Garage Sale Culture


On this morning of our neighborhood’s “community yard sale”, I am reminded of something that appears to be a uniquely American cultural phenomenon, the “Garage Sale” culture. Simply put, it is people who are clearing out unused items by putting them in their yard, or their garage, putting prices on them, and then having people come by to buy stuff. I am not sure when it all began, but as part of my “Growing Up Poor” experience, a pretty large fraction of my clothes came from garage sales, thus I was inculcated into the culture from a young age.

As mentioned above, people put out “stuff” out that they no longer want, and strangers flock to your abode to buy it. An olden world market played out in yards around the country. We even had a large one to clear out stuff that we didn’t want to move last year.

There are some interesting observations I have made:

  • There is a class of serious shoppers. They come early, often while you are still putting items out, and have a sharp eye. You can tell they know the value of stuff, and are looking to buy items that they can resell for more money. They are quick, and they pounce when they see something that has value. 
  • Then there are the people who are laid back shoppers. Could be looking for something specific for their kids, or are interested in used sporting goods. Or they collect dolls. They straggle in and around all day. They like to haggle and to strike a bargain.
  • This is probably a Southern Arizona thing, but there is a swarm of people in pickup trucks from Mexico (they have Mexican plates) and they buy a lot of stuff. Broken electronics, old, well worn tables and chairs. Linen, clothes and kitchen items. I suspect they take it back in bulk and resell in Mexico. More power to them. (They also come out in heavy trash weeks looking for discards. An old, well used, grill lasted about 15 minutes before one came by to snatch it up)
  • Looking at the stuff some people have out (in our neighborhood sale today), I have to wonder why they ever bought it in the first place. Then to see somebody buy it and load it into their truck causes me to shake my head.

People will buy the darnedest stuff. My wife’s old sun shade for her Rav 4 died, and she bought a new one. The dead old one? Sold for $0.50. Dead Powermac G4 (circa 2002) sold for $75. Old, nasty dead running shoes. $5. I didn’t even have a price on them, someone just offered me $5 for them.

Perhaps this comes from the American desire to strike a bargain. The old swap meets and flea markets were a lot like this. I remember spending weekends at the Flea Market in San Jose, pawing through old stuff.

Oh, and the net result of our moving sale last year? $700 in cash, and probably 1/2 a moving truck of stuff disposed of.

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By geoffand

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April 2013

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