Garage Sale Rules: Part One

I come from a long line of serious garage salers. When I was growing up we had a yearly extended family sale at aunt Millie's house. Millie lives in Maquoketa, Iowa, which isn't a small town, but it ain't a city either--the perfect size for garage saling because you can cover the whole town a morning. Since our extended family is so big, her sale quickly earned a reputation around town for variety and quantity. We had kids of every age and size and we knew how to price to sell. People would ask her whenever they saw her in the Jack and Jill or at the Pamida Store, when the garage sale was gonna be. We planned well ahead for them.

Each family was responsible for pricing their own items. Everything--and I mean everything--was priced in advance. (Occasionally one of my uncles would show up with unmarked stuff and I hated how uncomfortable it felt to have to negotiate a price! More on that later.) We used masking tape and ballpoint pen to price things. We often did an assembly line system: one person ripped 1 inch strips of tape and lined them up along the edge of a table, one person wrote common prices on them like 25 or 50 cents and then, when you priced, you generally began with a pile of like items and grabbed stickers from the table as needed. Since we each got to keep the money we made on the goods we sold, we had to devise a way to keep track of who sold what. So, we initialed the masking tape price tags. If I was selling a t-shirt, the tag would have read "CD 25 cents." (As a young person my initials were CD for Cherri Donath.) Then, whoever was working check out took all the tags off the items as they were purchased. We had various systems for keeping track of the tags after purchase. Sometimes it was a few large pieces of cardboard and we attempted to keep all the CD tags together and all the MW tags together. Other times we used a spiral notebook and each person had a page. As I said, it was quite an operation. After two or three days of the sale, we would tally up all the tags for each person and distribute the money.

Man I miss those sales. Part of what I loved about this operation was how orderly was always endeavored to make it. During the time of these sales my mom had five sisters and four brothers living in the area and lots of nieces and nephews--the number of people involved in the garage sale any given year was a few dozen. We needed some organization. But the balance between chaos and order is what made these sales a thing of beauty. I wouldn't have missed them; they were as important to me as a holiday. Maybe this is a Midwestern thing. I miss Midwestern garage sales. The ones in California do not have the same spirit and almost no one puts the same effort into their sales that we did. I know there are many reasons for this and I could list them all here now, but I won't bore you; I'll save that for my students tomorrow. Since I've moved to California I've been complaining to anyone who'll listen to me about the quality (or lack thereof) of sales here. I know the quality of sales everywhere has dwindled gradually over the years, but much like everything else, Californians have a seriously laissez faire attitude about them. I should just call them what they really are: lazy. My protestant work ethic does not turn off even when I'm organizing for my own garage sale or shopping at another. I brought that to California with me and I love it when I run into a Midwesterner who feels the same, having an old-fashioned sale, organized and sensible. be continued... when I run down the rules for a successful sale

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