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Alfred Tennyson penned the immortal words, “In the spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love." Go for it young man! Now that I’m much older, springtime means succumbing to the allure of the garage sale temptress.
I’m helpless to resist her siren call after a long winter with no garage sales. Thousands of people have been decluttering and are ready to unleash a tidal wave of bargains that are mine for the taking. And when you’re older, you’re up at the crack of dawn anyway.
Some people sell junk, but others sell really good stuff for insanely low prices. A small sample of good quality items I’m still stoked about includes a $5 wheelbarrow, a $5 tree-branch lopper, a $3 Henckel kettle, a brand new $4 winter coat with original labels, which I’ve used for three winters, and the two amazingly large Transformers I got for my grandson for only $3.
I know I’m dragging down the economy by not buying new, but its tough paying retail prices. Its also hard to spend a fortune on toys for my grandkids since they grow out of them so fast, and some of the older toys are actually more appealing than the latest ones. Plus, its fun to negotiate over prices. Sometimes the bargains are so good, I boot it out of there fearing the seller will suddenly come to their senses.
My garage sale tactics used to be super competitive: I’d research where and when all the sales would be and map it out with military precision. If the sale started at 7:30 a.m., I got there at 7:15, only to find I was still only the fifth person there. I could do a whack of homes and be home by 10, with the day still ahead of me. There always seemed to be a vaguely annoying guy who arrived at the same sale just before me who was also looking for garden tools. Fortunately, we did not have to duel at dawn over who got the wheelbarrow and lopper.
Sellers are motivated for different reasons. For older families, its often about clearing out before putting their home up for sale. I’ve even gained a little insight into real estate trends as multiple empty nesters sell their homes near me. For young families, it’s about getting rid what their kids have outgrown. Smart parents get their kids to market their old toys, since they know best how to use them and are enthusiastic. Some of the sales and marketing titans of tomorrow will have gotten their start showing greybeards like me how to use the toys I buy for my grandkids.
Garage sales are much more fun than content or estate sales where virtually everything inside and outside the house is up for sale over a one to three day period. Those homeowners flee and outsource the selling to a firm that gets a commission on the sales. It’s a totally different dynamic. At those sales I’m definitely not having friendly discussions about family and life. Its commonplace to line up and be admitted several people at a time. Content sale proceeds are not donated to charity as they are at some garage sales, there are no freebies, and there are definitely no cute kids selling lemonade and cookies. It can even feel morbid or sad going through a home that feels like an elderly person has either passed away or is downsizing to a retirement home.
The best experience is the multifamily street sale or the even larger neighbourhood sales. I get maximum return with minimum effort. Its also a great way to explore communities and scope out which neighbourhoods have nice homes and nice people. These sales occasionally create a wonderful sense of old-time “community,” which is harder to find these days.
I’ve learned to take my wife only to the smaller sales involving 10 or fewer homes. When I took her to a large community event involving 60 homes, she tapped out after 15. I was tempted to say, “Come on soldier – don’t wimp out now. Give me at least 10 more homes!” But I recognized she is the normal one.
So, we defaulted to drive-by mode, where we slowly passed each home and decided in a matter of seconds whether anything looked remotely interesting enough to make us stop. It felt dirty, like I was an evil buyer dissing several sellers in just a few minutes.
Admittedly, after years of buying, there is the law of diminishing returns. The local real estate agent helping me plan for eventually selling my house gasped when he saw my basement. “Declutter!” he hissed, using a rather unpleasant tone.
A sane man would just give it up. But my path forward will be to alter my mindset. I’ll buy less and be more into the journey than the destination. I’ll still look for stuff if it’s a crazy good deal or totally unique, but I will also chat with the seller while I soak in the sun on those beautiful, sunny spring mornings and listen to the birds singing.
But this vision will have to wait at least one more year. I’m already thrilled to be entering the peak season for garage sales in my neighbourhood. While some people obsess each year over the “March madness” of U.S. college basketball, an obsession with garage sales remains my “May madness.”
Steve Watson lives in Markham, Ont.