Who Will Buy? by
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Prompted By Yard Sales

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In Sacramento, they are always referred to as garage sales rather than yard sales, even though they are more likely to be out on people’s front lawns than in their garages. I wondered if this was a regional thing, like “soda” and “pop” or “hoagies” and “heroes,” but I haven’t found anything to suggest that it is.

We call them garage sales rather than yard sales, even though they are more likely to be out on front lawns than in garages.

When I was growing up, there were no sales of used items by individuals, except via a For Sale ad for the item in the newspaper. There were, however,  rummage sales held by local charitable organizations. One of the Jewish women’s organizations my mother belonged to, either Sisterhood or Hadassah, held an annual rummage sale, and we were encouraged to clean out our closets and donate clothes to be sold at the rummage sale. I don’t remember ever attending the sale, so I don’t know if it was limited to clothes or if there were other types of items sold as well.

According to encyclopedia.com, it was in the 1970s that garage sales “exploded into mainstream consciousness.” That would explain why I never saw any during my years in New Jersey or Massachusetts, but only after I moved to California in 1974.

In recent years, there have been garage sales every Saturday and Sunday, with signs festooning every telephone pole, and an entire section in the newspaper classified section . . . at least until the pandemic. It’s weird not seeing them now.

I have been the seller at garage sales twice, both times to raise money for my daughter’s Girl Scout troop, so everyone in the troop donated items to be sold. One time it was at my house, and the other time at another girl’s house. Both times it seemed like we expended way more effort than it was worth for the paltry amount that we made. The first one, at my house, was when the girls were pretty young, and they had a great time coming over the day before and putting little price stickers on everything. They also enjoyed selling for the first couple of hours in the morning, but then their enthusiasm petered out and the adults had to take over. The second one was when they were in high school, and there were only four girls in the troop at that point. So we didn’t have as much good stuff to sell, and we didn’t have cute little kids to entice people to come and look. Also, I think we priced things too high, and people didn’t understand that they were supposed to haggle. So it was pretty much of a bust, and we took a lot of things home for the “next” garage sale which never happened. We concluded that selling Girl Scout cookies was a much easier way to increase the troop’s treasury.

After my ex-husband died, and his house was going to be sold, I held an estate sale to clear out all the items that I didn’t want to take to my own house. We put a notice in the newspaper saying the sale was starting at 8 a.m. and “no early birds.” Nobody was living in the house at the time. I drove over with my two older kids (who were 18 and 15) on Saturday morning at exactly 8 a.m., and there was a line stretching down the block waiting to get in! Estate sales seem to bring out people who are willing to spend more money than the usual garage sale shopper. We were selling furniture, appliances, all kinds of big-ticket items, and we made thousands of dollars, which I let the kids keep since it was their father’s stuff.

On the other side of the spectrum, we have made some great purchases at garage sales over the years. We mostly just go to the ones in our own neighborhood, and people generally have nice things they are selling, although they are mixed in with a lot of drek. We bought the Moscow Mule mugs in the featured image, which were still in the boxes and looked as if they had never been used. There was even a recipe for how to make Moscow Mules on the box, which made it easy. We already had plenty of vodka, and some limes and mint, we just had to buy the ginger beer.

At another neighbor’s house, we scored this set of Henckel knives in the original wooden block. You may ask, “why did you need more knives?” if you remember my story about door-to-door sales, where I showed off all my wonderful Cutco knives. Well, the answer is “I don’t know.” My husband wanted these knives. So now he uses “his” Henckel knives and I use “my” Cutco knives. After thirty years together, we still think of things (and people) as his or mine, except for the ones that are clearly both of ours.

We also got this Cuisinart coffee grinder. Well, not exactly this one, this is a picture off the internet. Ours is the same model but is not so shiny clean. After all, we grind coffee beans in it every day. There are eighteen settings for the grind, from coarse to fine. He likes his beans ground medium, and I like them coarse, but it’s easy to switch back and forth. And yes, we each have our own coffee pot, because he likes half decaf, and I need full-strength caf.

There are more items that I haven’t taken pictures of. We got a ladder once, and a very comfy desk chair that we had to roll home because it wouldn’t fit in the car. A KitchenAid mini chopper that we bought on a whim has turned out to be very useful when we don’t want to haul out our big Cuisinart. My husband bought a nice suit for $10 that he still wears, and he has also scored several silk neckties. When the kids were little, we often came home with toys or books they picked out. And at one memorable garage sale the seller was giving away bottles of liquor as long as you bought something else over a certain price (because it is illegal to sell liquor without a license). That might have been the time we bought the ladder.

This may sound like we go to garage sales a lot, and we really don’t. I have described about a dozen things that we have bought over the twenty-eight years we have lived in this house. If we stroll past a garage sale on our block, we will always stop and look, and chat with the neighbors, but usually don’t find anything to buy.

Profile photo of Suzy Suzy

Characterizations: been there, funny, well written


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    Suzy, you are right, I don’t EVER remember garage (or yard) sales from my youth. My dear neighbor had a couple big ones before she sold her house and moved permanently to Palm Beach several years ago (she even sold her fur coats!), but I was on the Vineyard, so wasn’t there to seek out any treasures.

    But estate sales do seem to capture more attention. Before I moved my mother from Detroit to Boston, I hired someone to run one for us (her apartment was large and we were not bringing everything to her one-bedroom apartment in the retirement community). This worked very well, as a professional did all the work (even taking a fee, but it relieved us of all the stress), and we even sold Mother’s magnificent antique dining set to a dealer, who had been in my brother’s Cub Scout Troop!

    It sounds like you’ve found really useful stuff through the years. (I like the story of “his” and “her” knives.) Dan and I used to go to real estate open houses, just for the fun of looking. We don’t do that any longer. Guess we’ve just turned into homebodies.

    • Suzy says:

      Betsy, the idea of hiring a professional to run the sale is brilliant! Sure they take a fee – maybe even a percentage – but it would be worth it if they do all the work. I will have to remember that if I ever decide to get rid of all my stuff.

      I like real estate open houses too. I have always gone to the ones in our neighborhood, because you get to be nosy and check out every part of someone’s house, even their closets! Sometimes I get good decorating ideas. Another thing to be sad about missing now because of covid.

  2. Laurie Levy says:

    We also call them garage sales in my neck of the woods. Suzy, your experiences with the Girl Scout sales was similar to my kids’ toy sale. At least the kids learned about pricing and organizing as well as the painful lesson that it’s not so easy to actually sell things. The estate sale must have been emotionally challenging for all of you, and I’m glad it was a success. I’m amazed by the treasures pictured in your story. Whenever I have tried garage sales, I am so overwhelmed by the drek (love that you used that word) that I have never found such great stuff.

    • Suzy says:

      Usually I get overwhelmed and leave. My husband is actually the one who is the best at spotting treasures. He found all the ones I have pictured in the story, and probably some others that I have forgotten. But I have a good time looking and not buying.

  3. John Shutkin says:

    Thank you, Suzy, for confirming my sense that there are regional variations as to what these events are called. I’m not even sure what they are called in Massachusetts, but it could be something weird, given that ice cream shots are called “jimmies” here and don’t ever order a milk shake around here and expect to see ice cream in it.

    You also confirmed, as did Betsy, that putting these things on — whatever they are called — is a lot of work. That said, it would appear that you have been quite successful at the other end of the mercantile food chain. Love hearing about the knives (and, yes, my first reaction was “But what about all the Cutcos?”), the coffee grinders and the liquor/ (maybe) ladder transaction. Maybe I should start sniffing around the yard/garage/whatever sales around here. I could maybe find some wicked good bargains.

    • Suzy says:

      John, I actually thought about using “sprinkles” and “jimmies” as one of my regional variation examples. I don’t know why I didn’t. Note that Barb suggests in her comment below that they might be “tag sales” in your neck of the woods. You definitely should start sniffing around for wicked good bargains, although maybe not until covid ends. Then you could write a story about it and post it as one of our New Stories on Old Prompts.

      • John Shutkin says:

        I may just start sniffing around post-COVID, but, like most of us Boomers, we are more in de-acquisition mode. And I have heard the term “tag sales,” but not particularly around here. I think their intent is to indicate a firm price (on the tag), but, as we know, everything is negotiable.

        • Suzy says:

          Wow, good point, we ARE supposed to be in de-acquisition mode. And yet I keep looking for cute things to buy! Your phrase “as we know, everything is negotiable” made me laugh.

  4. Wow, Suzy…you scored on the knives and the coffee grinder! But the big question on my mind is, have you MADE a Moscow Mule, and how was it? And does it deserve its own mug?

    There are also tag sales, which I think they’re more commonly called in the northeast (and always make me think of Martha Stewart) and are a close relative of an estate sale. I have to laugh when I pass a yard sale and they have a sign out front that says “Estate Sale.” Like that makes people think they’ll find better stuff. I also chuckle at misspelled signs like “Hugh Garage Sale!” and intentionally misspelled signs like “Garbage Sale!”

    Love the “his and hers” knives…we have “his and her” flatware because my husband thinks the ones we got from Williams-Sonoma and which I adore are too heavy; he likes the less expensive kind that don’t tend to flip out of the bowl if you’re not careful.

    • Suzy says:

      Yes, we most emphatically HAVE made Moscow Mules. We just had to find ginger beer. We have also made them with ginger ale, but ginger beer is better. And they do taste better in a metal mug for some reason. If you order one in a bar, they are always served in metal mugs, usually frosted I think.

      Too funny about the sign saying Garbage Sale instead of Garage. Might or might not have been an intentional misspelling. And glad to know that you have his and hers flatware, so my household isn’t alone in that. (My husband has sterling silver spoons that he always uses – and polishes – but I think food tastes better on my stainless steel spoons.)

  5. Marian says:

    Echoing the other comments, Suzy, I never saw any yard/garage sales in New Jersey (always called them garage sales) either. I certainly remember the synagogue and Hadassah rummage sales from my childhood. They were huge! I get overwhelmed at these sales but admire your acquisitions and how useful they are.

  6. Suzy, garage sales, tag sales, yard sales, estate sales, rummage sales – whatever you call them, they’re all always fun.

    And I got one of my pitcher & bowls at Goodwill, I can’t resist snooping around for treasures there either!

    And your husband’s preference for half decaf and yours for full strength caf is so California! (Am sure you remember the lines from LA STORY!)

  7. Risa Nye says:

    I’d say you scored pretty well, Suzy! I don’t go to garage sales, but the Oakland Museum of California holds a gigantic White Elephant sale every year and I have gone to that. It’s a massive warehouse full of everything you could think of. Over the years, I have brought home some treasures (The Boys and Girls Cookbook with the Castle Cake recipe!) and some cute baby stuff. But I do enjoy the thrill of the hunt, as you seem to also!

    • Suzy says:

      Wow, that White Elephant sale sounds like fun. Although I have now been informed that as a Boomer I am supposed to be in de-acquisition mode, so I guess I’d better stop buying things!

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