What used to be called garage sales and are now also called “yard” and “estate” sale are the scourge of the neighborhood and a major contributor to the putrefaction of America.

I was reminded of this ugly part of the American experience when last Saturday morning I was walking our three dachshunds, beginning to settle into a poet’s walk of enjoying birdsong and watching the nice green lawns of neighbors being sprinkled by water in criss-cross patterns, thinking about how the occasionally forgotten newspaper in the driveway would be consumed with no drying out to possible legibility being likely, when my stream of consciousness was interrupted by a phalanx of automobiles heading the dachshunds’ and my way at a speed no decent neighbor would travel.

It did not take long for me to spy the reason for reckless driving. Down the street, where the neighbors who liked to sleep in after a week of hard work likely had been awakened by one of the most awful American traditions, the yard sale, a most un-neighborly person must have decided to do spring cleaning and put the waste on display outside. Making my way through the residential street that had been turned into a tunnel by parked vehicles on both sides, witnessed people greedily going through belongings that appeared to be hardly donation-worthy or of value enough to take the standard tax deduction.

I have seen them all, with the same kind of horror and fascination Prufrock must have felt for other parts of life, having run by garage sales over the years on my weekend marathon training sessions. Used underwear, likely custom-streaked, cracked seats of swings, books with torn covers and less appealing content, the invalid dresser, at times its innards of particle board pre-soaked by rain or leaky pipes — how shameless those who hold garage sales and attract scavengers on two legs, keeping them in a vicious cycle of addiction to garbage they can ill afford nor need.

What a horrible example parents who hold yards sales are to their children.  Simply put, children learn that they can sell what is often damaged goods to others.  The extension of “damaged goods” should be obvious here when future generations will have to put up with yard sales as if in a horror movie of the walking dead.

It would be one thing if the “rich” decided to get rid of their garbage and make some change to spend on a few cups of Starbucks, or a better thing if the “rich” were to sell truly functional items at great discount and service to the poor, such as a lightly used Keurig, a gift subscription to the Wall Street Journal, or a good bottle of red wine they had bought too many of and grown tired of, even the chocolate truffles with real truffles that did not live up to sensory expectation. Sadly, it is not necessarily the rich who are guilty of having yard sales, but it is often the lower- and middle-classes who perpetuate this grave crime on persons of their own or lower socio-economic status.

This group is also guilty of linguistic abuse, having taken the term “garage sale,” which I comfortably grew up with and saw little of, to name it a yard sale, which does mean spreading out of the junk, but usually not beyond the driveway. The true torturers of the English language are those who use the term, “estate sale.” Small homes and piles of junk are what I have seen advertised under this label, in print or on almost-litter cardboard signs, and unless this sale is the estate of someone who has died, we would expect something more fantastical, like dark furniture the Keno brothers would salivate over, or a painting of girl with big eyes among the items to be auctioned off, instead of lying there, carcass-like, waiting for greedy hands and bargaining tongues.

In the spirit of democracy, is it better to spend Saturday mornings out on the golf course or sitting in a deer stand, hand washing the Audi or Porsche? Or, if one prefers a “layered” democracy, would working in the kitchen garden or mending socks, even having an early beer and smokes, be any worse or better? That is for the people to decide, but any self-respecting American, whether he or she believes in exceptionalism or not, must decide to what part of American exceptionalism garage sales, yard sales, estate sales, must be relegated.

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15 COMMENTS

  1. “Or perhaps make it illegal for people not to live too close to their betters?”

    Oops. Too many negatives. Corrected version:

    “Or perhaps make it illegal for people to live too close to their betters?”

  2. I would be very happy if there were some way to prevent shoppers at my neighbors’ yard sales from blocking my driveway. However, that may be an indelible characteristic of yard sale shoppers.

  3. I assume this commentary is entirely tongue-in-cheek. Otherwise, it makes no sense at all. “Simply put, children learn that they can sell what is often damaged goods to others.” Yeah; and that’s the point of a garage sale. Matching a willing seller with a willing buyer with the side benefit of recycling used merchandise. It’s one of the essences of liberty, to say nothing of place and limits.

  4. Agree with David Battenburg on the localist value of these sales and with Art Deco on recommended neighborly discipline. If this post is serious, bloody good hiding, pitchforks, whatever it takes.

    Honestly. Better to cart it all off to the landfill? And in all my years of yard-sale shopping, which used to be a regular thing when we had little kids and not much money, I’ve never ever seen used underwear for sale. If Ulf isn’t making this up, he’s done more browsing at these sales than he’s letting on.

    A very reputable local charitable organization that ran estate sales to raise funds for their work was my lifesaver when I had to clean out my parents’ house after my father’s death (I lived 275 miles away, so this was not easy to do quickly). They were efficient and orderly and thorough and I would have gladly given them much more than the modest 30% or so of the proceeds that they charged to support their cause. All I had to do was remove everything I wanted from the house, and then they took over. When they were done, I had a nice empty house to put on the market. This during one of the most stressful times of my life. Anything they deemed too junky to sell, they dumpstered, and donated or dumpstered whatever didn’t move at the sale. So, if you’re truly this miffed at estate sales, Ulf, bite a rock.

  5. Ulf, a self respecting American would never own three weenie dogs and if he did he wouldn’t walk them in daylight. For my part, i m sorta worried about the effect a guy wearing cargo pants, knee high black socks and sandels whose being pulled by weenie dogs is gonna have on the ability of your neighbors to get rid of their junk.

  6. I’ve always loved this website’s ideals, so what the heck is this? My mother began going to yard sales every Saturday: my mother didn’t work so she could do the traditionalist work of, you know, raising us. So we couldn’t afford new things; and when we got older, we gave away our lovely, well-tended things that we had outgrown. We got to know our neighbors. When we went through a phase (comic book cards) we could gather everything up. When we regained our sanity, we could sell them to someone else.

    Here are a very, very few of the things my mother accumulated at yard sales:
    -A stunning mahogany breakfront, dining room table, and 6 beautifully upholstered chairs. I’ve seen equivalents for 3,000, 4,000 dollars. My mum got it all for $125 as a housewarming for me and my husband.
    -A rocking chair, never used.
    -A jewelry box prettier than anything I could ever afford.
    -An Andrew Wyeth print I’d never been able to afford. For $5.
    -A dozen lava lamps (when we were teenagers)
    -Hundreds of beautiful shirts and dresses, often with tags on, that we could never afford otherwise.
    -A cedar trunk I shall use to store my children’s dress-up clothes in (and the dress-up kit clothes she got us from yard sales!)
    -The rich blue sofa in her living room. The artwork in her living room. Her coffee table. An old roll-top writing desk. A wooden porch swing (Oh, that was my favorite. 30 dollars.) Old books (good ones). A piece of stained glass I carried off to college and carted around with me.

    Honestly, if this isn’t satire, I’m really horrified an FPR writer would post something so anti-community, anti-neighborly, anti-thrifty, anti-DIY, an anti-tradition. You’re missing out, Ulf.

  7. I’m going to assume this is satire. There’s no way I could afford to clothe 6 kids under $100 year (including coats and boots) without garage sales, especially since chain thrift stores like Goodwill have considerably marked up their clothing. I know the sort of junk collectors you describe, though. And the sort of people who try to sell real trash, or charge too much. One gets good at identifying those garage sales (everyone in my midwest town still calls them that) and drives past to the good ones, where I can get pristine onesies 10c each.

  8. Well it seems to me the fact Americans willingly engage in economic transactions without duly notifying and paying a small percentage to the Crown still rankles a few.

  9. Well it seems to me the fact Americans willingly engage in economic transactions without duly notifying and paying a small percentage to the Crown still rankles a few

    Back about the time of the accession of Saint Ronald to the throne, there were people complaining that DIY work of the type often described here by Jason Peters and John Cuddeback should be taxed at the rates people would pay if they hired it to be done. They thought doing that kind of work yourself constituted tax evasion.

    Corporate greed knows no bounds, especially when it comes to government corporations.

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