Every couple years it seems like something has to give and I’m forced to have a garage sale to deal with all the extra treasures I’ve added to my stash. This past weekend we hosted a giant sale, and it was a doozy, on many levels.
First up, I have to cop to something.
Oops, it feels like I’ve become somewhat of a junking addict.
Yes, looking at all the stuff that’s been accumulating in my house, I’ve come to recognize that my thrifting had gotten a bit of control. I’ve been frequenting the Goodwill Bins far too often of late, and when I actually took the time to look at all that I’ve picked up over the last six months, I’ve come to realize what’s been going on– and why.
When Bailey died in January, I was adrift. My companion for the last decade plus was gone, and I couldn’t stand to be alone in the house– too many memories, too few sounds. My kids are growing up and out, and my hubby is busy. No one needed me the same way my dog did and I needed a new project.
To occupy myself, I’d hit the Bins often — sometimes a couple times a week, and look for items there. Vintage doll clothes for a toddler neighbor who loves collecting items for her little babies.
Things for my kids. Clothes for me. Certain vintage and new things for other friends who might like what I like.
It’s like I now have a mental rolodex of friends and acquaintances and their aspirational wish lists, and I’m always looking.
Goodwill. Estate sales. Anywhere.
Knowing that items at the Bins are usually so inexpensive that’s been my go-to for a fix. There I’ve felt like I could treasure hunt for hours, and this helped with the loneliness, but it also brought too much into my house.
It also bolstered a somewhat precarious addiction to rescuing things. The transitory nature of the Bins (nothing is on the the floor for more than ten hours or so) added to my urgency; at a regular shop you can regularly walk away from an item and ask yourself “Is this a good idea?” or “Do I really need/want this?” but not so here– blink and it’ll be gone. So I’d grab it and figure out the logistics or home later.
Consequently, my attic and sewing room have been packed with new finds and so clearly the time to winnow had come.
I posted an ad on Craigslist and Next Door and sure enough people started coming –even a little early, of course.
Charlotte and I also baked for the sale so she set up a really cute stand to go alongside our garage sale.
We sold two different kinds of rice crispy treats ( bittersweet chocolate peppermint with crushed mint candies plus caramel-peanut butter with caramel corn and Peanut M & M’s plus ) plus granola and chocolate-orange brownies (I love the look of them going into the oven all moist and dark and how they come out so shiny and fragrant).
The garage and bake sale was a blur, and I was so busy for so many hours straight I have few pics to show for it.
I will tell you a couple things I learned– or was reminded of– with this sale.
One. Do not have a garage sale to make money. You never will make what you think you will and it’s brutal when a stranger (or worse yet, your friends!) won’t shell out a buck for something that you think is really cool.
I sold or gave away many things for a buck and afterwards I wished I’d spent more time hawking the higher ticket items (like this Pottery Barn bed frame we sold for far too less)
and just given away all the cheaper items. It’s not really worth it — and even with things priced at a dollar there are the cheapskates who will try to talk you down from that. One woman said she could only pay me 75 cents for this great platter, and when I said fine, despite the fact that she had a wallet stuffed with bills, she gave it to me all in nickels. When she switched over to pennies I thought I was going to lose my mind).
If you do choose to go ahead and have a garage sale, keep it focused (I had all my vintage up front and dollar items and make-an-offer items separate).
If you are going to sell little things only sell those with a known following and make the little things count.
Charlotte and I broke down all the Lego and Playmobile we had into small bags, separating either by themes or grouped bulk by the pound. We also had all the Lego figures in their own individual miniature bags with accessories, and we sold every single one of those. Having it neat and packaged clearly allowed the customer to know exactly what they were getting and maximized the value of that precious little plastic.
So that advice worked great for Lego but not so for my collection of vintage ornaments.
Were they priced too high or was it the wrong time of the year? I didn’t sell nearly as many as I thought I would, but I might just sell them all on Craigslist in December when people have holidays on the brain.
Remember to price your goods on the cheaper side and that out-of-season items are a tough sell.
I hate to say this, but also watch out for the scammers.
I had more than one person try to hide some of the more valuable items in boxes and then lowball me for the box. One particular person hid all my black and white photos under a vintage tablecloth and then lied to me, telling me that Oliver told her she could fill a box for five dollars.
I gave her a screaming deal (not knowing if Oliver had promised her that) but I took the photos out of her box and happy that I did. I told her she was welcome to buy the hundred plus photos for 50 cents each, but she balked, saying “No, it’s a dollar for all” at which point I said it’s my stuff, I’m setting the prices.
Jeez, some people.
Happily, other than a few jerks (really, you FORGOT to pay me?), I met so many wonderful people and I’m so happy that my things went to good homes.
This woman works with a horse rescue organization and is constantly on the prowl looking for items to auction for her group. I gave her a beautiful old black velvet English riding cap I’d bought (solely because it was beautiful) and some tiny horses and we had a nice chat.
Same so with this woman who fell in love with a vintage metal tray — she said she was going to use it for her bedside.
An old friend I haven’t seen in ages (Kim) came by and she left with two of my favorites, a vintage lunch pail and an aqua casserole.
The former was going to be used immediately at work and the latter for her next potluck.
Oliver’s friend Devon left with a trio of copper mugs that she said were destined for her desk to corral pens, pencils and markers.
I talked to so many customers and Instagram friends who stopped by and all throughout the day people kept sharing their stories or lives with me.
There was the ESL/artist who collects vintage holiday matchsticks (I had these for her)
and was on the lookout for items to use with her students to explain the significance of certain American traditions and practices.
Her name was Alison and she looked for a long time at all my photos (the ones I’d retrieved from that earlier scammer) and asked me the price.
I asked her what she was using them for, and she said that she wanted to use the old photos as writing prompts for her students.
I told her I loved that idea and I let her take home her pile for free, including this brilliant one.
She seemed so happy with her stash.
This pic was taken before I comped her with a table she admired and she was so excited about that (I’d planned on using milk paint on it but had never gotten around to it).
(Another stranger took the free Pottery Barn rug).
And this brings me to the biggest point about garage sales.
Don’t focus on anything more than clearing out space and having fun connecting new owners with old objects — and thrill in the pairing.
Two other people come to mind.
The first was an older gentleman who spent a long time looking at every single item. He eventually bought a messenger bag I was selling (new with tags!) and he said it made him so happy because he’s been looking forever for the right bag to carry water, his wallet and a journal. This hundred dollar bag I sold for pretty much what I paid for it at the Bins — two dollars.
He then became captivated by my collection of 1950’s/60’s plastic picnic ware I’ve been collecting for the last twenty years and after much deliberating, he ended up with a couple of those plus a few bowls he said he was going to use for his cats (“they all have to have the same or they’ll drive themselves and me crazy”).
I gave him a ruler he admired and it made him happy. He kept smiling at his bowls.
He walked away and it seemed to me that loneliness trailed him like a visible vapor. I couldn’t eliminate the sadness, but he was offered kindness and kinship and sometimes that’s all you can do with someone you don’t know.
And then there was another lady whose picture I didn’t take because I got so caught up with talking to her.
We got to talking, all the while looking at some of the black and white photos together.
Before I knew it, she told me the story about how her family didn’t have any photos, and that made her sad. Without even thinking I asked her, why no pics?
“Because my brother shot and killed my other brother, set the family home and barn on fire and then killed himself. We lost everything.”
Wow. I didn’t see that one coming.
I’m so used to people telling me stuff but one can never prepare yourself for that kind of confession– so intimate, so raw. She got teary — and I did, too.
Suddenly it wasn’t an 80 degree day and we weren’t surrounded by thirty people holding stuff. It was just the two of us looking at photos.
I looked at this photo and realized by the time stamp that this was the month my Mom became pregnant with me, and this is how some people dressed at the time.
More silence. I thought about that barn fire.
I asked this stranger which pictures she wished she could have back. She wasn’t sure. I said “Spend some time with this stack and see if any resonate with you. Show me when you’re done.”
After a long while, here are the ones she selected for herself, with the last one reminding her of her grandfather, so long gone now.
She left with a stack of goodies (the book gleaned from our gigantic free pile).
And I have one last person to tell you about.
She came with her Dad and I assume her twin brother. I’d put her age around ten, and she was fascinated with these vintage clothing patterns I’d bought years ago because the drawings intrigued me.
I had ten of them in all, and she looked at every single one, taking about twenty minutes to decide which five to buy.
I’d looked them up on Etsy and knew I could sell them for some coin online, but that wasn’t my intention, and suddenly it was important to me that this girl with the sparkly beret ended up with these. And not just half of them.The patterns should stay together.
I said “How about one dollar each?” She was thrilled.
I said “But there’s a catch, okay?”
“It’s buy five, get five free day. So you buy those five and you’ll have to take all ten of them.”
She looked over at her Dad for her approval. He mouthed “thank you”. She jumped up, so happy!
“AND you HAVE TO take 20 sewing notions with you, too. Okay?”
She skipped over to the vintage suitcase holding all of this trim and and spent more than ten minutes looking at it all before she made her selection.
I’m not sure why I am telling you all this.
Perhaps the news this morning of Kate Spade’s suicide struck so close to home. I revered her. The fact that she was grappling with such depression (or “demons”, as my friend Beth pointed out) and made such a tragic decision has gotten me thinking we never truly know what someone is thinking. Or dealing with.
My garage sale is proof of that. We all walk around with stories in need of airing. So many of are grappling with demons so ferocious and tenacious that they make us mute, drain us of our energy. We suffer in silence. We self-medicate. And some of us take a look at the horizon and decide to opt out.
I’m as bad as anyone as forgetting all this and getting caught up with nonsense. With the trivial. The unchangeable. And I’ve been really bad about collecting stuff and then holding onto stuff that’s not doing me any good when someone else could be using it and enjoying it (like Emma).
And worse of all, I’ve not been seeing what is so valuable and clearly in front of my face.
So now that I’ve got Porter, I’m going to try do less shopping, and spend more time snuggling. And being grateful for all that I already have.
And let’s all remember that kindness matters. More than ever. (And I thank everyone of you who showed up this weekend, be it to say hello, shop, say hi to Porter or try a rice crispy treat.)
AND lastly, RIP, Kate Spade: innovator, designer, philanthropist, and mother of one 13 year old daughter. Damn.
The world already feels a little less vivid without you.