longer frequent the garage sales, as I have enough "stuff'.
Nicely written, with a tinge of sadness.
Somehow I knew you would buy something.
Texas--It is indeed cheap entertainment, as well as a cheap way to decorate and dress yourself. I hope you come back.
nilesite--Yeah, we're a greedy bunch. We want volume.
Amy--I'm right there with them, although I'm more likely to be carrying away the paperback mysteries.
GeeBee--Library sales are one of my favorites too. It's always a tough choice when they're going on at the same time as garage sales.
Rita--I try to live up to a rule of getting rid of something for each thing I bring in. But I'm known to cheat.
I don't go to garage sales, fearing I'll bring something home. My husband and I are afraid of clutter. Nevertheless I have 3 vases I got at various thrift shops that are treasures to me. My dead body will leave the house before they do!
Thoughtful and well considered. I never thought of them that way, but now I see you're right.
Chicken Maaan--Oooh, predictable. I'm going to have to work on that.
ccdarling--Thrift stores are good, but better bargains can be found at garage sales. Clutter can be a problem, though. You have to be careful.
Sarah--Most of the time they're fun. Sometimes touching. And sometimes a little sad.
*sigh*
I've done something similar myself, bought a thing when I hadn't really wanted to.
It's a pity sale. Very sad.
Your analysis of the garage sale scene is pretty much right on for this area as well. I enjoyed this article very much. Very touching.
R
Beautiful story, though properly poignant. These sorts of sales are sad but you can sometimes find marvelous things. I went to one such event about 15 years ago. You could see that the wife was at one time a very beautiful and very fashionable woman but at about 88 or 89, she likely wasn't going to be tottering about on stilettos anymore. Anyway, she sold me the most wonderful black silk shantung sheath that she had bought in 1961 at Saks Fifth Avenue in New York. I wore it until it nearly had holes in it. She was happy to see someone treasure her treasure and I was happy to have such a well made dress at such a great price.
I love garage sales. I understand the attachment that some people have for their items and, when seeing that look in their eyes, would never think of bartering the price.
I had one to downsize, so I understand what goes on. But I thought of it as a new chapter in my life and that these items would find use in new homes.
Poor Woman--It's hard not to put yourself in their place, which I should probably take as a hint to quit collecting more stuff.
Mary--You really can get some beautiful things and your dress sounds like one of them.
Maria--I agree. You have to use some discretion about bartering.
I used to love garage sales. Then I got into semi-professional flea-marketing and it became too stressful and no longer much fun. Nowadays I hit one if I see one, thankfully none of the kind you describe. But my craving is satisfied by the wonderful institution at our country dump - a building for clothes, household goods, books, etc., and a shed for furniture, and a lean-to for doors, etc. Plus it's a meet-and-greet place for the community. Like a garage sale, only free.

Linda - haha, I saw an antiques & junque shop near Napanee that called itself Dead People's Stuff.

At my age, I've been giving some thought to my demise or carted-off-to-nursing-home future, and think at one of my festivals I'll have a give-away. Got rid of a lot of books once that way. Still got lots...and lotsa junk only other Pagans could appreciate... It was hell clearing out my late husband's lifetime collection of detritus and don't want to put a similar burden on my kids. OTOH, what are kids for, and think of the hours of labor I put in to birth them, least they could do...and our country dump is just a mile away...
What cracked me up at my son's elementary-school's yard sale was the fervidness with which everyone was snatching up this absolute junk. I don't think there were connoisseurs in this crowd, but I found the whole thing weirdly touching. People were so happy!
You put it so well: the love of finding something unexpected, and the sadness that, sometimes, someone is giving up that thing because they don't have a choice. I also really enjoy garage sales, antiquing, anything of the sort, but as you point out here, it can be very hard. I'm sure your compassion and, I imagine, the patience you have (listening to the stories of those objects) must be a real comfort to these people.
Myriad--I love the idea of a country dump. It seems like a win-win situation for people wanting to get rid of stuff and people needing stuff.
Manhattan--It is funny to see what people will buy. But them I'll look at some of the things I bring home and think, okay, I'm one of them.
Alyssa--That's it. Finding the unknown treasure. And sometimes the treasure is the people.