The Psychology of Garage Sales

The real point of a garage sale is the purge. The lifelong desire, so rarely realized, to clean house, free up space, and organize your life -- which allows many to rationalize putting actual garbage on tables.
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Drive through any suburban residential street these days and you'll see we're in the midst of garage sale season. It's fun for the neighborhood traveler with time to kill and an interest in stained potholders, but quite an ordeal for the hopeful seller.

What starts one sunny Saturday morning priced at $25 soon becomes $10. As they day winds down, it drops to five dollars, then is offered to neighbors, relatives or anyone walking by for free. It's then left on the curb for the garbage collectors or neighborhood scavengers. Such is the cycle of life for unwanted junk and furniture.

Truth be told, the point of a garage sale is not revenue. Garage sale profit does not really change one's life, unless said garage is owned by Donald Trump. And you can be sure his used Air Supply cassette tapes are going for more than a quarter. For the rest of us, it just feels good to hold that many crumpled one-dollar bills in our hand or fanny pack.

By the way, you should have sold that fanny pack.

The real point of a garage sale is the purge. The lifelong desire, so rarely realized, to clean house, free up space, and organize your life. This dream allows many garage sale hosts to rationalize putting actual garbage on tables, including broken trinkets, permanently-locked file cabinets, hopelessly obsolete computers, a 200-piece Ansel Adams jigsaw puzzle containing 194 pieces, or a Barney plush toy that was thrown up on. (Barney just has that effect on some people.) You can also tell a lot about a family breadwinner by the number of heavily-branded sweatshirts, tote bags, and promotional mugs he turns around and sells for cash on his front lawn. Nice corporate spirit!

Few if any garage sale items really belong on "Antiques Roadshow," the "American Idol" of public broadcasting, but that doesn't stop treasure-seekers from seeking. Or sellers from stretching the truth. At a garage sale, the air is thick with compromise, rationalization, and at times, fraud:

"I'm sure it has all the pieces...Well, pretty sure. Ummm, would you take it for a dollar?"

"Yes, my mother-in-law picked those out for me...Fifty cents."

"They sure don't make hot-air corn poppers like they used to!"

"I'm sure it was washed ... Well, pretty sure. Would you take it for a quarter?"

Still, show some pity. Running a garage sale is not the easiest job in the world. Especially if you're selling your kids' toys when they happen to be at home. A law of garage sales: The resident seven year-old has immediate veto power over any transaction.

Happy hunting, happy selling, and if you have any old "Animorphs" videos for my 9 year-old, please let me know.

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