I just had a garage sale for the first time, and it was a somewhat shocking experience. I’m moving from Colorado to St. Louis, and my husband and I decided to upgrade some of our furniture, which means leaving our old, pre-wedding stuff behind. We’d rather make a few bucks on it than just give it all away, so we decided to host a garage sale with some friends who are moving to London and also need to ditch their things.
We don’t exactly frequent garage sales, so we had no idea what would be a fair price for something like a coffee table, a set of golf clubs or an old telescope. We basically settled on a few bucks for everything and figured people might bargain for a few bucks off. But it was far worse than I expected. Americans, I decided, are vultures.
By 7:15 a.m., an elderly man showed up and offered me $5 for my husband’s old PlayStation 2 and a stack of games, hoping his iPod-owning granddaughter would like it. We’d asked $15 for the lot, which I thought was more than fair, but apparently this guy thought that was a ripoff. Tired and anxious, I accepted his $5 and watched him walk to his car with a pile of what probably would have earned us five times that amount at a video game store.
An hour later, we sold our swamp cooler — for which we’d paid $100 a year ago — for $15, bargained down from $25. I started getting uncomfortable.
People showed up and rummaged through my old jewelry, rejecting most items and occasionally asking to pay 50 cents for something they did like. A father and son came by asking for tennis racquets. We hadn’t thought about selling ours, but my husband, eager to have less to pack, offered them both for $4.
Later, a woman said she liked my dish set, but was bummed it was green instead of blue, and asked if I had a blue set she could buy. It’s a garage sale, lady, I thought. This is all I have.
That last line became somewhat of a mental refrain throughout the day, as people placed so little value on things that, to me, once had plenty. This is all I have, and I am practically giving it away, yet you want to pay even less, you heartless strangers!
To me, my white-ash wood kitchen table is worth years of memories; I remember many Thanksgivings and Christmases shared around its veneer-covered surface. But to you, obnoxious shirtless college guy, it is worth just $100, with chairs (I got him to pay $120).
I know it’s shallow to feel attached to material things — they aren’t worth much, a fact laid out in stark relief at my sale. But still … they are valuable.
I have a friend who goes to garage sales and thrift shops to buy old picture frames, most of which still have family photos in them. She hangs them throughout the house as if she knows the people in them — she calls them her Faux Family, and even gives them names, like Flo Faux or Mo Faux. She likes them because they’re quirky. But I find it touching — these old pictures, things formerly valued and beloved, are able to find a new home. I don’t think the woman who bought my sailboat painting for $1.50 will feel that kind of special connection.
Next time, I think we’ll skip the scavenger-baiting sale and bring our stuff to the ARC. That way, our things will provide work for someone who needs a job, and someone will probably pay more for it in the store than they would on my front lawn. And I won’t have to bargain away my things for pennies on the dollar.