The Art of the Midwest Garage Sale

Friday, May 19, 2017

I come from a family who loves hosting garage sales. (That's me above.) I chose this photo because it just felt right.

At the start of every summer my mom would get this glimmer in her eye as she looked at the pile of junk that had stocked up in our garage over the winter, or at our summer clothes that no longer fit, old pots for plants that no longer served their purpose. And she'd announce, "We're going to host a garage sale this weekend!"

But she'd only say this to me and my siblings, never to my my dad, because he hated garage sales.

"I don't want people walking on my lawn, or running over my bushes!"

"They won't, we'll put up a folding chair in the driveway so they have to park on the street," my mom would respond.

And every single year, one of us kids would move that chair to sit in at some point during the day, and my dad's bushes would get smashed. The thought of it still makes me laugh, and I bet it still pisses him off.

Immediately after I'd learn of the garage sale announcement, I'd make a mad dash to my room to find clothes and toys to sell. I have always loved getting rid of stuff. Just typing this sentence gives me a small high and makes me want to go pull things from my closet.

My brother on the other hand, not so much. My brother got rid of nothing growing up. When he moved out of my parents house they actually found bottles of water in his closet, with dates written on them. As in he saved old Pepsi bottles, cleaned them out, filled them with bathroom tap water, and then felt the need to label the day (and time) he did such a monumental thing.

The days leading up to the garage sale my mom would place ads in the "Daily Shopper" detailing all of the goods we'd be selling.

"Name brand clothing! Pots for plants. Lamps! Lightly used bar stools. Toys! Brand new lotion! Plates! Business attire. Ornate stands. Picture frames. Patio furniture."

The night before we'd lug all of the folding tables and chairs we owned up from the basement and plan how to set them up in the garage.

"You mean I can't park my car in the garage tonight, Sandy? This is exactly why I didn't want you to do this!" -my dad would bark as soon as he saw the folding tables in the living room, anxious to take their place outside.

My mom couldn't care less though, she was in garage sale mode. And so was I.

We'd stay up all night marking things with colorful sticky tags. I'd tap my finger tips together delighting in all of the money I was about to make! And then I'd run up to my room to find more stuff to sell. Maybe I'd take a peak through my dad's closet too? He had a ton of suit jackets and ties I was pretty certain he didn't need.

And as a last stitch effort I'd search for any candy we had around the house in hopes of selling that, as well. Have I mentioned I've always loved running a business?

The morning of the sale I'd pop out of bed SO EXCITED. Today was the day. The day of the garage sale!

We'd hope for sun, but I only ever recall rain. We'd haul our "hot items" in and out of the garage all day long, depending on whether or not they'd get wet. "Nicer clothes" were hung from "racks" that usually consisted of an outdoor broom balanced across two ladders.

"Them ladders for sale? What about the broom?" We'd get asked several times throughout the day.

People attending garage sales naturally assume everything in sight is for sale. Literally everything.

And if you've ever ran your own sale, you know that when your sign says it starts at 8:00 a.m., you'll get lurkers around 7:30 a.m. These are the professionals hoping to get a glance of the goods before everything is picked over.

They stroll up your driveway with their hands in their jean jacket pockets, as casual as can be, and might mumble something like, "I have to be at work at 8, thought I'd stop by before." But that's a lie. By "work" they mean another garage sale.

My sister was always supposed to be in charge of keeping things tidy, but I'm pretty sure my mom just didn't want her checking people out because if someone would say "Can I give you $5" for a $10 item she'd smile and say, "oh just a dollar is fine."

Me on the other hand, I'd snap back, "how about $12?" I didn't take no shit from no one, especially hagglers. However, I couldn't do math to save my life, so I wasn't exactly the best option either.

The best choice was to plant my brother at the checkout. This would also keep him from walking around the tables the entire time bringing stuff back inside he didn't think should be sold.

I'll never forget when my mom sold his favorite Dennis Rodman t-shirt one year. If you blew on the shirt Rodman's hair turned colors. But it was also five sizes too small for him, and why would you want your child walking around in a shirt that encourages people to blow hot air on it?

There would be highs and lows through out the day. Busy attracts busy. If you can get three people to your sale, you'll get 13. But if you've got no one, you'll see people drive by real slow and just try to glance from their car, wondering if it's really worth their time to park the sedan.

And if someone walks up with their own canteen of coffee you know they're not messing around. If they're also wearing a fanny pack, velcro walking sandals, and carrying their own plastic bags; shit's about to get real. They're either going to walk away with half of your inventory, or none at all. There's no in between.

As a kid, I just always hoped the Bitchy Bettys stayed away while I was manning the fort.  I had no time for them at my garage sale. These were the people who would pick up a tshirt marked "50 cents" and remark, "the threads coming loose on this neckline." 

And I'd respond, "Yeah, that's why it's not .60 cents." 

They'd scoff and walk away and my mom would ask what I did to scare them off.

I'd shrug and say "I dunno. Guess they're not Dennis Rodman fans."

And within a few hours into the afternoon, my mom would insist we call it quits early and haul everything off to Goodwill. If you had any garage sale luck, a family of twelve would roll up at this very minute in their Nissan Stanza and offer to take it off your hands for you.

The long garage sale day would end and we'd have a lot less junk, a few more bucks in our pocket, and trampled hasta plants all up and down the driveway.

Oh how I love a good Midwest garage sale.


  1. I am literally turning my basement upside down right now getting ready for my annual Queens stoop sale. All of this is so true, especially the early lurkers that take all the good stuff right off the bat. I'm a little like your mom; eventually I start giving shit away for free because I don't want to drag it back inside!

  2. The early lurkers are the ones who buy our shit for $.50 and go sell it for $3.00.

  3. I've always thought garage sales were such an interesting concept. And they sound so American. And fun. Too bad we don't have those here in Hong Kong!

    Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog

  4. I love getting rid of stuff, but the idea of hosting a garage sale makes me break out in hives. I'm an extreme introvert and the thought of having to interact with that many strangers during the day....eek, no thank you. I can totally relate to having a brother who doesn't get rid of anything, though!

  5. I love to go to garage sales, you often can find some amazing and interesting things at them

  6. Actual lol re: all the Dennis Rodman references. Two enthusiastic thumbs up.

  7. Oh my gosh, this post literally made me laugh out loud! Such a true description of having a garage sale. I loved them as a kid but have only had one as an adult. Too much haggling.

    Oh, and I also have issues with feeling guilty if I go to a garage sale and don't buy anything. I always apologize and then thank them. Apparently I feel bad that I don't want someone's junk.

  8. This post is PERFECT! I'm from St Louis, Missouri and everything you mentioned is spot on, Hahahaha

  9. Hahaha. Yes to all of this. Been there done that.

  10. I really loved this post!!! My area is currently getting ready for one of our two GIANT MOUNTAINWIDE garage sales... they're held on Memorial Day Weekend and Labor Day Weekend. We haven't sold anything before, only been shoppers. But I'm sure this is how most of the selling families feel!

  11. THIIIIS. Are you sure you didn't grow up in suburban Ohio? Because this is the EXACT SAME scene of our annual summer yard sales 😂 This really gives me so much nostalgia!

    Allie |