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Outside the Box: Glimpsing the garage sale psyche

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By Joel Stevens, Associate Editor

Since I was a child I’ve always liked garage sales.

I can’t really explain why, other than I really like a good deal and I’m a bit of a snoop.

Let me explain that last part.

Rummaging through other’s peoples garage sale items – those old rollers skates, that cat print sweatshirt, a ThighMaster caked in dust – is a bit like being a detective sifting through evidence. It’s a glimpse into the psyche of a person. You can tell a lot about a person by what they sell and how much they sell it for.

All that’s true but, really, I just can’t help but wonder if this guy struggled parting with his vintage 1982 Def Leppard T-shirt or if that lady cried when she trudged out the chipped Gnome with wheelbarrow she never got around to turning into a decorative center piece in her rock garden. Most garage sales are literally a physical and emotional purge of attics and basements via everything from inherited furniture to clothes you know you will never want to wear again let alone fit into.

In that way, the psychology of the garage sale, you must admit, is a fascinating study in dichotomy. Selling an item deemed simultaneously both worthless and valuable is something even Adam Smith couldn’t have conceived of.

But I digress.

This past Saturday, Glenwood held its city-wide garage sales – that perennial small town day of commerce where one person’s junk is another person’s treasure.

So, for the day I put aside my pesky left brain logic and my anthropological instinct and became a garage sale consumer. I didn’t get to all 37 garage sales listed on my trusty map provided on page 8 of last week’s issue of The Opinion-Tribune. But I made it to a lot and I looked and listened.

It is estimated there were 9 million garage sales in the U.S. last year. What I found was, Glenwood, like any of those other 8,999,963 garage sales, has a lot of junk. Some good junk, some bad junk. Which isn’t a knock. I have a lot of junk of my own; most of which my wife would love for me to part with.

Kids clothes that no longer fit, workout equipment that sat for too long in the basement, dented toys, knick knacks too knick knacky to keep, these are what garage sales are made of. I saw plenty of that. And even though I bought none of the above, I feel like I know garage sales and Glenwood, really, a little better now.

I, my wife and son hosted a garage earlier this spring. All I got out of it was $29, sunburn and a whole new appreciation for anyone who owns a retail business. I have no plans to ever do another.

While my purchases at the two dozen or so garage sales I perused – a sweatshirt, a vintage 1990s Malvern No. 61 football jersey and the “Glenwood” board game (with all its pieces!) among them – may not have provided a boon in economic development, it did show me garage sales are written in a universal language no matter where they are hosted or by whom.

There really are only two kinds of garage sellers. The ones looking to find a good home for a possession (to these people the item’s intrinsic value outweighs any economic benefits that could ever possibly be obtained by selling it). The other group of sellers is the “just take it” types (their mantra: “I don’t want it, if you do, great, take it.”)

And the great thing about the garage sale is they’re both exactly right.