Throwback Thursday: Why I Hate Garage Sales

The Saga of a Wasted Weekend

This story that I wrote on June 24, 2009, just popped up as a Facebook memory. I had completely forgotten about the whole, ridiculous incident, but reading it made me laugh, so I thought it was worth sharing. Imagine if you will, that it’s 12 years ago today, we’re living in our old house, four blocks from here, and our son is 7 years old….

We had a ludicrously bad yard sale this weekend, a real comedy of errors. A neighbor, Kelley (mom to my son’s friend Joshua), wanted to organize a neighborhood yard sale. I would have declined to participate; we’d just given a load to the PTA flea market and other charities, so we didn’t have much to sell. And from the few (and not very good) items we could scrape together, I doubted we could make enough money to make it worth the work (and the Saturday morning) it would take to sell them. We’d scheduled another charity pickup for this week, and I’d just as soon have donated the stuff.

But Bob thought we could make some money from it, having a vastly inflated idea of the worth of his junk to other people. And our son and Joshua wanted to run a lemonade stand, visions of riches dancing in their heads. So I went along. In fact, we offered our yard for it, since Kelley has a townhouse with a teeny yard, but she wanted to do it in the parking lot behind her row of townhouses.

That was Error #1; you can’t see it from the street.

Kelley was great about putting up signs and posting the sale on Craig’s List and neighborhood listserves. But as of Friday night, Bob still hadn’t collected any of the stuff he insisted he had (somewhere) to sell. He said he’d get it together on Saturday morning. The sale wasn’t supposed to start until 9, which seemed late to me. Of course I’d rather be in bed on a Saturday morning, but successful garage sales start earlier, to attract those fanatical Collectors of Other People’s Junk. As it turned out, Bob didn’t have to get his stuff together on Saturday morning. When we woke up, it was pouring, and the forecast called for thunderstorms all day.

We called Kelley and decided to postpone until Sunday, which had a much nicer forecast.

That was Error #2: There wasn’t time to get out the word about the new date. Which was Father’s Day.

We probably should have postponed until the following Saturday. But instead, we carried on. Kelley did her best to let people know, driving around in the rain to cross out Saturday and write in Sunday on the signs — at least, the signs that weren’t already waterlogged and runny. And she re-posted on some listservs. But it was too late to bring us crowds of bargain hunters.

Sunday morning, the weather was great. But I was surprised to hear that, even with an extra 24 hours, Bob still hadn’t pulled out the stuff he wanted to sell.

That was Error #3: We did not have the merchandise out and ready by our starting time.

The heaviest, most cumbersome piece was a This End Up chair that I’d tried to give to the Lupus Foundation last month until Bob rescued it, saying he could use it in the basement. Apparently he changed his mind. He was sure he could get at least $20 for it; he kept telling me it was a good chair. True, it’s a sturdy chair – indestructible. It’s also ugly and out of style. In addition, he wanted to sell a ladder that he’d appropriated from someone’s trash heap, our son’s old red tricycle and outgrown bike helmet, and a few other odds and ends.

At 9 a.m., Joshua’s dad, Jesus, was putting up signs with the boys’ help, to direct people from the street to the sale in the parking lot. Four families had brought items out to sell, or were still bringing them. There would have been more of us, but some people who had planned to participate on Saturday couldn’t make it on Sunday.

By 9:20 a.m., the boys were thinking about putting together their lemonade stand. (Yes, this was 20 minutes after the sale had started.) I’d made brownies for it Friday night and was cutting and wrapping them, while taking fresh-baked cookies out of the oven to add to the lemonade stand income. Bob was trying to lug the ugly, heavy chair up the basement stairs by himself, until he was forced to call me for help because he couldn’t fit it through the doorway at the top. Even together, we couldn’t shove it through without taking the door off the hinges.

Out on the back porch I noticed a desk chair I didn’t recognize. I asked if that was something he’d pulled out of some dark corner of the basement because he meant to sell it. He said no, he’d just bought it from Kelley at the sale.

I came back inside to get my cookies out of the oven, and Joshua and Jon Morgan ran past me. I followed them into the living room, where Joshua was about to sweep the Sunday newspaper off a side table in my living room because he wanted the table for his lemonade stand. He informed me that he also would be taking my coffee table. I ordered him not to touch my furniture. I brought up the folding card table from the basement instead.

By 9:30, a few browsers browsed. Kelley had some pretty nice things to sell. One of the other families offered a lot of popular toys. Some of them were pink and princess-related, while others were pink and Hanna Montana-related. Another family had a lot of glassware, some artwork, and old music on CD, LPs, and even 78s. A woman was interested in Bob’s cast-off ladder, and even had us put a SOLD sign on it, but then changed her mind when she decided it wouldn’t fit in her car.

We hung out around the sale all morning. The boys quickly tired of the lemonade stand and instead rode around on their outgrown tricycles as their knees bumped the handlebars and my son repeatedly insisted that we couldn’t sell his trike. The dads quickly tired of standing around doing nothing between all-too-infrequent customers, and started clearing brush in the alley. We moms talked among ourselves and occasionally answered a question about an item or took someone’s dollar. Eventually, someone bought our red tricycle. Hardly anything else of ours sold.

Altogether, we lost money on this sale if you take into account what Bob paid for Kelley’s desk chair and for the CDs he bought. We lost money even if you included the $5 that was our son’s share of the lemonade stand take. Much of that came from selling lemonade to their own parents — the parents who had baked the brownies and bought the ingredients to make the lemonade.

This morning, the yard sale items (chair included) are out in front of my house, awaiting today’s charity pickup.

Wait a minute. Isn’t that what I wanted to do with them in the first place?

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