A lesson in garage sales

garage sale
CC BY 2.0 Chiot's Run

I never knew garage sales were such a big deal, until I moved to a small town where there's not much else happening on Saturday mornings in the summertime -- and then I, too, became addicted.

Five years ago I moved to a garage sale mecca. I’d never paid much attention to garage sales in the past, but I quickly realized that, in this little town on the eastern shore of Lake Huron, they are one of the main summer attractions.

Starting on Tuesdays, when the weekly newspaper comes out, there are new listings for all the next weekend’s upcoming sales, with tantalizing descriptions of the goodies on offer. By Thursday, bright-colored signs plaster the streetlights and telephone poles of the town, featuring “Garage Sale!!!” and boldly printed addresses. Early on Saturday mornings, particularly on the long weekends, the streets are busy with cars moving like hounds on a scent trail and excited people infected by the thrill of the treasure hunt.

I remained intrigued but clueless about how addictive garage sales can be until my friends Christine and Laura invited me out one Victoria Day weekend in May, the biggest garage sale weekend of the year, to show me how it's done.

“We take it very seriously,” they told me, and I could see it was true when they picked me up at 7 a.m. Once in their car, they showed me their detailed plan of action: a map of the entire town that was flagged with the locations of the best sales and marked in order of preference, based on the newspaper listings. Coffee in hand and cash in our wallets, we set out.

“First we do the drive-by,” they explained. “It’s not worth wasting time on a bad sale, since there are so many great ones.” We crept past the sales, heads craned from the car windows, to see if they looked worthwhile. Occasionally we’d say, “Pass,” and drive on, but most often we’d pull over to check it out.

“Don’t pay too much!” they warned me. “This is a garage sale, after all.” They taught me to be suspicious of anyone trying to make too much profit off their old stuff and not to hesitate to negotiate the price if it seemed too high. I also learned to avoid anyone who has a garage sale every year, because the stuff is usually not that good.

My first haul was fabulous. I came home with two sets of brand new cotton napkins, a food mill, muffin tins, a bedside lamp, a bicycle pump, and three ceramic mixing bowls, all for less than $30. I was officially hooked on garage sales. The next year, I got a gorgeous white loveseat, iron patio chairs, and a full set of dishes for $50.

Since then much of my house has been furnished and decorated with second-hand items, either purchased from the local thrift store or foraged at garage sales, although the latter remains my favorite method. It’s the best of two worlds – I get to go shopping, but I don’t feel guilty about contributing to mainstream consumerism. Instead, I recycle and reuse, hopefully diverting items from the landfill, while saving lots of money. What’s not to love about that? And that’s why you’ll always find me out every single Victoria Day weekend since my inaugural lesson, coffee and map in hand, to scour the town for deals.

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