This past weekend was Garage Sale Saturday in our neighborhood, and my wife was positively giddy. But not for the reason you might expect. There are people who are garage sale addicts. They love to wake up early on a Saturday morning, visiting the homes of perfect strangers, combing through their junk in hopes of finding the perfect doily to slide under the life-sized porcelain cat they picked up for fifty cents the Saturday before. But that’s not Gabby.
She loves hosting garage sales.
I know it’s hard for some of you to imagine. If so, you’re probably like me. A procrastinator. Disorganized. Blind to details. Lists make you nervous. Planning makes you nauseous. I’m all that, coated with a delicious frosting of irrational sentimentality for every item I’ve ever owned.
Gabby is the exact opposite. Streamlined. Efficient. Organized. I once thought of buying her a label maker for Christmas, then stopped myself after having a nightmare of waking up to find all of my body parts appropriately tagged.
And the woman adores lists. She’s the person who, if she completes a task that is not on her list, she will add it to the list just so she can cross it off. Heck, she started keeping track of her favorite potential baby names sometime in high school. Stored the journal in her night stand for well over a decade. I presume this was so she could have it within arm’s reach just in case she had one of those “surprise births” you hear about on the Learning Channel. The baby name list would have scared the daylights out of me when we were dating had I not been so distracted by the gleaming shelves in her refrigerator.
Garage sales are my Kryptonite. But they are Gabby’s Nirvana.
Her preparations started months ago. While you were busy decorating your Christmas tree, my wife was clearing some space in the garage as a holding pen for wayward household goods. Since December, anytime she would walk through a room and stumble upon some item we rarely use, she would haul it out to the garage, banishing it to purgatory. She would emerge with a wide grin and a double-dose of satisfaction, both for reducing the amount of nonsense in our house, and getting a jump on the spring sale.
This past Friday night, she shifted into high gear. She disappeared into the garage wearing her “pricing uniform,” which consists of comfortable clothing, a colorful menagerie of Sharpies clipped to her shirt collar, and a roll of painter’s tape encircling her forearm – her bracelet of choice.
I have learned to stay away from her during this time. I’ll never forget our first garage sale after we were married. In Brady Bunch fashion, we had merged two households into one. However, to look at our driveway, my belongings were the ugly stepchildren. My La-Z-Boy was parked where our Ford Explorer usually sat. It bore the signs of numerous sleepy Sundays watching football. The upholstery was pregnant with so much snack residue that it could be boiled and strained to make a junk food soup. It was now tagged with the blue tape.
I screeched in horror. My couch, selected when jewel tones were in fashion, was also marked for quick sale. My artwork, side tables, and bedding all suffered a similar fate. I looked to my dog, Dexter, to try and rally support for my protest to save long-cherished items, but he was busy nibbling away at the blue tape stuck to his right paw. The sticker said $5, marked down from $10 due to his loss of bladder control during thunderstorms and his propensity to chew the wood trim by the back door.
Cute will only get you so far in my house.
I approached Gabby with caution, for fear I would emerge from our conversation with a “Free to a good home” label affixed to my forehead.
“Hey hon. Why are we selling all of my stuff?” I said sheepishly.
“You mean OUR stuff,” she replied.
I was lost.
“When we got married, MY stuff and YOUR stuff became community property. OUR stuff. So, WE are selling the things that just don’t fit.”
“But what if I want to sell OUR prom dress from 1987 or OUR 27 pairs of shoes?” I quipped.
“Then YOU will have to go get the items, bring them to the garage, get your own pricing tape and start labeling.”
Ouch. Did I mention that I rarely do any actual work during garage sale time?
Gabby was only kidding, of course. She took me aside and we had a good conversation about “stuff.” She asked me why I was so attached to all of my shiny and comfortable junk , and I regaled her with stories of fantastic naps, fabulous prices, and long searches for just the right this-or-that.
And when I was done with all of these stories, I realized that the items themselves still had little-to-no usefulness in our home. They would be the eyesores and space hogs that never get used. But now they could be used by someone else, who would find some practical value beyond stoking a memory or two every twelve to eighteen months.
Then I looked down and spotted a stray coffee mug that was the black sheep of the dinnerware set. It bore no resemblance to any other cup, glass or plate in our home. Now decorated with a stripe of blue tape reading “.25”.
I picked up my grandfather’s mug. A reminder of a man whose visits to our house happily dotted my childhood memories. I removed the tag and walked the mug back into the kitchen. I have long since given away the Canary Yellow 1977 Lincoln Continental that he had given me. A splendid car to be sure. One that carried all of my college roommates on road trips. Filled with great memories. But I never had the space for it, and there were other family members who would treasure it and care for it more than I would.
But there was room for the cup. It carries hot tea and a connection to a fun-loving, life-of-the-party man that helped shape who I am today.
Fast forward to this weekend. Due to previous years of purging, there were scarcely any of my own items in the sale. But Gabby had Jake and Audrey sift through their own toys and encouraged them to part with the ones that just didn’t matter anymore.
Jake gave away his Cozy Coupe. The first “car” he ever owned. Audrey parted ways with her pink scooter, complete with ultra-loud annoying music and spinning princesses. This wasn’t easy for either of them. But they were learning, little by little, that there’s value in pruning away the distractions of life. The trinkets and treasures that keep us stuck in the past, fearful of the future, and ignoring the beautiful present that’s right in front of us.
On Monday morning, the kids and I sat on the floor of Audrey’s room. The big sale was over. Leftover items had been taken to Goodwill. We had pocketed $82 and a couple of nice deck chairs that another family had all-too-hastily pitched into our post garage sale neighborhood refuse pile.
Some folks call it Dumpster Diving. I call it “being Green.”
As we sat criss-cross-applesauce style, contemplating the lessons learned from the weekend, Jake asked,
“When can we plant the pretty bushes we bought with our garage sale money?”
Ah yes. The next family project. Planting bushes that will bear witness to many backyard baseball games and water balloon fights. The ones that will probably outlive me.
I answered, “As soon as the ground dries out, Jake.”
And then we got back to the important stuff of life. Leaning against the side of Audrey’s bed. Listening to the rain hit the window. Sitting with our arms wrapped around each other. Staging my own dramatic reading of The Cat In The Hat. Sipping from my favorite warm mug while the cool rain fell outside.
Pruning away the distractions.