Monday, August 29, 2011

My Junk is Better than Your Junk

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who garage sale and those who don't. And, of course, the subset of those who do—buyers and sellers.

I've been to a few garage sales in my day, mostly with my mom, who loves them. I know I've bought things at garage sales, but I couldn't tell you what. I've also hosted a handful of sales. 

As I've mentioned, I'm a keeper, but every once in a while things reach critical mass and I feel the urge to purge. Last summer, my sister-in-law and I cleaned out my mother-in-law's home of more than 40 years. Forty years represents a lot of stuff, and for much of that time she lived alone. We have six people here—six times as much stuff. And we've only lived here 13 years. I can't imagine what it will be like 27 years from now. Yikes.

So, I planned a garage sale, mostly to get rid of outgrown toys and games. This proved much harder than I expected, since it turns out that my middle boy is a keeper, too, and even more sentimental than I am. Getting him to part with anything was next to impossible.

Me: "You haven't played with any of this in years."

Boy #2: "I just like to look at it. I like knowing it's here."

I see a horder in the making. On the other hand, he started high school this week and he has never been good at transitions. Perhaps my timing was off.

In any case, I sorted and tagged and set out our used stuff for three days. I ran an ad. I Facebooked and Twittered. I posted on Craig's list. We put out signs. And the weather was good — maybe too good; we had very few customers.

I netted about $200.

Given the amount of time I spent getting ready, plus three days managing the sale, plus the cleanup and donation of leftovers, plus the loss-time due to the inevitable sinus infection (I'm allergic to dust, so digging through basements and closets is not a healthy plan), I figure I made about 3¢ an hour.

But it's not about the money (good thing). I hate that we don't fix things anymore, we just throw them out. I have always marveled at my mom's stories of her WWII childhood, where they reused everything—even tinfoil and rubber bands (I still can't bring myself to toss out a rubber band, but I have no particular affinity for used foil). In this disposable world, there is something really satisfying about watching an old item find a new home, maybe even a better one with someone who will love and use it more than I ever did. A garage sale is recycling in the best sense.

Here are a few things I learned:
  • next time, I'm holding my sale on Friday from 9-5 and Saturday from 9-noon. That's it.
  • the stuff you think will sell never does; the stuff you think won't, will.
  • once it goes into the garage sale, never let it back in the house. Arrange for a charity to pick up the dregs.
  • grandmothers are the best customers for toys. They love to treat their grandchildren, but don't always know what they want. Garage sale games and toys make them look like a hero for pennies on the dollar. 
  • kids love a bargain, and I loved watching them plow through my bargain box (25¢ each, or 7 for a $1), choosing which treasures they couldn't live without. That's a lot of joy for a buck.
  • price to sell. If your junk is worth so much, then why are you getting rid of it?
  • garage sales are boring without a steady flow of customers, but I did get to meet our new neighbors, so that's a plus.
I'm sure I'll have another garage sale some day (after Boy #2 moves out of the house and takes his stuff with him, every last lego piece and stuffed animal). In the meantime, check out Batman's garage sale. Guess even superheroes need a little fast cash.