It’s garage sale season in our part of the world. No matter where you live, I highly recommend going through your closets and basement and setting up shop with what you find. You’ll learn a lot.
About every five years, my friend Joy and I combine our sale items in her garage or mine. We recycle a lot of great stuff for low, low prices, including toys our kids thought they couldn’t live without like a barely used Xbox game. We never make much money but we have a good time. I’m not a big schmoozer, but I really enjoy the people who shop in my garage. I love to listen to their new uses for my treasures. We hear stories of why they are buying or who will get the items — college dorm, a son’s new home, daughter’s dining room, games to occupy visiting grandchildren, clothes for work and play.
This year my daughter was a big help. She was motivated to prune her possessions as she prepares to move to California. One of the sad things was seeing all of her no-longer-wanted stuffed animals. Where did those all come from? And where did my little girl go?
This year, it was so chilly and wet in early May when we had our sale that we almost cancelled. Even the blob in the lava lamp (for sale — only three dollars!) barely bubbled after a couple of hours of warm-up. Traffic was slow at first. We seriously thought of closing down, but we persevered. Joy jammed a new sale sign — bright green neon — in the wet earth on the corner. That brought a flood of customers.
Sandy, a great friend, brought a great, rich cinnamon cake, which lifted our spirits….The hungry teenaged sons of one of our shoppers wanted to buy some of the cake, but Joy offered slices to them for free. Their embarrassed mother added a dollar to the money she paid for her purchases. We tried to give it back. Really, after a while it seemed ridiculous to charge for stuff we didn’t want any more. Here, just take this stuff. Enjoy! But giving away stuff isn’t easy, as we found out. People don’t like free, they want to pay at least a dime.
•Ten cents is more attractive than free. When no one would take a free push broom, Joy put ten cents on it. The next person bought it. Maybe people think free means worthless, but I think people want to pay something.
•People can show you the value of your own discards. A woman holding my small heart box (only a dollar!) told us how a friend had given her a heart box full of heart-warming sayings that she could use whenever she needed one. Of course, I couldn’t sell our heart box after she told me that!
•People will buy items they don’t have any use for if the price is low enough. We sold a marble clock that told the time around the world.
“I don’t know what I need this for,” the buyer laughed. “I never leave Kansas City.”
I warned him that the batteries only lasted about a month. He didn’t care.
•Some people insist on paying full price. Others want a discount no matter how cheap the item is. Still, everyone was gracious and polite, even the hagglers.
•Most importantly, we learned how lucky we are. Near the end of the sale, a woman was looking through a rack of clothing, mostly my daughter’s. She held a pair of jeans to her hips and laughed.
“I know these aren’t my size,” she said in an accent I couldn’t quite place. “They are for my sister. She’s skinnier.”
She brought her choices to the card table, our command post.
“You’re so nice to buy for your sister,” Joy said.
“She’s lives in Ukraine. It’s hard there. I can’t buy from a store, but I can buy here,” she said. “Now I have five minutes to get back to work!”
I’m glad we stayed open. Sure, we like getting a little money for our decorating detritus, fashion faux pas and bikes ridden only a few times. But what we learned — or re-learned — was priceless.
Lately, a lot of people have been grumbling in our local newspaper about how cheap people are who shop at garage sales, but Joy and I have learned how generous they are — and how grateful we are for what we have. I know that in the real world of everyday retail, there are a lot of grumpy and whiney people, but luckily so far they haven’t shown up in my garage.
A shorter version of this post was published in the Kansas City Star on May 27, 2009.