Take Two #77: Post-WS Garage Sale Day

By Kyra-lin Hom

I love that we in West Seattle do an official Community Garage Sale Day. Whoever decided to get that started near a decade ago, very nice. Consider this my vote for more and varied community events in the future.

I've always loved going to garage sales. Ever since I was old enough to handle money, I was all about the deals and steals, the second hand stores, the bargain boutiques and the antique malls. For a little kid, it was treasure hunting. Plus I used to make up stories about all the neat things I'd find. This piece of costume jewelry bestowed magical powers on its wearer. That cup once belonged to foreign royalty. Why, even this bizarre trinket that did who knew what was probably something from an advanced alternative dimension – no one's ever accused me of not having an imagination.

As I grew up and really started bargain hunting, it became a game. The more you know, the more likely you are to find a true 'diamond in the rough' (thank you, Disney's Aladdin) not just a pretend one. My dad is great at it and takes it very seriously. For me, like I said, I just like to play.

For all my love of going to them, I've only ever hosted two garage sales myself: one when I was a little kid and one this past week for the big community day. (I'm not counting the bi-annual Tibbetts UMC rummage sales where I occasionally volunteer.) And as always when you flip the coin, being on one side is very different from the other.

I originally planned this most recent garage sale because I was moving. Anyone who has moved before knows that just the act of it spontaneously generates stuff. You're finally digging into the back of your closets, under your beds, behind couches and suddenly you have all of this stuff that you don't even remember acquiring. Or if you're like me, you have a number of 'Oh! That's where that went!' moments. Regardless of how it happens, moving somehow unearths an entire realm's worth of things you no longer need or want. It's the perfect time for a garage sale, don't you think?

Cue my dad and his love of storage wars stage left. Garage sale, you say? Hmm... Suddenly my hoard quadrupled overnight. Whoa. I quickly learned that the advantage of having your garage sale literally in your garage is the garage door. Specifically, it's being able to set up the day before and then close that door until the morning of.

The experience of actually selling was an interesting one. I certainly had customers of all sorts. First came the jewelry perusers. These are the people who really know their junk. They're looking to make a buck by reselling your undervalued gems. Sadly, having actually studied the basics of jewelry making in school, I was unable to accommodate their needs. Once those individuals were on their way, the real fun began.

By that of course, I mean the people watching. Don't lie, you do it too. The most fascinating part of my whole weekend was watching how people made their buying decisions. It's a bit different from what I observed working retail. Some things did remain the same. For example, the 'Do I really need that?' question was still prevalent. Garage sale shoppers, however, seem more likely to disregard that one if the price is right.

The biggest difference I observed was the price bar people set for themselves. At a garage sale most people seem to have an absolute value cap. No matter what is on the table, they don't want to pay more than $20. Even that price is pushing it. It could be a fully functional, unlocked iPhone – doesn't matter. If you have something of value, chances are selling it at a garage sale is not the way to go. This is opposed to shopping retail where us shoppers are drawn to discounts and relative values. For example, how often have you bought a $50 dress/jacket/what have you because it was on sale? Now imagine seeing that same jacket – looking brand new and everything – for $40 at a garage sale. Would you buy it there? After running this last garage sale of mine, I would bet money that you wouldn't. Interesting, isn't it?

Maybe shoppers perceive garage sale items as less desirable because someone else obviously doesn't want them. Or maybe it's that we're using cash instead of plastic. I don't know. We do even buy second hand items for higher prices at consignment boutiques. Perhaps the store owner's approval suddenly makes it okay for us to spend more. I know that I am less inclined to buy if I don't like how a store smells. Hey now, I didn't claim I was any more rational than anyone else.

It seems to me that if we weren't so quick to judge – paid less attention to where and more attention to what we're buying – we could save ourselves a lot of money. I'm going to give it a shot next time. How about you?

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