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On Garage Sales and Too-Small Hangers




Every July, because we can’t find a hotter month, my neighborhood organizes a community garage sale. About twenty or thirty houses usually participate, though given the amount of work and our summer travel schedule, my family usually takes part every other year. Hundreds of people visit over two days, trying to stay cool as they go from one asphalt-sealed driveway to the next.


There’s something very American about garage and yard sales. I mean this in the most inclusive way: people from different neighborhoods, different backgrounds, different ethnicities, different ages. They chat about the weather, or baseball, or community concerns. Market principles are part of the exchange of goods, but without all of the impersonal corporate machinery. Kids sell lemonade, bottled water, or donuts to further entice buyers to check out their family’s wares. And of course, no offense to next-day shipping, but Americans love immediate gratification, so if you buy it, you can take it home today.


As a parent, I find hosting garage sales to be bittersweet events. Sure, I’m happy to get rid of items that have been sitting untouched in a closet or a corner of the basement . . . but it often comes with a price: nostalgia.

Of course garage sales aren’t all peaches and cream. A few shoppers grumble or huff about prices, or don’t seem to realize what great condition your stuff is in. You want forty dollars for an old card table and chairs, but nobody’s willing to spend half that on it. Collectors zip through looking for something in their niche, even if it’s not displayed in your garage. Their practiced smiles can’t hide their eagerness to scoop up some rare item for a couple of bucks from an unwitting dupe. I don’t mean to rag on them specifically because everyone’s looking for a bargain. I’d wager almost half of garage sale aficionados are motivated by visions of finding an original copy of the Declaration of Independence or lost Warhol hidden in the frame of some velvet Elvis.


As a parent, I find hosting garage sales to be bittersweet events. Sure, I’m happy to get rid of items that have been sitting untouched in a closet or a corner of the basement for a couple of years, and to make a few bucks in the process. Clutter for cash is a good trade, but it often comes with a price: nostalgia. As you see a stranger walking down your driveway with your child’s former clothes and toys, an arrow glides over to the play button in your head. You watch your children, wearing those same clothes, get on the school bus, or curl up to watch family movies, or splash through a nearby creek. You remember the stains you scrubbed out of them from excessively syruped waffles or ill-fated spaghetti dinners. Or you remember your children laying on their toddler tummies, giggling at the musical animal that someone just bought for a buck or two. These items have been pieces in the jigsaw puzzles of our day-to-day, and now, fallen into disuse, they are artifacts of our lives. You hope that the purchasers will gain similar usefulness or joy from them, and this makes it easier to let them go.


“I just wish they could stay young forever,” parents so often lament. But they can’t.

Then there’s the hanger-over: the baby and kid hangers that are no longer needed after the outgrown clothes have been sold. These are usually given away to relatives or neighbors, which is accompanied by further feelings of nostalgia.


“I just wish they could stay young forever,” parents so often lament.


But they can’t. Watching children grow and change is an amazing phenomenon, so much so that we feel guilty because there is no pause button for us to push, allowing us to take everything in for just a moment or two. Instead, we try to appreciate our children’s youth and their blossoming into adults in real time, as we juggle our parental responsibilities. Through this transformation, parents are both participant and spectator, sometimes experiencing simultaneous bouts for power and feelings of powerlessness. We begrudgingly come to realize that we will only share our children’s daily company for a short time, though it connects us in ways that cannot be undone by time, or distance, or even death.


So we get a little misty at garage sales, and keep the hangers a little longer than we need them.


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