Garage Sale Treasure Hunting

Garage Sale Treasure Hunting

It was a daydream that almost became a reality—renting a pickup or U-Haul with a girlfriend and hitting the road. Our destination? Georgia’s 100-mile Peanut Pickin’ Yard Sale in October sounds inviting or Florida’s scenic 72-mile one in November. There’s also the world’s longest yard sale, a whopping 690 miles through six states on Hwy 127 from Michigan to Alabama every August.

Garage sales—or as Martha Stewart called hers, the “Great American Tag Sale”—are tough to resist. Martha sold 10,000 items the first day on her Katonah farm, north of New York City, and soon raised more than $800,000 for the Martha Stewart Center for Living, which provides primary care for older adults at Mount Sinai Hospitals in NYC.

“I don’t want to be known as a hoarder,” Martha said, as she bared contents of the numerous storage buildings on her property for a sale that took 23 days to pull together for an ABC-TV special.

Imagine quick-witted antique experts, a celebrity auctioneer, Martha’s 17 peacocks, as well as loads of high-end shoppers who bought tickets so they could elbow in to score a $600 meat cleaver or a made-in-Seattle, pricey glassybaby votive candle holder. More of an adventure than most yard-sale fiends bargain for, certainly.

It was post-WWII urban growth that launched the garage sale phenomenon. Today, one source estimates 165,000 of them take place each week in the U.S. A useful website can jump start interest:

What’s the allure? You might think it’s chasing down a terrific deal, but those in the know claim the top reason people shop garage sales is for the fun of it. Once you kick back and realize you’re not apt to be the one to score that gorilla suit somebody’s selling for a song, you can relax. Disappointment melts into relief and joy because you know you don’t need a hairy gorilla getup anyway.

It took a while before I quashed the fantasy that schlepping along a 100-mile sea of garage sales would be ecstasy rather than rampant consumerism. Where to put a truckload of more stuff? Who really wants to become Martha Stewart, even though she overcame her hoarding and boosted a charity?

Discovering community garage sales has more benefits—less gas, a valuable experience much closer to home, and a captivating adventure as you learn more about the quirks and friendliness of neighbors nearby.

With no particular agenda, a pal and I headed out in mid-May for an annual one-day happening featuring more than 320 registered yard sales right where we live in West Seattle. My friend still raves about the perfect recliner she found for her living room. I’m partial to the pink sweatshirt I’ve been warned not to wear outside the house, a handful of free CDs, and a red In-N-Out Burger ballcap that reads “Quality You Can Taste.”

It can be a satisfying revelation when you come upon a garage sale that touches your heart. A friend on the other side of Seattle suggested we check out an estate sale organized by neighbors of a woman who recently moved into a nursing home. The incredible collection of 3,000 books on topics ranging from coyotes to Buddhist rituals in Nepal, plus Motown music, beautiful glassware, and plenty more convinced us this was a woman who led an eccentric and full life. The event was so fruitful, we returned for a second visit.

That’s when we stepped beyond the sale and asked those neighbors if we might visit this woman in her nursing home. They agreed and alerted her when we’d arrive. With a floral bouquet to show our appreciation, we hoped to boost her spirits a bit. She brightened up as we shared our delight over which of her possessions we’d acquired. Embarking on this bonus adventure and expressing gratitude turned out to be a sweet reward.

Annie Culver developed a knack for unearthing oddball characters and improbable events as a staff writer for various newspapers. In the early 90s, she went to work for websites where she wrote sassy essays aimed at women. In recent years, she morphed into a writer for several universities in the Northwest. She retired in 2016, yet still enjoys freelancing.

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