The Great Intellectual Garage Sale

I’m a fairly easy-going sort.  I do my best to get along and fulfill responsibilities I have to others in my life, but there are things that drive me crazy.  Garage sales fit that category.  I can’t think of anything worse than spending a perfectly good day pawing through piles of things other people are ready to dispose of.  I’d much rather be reading, or writing, or at the beach or even cleaning my house.  I understand that people with children, inveterate readers, Ebay resellers or folks with truly limited incomes may have a quite different perspective.  But I’m not a shopper, and I’m trying to simplify.  In my life,  garage sales don’t help meet real needs.  They simply provide a day’s worth of distraction and an indiscriminate pile of “stuff” which gets hauled home and hidden away before being thrown onto a different table for the next sale.

Unfortunately, my mother adores garage sales.  She enjoys the social aspect – the banter, the dickering, the sense of unspoken competition for “real bargains”.  She also enjoys the feeling of possibility, the hope instilled in every watcher of Antiques Roadshow that the $50,000 etching may be buried under the plastic poinsettias and hand mirror with the broken frame in the next pile.  If she could, she would be out prowling the neighborhoods every weekend.  But, since I have to do the driving and she knows better than to press her luck,  we’ve struck an agreement.  She won’t ask to garage sale every week, and I won’t gripe when we go.

Last week, when the huge island-wide garage sale in Clear Lake Shores was hampered by rain, I thought I had escaped.  But, the signs went up for a repeat performance this weekend.  Like a good kid, I told Mom she’d better find her money and her walking shoes: the show was going on.  For nearly four hours, she dug through piles of detritus like a search dog on a good scent, while I sat around, petted assorted other dogs and cats, watched nesting night herons and people, and thought it all over.

The truth of the matter is we’re suckers for apparent bargains.  We don’t need that cactus cookie jar with the 10-gallon hat for a lid, the beer bottle dryer, the ceramic owl pot-holder-holder, or the box full of old-fashioned metal ice trays, but there they are, and we bite.  We convince ourselves that we’ll find a use for it, or that we can use it for a gift.  Sometimes the cost is so low (only a dollar for that set of three fake snakeskin belts?) that we can’t help ourselves.  They’re selling, and we’re going to buy.

As I sat and watched the activity this morning, it occurred to me that the American marketplace of ideas has devolved into precisely this: an intellectual garage sale, a psychological close-out, a swap meet where the illogical meet the uninformed.  No matter which neighborhood you roam, there are authors, commentators, neighbors, journalists, family members, politicians and self-appointed experts ready to do business, with their wares spread out on tables and sawhorses, grinning like fools and saying, “Make me an offer.”  They’ve got it all: worn-out attitudes, mismatched perspectives, kitschy opinions and old-fashioned prejudice, ready to be recycled and promoted as the latest thing.

The fact is, whether we’re confronted by the opinion hawkers, the cyber-gurus or the ecclesiastical multi-level marketers, we don’t need a single one of their intellectual trinkets, but when they’re in front of us, starting cheap and ready to dicker, it can be tempting to pick up a second-hand thought or two.

When I take Mom to her garage sales, there is one question I can count on hearing over and again, phrased in a variety of ways.  The question may come from Mom herself, from the sellers or from other buyers who don’t mind sharing their decision-making process with anyone around: “Don’t you need this?”  “Do I need this?”  “Do we need this?”  “Do we know someone -anyone – who needs this?”

At a garage sale, my answer is always the same: No, I don’t need that.  Unless I’ve thought in the last day, “Gracious!  If only I had a beer-bottle dryer!” there’s no reason to pick one up simply because it might be useful.  The same is true at the various garage sales that now pass for the marketplace of ideas: sorry, I’m not buying.  I’m happy to hear your judgments, your opinions, your attitudes and perspectives, but I don’t need to purchase them whole.  I’ll form my own, thank you very much.

 It’s not that I don’t need to make changes now and then.  I understand that attitudes can benefit by evaluation and revision.  It’s quite possible that old biases might need to be replaced.  I’m not averse to adopting new ideas, or a different perspective.  But before I buy, I want to think it over for myself.  I need to know what I want, and I want to be sure of what I need.  And, especially in the marketplace of ideas, I want to know I’m getting quality.  I may pay more initially, but it won’t cost nearly so much in the long run.


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8 thoughts on “The Great Intellectual Garage Sale

  1. Oh! I left out one part of that comment above —

    This is one reason I enjoy your blogs, Linda – the posters are polite and interesting. When I wrote the comment above, I was thinking more about current news and political writings.

  2. Oh, whoops ~ and here is the comment you referred to.
    Your second comment wasn’t showing up, and I started messing around. Obviously, I don’t understand everything about this system yet~ This goes with the comment above, posted by NumberWise on May 4:

    You have my sympathy, for I would suffer through four hours of garage sales! You also have my empathy, for I would do the same for my mother.

    I feel as though I run into others’ opinions, prejudices, warped perspectives, and general nastiness way too often when I’m on the Internet. I’ve read some fascinating blogs or columns, but then I’m disappointed as I wade through the comments. I’ve had to learn to consciously evaluate as I read, or I can end up with too much garbage in my thoughts.

  3. Good morning Linda. You know, I have been privileged to enjoy of your writings for a number of months now. It had never struck me before that you were such a humorist but I actually laughed out loud through the first reading and am still chuckling through the third. Thanks for adding another ‘layer to the onion.’

    LOL. Have a good week.

  4. Hi, JD ~ Hooray! because I was laughing myself as I wrote a good bit of this. I’m glad some of that humor came through for you. I can’t say for certain, but I suspect it’s a result of increasing comfort with writing in public. When I’m sitting around talking with friends, I can be quite funny when the words start to flow – that’s one of the reasons I’ve listed conversation as my “favorite sport” over on the About Me page.

    But there can be a tendency to swallow hard when you start posting, and an even stronger tendency to think too much about construction and formal beauty rather than flow. It’s all part of finding that “voice” we’ve talked about so much. Glad you heard the chuckle behind mine this morning!

  5. JD, I also laughed, so thanks for posting that. I think sometimes humor can be misinterpreted, especially in brief e-mails or comments, as sarcasm or criticism. I tend to shy away from a light-hearted comment, even though in person I joke and laugh a lot, for too often my words don’t convey the humor. I appreciate that Linda has the words both for humor and for serious thought.

  6. Oh. This is terribly, terribly true. And funnily written, yes! Garagesales are awful, for all sorts of reasons. The junk, the sheer mess of it. Uuurrkk.. I think it is some insecurity in us humans that makes us fill our life with all sorts of rubbish. I am constantly trying to get rid of stuff, and if I cannot find the perfect electric kettle, I will manage without. I have lived out of a backpack and a few cardboardboxes for years, and it teaches you something like: do not get what you will not bother bringing along next time you move. Because chances are you will give it away or throw it out, and THAT is the worst sort of waste.
    I like the idea of if you buy something, something else will have to go.

    Hi, Boblet,

    I can’t remember the proper term for what you’re talking about – if you add something, you subtract something. Equilibrium comes to mind, or stasis, but I’m not sure either are right. I just know that the scientists have that concept of a balanced system, where everything is “just so”. It’s appealing.

    My grandmother had a quirky custom which I’ve come to appreciate. Her “high holy day” wasn’t Christmas or Easter, it was New Year’s Day. Every year, she did a sweep through the house while getting ready for Christmas. Anything that hadn’t been worn, used, searched for or admired during the last year got sent on its way – given to someone else, donated, sold, whatever. Her conviction was that if a year had passed and you hadn’t needed it, you didn’t need it in the future. Family heirlooms hung around because they were out where they could be acknowledged and admired, and some things like toys for future great-grandchildren stayed, but she could be ruthless.

    There’s something about cleaning out that is such a wonderful way to start a fresh year. Every year I at least try – even though I have a way to go before I’m as good as she was!

    Glad you enjoyed the writing and found it funny, too. It was fun to write!


  7. Ah! I was sitting in my sister’s garage, thinking about the yard sale we are going to have in the morning and subsequently started thinking about where I was in my life. What juncture has caused this need to eliminate the unnecessary and try to get “something” back from trivial investments in trinkets, fads, and impulse buys. It doesn’t seem like it should work that way.

    I have been thinking about building my own website for quite some time. I like to write and I like to communicate things to other people. I felt like whatever kind of website I could possibly develop would end up being an “intellectual yard sale”. I had to google “intellectual yard sale” to see if I could find anyone else that was categorizing, labeling, or presenting themselves and their “work” in such a manner. That is how I found this blog.

    I just had to write. I had started my own blog here on WordPress a couple of weeks ago. It was a transplant from a MySpace blog I had started years ago. In the good amount of time I have spent on this site, I have read a few posts by others and have been really impressed with some of the writing styles and content choices I have run across. I guess I just wanted to extend some thanks for your thoughts. It was a well written expression of how I was feeling about starting a website. This post will only help to hold me accountable for what I try to pass off as genuine,unique, or even necessary.

    1. thestedding,

      One of the tidbits WordPress provides is a daily list of search terms that have brought people to our blogs. It’s always interesting, and sometimes predictable. Every spring, my post that references the Cape Honeysuckle gets hit after hit as eager gardeners go looking for information about that beautiful plant. On the other hand, I still haven’t figured out which post appeared for the person who used “bethphage cinnamon toast” as a search term – or what they were looking for!

      In any event, I’m glad you found my garage sale post, and I appreciate the comment very much. While the world(s?) you’re writing about weren’t familiar to me, your blog’s extremely attractive and well laid out – good luck with it.

      One of the things I’ve learned over the past years is that there’s an audience for every kind of writing, and every subject. As you begin to find your audience (or they find you) you’ll find your enjoyment of this thing we call blogging increasing exponentially. Or so I’ve found!


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