Garage Saling 101
By Lois Hoffman
Each August here in southern Michigan we have the US 12 Heritage Garage Sale. It is the state’s longest garage sale, stretching 212 miles from New Buffalo to Detroit. Homeowners and businesses alike participate in this unique opportunity to sell unwanted items and for bargain shoppers to search for bargains.
I always thought that this was a great concept as long as I could watch from afar or, more explicitly, from far, far away. That changed this year when my friend Steph and I spent a long overdue Saturday together. When I asked her what she wanted to do, her answer was, hands down, “Let’s do the US 12 garage sales. It’ll be fun!”
I have to admit that this activity had never been high on my list of things to do, but there is always a first time for everything. But before we went, I had to have my beginner’s lesson. Seriously, there is a right and wrong way to garage sale!
The first lesson was on how to dress. Being a hot day, I was in my usual capris, T-top and sandals. Tsk, tsk, tsk, I was overdressed. She sported shorts, a plain top, pulled her hair back, wore no makeup, wore sneakers and removed her diamond engagement ring. What?
“You don’t want sellers to think that you are real affluent. That sort of defeats the bartering component. One of the biggest thrills is to see what kind of deal you can get on items that you want.”
With that, we were off. We were not only going to sales along US 12, but she had also clipped ads for sales that were on the way and put them in order so we would not be backtracking. Also, not only did she have a paper with all the ads pasted on it in the order she wanted to travel, but she also put them all in her phone. I was beginning to realize that this was serious, high-tech business.
Then she asked me how I liked to garage sale. Huh? Since this was new to me, I didn’t really have a method. Well, it seems that there are shoppers who peruse every single item at every single sale and there are more seasoned shoppers who can glance around and see if there are any items that they are interested in, sort of in and out. Not being a professional in this matter, I fell into the latter category. “Good,” she beamed. “Then we can hit more sales!”
Then I learned about the “thrill of the hunt.” It seems that there are two distinct groups of shoppers. One kind is just out to see what kind of deals they can find, with no particular item in mind that they are hunting. Then there are the ones who are hunting a certain piece. “That’s what makes it fun, when you are on a mission,” she said. “Of course, it also sets you up for disappointment when you don’t find what you are looking for.”
Well, at least I sort of had a goal. Some friends from Pennsylvania have furnished their entire home in primitives. This time when we saw them she was excited about showing me her “freaking firkin,” as she refers to a very special piece. After a little research, I discovered that a firkin is a type of keg that is equal to one quarter of a barrel and is used to hold butter, salt, sugar or a number of other things. I decided that I wanted one, so searching for one would be my “thrill of the hunt.” Off we went.
I knew the traffic would be horrendous and it didn’t take me long to learn that there were three kinds of drivers when it came to dealing with garage salers. The first kind were people just like us who would start and stop often and would, literally, be part of the traffic flow problem.
The second type are the drivers who are annoyed by all the confusion that the sales were causing. They would fly by, never slowing down, showing no regard for all of us. It’s really sad that they can’t slow down and tolerate a little inconvenience for a couple days a year, especially for safety’s sake.
The third type were just the opposite. I call them the shop-from-the-roaders. They would cruise by very slowly, checking out each sale as they went and when they saw something they liked they would abruptly pull off the road and come to a screeching halt. I’m not sure which type was the most dangerous, them or the ones that raced by.
Then there was the stuff itself. It is amazing how many people try to sell things that, to put it politely, have just outlived their purpose and should go quietly away to a nice landfill. However, among all this stuff, every once in a while there would be something unique and interesting. I found a couple of interesting bottles for another bottle tree, a rototiller that turned out to be a snow blower (Duh!), antique crocks, and a couple of galvanized tubs.
The tubs brought up another interesting point about garage sales. I found myself checking the price of items that I already had, just to find out what the going value was on them. The guy with the tubs told me a buck or two and, when I started to walk off, he almost pleaded me to make an offer. Turns out the poor guy was just trying to get rid of stuff that he had inherited from his relatives’ estate. We took pity and told him that his price was way too low.
We ended up hitting all the sales on Steph’s list by midafternoon. She had a nice little stash but, as for me, I was content with my two bottles and two containers of sanitary wipes. Nope, no firkin this year. However, with looking all day and having no luck, I found myself really wanting one more than I did when we started out. Steph just smiled, she knew that I would get caught up in the “thrill of the hunt.” I guess I’ll keep my walking shoes out, for something tells me that we’ll be hitting the sales again.
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