Garage Sales – Free Enterprise on Crack

by Kent Sterling

A small sampling a some of the junk/treasure we are allowing others to welcome into their homes.

A small sampling a some of the junk/treasure we are allowing others to welcome into their homes.

I made $260 this morning selling $3,000 worth of stuff to people who will go to a flea market this weekend and make $3,000.  That makes me an idiot.

But $260 for one hour of sitting in the cold talking to strangers isn’t so bad.  We had boxes and boxes of stuff that had become obsolete in our lives.  Turning it into a little cash isn’t a bad idea.

I could have played hard ball, but truth be told I just want to move this crap.  If someone is willing to hand me $20 for a $200 mixer, I can tell that person to go to hell, but then I’m stuck with a mixer I’m never going to use again – or more accurately that my wife won’t use again.

It’s only use for us was to hide vegetables in smoothies because our son refused to eat them otherwise.  He’s 24 now, and his diet is his own.

My Dad’s attitude about garage sales was quite different.  They were an opportunity for him to exercise some economic justice, and he enjoyed the hell out of them.  People who tried to negotiate, a garage sale tradition, did so at their own risk.

This exchange actually took place at one of my family’s garage sales:

Buyer: How much for this”

Dad: Twenty

Buyer: I’ll give you five.

Dad: Get the hell off my property!

Dad didn’t like dickering.  If you asked what the price was, and he gave you a price – that was the price.  Any disagreement was met with flash anger, and loud admonishments.

Maybe it’s because of those episodes that I am the easiest touch in the history of capitalism.  If someone wants a DVD I’ve had in a box for five years, I’m going to make sure he gets it.  If I get rid of it for a buck, that’s fine.  I’ve made a buck, and have taken a step toward a less cluttered house.

Let’s face it, the people scrounging through other people’s crap to make a living are not part of America’s upper crust.  They deserve a bit of a break, and if that robs me a couple of dollars, I just don’t care.

At the risk of sounding like an idiot, I just don’t care enough about money to make a scene over selling a tee-shirt I’ve never worn for $3 instead of $1.  Yelling at a group of ladies because I’m tired of their trying to get me to back off my price on a toaster is not why I sit in a garage.

The truth is that we displayed the stuff without pricing them.  My economic theory is more determined by what I believe the micro-market will bear within each transaction.  I assess the person’s ability to pay, and adjust the prices accordingly.  This is dynamic pricing conducted on a separate scale for each transaction, which is completely insane, and if practiced on a macro level would cause relentless rioting in the stores and streets.

It makes for some unpleasant moments when there are more than one shopper in my garage at one time, but the confusion is worth the result – that the poor are thrilled, and the comparatively wealthy feel the deck is stacked against them.  If I can flip the tables briefly in favor of the people who scrape to put clothes on their kids’ backs, I could care less about a couple of bucks.

One lady came in and asked about old baseball hats that were in a box.  The box was filled with junk that I thought would never sell.  She got the hats and a much better price than others on some valuable stuff.  Whether that’s fair, I don’t care.  My garage sale – my rules.

In a neighborhood garage sale, if 40 houses are trying to move attic-bound trinkets, there are 40 mini-economies in play.  Some strict – like my Dad’s, and some very relaxed – like mine.  Most are in the middle.

My only hard and fast rule is that nothing gets re-crated.  We sell all inventory to the walls, and by 10a tomorrow, this sales will have ended with some poor kids clothed, and some rich people denied.  I’ll have enough money for tickets to a couple of concerts this summer at the former Deer Creek/Verizon Wireless Music Center.

It’s a win/win/win.

2 thoughts on “Garage Sales – Free Enterprise on Crack

  1. Bo Blackburn

    The wife and I love to throw a yard sale. People pay us to take our crap away. It is brilliant. It says so much about our consumer lifestyle that we have an annual one every year.

    Our rules are these: 1) Everything is negotiable. 2) We open at 8am and close at 1pm. No multiple days. 4) AND most sacred of all, no change accepted! If you want something that you feel is only worth $.50, then I will push you to take a second item of similar worth and demand a paper bill for the trouble.

    We have on occasion taken ads and seen greater traffic, but also appreciate the surprise sale just to see who shows up. I have permanent signs that go out on the street corners at 7am. We brew a big pot of coffee and give the kids free reign on the Xbox inside. Then we sit down and ready ourselves to meet the world.

    I would say it is the most social thing we do all year. We talk with neighbors who only come out when there is someone’s trash to pick. We meet any assortment of people who travel in caravans from one sale to the other.

    I lean very heavily to discounts for young mothers. We have too many toys and clothes that our boys grow out of. I would rather they find a home and a use with someone who needs them than exact the highest return. One year, after 1pm, a car pulled up and a well dressed (meaning his polo was pressed) gentleman inquired about the baby clothes I was packing away. I told him we were closed for the day. He said he was a prenatal surgeon at a inner city hospital and that his nurses had taken to making baskets for indigent mothers so that they would have something take home with their new baby. He showed me his card, though he didn’t need to. I was already near tears and making sure that every toy, bottle warmer, and onesie that was fit for use was gathered so that he could take it all for those kids. He tried to pay me. I told him that there was no need.

    Please note, my wife and I did nothing. He and his nurses were doing the charitable work and making sure that mothers had just more resources to care for their new child than they did when they walked into the hospital.

    Sometimes you have to open your garage door and sit on your driveway to have life show you how you might be of use to those who need it.

    Keep having yard sales. They are the one of the purest forms of American commerce and community.

    1. kentsterling Post author

      Love that story. It’s exactly what I would expect of you. When we were cleaning out the attic and closets to reduce the clutter and find things worthy of sale, we came across a bag the was labeled “Clothes with Meaning”. Julie opened it wondering just what the hell was in there. One of the dozen or so shirts in their was a Ren & Stimpy tee that you and the other members of the Second City class got me.

      The shirt reminds me of those times, and your story reminds me of why that shirt is important to me. It’s ALWAYS the people who determine whether an endeavor is worthwhile, and despite none of our lofty improv goals coming to fruition, I wouldn’t change a thing.

      There were moments of occasional onstage grace, but more than that were the friendships and fun rivalries that were forged.

      Your ability to listen and recognize what was special in others while performing yourself was awesome. Some of the best praise I ever received was from you. You are a caring and good man. Thank you.


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