It began innocently enough, when my friend Sandra looked at me and out of the blue blurted, “Let’s have a garage sale!”
It had been so many years since I last endured this experience, I had completely forgotten how miserable it can be.
Instead, her enthusiasm was so contagious that I caught the fever.
“We will have to call it a yard sale, because there’s no room in my scary garage,” I said. It has long been rumored that I have dead ex-boyfriends and new food groups sprouting in this dark and dank space.
“Precisely why we need to do this,” she said. “I’m moving to a new place, and you need to get rid of some junk. “
I know the popularity of these sales, especially in Florida this time of year. On any given winter or spring weekend, you can find dozens of homemade signs directing passersby to visit a garage/yard/neighborhood/estate sale. It’s even become chic to browse through clutter owned by strangers. Just look at how it’s been glamorized by the History Channel’s “American Pickers” TV show.
Yes, I can do this, I told her. I’ll clear out my house and make a lot of money at the same time! Because one person’s junk is another person’s treasure, right?
I collected cardboard boxes and bought about a dozen storage bins. Then I attacked my mission with a vengeance, digging into closets, bookshelves, under beds, into cubbyholes and drawers.
To keep the process on track, I tried to apply my late mom’s golden rule: If you haven’t looked at it, worn it or touched it in a year, you don’t need it. Which would actually apply to nearly everything I own.
An unfortunate pattern began to emerge. “Aw, this is so cool! I have to keep this.” And, “I know I never read this book when I got it in college, but if I put it by my bed, I will get to it soon.” Or “So this is where that box of photos went! I need to call the girls right now to share a few laughs.”
Don’t even go there with the clothes. I have two closets and several dressers jammed with “fat” clothes, “trimming down” clothes, “decent weight” clothes, “finished with my successful diet” clothes and “only in my dreams” clothes. I decided not to tackle that impossible task.
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After two weeks, my boxes were only partially filled. I decided to go at it again, this time with a friend screaming like a drill sergeant in the background: “You don’t need it!” “Get rid of it!” and “What were you thinking when you bought this?”
Finally, the night before the sale, we hit the “pricing” step. I bought several sheets of stickers in dollar increments. Sandra laughed at my optimism.
“You need to be thinking in terms of cents. Like 10 cents, 25 cents and 50 cents,” she counseled.
I wouldn’t budge. Sell a perfectly good single sterling candlestick holder for mere pennies? With a little TLC, this thing should be worth at least $20.
“You’re crazy,” she said. “Do what you want, but my tables will be priced low to move the stuff. The object is to get rid of it, not make a profit.”
To avoid those early shoppers who show up at dawn before anything is even set up, I noted “No early sales” in our newspaper ad and on the signs. On the morning of the Big Sale, when a car rolled into my driveway at 7:06 a.m., I snapped: “Sorry, ma’am, you’ll need to come back! We’re not showing or selling until 8 a.m.!”
The window rolled down. There was my dear friend Janis, who had offered to come from Tierra Verde to South Tampa to help me with the anticipated crush of frenzied shoppers. Not only did she volunteer her services, she also brought a dozen freshly baked doughnuts.
“Wow, you need to relax a little. Or put on your glasses,” she said.
Yes, I was strung out and tense. Was I making a mistake, parting with precious objects that were part of my history?
It’s an unnerving experience, watching strangers fondle your prized possessions, then offer you one-fourth of what you’re asking for them. Or worse, just setting them back down in disinterest.
Then there are the paying customers. I wanted to know exactly why they chose a particular item and what they intended to do with it. “Let it go with dignity!” my friends said.
You get to meet a lot of characters at these sales. The most memorable was the Monkey Lady from Plant City, who bought my lovely floral-patterned queen-sized sheet set for her pet primate. (“He just loves to pick at the threads and shred the material.”) And the 93-year-old man who drove up in his wood-paneled ’70s station wagon. His purchase: The patron saint of vices from Guatemala, a papier-mache doll with a cigarette in his mouth and a tiny bottle of rum in his hand.
“Someone’s been watching over me all these years,” the old man said. “I finally found him.”
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I knew it was time to shut things down when I realized all of the people milling around my yard were friends who had stopped by to freeload doughnuts and coffee. After packing up the leftovers to donate to the library, The Spring and Salvation Army, I had a moment of clarity regarding the final destination for two unsold pieces.
One was the Lady Holding the Fish Basket lamp. I didn’t get a single offer on this sentimental item my mom gave me years ago. As for my 100-year-old oak dresser with the swinging mirror, I could not bring myself to accept low-ball offers of $20 on an antique that had criss-crossed the country with me.
So I donated both pieces to my favorite South Tampa eatery, Love’s Artifacts Bar and Grill. Filled with funky, eclectic art and decorations, this was the perfect home! Every time I go there now, I can visit my lovely lady sitting on the outdoor bar and my dresser in the women’s restroom.
Was the sale worth it? Well, after I paid for the ad, the signs and stickers, lunch for the helpers and an upcoming dinner for Janis, my take came to $49.28.
Emotionally, it cost me plenty.
Sandra, on the other hand, fared much better financially, and she looked relieved and happy.
Some of us are internally programmed to love and then let it go. And then there are those of us who measure history through memories we can hold in our hands and keep close to our hearts.
I’m not sure I can do this again. I keep seeing that monkey picking apart my sheets.