The real value of garage sales
Yes, they save money, but the greatest value of garage sales is the bridge they build between stranger and neighbor.
This past April, my husband tweeted: “Once fall comes, many husbands make football widows of their wives. But in spring, my wife leaves me for garage sale season.”
It’s true. Every Thursday and Friday morning, I scramble into our car in early daylight, review the list of neighborhood association sales I mapped out the night before, and peal out of the driveway in anticipation of a delicious morning full of treasure hunting. There is nothing I love more than garage sale-ing, except, of course, my husband and children. But seriously, right after them, it’s all about the garage sales, the thrill of the hunt, the approach up the driveway, the giddy anticipation of what someone might be selling that I can buy with the change in my pocket. Some of my best purchases include an electric scooter for my son ($7), half a house worth of plantation window blinds ($22), and a baby Harajuku dress for my little girl that is the envy of all my friends ($0.25).
There are different types of garage salers. I’m what you might call a semi-professional. As I walk up the driveway, I assess the seller and determine if they’re going to insist on full price or be open to bargaining. (Tip: men will almost always sell rock bottom, especially when their wives are out of earshot. They really just want to get rid of stuff). And I know not to bother with sales on Saturdays when the only things left are stained or torn children’s clothing, broken microwaves, and mildewed books.
But it’s more than just the hunt for great deals. While those hours spent away from my family are self-serving (after all, I am just shopping), my garage sale habit also benefits them, the environment, and my community.
In the past seven years, I have spent less than $200 on store-bought clothes for our children. Since most children wear clothes for about six months, it only makes sense to buy “gently used” clothes for them. Sure, some items are more “gently used” than others, but a quick once-over can assure a careful garage saler of an item that still has life in it.
The stuff of early childhood costs a lot of money and creates a colossal amount of waste. According to Parenting magazine “new parents typically shell out nearly $6,000 to buy the crib, stroller, car seat, clothes and other accoutrements of baby life.” In 2015 Americans spent 19.5 billion dollars on toys. That same year, Americans spent 24.9 billion on back-to-school clothes.
That’s far too many dollars and far too much waste. In buying clothes and toys at garage sales, not only have I saved money, I have also circumvented the need for the manufacture of more goods. This is recycling at its best. Garage sale-ing is good for the environment because of this essential truth: My neighbors don’t need their rake or Johnny Jump-up anymore, but we do. Their junk is our treasure.
And speaking of neighbors, there is an implicit value to garage sales we don’t talk enough about. In no other context would a stranger welcome me up their driveway to rummage through their stuff and chat with them about whether they prefer push or electric mowers.
Garages usually separate us. With one click of a button, a door draws down that closes us off from our community, from all those conversations that might have happened if we weren’t snugly contained inside the garages that lead into our isolated homes.
But during garage sale season, the garage does the opposite. It unites us. Our neighbors put out signs telling us how to find them. Their children have lemonade stands that invite us in. Through open garage doors, we are warmly greeted and asked about rain.
On some Thursdays and Fridays, rather than abandoning my whole family, I take my son along with me and give him $5 of his own to spend. Like me, he loves talking to strangers and has figured out that garage sales are a great way to leap into the random conversations I might otherwise discourage. He likes to look at people’s stuff. He’ll nod toward fishing tackle for sale on a card table and say to the older gentleman sitting in a canvas camp chair, “You like fishing. I’ve been fishing once.” And with that, he and the older gentleman are thick into a conversation about why fish bait is shiny and how you get a fish off the hook without poking yourself.
My son loves those moments almost as much as he loves the fact that people holding garage sales like to give him free things. He doesn’t have the vocabulary for it yet, but what he likes about it is being a part of the village. He likes that garage sale life makes his world smaller and everyone in it nicer.
That might be my favorite part, too. As much as I like the pursuit of the deal, what I really like is the whole exchange of it. After hours spent rummaging through other people’s things, I like coming home and showing my abandoned husband all my finds. But more than that, I like telling him about the people I talked to and what I learned about our neighborhood. Garage sales introduce me to nooks and crannies of my community I would never have known before. They give me a feel for who I live near, for what they value, for how kind they are to children who talk a lot. This is the real hidden treasure of garage sales. Yes, I save money and yes, it’s good for the environment, but the greatest value of garage sales is the bridge they build between stranger and neighbor. I could spend a lifetime looking, but I’ll never find a better deal than that.
Molly Jo Rose’s column, In and Of the World, focuses on finding God’s goodness in the darkest places of the world.