There are “garage sales” and there are “estate sales,” depending on the location and quantity of the goods being sold. The former is a sale of household goods, most of them put out in the front yard because they won’t all fit in the garage. So they are also called a “yard sale, a tag sale, rummage sale, lawn sale, moving sale, tag sale,” or “white elephant sale.” The main idea is to get rid of all the junk you don’t want and let someone else pay for it so it to becomes their junk.

You can find almost anything in a garage sale: clothing (old T-shirts and branded sweatshirts are a favorite), shoes, tools, dishes, pots and pans, pot holders, broken suitcases and tote bags, books (some pages missing), old puzzles with pieces missing, parts of musical instruments, CDs that once played, earrings, trinkets, furniture (turn the cushions over), paintings, (copies) of waterfalls and boats, games (Monopoly a favorite, now that kids don’t play games anymore), coins (usually pennies), toys (when the kids are gone), old golf balls, electronic gizmos, appliances (often Mr. Coffee units), and on and on. The items are displayed with prices on them, mostly negotiable, especially as the day wears on. What might cost you $5 at 9 in the morning will go for a dollar at four o’clock. What doesn’t sell is either donated to the Salvation Army or left on the curb for garbage collectors and neighborhood scavengers. Some traders drive around and fill their pick-ups with left-over junk every Monday morning.

When we lived in Duncanville, near Dallas, and were setting up our house, we went to garage sales, thrift shops and the Salvation Army stores. With a bit of time and bad luck you could find almost anything you didn’t want. We attended several garage sales, but found that it was more efficient to simply go to the Salvation Army store where the items were at least clean and polished.

On a good weekend the owner might make a couple of hundred dollars and not have to pay taxes.

However, the glorified garage sales are the pawnshops and, for entertainment, the “Antique Roadshow,” which shows items that are valued for auction.

Estate sales are a bit different, a step up the discontinued and pre-owned chain from garage sales. You won’t find the owner in the garage or front yard, unless the poor soul is buried there. This is because in an estate sale the owner has recently died and the children have been left to dispose of their parent’s property. In many cases there are estate agents who handle all the, as it were, dirty work. They know about how much they can extract from a customer without using torture or drugs and they do their work with speed and finesse.

You have to be admitted to a proper estate sale—no bargaining, at least on Friday and Saturday. Sunday things may go at half price, but what is left is hardly worth it.

There are various reasons for an estate sale: 1) the survivors or heirs don’t have anywhere to put their stuff; 2) the survivors or heirs can’t agree on how to sell the stuff or what to sell; 3) the court has gotten into the act and ordered that the stuff be sold; 4) everyone wants to make some money from the stuff.

There was an estate sale near us recently and, for some unknown reason, I decided to stop in and see the action. It was a big house with lots of rooms and each room was filled with stuff: kitchen kinds of stuff in the kitchen, dishes kinds of stuff in the dining room, garage kinds of stuff in the garage—you get the picture.

By the way “stuff” refers to “matter, materials, articles, or activities of a specified or indeterminate kind” that someone wants to write or talk about. That kind of stuff.

It was so intriguing that I came home and got Joice so that she could take part in an estate sale—that must be where the phrase “real estate” comes from. It is a good name because all of the stuff was “real” and there was an area of land that included—in addition to the elaborate house–some property, lawn, big trees and a tool shed. In other words, it was an “estate.”

There were dozens of people milling about in the house, in every room and on both floors. They were examining the stuff and, indeed, buying the stuff.

We looked at all the stuff and bought a set of glasses and a potato peeler, a grand total of $7.50. It was worth that much just to walk through the house.

The woman who died—unfortunately, she fell down her beautiful stairs and landed on her head—was about 90 years old. It was obvious that she had never thrown any stuff away, other than her old newspapers. Her bookshelf indicated that she had traveled widely, with coffee table books on Ireland, Germany, Italy, and many other countries. Her clothes were of the old ornate kind that one might see in an up-scale thrift shop and the dishes were not plastic or trade brands. She had lived what might be called a “good” life and had lots of stuff to prove it.

We had met her almost by accident. Two Christmases ago one of the large red bows that decorated her mail box had blown off and was in the gutter. Joice insisted we stop and pick it up, take it home and clean it, before taking it to the woman. Joice had always wanted to see the inside of the house. The woman was very gracious and showed Joice the house and its stuff, even offered us some tea or coffee. Later we invited her to a neighborhood tea and she filled our driveway with her Cadillac. So we knew a bit about her.

The sad thing, I suppose, was that she couldn’t take any of the stuff with her when she died—other than the beautiful dress she was probably buried in.

Garage sales and estate sales are a type of house cleaning and cleansing of stuff. The former doesn’t really do the job—only what the owners consider as junk is sold as stuff, so there is a lot lefty over. The latter is more theatrical and therapeutic—nothing is left over.

But I won’t be taking part in either. We have gotten rid of most of our junk and our children don’t want the stuff that is left. Praise God for the Salvation Army.

February 2018