11 August 2016

Garage sale - redistributing wealth, meaning, material culture

selling off unwanted, accumulated household possessions - sheltered in garage
After taking a turn near the road to wave the passing cars toward the garage sale, I sat down in the cool shade of this warm August morning and reflected on the tables of once cherished or at least familiar possessions heaped on the tables here and extending outside onto the driveway area. Several houses contributed their items with prices affixed individually, or as a category (hardback books $1 and paperback $0.50 with children's little books 2 for $0.25). This produces a richer selection for those who stop to browse, many of whom are grandparents in search of things for family members. Others are collectors of specific items, or young families who wish to economize by sifting through the "free box" of unpriced items which by custom one should not monopolize, but leave some for others, too. Since most prices are a few dollars, the savings can be considerable if a person buys many things at a garage sale at pennies on the dollar when comparing the price of a used item to a new one, or even to the prices displayed online at Craigslist or Ebay.

The workers function, after arranging everything, is to be social and make their presence known to shoppers by a simple salutation or small talk. This way the shopper is made aware of the surveillance that is present to dissuade any stealing. At the end of the 3 days of selling and replenishing tables with other sale items that did not fit onto the surfaces at the beginning then the proceeds are tallied and  the bits of tape or tags to identify the owner who contributed an item can be calculated.

One part of the experience of spending the day as part of the selling team is to meet acquaintances or friends, sometimes after a lapse of many years. There is moment when a stranger's face or voice slowly trigger memories and in an instant one knows who the person is. Instead of "a person" there is now a named part of one's social memory, complete with past meanings connected to the relationship with that person. It is like the picture turning from black and white into full color at the spark of recognition.

Nevertheless, another part of the day working at the garage sale is to recognize material culture that formed the fabric of one's own life or the world of one's children, for instance. For shoppers they see a power saw, but for you there are memories of the things built or repaired with that tool. For shoppers they see a pair of shoes, but for you  there are memories of some of the places those shoes took you. For shoppers there is a cassette tape with the recording of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, but for you there are the many parties where those melodies were played. In all these cases the assembly of personal property first joins the similar items contributed by the other sellers on these tables and in the public eye of shoppers whose main source of reckoning meaning is the functionality of the item (it suits a need, or it fits their imagination) or the price tag. Thus the slight bitterness of seeing what once held a constant place in the geography of one's household routines and mental landscape of memories now drained of meaning and left on a table for strangers to take away someplace. The cumulative result of the many garage, yard, rummage, or tent sales around the town this weekend is that lots of personal property gets new owners and scatters to all sorts of unexpected places for another life of use until finally going into still another garage sale, or into a recycle stream, or possibly into a layer of landfill disposal.

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