Garage Sale Post-Mortem: By the Numbers

IMG_7755So happy . . .

It’s over!

The never-again garage sale is over.

And after all that carrying on I did, I have to admit it went so well!

By the numbers:

  • Days involved—about 2 days of hard-core preparation, focused on making items presentable, setting up tables, pricing, and “merchandising.” The sale itself lasted 1 very busy evening from 4-7, 1 exhausting day from 8-3, and 1 mellow morning from 8-noon.
  • Perfect weather—5 days, for set-up and sale—bright sunshine, low humidity, temps in the 70s. If I could be guaranteed this weather, I might have a garage sale every year!
  • Time the first people showed up for the 4 o’clock sale—11 a.m.
  • Time the same people came back for the 4 o’clock sale—3 p.m.
  • Time I finally relented and let them all in—3:55 p.m.
  • Shoppers—hundreds. Everyone who made it to our house, at the end of the road, talked about the traffic and congestion and throngs/hordes/droves of people!
  • Items sold—hundreds, proving the maxim that, “one person’s trash is another’s treasure”!
  • Items sold that gave me pause—a few. My grandmother’s old bed. A beautiful rocker from the farm. A couple of vintage sewing cases. It helped that the buyers seemed to love what they got!
  • Money made—closer to $1000 than $500.
  • Clean-up time—less than 1 hour; so easy because we had so little left!
  • Leftovers—1 box of books, 4 boxes of odds and ends, all to be donated.
  • Back in the garage—1 old chair, 3 larger antiques that I’ll put on Craigslist.
  • Favorite moments—1. A woman from a couple miles away, who has her own big sale every year, pointed at my little porch glider (not for sale) and announced loudly, “THAT’S what I’m looking for!” To which I answered, “I bought that from you last year!” I really did . . .
  • Free time—Not a lot, except on Sunday morning. I spent that time going through boxes of damaged linens that I’ve accumulated, to decide what could be thrown away, what could be recycled into rag rugs (if I ever go that direction with weaving), and what could be cut up to use in other projects. I started thinking about a quilt that would incorporate pretty fragments, especially monograms, from damaged items. I winnowed 5 plastic bins into 1½.

It was a three-day whirlwind. We ate on the fly, gave garden tours, chatted with neighbors, made sure no one took off with our friendly cats, shooed the neighbor kids away. I dug up a piece of my hops vine to send home with a shopper.

We haggled (not really—we gave great prices!), we laughed, we lamented missing out on the sales down the road.

I didn’t get to the neighbor’s for one of her Michigans. I went to only one other sale, after we had closed ours, but I did score some old linens!

So, it’s over. It was more fun than I expected, more profitable than I anticipated, and we divested ourselves of more stuff than I could’ve hoped.

If fact, it went so smoothly I haven’t even felt the need to exclaim “never again.” But I will say, “No time soon!”

Never Again = Pretty Soon

Yard Sale AheadI said, “Never.”

I said it loud and clear. “Never! Never again.”

And, as usual, saying “never” worked as an anti-spell, a charm that ensured quite the opposite of “never.”

This weekend, three short years after a garage-sale-to-end-all-garage-sales and the unequivocal stating of the word “never,” we’re having a garage sale. A big time-sucking garage sale.

So, this whole, entire week, this precious week of my life that I’m never going to have back again, will be turned over to:

  • Putting prices on stuff I’d be happy to give away for free
  • Composing an ad that doesn’t sound like all the other ads and that avoids the words, “something for everyone” and “too much to list”
  • Obsessing about the weather report because, really, who can fit all their accumulated stuff within a mere garage? We need the driveway!
  • Trying to figure out how to thwart early birds, although I know that they cannot be thwarted; it is in their molecular structure to buy before items are formally for sale
  • Lamenting all the garage sales I will miss because I have to tend to my own

Since we, on this Point, live miles out of town and at the far reach of a dead-end road, it can be hard to draw customers to a garage sale here. But, in early August every year, our Point has a community-wide sale and shoppers come in droves. Throngs and droves. Hordes and throngs and droves.

It’s actually quite a sight to behold. That sleepy road that circles the point we live on and the somnolent dead-end road that branches away in one direction—both are packed with cars. The cars move slowly and erratically as people crane their necks to see where the next sale is and whether it looks worthy of a stop. The cars swerve, brake in unexpected places, and park at random.

There are no sidewalks here so the cars share the rural road with bicycles, motorcycles, tricycles, strollers, walkers, joggers, runners, and dogs. Lots of dogs, because dogs think that garage sales are heaven, with intriguing, intoxicating smells and nice people who pet them.

A carnival atmosphere pervades. Tables with garage sale treasures pop up where there are no garages or houses—people seem to cart their stuff in just for the weekend. Shoppers eagerly cart that same stuff home.

A woman down the road sets up a Michigan stand, and sells hundreds of this local delicacy every year. Once you get onto the Point, there’s no place else to eat! Still, her Michigans are so good that we all, even those of us with our own kitchens at hand, go down and eat at her place.

A fortune could be made by someone willing to rent and set up a portable toilet in their yard, to be rented for a small fee . . .

Once the hard work of setup and pricing is done, it’ll be two days of chatting and haggling over prices, comparing notes on other stops down the road, running into people I haven’t seen since high school and pretending to recognize them.

I’ll try to grab a few moments to go with my mom and check out the neighbors’ sales. I’ll leave my husband home to collect the dollar bills and small change we’ll get for our supremely lovely stuff.

It’s only fair that he stays home—this sale was his idea! I had gone on record as saying, “Never again!”

My advice to you? Yes, that’s right—never, never say never.

And what’s your advice for me? Any thoughts on making a garage sale successful? So successful, I’ll NEVER have to have another?

Manly Hands at Home: A Gift for Her

sewing cases-6We all know a handmade gift is different, right? The idea that someone took the time to create something just for me makes a person feel special and valued.

When I first saw these sewing cases, I couldn’t believe how neat and perfectly designed they were. But then, when I heard their story, the cases were elevated to a “whole nother level,” as we say at my house.

I came across five or six of these, all within a couple of years, at garage sales. They were all made of wood and designed to hold and organize sewing supplies. Some were large, some smaller. All had handles on top so the cases could be carried. Some had fabric panels on the outside, some fake leather, and one a heavy, sort of coated cardboard. They were very similar but customized in special ways.

Finally one of the garage sale women told me the story—that the pattern for the cases had been a project offered by the Cooperative Extension and designed for husbands to make for their wives.

The Cooperative Extension Service system was created by the U.S. Congress as a means of educating the average citizen of rural America in skills needed for farming, household, and community work. The system was formalized in 1914 and, in addition to providing resources for farm men and women, instituted 4-H programs.

Much of the work of the Cooperative Extension has been directed to providing people with the skills and information to make the things they need and do for themselves. They’re still very active today, even though the rural population has dropped dramatically; they provide information for gardeners and do-it-yourself-ers, in addition to farmers.

So, apparently, one set of plans that was made available in the 1950s was for these compact sewing cases. Men made them as a gift for their wives, daughters, or girlfriends to stow their sewing supplies. They all have little dowels to store spools of thread; on one of these the shelf with the dowels tilts out for easy access.

sewing cases-3 sewing cases-4They all have pockets in which to tuck scissors and other tools and some of them have screw lids attached to the underside of a shelf so that jars of buttons or pins could be attached. Several of the ones I got had old sewing paraphernalia still in them.

sewing cases-1sewing cases-2 I just love the levels of “loving hands” represented in these cases—a man making something for a woman, to make it easier for her to make items for the family and the home. A man and woman, working together, to customize the case so that it is both attractive and as fully useful as it can be. How cool is that?

I kept only two of these cases, thinking I’d find more. But, weirdly, after that flurry of finding several in a couple years, I’ve not seen another. Have you ever seen one of these before? Wouldn’t you love to have one made just for you? I’m still searching, to see if I can find those old plans—if I find them, I’ll be sure to share them here!

Why Vintage? Reason #3

dansk bowlA week or so ago, I began what is a short series by asking, “Why vintage?” What is it about clothing and home décor and cars of decades past that appeals to people?

The first reason I discussed was the fashion appeal of vintage design; the second was a sense of ethics and commitment to re-use.

Today I’ll talk about impulse to buy and use vintage because of issues of cost and quality.

3) It’s a choice motivated by a sense of cost and quality

Anyone who’s on the vintage bandwagon will want to regale you with the great deals they have gotten! My mother has been known to usher people around her adorable lakefront cottage, pointing out pretty much every piece of furniture and décor, and naming the price she paid at garage sales! Don’t judge—I bet you’ve done it yourself!

It isn’t simply the low cost of the finds that is so appealing, though. You can get inexpensive stuff at the dollar store, too. The key is that vintage can be cheap and excellent while the new stuff at bargain stores, and even some better stores, will be cheap and, well, cheap.

You’ve heard your parents and grandparents lament that, “they just don’t make [fill in the blank] like they used to!” And the truth is that, in many, many cases, they don’t.

Let’s consider two sorts of places you can buy vintage and what you might find. There are lots of others—I’m just using these as examples.


The Internet has completely changed the world of shopping for and collecting vintage items. There was a time when, if we wanted to buy cool vintage clothes or housewares or tools, we had to be committed to slogging through every garage sale, flea market, and thrift shop we came across, just hoping. Now we can simply do a search, as broad or narrow as we like, and find our passion quickly.

Finding that special item is manageable now but is it low cost? You can certainly spend a LOT of money on eBay or Etsy. And your purchases may not be the great bargains they could be if you found them at garage sales, as we’ll see soon.  But the cost and quality can still beat, by a mile, what you’d find on brand-new products.

I used eBay and Etsy as my primary points of reference but there are lots of places to buy online, including Craigslist, of course.

In a fairly quick computer search, I found vintage, but unused, pure linen tablecloths for as little $10. On Etsy, I found a set, again unused, with a vintage Irish linen tablecloth and four napkins for as little as $26. A brand new Irish linen set, in a similar size, from a purveyor of new Irish linens could cost upwards of $200.

Similarly, I found tablecloths in sturdy cotton or cotton/linen blends, with cool mid-century designs, for as little as $15. The least expensive brand new tablecloth and napkins set I could find on the J.C. Penney website was $25, for a plain one-color cloth made of polyester!

J.C. Penney doesn’t sell any wool blankets. A new wool blanket, for a queen-size bed costs $190 on the L.L. Bean website. A new Pendleton blanket, the most basic model, costs $180. Similar-sized Pendleton blankets can be found on Etsy, in what is asserted to be excellent condition, for as little as $30.

Do you like to cook and love that Danish modern look? Dansk has revived the Kobenstyle pans and is selling the new casserole pan for $130. I recently sold a vintage one, in perfect condition, for half that (this is the photo at the top of the post).

Like Le Creuset? You could buy a brand new Le Creuset lasagne pan for $130. Right now, on Etsy, you can get a vintage pan, with no issues, for $36. The new 3.5 quart Dutch ovens are selling for $230. Recent auctions on eBay, for a 4.5 quart vintage Dutch oven, have finished with winning bids as low as $20.

I could go on and on. But, really, do I need to?

Garage sales and flea markets

For those with patience and a zest for treasure-hunting, there are huge bargains to be found at flea markets and garage sales. This kind of shopping is not for everyone, of course, but for those of us who love vintage, the “thrill of the hunt” gets us out the door early on the weekends.

If you’re looking for one specific item, you would get frustrated in these venues. But, if you’re getting ready to set up housekeeping in a new place or just love the process of poking around, the great deals can be amazing. And, again, the quality of the vintage items you find will almost always be greater than buying new. Let’s look at a few of my finds:

coffee tableThe coffee table, above, is a classic style, huge, heavy, and made of solid wood. It did not need any refinishing and cost $20.

blue tool boxThis is an old wooden tool box, with a tray that lifts out. It cost $15 and I use the tray for jewelry storage. I love the blue paint!

quilt & chairThe chair in this photo cost $8, but it needed a new seat. It’s a very nice example of Windsor styling—see how slender the back pieces are? The quilt is from the 1930s or‘40s, all hand stitched, in great condition, and cost $3. It’s one of my favorite garage sale items ever.

deck chairI got three of these redwood deck chairs for $1; yes, that’s 33 cents each! I love the vintage style and how sturdy they are.

At Target, they sell set of 3 Pyrex mixing bowls for about $14. I buy mine at garage sales for no more than $1 each. Cast iron skillets? A couple of bucks. Coffee makers? A couple of bucks. My favorite iron (and I know irons!!)? A dollar.

And don’t even get me started about vintage linens! I regularly find hand-crocheted afghans, tablecloths with stunning embroidery, napkins monogrammed by hand for a hope chest, all for a fraction of what they are worth. How do you even put a price on the kind of handwork and soul that went into making such things?

I could go on and on. But, really, do I need to?

I’m not trying to talk you all into become garage sale sleuths and flea market mavens. Rather, I’m trying to provide some insight about what makes the sleuths and mavens tick. And to let you know that you can get the same quality, for very good prices, on venues like eBay and Etsy. You might even find something you like among my treasures!

It isn’t just the bargain—I could find bargains at T.J. Maxx or Kohl’s but you couldn’t pay me enough to go into either one. I hate traditional shopping. It isn’t just the quality—it’s easy to find quality, if money is no object. It’s the combination of finding something fabulous, and old, for a pittance, getting that jolt of knowing you got something you needed (even if you hadn’t known you needed it!) for next to nothing or much less than it’s worth.

How about you? Can you relate? What’s your best coup, in terms of scoring both cost and quality in the vintage world? I’d love to hear your stories!

Why Vintage? Reason #2

re-use-6A few days ago I began what will be a short series by asking, “Why vintage?” What is it about clothing and home décor and cars of decades past that appeals to people?

The first reason I discussed was the fashion appeal of vintage design. Today I’ll talk about impulse to buy and use vintage because of a sense of ethics.

2) It’s a choice motivated by a sense of ethics

What’s so ethical about vintage? Well, when you start to think about it, quite a lot.

In a world with a lot of huge landfills, full of throwaways and discards, the idea of using what we already have appeals to a lot of people.

One of my favorite blogs is Garbage Finds. The author is spending several months picking through garbage, full-time, in Montreal. He is going through garbage bags, looking for the usable and sellable, and chronicling his use and his sales. It’s fascinating! The author explains the ethical stance on the re-use of used and vintage items much better than I can:

I want to change the way people look at the ‘things’ in their life and get them thinking about how to reduce waste. I hope to raise awareness about the value that even broken possessions may still have and show that there are people out there who can make good use of ‘garbage.’ This increased awareness serves to reduce the amount of waste our society creates, which has many different benefits. Reducing waste is great for the environment. It means we have to mine less, manufacture less, grow less, and put less in landfills.

The blog chronicles his finds, and their value, both in monetary term and in terms of the ways he and others make use of what someone else considered trash. Go look—you’ll be amazed at what he’s found! And it’ll make you wonder about what you’ve thrown away!

Lots of people are recycling, repurposing, upcycling, just not to this extreme. And at least some of that behavior has encouraged a new look at vintage items that are perfectly good (and, in some cases, much better than we can buy now . . .but we’ll get to that later).

You don’t have to open trash bags by the side of the road! I challenge you to go out to a few garage sales. Many of the garage sales you’ll go to will have full sets of dishes–some gorgeous china, some for everyday, all inexpensive. Every sale will have glassware. Pyrex dishes. Silverware. Salad spinners. And that’s just the kitchen stuff.

When you think about it, doing a little home furnishing using vintage finds is the same impulse as adopting a pet from the SPCA, instead of going to a puppy mill. Many people say why not save a life?

I’m one of these people. I’ve said that I don’t choose vintage because it’s fashionable but I do like the idea of using vintage as a way to reduce waste when old stuff will serve me well.

But, don’t get me wrong—I like nice things! I get an enormous kick out of walking around my house and identifying the really nice furniture, and quality house wares, and gorgeous linens that came from garage sales and flea markets. Why would I use paper napkins (and throw them away), when I have dozens of elegant cloth napkins that can be re-used? And look good at the same time!

And, like many others who are into vintage re-use, I “upcycle.” That’s an awkward new verb that means to take something old and turn it into something new, and maybe better. I think it’s a fun challenge to see what I can do with damaged vintage items, rather than throw them away.

The curtains used to be a tablecloth with a BIG hole.

The curtains used to be a tablecloth with a BIG hole.

A cedar sachet, made with scraps of old dish towels.

A cedar sachet, made with scraps of old dish towels.

Not to waste a bit of a great towel, I covered buttons with more scraps!

Not to waste a bit of a great towel, I covered buttons with more scraps!

Now, of course, right at this moment in time, it’s fashionable to recycle and upcycle and go green, so the lines get blurred between my reasons 1 and 2. In our next installment, we’ll talk about how people also save money AND get great quality by buying vintage.

In the meantime, ask yourself—are there ways you can (or already do) achieve the look you want while maintaining a commitment to wasting less and recycling more?