My mom and I used to go to garage sales in the summer, as a fun activity to do together. We would scour the paper and Facebook groups the night before and compile a list of all the ones that sounded good. We would then order them by location, for the most efficient drive around town to get to them all.
Oh yes. We were garage sale pros.
As a young 20-something, I was usually looking for things for my apartment: a silverware tray, placemats, throw pillows, a crock pot. I was also kind of obsessed with candles so I would buy a ton of half-used ones for a bargain!
Some of these things were useful, like pots and pans and other kitchen necessities. But once I bought those, I didn’t need more, and my list of things I needed for my apartment dwindled and dwindled.
Eventually my apartment was set up and I didn’t need anything else. So I would still just buy candles. Or maybe yet another serving platter. “Garage sales have such great deals!”
Then once the whole minimalism thing kicked in, I just didn’t see anything I needed, so I would usually not buy anything. This unfortunately (or fortunately?) made the activity of going to garage sales less fun, and now I don’t go at all anymore. Sometimes it’s still fun to look, but usually seeing all the junk just stresses me out and I try to get out of there as soon as possible.
When we’re bored and looking for something to entertain us, garage sales can be fun. It’s a way to get outside, go to a new place, kind of snoop around a person’s belongings without being creepy (when else can you do that??) and maybe pick up a knick-knack along the way. There’s also the element of the search: you don’t know what you’ll find, what condition it’s in, or how much you’ll end up paying for it. There’s a bit of strategy and haggling involved, and it can be a game. Sometimes you end up with something you really needed, at a great price, and you win.
Usually, you lose.
When I would spend my whole Saturday morning to go from one junk-filled driveway to the next, I was losing. When I would search and just hope to find something I could convince myself I needed just to feel the joy of haggling and playing the game, I was losing. When I would spend my money on things I didn’t need, even though it wasn’t that much, I was losing.
And I would see it all the time with other garage sale shoppers. “How much is this?” a lady would say, holding up some miniature figurine. “25 cents” the man behind the card table would reply.
I understand now that 25 cents for something you don’t need is not a deal — it’s a disaster. (tweet that)
What you are really doing is paying someone to take their junk off their hands. What a favor to them. And what a disservice to yourself.
It truly is saddening to see people’s relationship with money and what they allow into their homes. But I know from experience and also seeing my family struggle with it, that it is a trap. And it’s a pattern that is very difficult to overcome.
Especially when you are bored and looking for fulfillment. Looking for something to pass the time. I have been there. I remember one summer in particular, the way I distracted myself after a breakup was to go to Goodwill every Tuesday on 25 cent day and spend a couple hours in there shopping for clothes. They call it retail therapy for a reason.
Sometimes second-hand shopping can be more effective retail therapy than shopping in expensive stores, I think, for two reasons:
1. You are spending less money than you otherwise could be, and it’s easy to trick yourself into a self-esteem boost for being so money savvy.
2. Thrift store or garage sale shopping is much less efficient, less organized, and has fewer options, which means you have to take time hunting around to find something you like that’s in your size. Because it takes more time, it’s a better distraction if you’re really wanting the day to go by quickly.
While garage sales definitely serve a purpose to those who need something and can find it cheaply, to most people they are unnecessary. Even to the sellers themselves, it’s usually such a waste of time: hauling all their junk outside, arranging it on tables and blankets, sometimes even taking the time to pre-price everything with little stickers. They spend a whole day (or weekend!) sitting in the hot sun, waiting for someone to come by and buy $6.35 worth of little objects. Wouldn’t it have been better to just donate it all and save the time and energy?
But that brings us back to the deeper issues here: boredom and a bad relationship with money.
These aren’t easy things to overcome, especially when we’ve been raised to have our current relationship with money, and when we never really learned how to be bored or how to overcome boredom.
These are still things I am working on! But I know that a crucial step for me to move past it in my life is to not put myself in situations where I will be tempted. And so, I don’t go to garage sales anymore. I still do go to thrift stores, but I have a much stricter set of guidelines for what makes me happy or unhappy when I shop. And sometimes, you just have to take it one day at a time.