The Yard Sale of Ideas

I like to think I’m a fairly easy-going sort.  I get along with most people who cross my path and I’m able to fulfill most of life’s responsibilities without too much grumbling, but there are things that drive me crazy. 

Yard sales (aka “garage sales”, “tag sales” or “rummage sales”) fit that category.  I can’t think of anything worse than spending a perfectly good day pawing through piles of stuff that other people have judged not worth keeping.  I’d much rather be reading or writing, spending a day at the beach or even cleaning my house. 

People with growing children and limited incomes, inveterate readers, quilters and crafters, Ebay re-sellers or folks with a passion for the act of buying have a different perspective, I’m sure.  But I’m not a shopper, and I’m trying to simplify.  In my life, yard sales don’t help meet real needs.  They provide little more than a few hours of distraction and a pile of purchases which need to be hauled home, hidden away and then handed over to the next neighbor who decides to hold a yard sale.

My mother adores yard sales, though it’s been well over a year since she participated in the ritual.  She enjoys the social aspect – the banter, the dickering, the swapping of tales about “unbelievable finds” and “real bargains”.  She also enjoys the feeling of possibility, the hope that stirs in the soul of every Antiques Roadshow afficionado who just knows the next $50,000 etching is buried beneath those plastic poinsettias or the hand mirrors with the marvelous lucite frames.  In her heyday, she prowled the neighborhoods every weekend.  Once I had to take over the driving, she knew better than to press her luck and we struck an agreement.  She didn’t ask to go to yard sales every weekend, and I didn’t gripe when we  went.

The year that a local, neighborhood-wide yard sale was hampered by rain I was delighted, thinking I’d escaped the day-long ordeal. I should have known better. Having gathered their goods, the neighbors were unwilling to send them back to storage and signs quickly went up for a rain date. Being a good kid, I told Mom she’d better find her money and her walking shoes. The show was going on. 

The next Saturday, while she spent hours digging through piles of detritus like a search dog on a good scent, I sat around, petted some actual dogs and cats, watched sociable mallards and competitive people, and thought it all over.

The truth seems to be that even the most resolute can be sucked in by a smooth-talking seller and the lure of an easy bargain.  We don’t need that cactus cookie jar with the 10-gallon hat for a lid. We don’t need the beer bottle dryer, the crocheted owl potholders, the chipped glass insulators or the box full of old-fashioned metal ice trays, but there they are, and we bite.  We convince ourselves we’ll find a use for it, that we can use it for a gift, that it might come in handy “some day”.  Often the cost is so low (“Only a dollar for that faux snakeskin belt?“) we just can’t help ourselves.  They’re selling and we’re buying, in one of the great weekend rituals of American life.

Looking back over a lifetime of yards littered with life’s priced-to-sell leftovers,  it occurs to me the American marketplace of ideas has devolved into precisely this: an intellectual yard 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, spreading out their wares 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 re-purposed into the latest thing.

Before being confronted by these opinion hawkers, this motley collection of cyber-sellers, ecclesiastical multi-level marketers and pandering pols, it wouldn’t cross our minds to buy any of the flimsy goods they’ve set out to glitter in the sun. When they’re right in front of us, starting cheap and ready to dicker, it’s a different story and we’re easily tempted to pick up a second-hand thought or two.

One thing is certain. No matter where you do your yard-saling, you’ll hear the same question humming through the air, persistent as the inevitable mosquitos.  Sometimes I heard it from Mom. Sometimes I heard it from the sellers and sometimes I heard it from buyers who didn’t mind sharing their decision-making process with a yardful of strangers: “Don’t you need this?”  “Do I need this?”  “Do we need this?”  “Do we know someone -anyone – who needs this?”

Today, my answer generally is, “No, I don’t need that.”  Unless I happen to have thought in the last day or so, “Gracious!  If only I had a beer-bottle dryer!”, there’s no reason to tote one home simply because it’s there. More and more often, I find myself responding in similar fashion as I pass through the yard sales now serving as the marketplace of ideas. “Sorry,” I say, “I’m not buying.  I’ll be happy to hear your judgments, listen to your opinions or ponder your attitudes and perspectives, but I don’t intend to purchase them whole.  I’m not sure I need them, and my mental closet’s pretty cluttered as it is.”

It’s not that I don’t change an opinion now and then. I certainly do. I understand how attitudes can become warped over time, how old convictions grow worn and need replacing.  I’m not averse to trying out a new idea, or a different perspective.  But before I buy what that nice, new seller on the block is promoting, I want to think it over.  I need to know what I want, and I want to be sure of what I need.  Especially in the marketplace of ideas, I want to know the seller and I want to know I’m getting quality.  I may pay more initially, but the cost will be less in the end.

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49 thoughts on “The Yard Sale of Ideas

  1. I love yard sales–the physical ones–for writing inspiration. I think a lot of things are short stories in the same way that the things anthropologists dig up are short fragments of truth about past societies.

    But I do tend to be fond of objects that are forgotten and overlooked so I can understand your metaphor being unimpressed with second-hand ideas, attitudes, opinions that everybody has a version of.

    1. hannahkarena,

      What a nice metaphor – yard sales as “digs” with the items found surviving as revelatory bits of life.

      Fifteen years ago, I suspect I would have agreed. Unfortunately, eBay and Craigslist have had an effect on yard sales in my area. Instead of seeing the history of a family laid out before you, more often you’ll find items that have been purchased for resale. And with eBay sellers combing through the goods, the whole process is a lot more competitive and a lot less relaxed than it used to be.

      Our estate sales are a last, poignant bastion of the story-evoking exchanges I enjoyed in the past. Perhaps that’s part of it – with estate and farm sales, there’s always a story. With most of our yard sales now, there’s only the transaction.

      Thanks so much for stopping by, and for the comment. You’re always welcome!


      1. Yes, a lot of yard sales today–the development neighborhood type, where the houses and families aren’t old enough to have much of an interesting past–are rather depressing. And I would add quality flea markets to your list of story-evoking exchanges, where much-beloved and well-researched antiques are the popular wares. Stopping by any of those tables always inspires a story from the retired couple behind the table.

        1. hannahkarena,

          If you enjoy flea markets and ever pass through Texas, be sure and stop at Canton for the absolute triumph of merchandising over casual dickering. It’s one of those events, like the 200 mile-long garage sale through Tennessee that has to be seen to be believed!


  2. Oh, I so agree with you. I abhor the things.

    We don’t have yard sales/garage sales. We call them charity or jumble sales. And what a lot of jumble it is too – unwashed, sweat-perfumed clothing piled high, being tossed, mauled and fought over. The nation’s most favourite past-time on a Sunday morning is to drive to a ‘car-boot sale’. Hundreds of cars, parked rear end towards the potential customers, with folding picnic tables groaning under the weight of “junk”. The air thick with cries of “Yes, madam, it is an antique,” or “Make me an offer!” I have only been once, many years ago with a car-boot-holic friend, and that once was enough!

    You know how you sometimes have to look up the words I use – well, I had to look up ‘dicker’!

    1. Sandi,

      What fun, to have given you a new word! “Dicker” is one I grew up with. The dictionary’s exactly right – it refers to petty bargaining. You dicker over the price of a shoeshine, or the cost of a screwdriver set at a yard sale. You most assuredly don’t dicker over the price of a house or a car, and anyone who does isn’t to be trusted!

      I don’t know whether it was you or Karen who mentioned the boot sales recently – as in the past year. I’d never heard of them, and I’ve never seen one taking place. Maybe I’m just not getting into the right neighborhoods. I wonder if the practice developed in areas where there weren’t so many homes with yards?

      I did laugh at that “Yes, madam, it is an antique” line. When I lived in Liberia, there were wood carvers who’d turn out a dozen “authentic tribal masks” a week. They had a very special way of “seasoning” them with mud, shoe polish and smoke to make them appear to be decades old. Often they were made from quite poor, insect-ridden wood, and the purchasers could end up with nothing but a pile of sawdust when it was all over!


  3. The Internet Yardsale of notions open 24/7/365. I’ll buy that – the price is right.

    “I’ll be happy to hear your judgments, listen to your opinions or ponder your attitudes and perspectives, but I don’t intend to purchase them whole. I’m not sure I need them, and my mental closet’s pretty cluttered as it is.” You have an unique way of linking things together. “Garage Sale” by Ken Kesey comes to mind.

    1. Ken,

      I can’t say as I remember ever being linked with Ken Kesey, but I’ll not take offense. Granted, I never rode that particular bus, never had a friend with a name like Wavy Gravy and preferred my Kool Aid straight, please (grape, with a graham-cracker-and-chocolate-frosting sandwich on the side) but I’ve got a fondness for the weird and wacky. As you’ve probably noticed.

      I laughed when I was pulling up the link to the Canton trade days for hannahkarena, above. I see they’ve done the inevitable and put their flea market online. 24/7 for sure – you don’t even have to drive to Canton to buy. It’s actually a pretty savvy move for the retailers, given the economy, but still – it’s no longer what it was in the days when you could pick up front porch milk boxes and wooden berry baskets for a nickel each.


      1. Yes, I have noticed that “fondness” and that is why I keep coming back here.

        The link to Kesey probably came more from the topic of the article than writing style: it’s been a few years since I read “Garage Sale” and now I recall being a bit “offput” at points. “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” is an easier read and the movie was well done.

        Touring U.K. in the mid ’80s we saw a lot of “Boot Sales”. By now you know that the “Boot” is actually the trunk of a car. One of the people we stayed with, Steve in Devon, described copying an antique and burying it in a manure pile for a while then towing it about in sea water and somewhere in the process shooting it with a light gauge shotgun. Seems to me it was evaluated as “a good early copy” and sold for small wages considering the time it took to produce a good fake. Liberians had nothing on the Brits. I brought back small carvings in what they called “Iron Wood” – still “Hard as the Hubs of Hell” today.

        The Point? I come to the computer/internet for interesting stuff. There exist so many blog listings now that one looses focus and wanders about picking up pieces and turning them over – always interesting but: what if (and it will happen) the Canton Trade Days style was applied to blogs?

        1. Ken,

          I’ll have to think about this a bit more, but it seems to me the “Canton style” already was in existence when I started blogging.

          I didn’t know squat about writing, the internet or blogging, and did a lot of reading in the “how to” blogs. Most people were quite clear about what was needed for a successful blog:

          1. NEVER go beyond 500 words
          2. Post every day
          3. Use lots of quizzes, polls & memes
          4. Don’t waste time responding to comments – the fewer words, the better
          5. Add advertising, a tip-jar or a paypal link for contributions

          Well. Here’s my answer to all that.


  4. You are too funny, Linda. Yard sales are definitely a form of entertainment, a big step up from bingo or casinos, in my estimation!

    I must admit I have attended quite a few in my time (when I had more time than money, that is). Some stuff I purchased was indeed worthless, and still sits in a box in the basement. There were treasures found, however. Christmas tree ornaments I’ve now passed on to my kids, great cook books, etc. It’s recycling!

    As far as the American market place of ideas…. there sure are a heck of a lot of them out there. One has to wade through a lot of junk on the internet – everyone has an opinion/the right way to do it/the right way to think about it/the right way to vote….

    I guess it’s always been the case, it is just so in our face now. Oh well, you’ve got to appreciate freedom of speech, and then ignore the speeches.

    How is your mom? I read somewhere she took a tumble. My mom did the same thing last week. Stood up too fast from tying her shoe, and BOOM, straight down backwards. Youch! Hope your mom is well.

    1. Kerry,

      I can understand yard sales as entertainment – it’s just not what I prefer to do. It’s the same with baseball or football. I understand the appeal, but I’ll not be plunking myself in front of the tv at gametime. Viva la difference, and all that.

      I love your take on the marketplace of ideas – accept the freedom of speech, ignore the speeches. Clearly, there are people who would prefer to tidy up that new public square called the internet, but their ancestors probably were trying to tear down the broadsides.

      I’ll say this – if anyone ever was tempted to fall into the “everything is of equal value” trap, a day of serious web browsing out to take care of that!

      Thanks for inquiring about Mom. As it turns out, the fall was not so much cause as symptom. We’re dealing with pneumonia, a bacterial infection that might be traceable to her pacemaker, and the slow, simple wearing-out of age. I’m pleased with the care she’s getting, so on we go!

      So nice to see you – surely we’ll be reading more of your travels soon?


  5. Ha! Loved this. We drove past a yard sale this afternoon. There must have been thirty faded t-shirts hanging around the fence. I told H that they would be taking all of them to Goodwill at the end of the day if they were charging more than a nickle each.

    I’m not much for yard sales, but I do confess to a love of junk shops and antique stores. I’ve only bought a couple of “new” pieces of furniture in my life. The rest came out of old barns that belonged to my husband’s parents or antique stores, etc. I also buy all my glasses at Goodwill. I’m not sure exactly why, but I can’t stop myself. They look just like new, and they’re so cheap. Of course, the days for purchasing furniture are over. I don’t need another thing – maybe one bed but probably not. I’ve spent the last few years discarding things. Who wants to take care of all this stuff?

    As for new ideas. I’m always open but selective. I do try never to believe I have it all figured out so that one piece of new information will force me to shift around every other opinion up there – kind of like moving furniture around in a room to make space for a new table.

    I wonder who you had to bang over the head to get that owl cookie jar? :)

    1. Bella,

      Now, I’ll grant you one of the best reasons to take nearly abandoned roads in rural America is because they lead to nearly abandoned junk shops. When I was in the throes of my china addiction, the dirtier and less organized the place, the better. I once found an exquisite Homer Laughlin teaset scattered around a shed in Aransas Pass, Texas, nearly hidden among the boat shackles and hand tools. How it hadn’t been broken, I’ll never know.

      I was with early Ohio Valley pottery like you are with Goodwill glassware – I just couldn’t stop myself. Now, I’ve dedicated myself to selling rather than buying, which has its own rewards.

      While I’m not one to intentionally go to sales, I do keep my eyes open. My best purchase ever was a cherry William & Mary gateleg table I saw sitting beside the road in South Texas. It was with a couple of really bad overstuffed chairs, and had a $35 price tag. I couldn’t stand it – I gave the people $50. Still felt guilty.

      Your comment about new ideas made me think of my Grandma, who’d say of someone, “Her head’s furnished, but it ain’t decorated.” I have no idea what it means, but it makes me laugh, every time!

      You like that cookie jar? Five bucks and it’s yours!


  6. My mom used to have a children’s clothing shop. She wasn’t able to maintain that and sold the shop to someone else, but she loved her weekend sales. She had all kinds of rules about where and how to find the best sales.

    I hated it when she dragged me along. Of course, now I’d give anything to go to one more garage sale with her, but the truth is . . . I just did not see the magic in it. I’d argue with her the same points you’ve stated above, but she persisted. And wouldn’t you know, she did have a knack for finding things she sold for a much higher amount than she paid out. She also had lots of stories about the people she fought off for her finds.

    Professional salers are quite an interesting collective. I much preferred hearing about them through my mom than experiencing them first-hand!

    I’m going to contemplate this post for a while. It’s true, isn’t it? Regardless of whether it’s physical or ideological, there’s no reason to bring something home just because it might prove useful sometime down the road. I’d rather keep the space, and the sense of comfort in knowing it’s there for the things I really do need.

    1. Deborah,

      There is a certain skill-set you have to develop to be successful on the hunt. For example, if you’re interested enough to pick it up, never put it down until you’ve made a decision. The very act of picking it up draws others’ attention, and it can disappear in an instant.

      And of course, high-pitched shrieks accompanied by, “OMG! OMG!” when you find the rare 18th century cuspidor advertised as a “plant holder” is not advised. You’ll increase the price by 300% in an instant.

      Now, I’ll admit (as I hinted above) that there’s nothing like turning that profit yourself. I’ve had the experience of watching bidding wars break out over items I’ve posted on eBay, and when you realize that sauceboat with the attached liner you picked up for $15 has already hit over $200 – well. It makes it well worth the effort. But even there, I was selling things purchased on eBay in the very early days, when everyone was cleaning out their attics and you could find wonderful things dirt cheap – while still in your jammies!

      As for space – I love the feel of it, and find I need more of it as I age. I suppose that’s a lesson, too. Space has intrinsic value. It’s not just there to be filled up with something.


  7. Must one possess a yard or garage to have a yard or garage sale? I have stuff, but do not seem to have either of the necessary platforms.

    1. symonsez,

      Well, now… Since I don’t have either a yard or a garage, I’d have to resort to: patio sale, balcony sale, moving sale, tag sale, boot sale (aka “junk in the trunk sale”), white elephant sale, etc.

      I just found the most amazing thing. It’s a dialect map that shows the geographic distribution of the different terms for these sales across the U.S.

      Honest to goodness, who would compile such information? I suppose the same sort of person who would compare our public discourse to a yard sale! ;-)


  8. I once followed a car with a bumper sticker that says “Caution: I stop at all garage sale”… or something to that effect.

    I’m not much of a yard sale person, but every year in our city there’s a huge used book sale to support The Servant Anonymous Society. Now that’s what’s irresistible for me… as you might know already. I still have boxes of books from the last couple of years, untouched. But could I resist like new condition $1 books with their original price of $20? This year’s sale will come in a couple of weeks. I’ll perform my annual ritual of hauling back some good selections. I’m not a hoarder of material goods, but books are the exception. My reason, they offer more than that which meets the eye.

    1. Arti,

      What you say about books makes perfect sense to me. If you substitute “china” for “books”, I’m right there with you. The day I discovered I had two dinner services for six under the bed and a chamber set on the dryer was the day I decided that a change was in order.

      Of course like books, china offers more than that which meets the eye. I began — well, I’ll save that for the post that still needs to be written. Suffice it to say, once a china collector’s moved from the “Ohhhh… pretty!” response to researching marks and manufacturers, they’re pretty much lost! ;-)


  9. “Yes Madam, it is an antique.”
    “This is a very special offer”
    “It must be true, I read it on the internet.”
    And once again PT Barnum has edged out Bill Buckley.

    1. Nanette,

      Oh, am I laughing! The entire recent history of hucksterism, in so few words, and with a reference to my beloved Buckley thrown in for good measure.

      Not only that, you’ve reminded me of an aphorism that probably has been around forever (at least in internet terms) but which I just found:

      “Google before you tweet is the new think before you speak”


  10. We don’t have the time to form our own opinions. We have Fox News, CNN, and the people at work to do that for us. We’re too busy shopping for, rearranging, cleaning, and managing our stuff.

    Like you, I want to keep it simple, but if our family members like a lot of stuff, it impacts us. When this house sells, I look forward living in a place that’s a size I can manage. Time is precious—stuff isn’t.

    In a less philosophical vein, I grew up near a gigantic flea market. In my 20’s, needing to cheaply decorate my apartment, I would have a blast going there. It was a multicultural paradise. They would always say “Twenty dollar in store!” when you’d purposely look skeptical at the $10 price tag. I’d say, “Yeah, but the bathrooms are much nicer in store!”

    I hope your mom is doing well. An unfortunate coincidence is that my mom had medical problems this week, too, but is doing much better. I’m looking forward to a NJ visit when my daughter gets out of school. I’m glad that both our moms are getting good care.

    1. Claudia,

      I’m so sorry to hear your mom’s had problems, too. When my own was still in Kansas City and had some health issues, all of that was made even more difficult by the distance. It’s a blessing to at least be able to be at the hospital in 15 minutes.
      We’ll see how it goes, here. Infection + pneumonia + ninety-three years of age isn’t a good combination, so we’ll see.

      I loved your remark about us being too busy “rearranging, cleaning, and managing our stuff” to form an opinion. Janis Joplin got it right in that respect: “Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose”.

      Of course no one desires impoverishment, and everyone enjoys having the lovely things of life, but it’s a fact that if we keep piling it up, pretty soon we can’t see over the stack.

      I laughed out loud at your other truth – if family members love “stuff”, it impacts us. My mom, the knitter, loves – LOVES – her stash of yarn. Knitting yarn, needlepoint yarn, tapestry yarn, embroidery floss. She once had a chest-type freezer in the basement filled with nothing but yarn. I’ve toted her plastic containers filled with yarn through five states and fifteen years. I’ve paid for storage for the stuff, and given up my own closet space. She hasn’t knit in three years, but the yarn stays!

      A friend solved the problem with her mother’s stash by stuffing zippered pillow cases with yarn. Her mom slept on it! We take our space where we can make it, I suppose.


  11. I’m not a fan of yard sales but my children love them! You can see their eyes light up as we walk by them with their toonies burning a hole in their pocket. They usually walk away with an arm load of toys ready to play with for the rest of the day.

    1. belle,

      I just learned a new word! “Toonies”! I didn’t have a clue – I thought it might be short for cartoons, but that made no sense. I love that it’s a two-dollar coin. I loved it when my grandparents would give me a two-dollar bill for my birthday. It just was more fun to spend, somehow.

      When it comes to children, I can understand the appeal. For one thing, it’s a lot easier to deal with a child’s short love-affair with a toy if you only paid a dollar for it – or less. And as I mentioned, people with growing children can do very well at yard sales – if they’re only going to be in those shorts and tops for a few months, it just seems silly to me to pay top dollar.


  12. Hi, shore,
    I think I understand and share your aversion to garage sale items and half-baked ideas. At some point in life, the items we value and the ideas we hold as true are set. It only takes a second or two to make the decision. Do I need this?

    Maybe, the time is better spent polishing our old possessions and beliefs rather than picking up new ones on the side of the road!

    1. beell,

      I’m giggling that the commenter just above you is “belle”. If helzbelz shows up, I’m declaring it a night and heading off to bed!

      One of my cherished books is Flannery O’Connor’s “The Habit of Being”. By her account, we form “habits of being” while we’re forming all the other habits that make up a life. Just as we get in the habit of brushing teeth, bathing, eating properly and such, we develop habits of character. Some of us get in the habit of truth-telling, honest dealing and so on, while others develop other, less desirable habits.

      Her point was that, once the habits are established, a lot of decisions are easily made. From her perspective, that would explain why it only takes a second or two for some of us to make those decisions about whether something’s needed, or not.

      Quite apart from possessions, I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve switched off a red-faced, argumentative and usually high-decible tv “analyst”, saying in the process, “I don’t need this…..” ;-)


  13. When my kids were growing up and we lived in houses in nice family neighbourhoods I used to have a good laugh when there were yard sales on our street because I’d watch everyone buying someone else’s junk which they’d take into their homes and never use, and sell it all at next year’s sale to the person across the street …

    1. dearrosie,

      I suppose it’s a corollary to the old rule that food always tastes better when someone else cooks it – “stuff” always looks better when someone else owns it!

      Of course, we all know that dynamic you speak of. Thnk of it as a great, perpetual motion retail machine. As long as there’s one bit of “stuff” to fuel the thing, it will just keep cranking along!


  14. Hello Linda,
    Another wonderful story to give us a smile. And reading everyone’s comments and your response is just as entertaining!

    I admit I have probably not been to a “flea market” since my Mother got too sick to go to one. We have a giant Flea Market here in Ft Lauderdale area and everytime my Mom came to visit I had to take her, or one of the kids took her. She loved it and got so many “bargins”… for her it was specific items she had to have every trip.

    I must admit I have used them before to hunt for unusual decorations for the home. Sometimes something well worn and inexpensive is just what is needed on that end table by the lamp!

    Thank you for another delightful story.

    1. Patti,

      We don’t have really good flea markets around here – back in the 70s there were a couple, but there’s been a tendency for them to go either really upscale or really downscale. I’ve heard tale after tale of the big one in Pasadena, CA – some friends used to prowl that one for antiques. It sounds like yours is very much the same.

      I found something down at Mom’s a couple of days ago from our flea market days – a wonderful art nouveau photo frame. Of course, there’s also that plastic chicken that lays jellybean eggs…. I think I was responsible for that. I had one as a kid and I suppose one of us picked it up just for memory’s sake.

      As for decorating – that impulse can overcome anyone. Another friend found a flock of pink plastic flamingos once, and the next thing we knew, she’d decorated her neighbor’s yard with them! As I recall, she got them for a dollar each and said it was worth every cent for the fun. The neighbor kept them up for a couple of weeks, and then resold them in a later yard sale. ;-)


  15. “Makin’ my Music for me” certainly works. And I won’t be bothering to look up “How to” blog now.
    The method you have formed works for me: I can spend endless time attempting to type a suitable comment.

    We have just been released from a two week visit of relations of a deceased friend originally from Idaho. He and his wife were wonderful people and gathered or produced some fairly good artifacts. That said, what do you do with all the Stuff? One small SUV went south this morning with special pieces. There is a Ministorage packed full for other family. He willed me his rock collection.

    I guess that is one of the reasons your latest blog has my attention.
    Another: My mother just turned 93 the other day -so far so good.

    1. Ken,

      Ah, the necessary Disbursement of Stuff. It’s one thing to throw that collection of junk out on a table, and quite another to deal with things that are memory-laden or of real value. (Obviously the two are not the same. I have my own rock collection that wouldn’t look like anything to an outsider, but I can tell you exactly where each was plucked from the ground, and looking at them brings all those places alive again.)

      Two major moves for my Mom in the past twenty years has meant that a good bit of stuff – especially collections – has sloughed off. Still, “that” chore is looming a little larger on the horizon. For good or for ill, we certainly don’t “take it with us”.

      Amazing that our mothers are the same age – there are more folks around who are ninety and above than there used to be, but it’s still worth noting and celebrating!


  16. Here in Germany neighbourhood yard sales are quite frequent. If you poke around them often enough, you come to the conclusion that if each seller simply stood up, moved one stand to the left and took the goods home, they’d still all be happy. Mostly it’s a social thing to get people out and about.

    1. Ian,

      The social aspect’s a big part of it, no doubt. One proof of that is the increasing popularity here of “neighborhood yard sales”, where several families join together to entice buyers with a promise of really BIG piles of stuff.

      But for real fun, you can’t beat a swap meet. That’s where bargaining skill comes into play, and you can spend a whole morning persuading the woman with that set of Corningware bowls that yes, indeedy, they are equivalent in value to your Roy Rogers lunch box!

      From the sounds of things, you’d better stick to the yard sales and stay away from the bean sprout and cucumber sellers!


  17. I feel the same way about garage/yard sales and have never been to one. The closest thing I ever went to was an estate sale which I found to be sad seeing a life time of family collections with people touching them carelessly.

    I did however buy a box of old hymnals which is a treasure and a huge iron skillet that was perfectly seasoned. Love how you worded the first paragraph:-)

    1. maggie,

      I had to go back and read what I’d said. Yet another advantage of faltering memory – I get to enjoy my own posts all over again!

      Estate sales are especially poignant. Ironically, with Mom’s health declining, I find myself in the position of having to think about conducting one – however we work that out, and regardless of when it happens. It’s a mixed blessing that some of the collections already are gone – much of the Depression glass and pottery would fetch a good price today. On the other hand, it would have been an almost overwhelming task to deal with it all at once.

      The other danger, of course, is wanting to keep it all, as a way of hanging on to the past. One of my friends still has nearly everything that belonged to her mother, who died decades ago – including lingerie. I love my friend dearly, but my goodness!

      Your mention of your “finds” reminds me – isn’t there something in literature about “my Kingdom for a perfectly seasoned iron skillet”?


  18. Wonderful post! I rarely go to yard sales but I have recently stopped by a few when I was out doing other things and scored some baby sleepers for Evangeline – I LOVE them because they are already worn and so soft and comfy – much nicer than brand new ones.

    But in general I agree with you – I don’t need another person’s junk (mental or physical) cluttering up my space, although at least, in the realm of the physical, they aren’t out buying this crap new…

    1. Courtney,

      Not only that, those older, oft-washed sleepers and such have a lot of the chemicals already removed. New clothes look wonderful, but they can be stiff or harsh, and much of what makes them feel that way isn’t necessarily what we want to be wearing!

      It just tickles me to hear you talking about Evangeline. It’s a name that resonates, for sure. Besides, it’s “old-fashioned”, and I love old-fashioned names. One of my mom’s current nurses is Marjorie – we were talking yesterday about being kids and reading “Marjorie Morningstar”. More than a few of us read it, loved it, hated it and finally decided to forget the last few pages – but for those of us who read it in 1955, it was a first hint of new possibilities. The review I linked from Slate is pretty good.

      I’m eagerly awaiting a new pic of E!


  19. Wow, Linda… I never realised that there was so much to be said about — or more precisely against — garage sales, but looking at it that way, I’m inclined to agree with you, as I wouldn’t want that stuff, either.

    Good venues to photograph, though, and as far as I’m concerned, the more bizarrre the offerings, the better for this purpose! “The marketplace of ideas”… A very interesting concept that I’d never considered before. All the best.

    1. Andrew,

      I thought about your series from Santiago’s Centro Comercial Balmaceda Brasil when I wrote this, and pondered what makes those dealers’ shops and wares seem so much more appealing than our yard sales and garage sales.

      I think the bottom line is that one-of-a-kind, antique and hand-crafted beat plastic, mass-produced and badly designed every time. There was a time in this country when you could find true treasures at peoples’ sales. Now? Not so much. Clearly there are places where some of the same qualities shown in your photos exist, but fewer and fewer people demand quality in any aspect of life.

      Still, it’s a fact that a good photo-journalist could do something pretty interesting even with our sales!


  20. I don’t go to yard sales, but do frequent swap meets, flea markets and vintage stores. ANY TIME I CAN.

    But though I love going to these places, I must use that formidable question, “Do I really need this?” as a weapon. Protecting me against clothes I will be giving away in a year and jewelry I will be giving away in a month. They tempt – they certainly do! – but I must be strong.

    There is only one one subject where I will give myself free rein: ephemera. Photographs, postcards, menus, dance cards…they are small, peculiar, and one of a kind. And if I find any one of these, I most certainly will purchase them!

    1. aubrey,

      Oh, how I wish I still had the shoebox filled with old postcards I sent here and there – I’d mail them off to you posthaste and you’d have hours of fun! I do have a set of cowgirl postcards that’s just wonderful. When I was doing research for my “Cowgirl Up!” post, I discovered the original postcard for my great print of Helen Bonham listed on ebay. Of course, I had to have it, and now it’s next to the print.

      My reflexive response is to china. A friend used the phrase “wannahavetagottaneeda” to describe the experience of moving from “want” to “need” in a nanosecond. Sometimes I have to slap my own hands and once, standing in front of the most gorgeous, over-priced chocolate pot in the world, I asked the woman next to me to please give me the lecture about not needing it. She did a great job, and I left. She still was standing there looking at it, probably giving herself the same lecture!


  21. I really enjoyed this essay – and you have now articulated my general dislike of yard sales, which generally make me feel sad and weary after 15 minutes, although I have friends and relatives who revel in them. Lovely blog – I’ve just run into you on Blogsurfer, and I’ll be back!


    1. Deborah,

      Always happy to let someone know they aren’t alone! I have a clutch of relatives and friends who are equally enthusiastic about sales of all sorts. They’re constantly telling me if I would just give myself a chance I would just LOVE the experience. Uh – no.

      So nice of you to stop by, and thank you for your kind comment. You’re always welcome!


  22. My lack of belief in the process must show through, because I’m the worst seller of used stuff in the history of yard sales. The entire ordeal never amounts to much more than taking the collection out for some fresh air before hauling it all back in — and then having to drive around and take down all the handwritten signs. When I see neighbors with their old clothing and dented cookware spread out on tables in the driveway, I just keep my eye on the road and head home.

    As far as the intellectual yard sales, they’re often harder to avoid. It would be helpful if they’d put up signs of their own: “Used ideas. Cheap!” But they don’t.

    Thank you for another fresh look at things, Linda. Your writing is always a pleasure to read. By the way, that owl cookie jar: how much are you asking for it?

  23. bronxboy,

    That haul-it-out-haul-it-in dynamic is the reason there are consignment shops. I’ve been doing what’s apparently called “de-cluttering” these days, and I love my consignment shop. I dump stuff off, people shop, and around the first of the month I pick up a check. No muss, no fuss – although they are picky about what they accept. No dented cookware there!

    But best of all, after six months, you either can reclaim your stuff or have it donated to a resale shop that helps support various community ministries.
    Of course it’s always too much trouble to go pick up whatever and deal with it all over again, so consignment becomes in fact a final solution.

    In that other marketplace, a few signs would be useful. You came as close as I’ve ever seen with the opening paragraph of that cheesecake blog! If only we could get the writers at the NYT or the WSJ to adopt such lead paragraphs! ;-)

    As for the cookie jar…. For you, such a deal! FREE! And I’ll throw in shipping!


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