Tuesday 23 September 2008

Here's the Deal

I’ll swap my trash for your cash. Or better still, you can have it for nothing.

You've got to love a garage sale.

One man’s trash really is another man’s treasure.

When my sister was visiting from England we decided to help our parents clean out their huge garage which was full of...junk...to put it bluntly.

A task which should never be treated lightly and should be avoided at all costs. In fact, my recommendation for anyone with a garage bursting at the seams is to burn it down and walk away.

We spent days taking everything out of the garage and putting it into one of three piles.

The Rubbish pile. The Garage Sale pile. The Treasure pile.

Simple? No, of course not.

Our Mother wanted most of the stuff in the Rubbish pile. Our Father wanted most of the stuff in the Treasure pile.

No explanation is therefore required as to how this treasure-cum-junk-fest came to be.

We seemed to spend hours moving it from one pile to the next and then back again.

Things kept disappearing from the Rubbish and Garage Sale piles and mysteriously made their way to the Treasure pile. Because according to my father, “you just never know when you might need it”. And that it included the large drum of nuts, bolts and screws that had not been touched since 1980 when he bought it from his neighbour’s garage sale.

Given my father’s love of his garage and all things in it, this was a REALLY BIG DEAL for him. For many reasons I suspect, particularly given his declining health.

We sensibly left all the tricky negotiations to our Mother and we got on with the garage sale preparations. Preparations which took some time. Mainly because of me. The junk had to be clean, shining and as attractively presented as possible. Everything had to be labelled and priced. Yes, I have issues, you know that already (just ask my brother about how I cleaned his old coin collection when I was a teenager, oops).

We advertised an 8am start time. Ridiculous really when you consider that there's no such thing as a start time for garage sale “professional booty hunters”.

We camped overnight. At 5am there was a loud knock on the door.

I handled it with ease. No problem.

I rolled over and yelled out to my sister to answer the door. She doesn’t even live in the country so it wasn't an issue if anyone saw her exotic bedhair, pjs and pale pallour (oh, did I not already tell you that we also had the flu badly?) Besides, she was never going to run into them ever again. Unless of course, professional treasure hunters attend international garage sales.

They cased the joint like they were looking for something special. Ours was probably the first of 50 garage sales they were going to that day. They knew where to look, what to touch, and how to haggle.

“How much for this?”
“50 cents”.
“I could get 10 of those for 50c where I come from.”
“Fine you can have it for 25c.”
“I’ll give you 2c”.

You know the drill.

What did I know? It’s just junk.

"Take it", I said.

Then a man pulled up in a Van. My grandmother had always warned me about people in Vans (but that's another story).

He spent ages looking through the books and then started packing them into boxes. My sister and I exchanged nervous glances. He finally asked us how much we wanted for the books and my sister negotiated a price. Eventually.

He then looked at us and said, “Take these boxes to the car will you? I want to look around.”

He wanted us out of the way. For a reason. Imagine your junk getting stolen at a garage sale?

My sister told him she couldn't leave and that I could help him take the boxes to his car. So I carried the boxes down the long driveway. While he walked behind me. Empty handed. I had to hold my tongue. Is customer service a requirement even at a garage sale? When I put the last box down, he said, "Thanks very much for offering to carry those for me".

I locked eyes with him and stared. My stare said it all. It said, 'You lazy good for nothing, crooked, two bit swine. I didn’t offer to carry your boxes. You asked me to do it as if you thought you were shopping at some high end Department store. I know what you were up to. You were going to steal our junk while we were busy carrying boxes to your car. How low can you get?'

As you can imagine, it took me a long time to communicate all of that with my eyes. The man must have thought I had a nervous tic. He did not reply but took off for the next garage sale in search of a large book shelf perhaps... and no doubt reconsidering his techniques to get more for his buck the next time round.

However, other than dealing with the more serious customers earlier in the day, it was great fun watching people come and go. Mainly men. Some even came back twice. Simply because we had a lot of attractive playthings for them. Tools. Garden equipment. Sports equipment.

Most men love tools even if some don’t know which end to hold them or exactly what to do with them. I got asked a few times, “What does this do?” I just said, “It does something really useful, every real man should have one and it will look great in your shed”. Of course, that’s all they needed to hear. Because you know and I know (and even they know) that there is every chance that this tool will never be used and may never see the light of day outside their shed. Ever. Until they decide to have a garage sale of course.

Women were equally fascinating. There was a very sweet middle-aged couple holding hands as they came up the driveway. After browsing a short time, I overheard this conversation.

Her: “You don’t need any more tools. You can’t fit another thing in your shed.”
Him: “I'm looking at this power drill for Paul. He doesn’t have one. Besides, look at you, we don’t need any more candles. You already have enough to light the whole city.
Her: “Why would you buy a power drill for my father? He already has two! Anyway, you can never have too many candles”.
Him: “Well you can never have too many tools either”.

They each bought their tools and candles and walked back down the path hand in hand. It made me feel strangely happy.

The Garage Sale reinforced four things I know to be true.

Men are indeed from Mars and Women are from Venus. And that’s what makes the world go round and aint that a wonderful thing.

The true value of stuff is in the eye of the beholder. We shouldn't stand in judgement about someone else's stuff because what we may think is junk may actually be someone's treasure. And sometimes it's better to respect another's views, hold your tongue and pray they come to their senses.

Garages should not store anything other than vehicles. For the good of the environment and the health of relationships! And there should be legislation passed to make sure this is law.

I cannot barter, haggle or negotiate. Particularly when money is involved. I may be the only tourist ever to go to Thailand (64 days and counting) and never come back with a bargain. And after this garage sale experience, that may in fact be a very good thing!

What about you, how do you feel about garage sales? Ever had one, ever been to one? Are you a "professional treasure hunter"?

Image - Desiree Design Studio


  1. Lilly- First, I thoroughly enjoyed this post. It was very entertaining and funny. You could seriously make it into a short story and sell it to Readers' Digest or another magazine that accepts articles from people. I would if I were you (I think it is that good). Anyway, I look at garage sales the same way I look at cleaning out your sewer line. It is a necessary project that should be performed only by those who know what they are doing (and I purposely haven't learned how to do either one). Actually, I can clean my own sewer but I I have an agreement in place for such circumstances - I don't try to do their job if they don't try to do mine. LOL

    I just don't like the haggling process ove items that are already marked down so low to begin with. I know people want a bargain but selling things for pennies is not worth the time, in my opinion. I would rather donate the items to the Goodwill store as charity.

    However, I do like the consignment stores. I recently decided to get rid of a bunch of things (mainly clothes) that I don't need any more, and I ended up taking four very large boxes packed with clothes and other items to the consignment store. They sell them for what they can get and I get 55% of the sale price. I don't have to do the work but I get some money out of it. And anything that doesn't sell goes to charity anyway.

  2. First, LOVE the image. Any tips on getting such great images?
    Second, don't even get me started on garage sales!!!
    Yesterday met a friend for coffee. She complimented my purse.
    "Yeah, just about everything I own..."
    Then, took an itemized inventory of what I was wearing and yes, lo and behold, all from garage sales.
    The purse, shoes, Calvin Klein stretch jeans (50 cents), t-shirt, and believe it or not, bra and - even panties!
    The bra was a brand-new $40 Soma bra I got for $2.50!
    Gotta go - I see my becca is skyping me.
    Loved this piece, Lilly.

  3. I'm definitely not a professional garage sale hunter. I don't like the junk that I sell at garage sales and I figure why buy someone else's stuff, because they didn't want it either.

    That said, we had a huge success with our garage sale. We had everything set up the night before and sure enough, like you, at 5am, people were already out looking. The first person to arrive was a lady, but she was the first and only women we saw in the morning.

    Men are the early bird shoppers. We sold all sorts of things, even water color paintings that I did (and they weren't framed). It was great for us, because we were merging his house items with mine and we had a lot of duplicate stuff that we were able to sell.

    Now my parents want to have another garage sale after seeing our success and keep asking us when we're going to have another one... but honestly? The garage sale hunters cleaned us out! Lol. But at least we didn't have theives. Geezzz... some people!

  4. Hahaha this is so beautifully written, I REALLY laughed out loud while reading this. I agree with Matt - you should submit this somewhere and get published!

    Just remember me when you are already famous, ok? =)

    Anyway,garage sale is really alot of work.I did try to do it myself before we moved from Holland to Singapore but we(ACTUALLY ME) somehow couldn't decide what to let go so we ended up bringing almost all stuff we had here.

    People just love bargaining, that's me ( I guess that's the biz. woman in me) too but if it's really really low already - I wouldn't.

  5. Very funny. I don't go to garage sales anymore, because at my age it's not wise to accumulate too much stuff. And I'm with matt--this story too good to just give away--sell it to someone!

    I'm also giving you a link on my blog--too funny!

  6. You are so funny. Matt was spot on. Go on, do it. You have to keep writing. You make everyday events so entertaining and you are churning out these posts very quickly so just imagine what you could do. YES YES YES, I am a 'professional booty hunter' just not at garage sales. I can't seem to come at them but truly I think with the Great Depression coming that we will all have to start bartering, swapping, sharing and whatever just to survive. We also have to learn to live with less. It's tough because the last couple of generations are so materialistic. Possessions are important to us for some reason. I think we all have some lessons coming to us. Time for all of us to clean up our garages maybe. Thanks again for the laughs.

  7. Lilly, want to come handle a garage sale for me. I sympathize with your father, it would be hard to see all me necessities going, going, gone.

    I love the way you tell a story. wonderful post, and please go easy on the eye communication. I have a hard time picturing you not saying anything to that slime ball.

  8. Thanks everyone for your comments. Isee something funny in most things, often at inappropriate times unfortunately.

    Thanks Matt for your suggestion maybe I will. I never spend enough time on posts so I need to polish them up a bit but it would be fun. I have never heard of consignment stores maybe we dont have them here. Have to check but it sounds like a good idea.

    Jlo - wow you go girl. See there are bargains out there. You obviously go to good neighbourhoods for your garage sales!! Bargain - but as I have always said you have to have style to pull anything off no matter how much it costs and you have style in spades.

    Aleta- I am with you I just cannot bring myself to go to one unless it was for charity or something and I will not do one again after this.

    Jade - thank you for your positive comment and you will have to teach me how to haggle before I go on holidays. I LOVE your new picture by the way!

    Gran - thank you that was a very nice thing to do - I appreciate it very much. And yep, we all have too much stuff!

    Sarah - thank you for your support too. Glad it made you smile even though I wasn't doing much smiling on the days leading up to it.

    Eric - thanks for dropping by. No I am all 'garage saled' out now. I had to shut my mouth because this man would then know where my parents lived - so had to 'button my lips' as they say. You have to choose your enemies I think based on the possible retribution he he. All I know is there are a lot of strange people in the world. When you spot them its best to run and leave them alone.

  9. First of all, I can understand how hard it is to Clean UP! When I clean my room, I could spend hours deciding whether I should keep, give away, or throw something or how to put things back in proper places. Seriously,and that's just my stuff.

    About garage sales, I've never been to a garage sale before but I wouldn't mind checking it out (if there's one here).

    i used to watch Cleaning House and some people have unbelievably a mountain of clutter in their homes. and when it's time to sell them, they can get emotional. I think I can understand why.

    Thrift shops or second hand shops are common here though and I love them. If you're really patient, you can get a good find for a very cheap price!

    Enjoyed your post=) Take Care!

  10. I love garage sales and go to lots of them. Sometimes you can get really good bargains if you choose the right places to go. Enjoyed your story very much.

  11. After having a few garage sales, I decided they aren't worth the time. I never make enough money to justify the hours of labor. So I finally decided to have a garage "giveaway". I posted signs, placed ads in the newspaper, etc. "Free Stuff". I got rid of LESS stuff than I would have at a garage sale. I guess they figure if it's free, it's not worth it! LOL

    Now, I just haul it all down to the local Goodwill and let them deal with it. ;-)

  12. Hi Lilly! Thanks for visiting my site and oh, I haven't been to a garage sale before. It would be nice if I could go to one soon or maybe hold my one since we have a lot of "treasures" lying around :D

  13. I enjoyed your story, being a lover of garage sales, they are addictive.

  14. Lilly, Lilly, Lilly, who in their right mind or otherwise could not love you?!!! You are SO FUNNY and witty and charismatic and so....so...FUN!!!! I wanted to say something much more dramtic than "FUN" but I couldn't find the right word.

    Anyway, I loved this story and agree with MATT 100% you could easily publish your articles. Easily. In women's mags as well. This is a riot and SO describes garage sales.

    I love going to them. The thrill of never knowing what you will find is too tempting to resist.

    BUT I hate doing them, although I do them most summers. At least one a summer. I used to tag everything and do all that you did and then my work load got so much and I'd be exhausted and still doing it. So last summer I literally threw the stuff out into the drive way onto old blankets and I sat on in one of those long lawn chairs and my visiting brother sat in one next to me. He wore a bright, long haired red wig with devils horns coming out of it and a pair of reflector sunnies and I sat with flithy dirty hair down to my waist, rolled into a bun, hidden under a tiny baseball cap, which due to the length of my hair made me look like I was hiding some hideous tumor on the top on my head...because the knot of hair kept slipping to the side under the cap and....LMAO...LOL LOL....let me catch my breath...LOL LOL...I'd send you a photo of us but my brother would literally kill me. I was so grubby and had on sweat pants and an old stained T-shirt with the GRAND CANYON on it. I told myself, "Oh it's just a garage sale no one I know will come to this."

    Well...wouldn't you know it. The first person who walks in is a tall elegant blond woman with clean fresh hair down to her waist and totally cool clothes on... someone I know but don't REALLY want to know. LOL LOL

    My "single" brother quickly jumps up, races behind the yard wall, whips off the wig, straightens his hair, tucks in his shirt, and comes out with a very calm and composed look, with one of those very ingratiating smiles that men give VERY attractive women. LOL LOL

    AND me? I'm sitll sitting there with my mouth hanging open -- probably leaking morning breath and trying to hide the stain that hovers over one boob on my GRAND CANYON T-shirt. And of course I can't whip off my baseball cap because my hair is flithy.

    And I sit simmering in the confident glow of the tall blond model while she dismisses me and focuses on my brother. LOL LOL

    Needless, to say that was the last garage sale I did. I've not done one since. LOL LOL LOL

  15. Great post! I love the people who 'tour' garage sales and plot their entire weekends around visiting them. JKT

  16. Thanks Rachel, Erin, Renae, Rona, Christine, JKT and Robin thanks for your comments.

    Robin, I laughed so hard at your post - how funny - and an experience we can all identify with. Next garage sale jusr get your brother to handle the lot he he!!

  17. Lilly.You deserve a Gold Star Award for the best blog of the week !

  18. Love the conversation you overheard from the couple... so funny & so true!

    I do love garage sales & flea markets & overall 'treasure hunting'.... but hate the idea of holding a garage sale myself. Any items we want to get rid of go to Goodwill.

    PS - thanks so much for linking to me... so excited to have found you!

  19. @ Barbara - thanks for your comment that was very much appreciated.

    @ With a Flourish - thanks for your comment and I so love your site!

  20. What a fantastic post. You are so funny (but that's another story) :)))
    Your account of the first man is great...but your skill is to slap in
    an unexpected punch-line : "

    "As you can imagine, it took me a long time to communicate all of that with my eyes."

    and to top it off. It's all true!! Men do hoard things that mystify women and vikki-verka.

    This post is Vintage Lilly.



  21. @ Soulmerlin - thanks for your comment - it was so funny, mind you I had an equally hilarious experience at a second hand book show I went to last Friday - think I will post that on Monday or Tuesday sometime.

  22. my feeling about G-sales is the same one Tom Sawyer must've had when he convinced his friends to whitewash his fence for him. There is nothing so satisfying as collecting all my junk together, and then letting other people pay me to haul it away! so haggle! barter! see how low i'll go! cause if you don't take it away, then i have to haul it somewhere...either back where it came from, to a thrift store or the dump.

    my favorite method for G-sales is to take chalk, draw big lines across the driveway, and label them:


    then I just put stuff in whatever section i think it should go in. that way if it's not moving, i can easily slide it across the line into a cheaper section. I also had a sign that said "If you think I'm charging to much for something, let me know." This encouraged people to offer me what they deemed it worth. If they only knew that I was going to toss or donate it all at the end of the day, I'd have made about .12 total. But as it was, I did pretty well. And most stuff went happily away. And the kids made a bundle on their "help an aspiring astronaut get to NASA SPACE CAMP FOR KIDS" lemonade stand. Suggested donation: .10...but if you didn't have a dime, they'd give you a drink anyway. It was only Crystal Light, and I don't think they even used ice. But $35 in about 2 hours is a better rate than I ever made on lemonade stands as a kid!

    Anyway, I feel good about this method for garage sale'n, because nearly everything in my world started out in a thrift store. my DH has been in school for SO LONG that I've become Queen of Thrift Store Fashion. And we live in a small enough home (and may have to move again in 2 more years when med school is over) that I can't afford to let things accumulate. Or it'll end up looking like my parents house. Which was so bad that I moved out to the garage when I was 12. I'd rather my kids stay indoors with me so I'm doing my best to try and keep things nice for us. Old habits are always fun to shake.

    one of my upcoming posts is going to be Blue's Definitive Guide To Thrift Store Fashion Just need to do the photos for it. I'm excited.

  23. I really want to have a garage sale now...I love that you overheard that conversation & laughed so hard because I could imagine having that exact same conversation with my husband...my parents too. TOO FUNNY!!

  24. Oh Lily, "garages should only be for vehibles"? You really are a girl's girl!! Though I do agree with the rest of your post, my way of dealing with excess stuff is to move house often... If you can't be bothered packing it, it goes! I also remember a TV program on stuff recently on the ABC, I didn't get to see it, but it looked fun. Loving your blog btw, your observations are gold :)

  25. I have never held a Garage sale, but been to a few. I feel funny going to them kinda feel obliged to buy something after poking around other peoples stuff..., especially if you are the only one there at the time... its like walk in... hmm, not thanks, your stuff sucks... and walk away... I cant do it!

    I prefer thrift shops and the markets, at least at the markets you can skim over a table and keep walking....

    that said, I have PILES of baby stuff to get rid of... not sure what to do there..


Thanks for your comments.