Garage sale day

It is unbelievable that after selling our house and giving away half the contents (2005), then culling what was left in our storage units (2006), culling again (2007), then moving the remains to Tucson (2007) and culling again (2008), that we still have stuff left in our home that we don’t want or need.   And yet, the heap of un-opened boxes in our middle bedroom tells me that it is true.

Since we have returned to living in a house, most of those boxes have not been opened.   We have passed the holidays of Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, Valentine’s Day, Easter, and two birthdays, plus we have done just about everything else that we expect to do in our suburban lifestyle.   Thus, I know that whatever remains in the dozens of boxes that still have intact tape seals is stuff we really don’t need.   And I want it out of here.

Yes, it is doing no harm filling an entire bedroom.   In fact, it provides a useful service: we have no guest bedroom in the house, and so anyone who cares to visit must either stay off-site, bring their own Airstream, or sleep in our Airstream in the carport.   That weeds out the less hardy and keeps home invasion to a bare minimum.   But still, dust is collecting on whatever it is we have stored, and it is impossible to get to the things we actually want because of the clutter.   I spent hours recently digging through piles of empty picture frames and warm winter sweaters (never needed here in Tucson) to locate all my tent camping and backpacking equipment, for example.

When my neighbor Mike announced that his recently laid-off wife was “on a tear” cleaning up the house, I knew I had my opportunity.   She had two weeks to find all the junk in their house before her new job started, and she did an amazing job.   We announced a “multi-family” garage sale on Craigslist and filled half a dozen tables in their carport with stuff.

You would think that this was a great time to have garage sales, because people need to economize and should be looking for bargains, but the turnout was only fair.   The people who showed up were the usual gang of extreme bargain hunters (“Will you take fifty cents for this color TV?”) and vultures looking for things to re-sell. Still, we cleared out about a dozen boxes of stuff and that gained us enough space in the middle bedroom to at least move around and re-organize what’s left.

The real irony of a garage sale is that is often much worse than simply giving things away.   Don’t compute your average hourly wage for the day, because after 3-4 hours of prep and then 6-8 hours of watching people paw through the items you paid good money for, whatever cash you received won’t be nearly enough.     It’s a form of slow torture, watching people paw through the items, knowing that most of them are unwilling to spend more than a buck.

Sure, the cash at the end of the day seems better than nothing, but that’s only if you don’t think about what all that stuff cost you in the first place.   I personally sold about $500 worth of items, for which I barely received $50.   In the interim I filled the time by setting up a photo station, snapping pictures of the expensive items, and posting them on Craigslist.   Maybe I’ll do better on those.

The other danger associated with a multi-family garage sale is that you might acquire somebody else’s junk.   In the slow hours of the midday, after the early birds have gone, it’s tempting to browse the tables yourself and start finding “interesting,” “cute,” or “potentially useful” items.   I was on the lookout for that, but still one or two items slipped by me and into the hands of Emma or Eleanor.   Emma was intrigued by the vast array of stuffed animals on one table, but we have a rule: one comes in, one goes out.   That may seem cruel but her stuffed animal collection is on the verge of requiring its own bedroom, and as you know, we don’t have a spare bedroom.

We have to remember how to live with less because we will shortly be traveling again.   We may be gone for up to five months, traveling north and east for the summer.   The principles of full-time RV travel are simple but they have to be respected, and one of the keys is to bring only what you need.   Divesting or acquiring things on the road can be done, but it’s very inconvenient.   We’ve discovered that if we continue to live light, we have a lot less upheaval when it’s time to get back into the Airstream for a long trip.

Since I’m on the subject, the plan is to head north through Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, then east the usual boring route along I-90 all the way to New York.   All the best stuff on this route is west of Rapid City SD.   We could spend a month just getting there, but there’s a compromise involved: I don’t want to miss out on too much of Tucson’s hot weather.   We’re just getting into the low 90s now, where I’m most comfortable (in the dry desert), and it seems a shame to bail out in the next couple of weeks.

We also need to drop in on the International Rally in Madison WI in late June and early July.   So we’ll stay in Tucson as long as possible and yet still allow at least a month to get back to Vermont by mid-July.   While we are based there, we’ll have side trips to Michigan, Massachusetts, and possibly Maine (no, we’re not just doing the “M” states, there are better reasons for all those trips).   We’ll leave Vermont again at the end of August (after the Vintage Trailer Jam), possibly visit Newfoundland, and then go west for the Grand Canyon thru-hike.   And then we’ll come back to Tucson and get back to work on getting rid of the rest of the stuff we didn’t need while we were gone …


  1. says

    If your experience is anything like ours, you’ll do much better on Craig’s List than in the garage sale. When we unloaded stuff from our California house (made easier by the calculation that it would cost about $1 per pound for moving and storage), the garage sale was a bust for the reasons you mention. Craig’s List, however, was outstanding. We sold everything we intended to sell ranging in price from about $5 to over $700.

    Apparently, there are people who search and wait for months to find particular items. Believe it or not, we sold an aluminum step ladder to a woman who drove nearly 100 miles round-trip to pick it up for $10. She said that she had been looking for 3 months. We had a similar experience with a woman who drove 90 miles from Sacramento to buy a mirror for a stair landing. We even sold a set of free weights with a couple missing to a guy who was so into body building that he thought it would be a good activity for his girlfriend. Even for a mere $40 dollars she didn’t seem impressed.

  2. Brett says

    Human nature is a funny thing. When I did garage sales I normally had a box of stuff marked “free”. This box was ignored by all the adults, some kids would dig through, but it was normally ignored. I learned that if the stuff was too neatly laid out people would walk through and leave, because they felt they saw it all. If the stuff was piled on a table marked $.25 ea. They would dig for 10 minutes looking for the “find”.

    When the quarter table got low, I would dump stuff from the free box on it and sell it out…. People are weird.

  3. says

    I feel your pain. After countless bouts of culling and a couple garage sales in the last couple of years, combined with simply taking things to either the Re-use center, Salvation Army or (sadly) transfer station, we still seem to have an attic full. I’m waiting until the day comes when we punt the kids out, and then we can finally come down to “what’s really ours”, since they’ve been given fair warning that when we get back home from our “assignment”, many things, along with people and pets, are going to be leaving.
    I think when you mentioned empty picture frames, that hit a nerve.
    Oh, and I have to agree with Brett. Sometimes when something isn’t selling, put the price UP can work just as well as trying to give it away. Go figure.

  4. says

    Hi Rich — We met briefly at the 2003 International in Essex Junction, Vermont and my wife and I have been following your blog ever since. I noted that you may be coming to the Atlantic Provinces and most notably Newfoundland later this summer. We toured Newfoundland in August,2007 with another family including their two children (ages 8 and 11). Newfoundlandand,in particular the west coast of Newfoundland offer amazing scenery and the hospitality of its people is second to none. They have an excellent system of both federal and provincial parks but you will also notice that many of the locals camp in gravel pits next to a river or lake for free(their version of boondocking). Here is a link to some pics of the highlights of our trip:

    If you happen to come this way, please keep in touch as we would like to connect with you at some point. Safe travels!!
    Greg G.

  5. Daisy says

    I am increasingly devoted to Thrift Stores as a way to get rid of stuff, and as a way to have some retail therapy. It feels much better to give stuff away, imagining that someone who really needs it will get it. Plus folks who have a hard time in the regular work world can work at Goodwill.

    I had a huge long winter coat, that I made. It was wonderful, warm and made me look like the wife of Ghengis Khan. I tried to keep it, and actually shed three tiny tears when I bundled it off to Goodwill. Only the thought of some street person wearing it made it OK.

    But it ain’t easy. Repeat: I am NOT my stuff, I am NOT my stuff.