An Art Forgotten: the Family Garage Sale


When I was a child, I lived in a rural area on ten acres in a craftsman farm home that was originally owned by a doctor. We spent our summers and free time digging in the ravine looking for buried treasures like blue Milk of Magnesia, brown Clorox bottles and glass marbles. It was rumored that there was a rusty Model T car in the bottom of that ravine. We set out on adventures in our fort, throwing rocks in our pond or bug hunting. There were no iPhones, cable television or game consoles to keep us away. One of my favorite family memories at the close of nearly every summer was our family garage sale.

A garage sale was a family event weeks in the making. Tables were organized much like you would see at a store with housewares, kitchen, children’s, home improvement departments and clothing. Everything was neatly tagged not using yellow labels you buy today but with masking tape cut in perfect white squares. Items had prices and sizes labeled written neatly. Clothing was hung and strung across our garage door with specialty items prominently and large furniture prominently displayed so that when you drove down the dirt road, something was sure to catch your eye. One year we even gave away free kittens as part of the festivities.

The marketing was the key to a successful Miller family yard sale. Timing was everything. My mom studied her demographics focusing on families who lived on the reservation as well as back to school families. Newspaper ads were used only sparingly as the county newspaper covered a wide area compared to the nearest town of population 213. Signs were set up a key points where cars would be making their way starting very early Friday morning. Using a black permanent marker with cardboard, bubble letters and large arrows, we led directed families two miles from the main highway to our temporary storefront with the goal of making big money.

The garage sale was a weekend event and a family one too. From as early as 6:30 AM families came arriving eager to snatch up second hand treasures. We remained open for business into the early evening.

It wasn’t unusual for my family to cash in $4oo or more and in the 1980’s, that was some serious money. The garage sale bar, the one my mom set is hard to exceed, and when I went garage saling regularly, I found myself particularly critical of everyone’s lack of organization and structure compared to my family.

To put on a garage sale the right way, is an enormous task and one that I’m hesitant to do myself. A proper garage sale is extremely time consuming. We are relocating, and I have a number of items that we are selling, and I decided to set up the next best thing, an online tag sale using technology. I’ve created an instagram account, @JMMtagsale listing my items over the next few weeks as we continue to declutter and organize our home.

What was your experience having a garage sale as a child?

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