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Garage Sale Junkies Are the New Hunter-Gatherers

Updated on February 21, 2020
Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank wrote humorous bits for her college newspaper many years ago. Her funny observations have continued in print and online.

Placing merchandise on tables makes it easy to see and touch-- much better than spreading it on the ground.
Placing merchandise on tables makes it easy to see and touch-- much better than spreading it on the ground. | Source

Hunters and Gatherers

Hunting and gathering is still practiced in the foothills where I live, but these days the objective is rarely wild game and edible roots. Today's searchers are looking for sterling-silver fish forks, claw footed piano stools and collectible tumeric tins.

Warming weather of early summer brings a secondary wave of wildflowers as well as the prolific blooming of yard sale signs in mountain areas.

Hand lettered placards replete with colorful balloons and directional arrows, show up along well traveled roads and point toward to smaller roads, which frequently lead to unpaved, single lane, steep, rutted, winding, boulder-strewn byways which have been specially constructed for the filming SUV commercials.

Every few miles on these rough routes, just as I become convinced that I am desperately lost, another enticing arrow appears, perhaps pointing to the last remaining unexplored region on earth.

I begin to wonder if the directional signs have been placed by rodent activists who are trying to lure local residents out of populated areas, get them hopelessly and permanently disoriented, in order to return the land to the squirrels.

The Arrival

When I finally reach one of the sequestered sales, I'm always amazed at how much stuff the yard merchants have. What did take to get it all to this stuff to such a remote location in the first place?

The second fact of wonder is at why so many people are already here, when I didn't see one other vehicle on the SUV road.

Folks are actively grubbing around in the improvised and precariously balanced accumulations of kitchenware, books and tools with an air of professional appraisership.

They are holding up glassware to the light, checking the insides of containers and telling other browsers that their mom had one just like it. Many of them are finding things they will never use at a prices they cannot resist as the sale organizer shuffles handfuls of currency.

Small children and good-natured dogs frolicking through the chaos are generally not for sale even if they have price stickers affixed.

Some women will consider reasonable offers for their husbands, however.

A Special Season

In this seasonal economic ritual, everyone tries to sell old stuff they don't want to people who do not really need it, but see the possibility of making it into birdhouses or planters.

Of course, the buyers will not actually make the stuff into birdhouses and planters but will eventually sell it to other people in their own yard sales.

It may be possible to trace individual items -- ones you always see at each sale-- from one event to another. It is rumored that "The Original Fruitcake" which circulated for years as a holiday gift, is now in the yard sale circuit as a doorstop.

A genuine yard sale is required to offer certain items. They must include several decades worth of National Geographic magazines, coffee mugs with naughty sayings on them, jigsaw puzzles with at least one piece missing, odd numbers of matching glasses and one or more pieces of gently used exercise equipment.

The omnipresence of exercise equipment at garage sales indicates that there is no need to produce any more stair steppers or pectoral inflection incline weight machines. Also, I don't mean to sound unkind, but the people selling the treadmills and rowers and ab-benders do not necessarily look like "after" testimonialists.

Sadly, relatively few of the workout items have possibilities for conversion into bird feeders and planters. As humans we have not only the inclination to acquire stuff, we have an innate curiosity about what possessions other people have acquired.

Yard sales give us all a chance to satisfy both proclivities. Foraging, acquisitive humans can never have too many books or woodworking tools. Rust on either is not a problem. Dust is expected. The faint odor of freshly-frightened skunk which may linger in barns and storage sheds is not a deterrent to those seeking real treasure.

Among everyday items, you may also find things you have never seen before like a book of crossword puzzles in Lithuanian and volumes of Lithuanian humor which no one, not even the Lithuanians, understands.

Most of us are hoping that that one special particular article of rare and exquisite value will suddenly present itself to our discerning eyes even though hundreds of prospective buyers have passed it by in the preceding hour.

With dreams of finding an autographed first edition of Shakespeare's collected works, an original Buck Rogers Intergalactic decoding ring, or a functioning lava lamp in the shape of Shakespeare or Buck Rogers, some of us cannot drive past a yard sale poster without at least slowing the car.

One warning: do not take personal items into the yard sale area. It is best to lock all your own stuff, except for the car keys, in the car. People have actually been known to buy their own jackets and tote bags, after setting them down to look at another item.



Hard to Resist

It is hard to resist buying things you have previously seen priced much higher at antique stores. You can almost convince yourself that you need a 700 lb. anvil, three chipped demitasse cups and a firkin.

A firkin, for those who may not know, is a small barrel dating back to colonial times, whose primary use is undetermined. Some believe it was created to be the original yard sale item back in the 1700's, as it can be converted into either a bird house or a planter with relative ease.

You know you are becoming a yard sale junkie when your thinking starts to evolve through the following steps:

1. "Why would anyone ever buy one of those?"

2. "Though you could never find it at a store at that price. "

3. "I'll bet it could be fixed up as a planter or a bird house."

4. "My sister likes odd things. Maybe if I made it into a planter or a bird house and told her it was originally a genuine firkin...."

and finally...

5. "Is that your best price?"


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