by Chelsie Sutherland
It's a fact; junk builds up in everyone's home. No matter how clean or tidy you may actually be, one step into the basement or attic and you're suddenly confronted with your entire childhood. Things that, at the time, we thought we could re-use or we just couldn't bear to throw out, piling up in boxes and in all sorts of monstrous heaps, usually proving in the long run to be of no use other than a fire hazard or, at best, a giant-sized game of Jenga for a rainy day. No one really knows what to do with all of that junk, other than slip it out into the trash bit by bit in hopes that it will eventually empty out — but that's a slow and futile process, thus the inevitable proposal of the yard sale. There are generally so many of them in the summer that you see entire block parties dedicated to feeding the neighbors that run them. TheyÕre a fantastical bazaar all in themselves, drawing people in with a verifiable treasure trove of junk and prices low enough to just about empty your car of spare change.
Some people spend lazy summer afternoons driving around the suburbs, looking for yard sales. They come with extra trunk space and nearly a hundred dollars in singles and fives, all hoping to make as big a haul as possible. Some bring lists of what they're looking for, or pictures in hopes of finding things thatÕd match other pieces from home. Some are just looking for a few cheap toys to have around the house for the grandkids to play with when they visit. A few bring their children, hoping to be able to get something to entertain them for the entire day for less than a dollar. My own father canÕt just drive past a yard sale without stopping to take a closer look, even if there's obviously nothing there that he can use. Yard Sales are the traditional way to clear your house out of whatever you don't want and shove it off on someone else.
All summer long I had told myself I'd get my room cleaned out, totally and for good. It took a week of either tossing stuff out or packing it up to be kept out of the way until the family's own yard sale. It was something we'd been planning to do for years, really, to clean out everything we didn't need even after we moved. Before we left for the new house we had already sold a good chunk of our things at our apartment complex's yard sale, but still had far too much left over. It didnÕt help that, when my mother got married to my step-dad, people bought them more things for the house and kitchen despite them being in their 40's and already merging together two households; surely, they definitely didn't need the several coffee machines that they received. To keep all of those lovely-yet-useless gifts out of the way of the construction, we shoved it all down in the basement.
The basement was too crowded to take anything else; the shelves were groaning from the weight of boxes of old clothes and shoes and toys and VHS tapes. There was a path a little more than a foot and a half wide to wade through from one end of the basement to the other, and cardboard boxes rose up like a mountain in the far corner. Clearing it all out took an entire day equipped with respirator masks and work gloves and digging through the piles, in hopes of finding some things that hadn't suffered horrible water damage from the time I flooded the basement (accidentally, of course. A screwdriver I had left in my pocket slipped out and punctured the lining). The respirator masks didn't help much; I was still hacking and coughing up dust and dirt from my lungs from lunch onwards.
By some miracle we were done by the day before the yard sale, stacks of boxes littering the yard and shed and the basement looking sorely empty — it hadn't been nearly as clean since we'd moved in five years ago. You could even see the floor and empty bookshelves in my room; I almost wished I'd cleaned out earlier, so I could enjoy having a clean room for longer than the week until college.
One of my mother's friends from the motorcycle group came to our house on the day of the sale, in order to set up a table of her own. Despite the fact that she had computer games and fairly expensive consoles and kitchenware, we all knew that what would sell first would be the boxes and boxes of old toys Š scrounged from bargain bins and given as little nothing-gifts from grandparents and survivors from kids meals back when we sometimes ate at McDonald's or Burger King. Board games and puzzles, anything that we hadn't touched years. All to be shipped off to clutter some other kid's room until they, too, sold it again at another yard sale.
They come before we're even set up; humongous Cadillacs with little old ladies peering out of tinted windows. TheyÕre the professional yard-salers, determined to drive any price down even a little. It doesnÕt matter if clothes are a dollar each, they'll attempt to bargain you down to a dollar for both. A VHS tape for seventy-five cents is "too expensive." An untouched microscope kit is constantly passed over because it's five dollars, and no one looks at the unopened Easy Bake oven that's selling for three. A watch that they've been admiring the entire time theyÕve been browsing turns out to be two dollars, and they mumble about how nice it looks while they pass it over in hopes of finding something cheaper. One woman claims she needs to entertain a little girl's birthday party, but refuses to buy the children's costumes from my old dance recital that are selling for three dollars a piece. It's infuriating.
Relief comes in the afternoon. Physically, in the form of Japanese and sushi take-out for lunch, and, mentally, a young couple just out of college that buy most of the kitchenware and almost everything dragon-related for about thirty dollars in total. They leave with their box of stuff while chatting about how inexpensive everything is. Perhaps because my generation is used to everything being as expensive as it is, we aren't as stingy as the blue-hairs who regularly come in waves.
I don't know if it's perhaps just where we live, (on the highway, near the border of New Hampshire and the hick-ridden parts of Haverhill) or just questionable luck, but our customers are of all types. The afore-mentioned professionals, rednecks that are desperate fans of Native American memorabilia, the same creepy lady with a lazy eye that goes to the bar down the street dressed in a flannel plaid house-dress, teenagers that try to look wasted away and gothically mysterious as they pick through my sister's old teen fiction vampire books.
We've almost sold everything by six, and people are still filtering by on route 110. A father comes with his three daughters, who buy us out of stuffed animals (the youngest ran right for the stuffed Jurassic Park velociraptor, which I loved to bits, and hugs it tightly. The others cuddle stuffed snakes and horses). My step-father, Kevin, nudges me in the arm and says, "watch this. I'm gonna drive this guy crazy," before going over to tell him, loud enough for the daughters to hear, that a box of toys is only fifty cents. He smirks at me as the girls badger their father from all directions and until the father gives in.
Kevin pulls the same trick with the next two carloads with children, and before we know it, we only have a motley collection of books left over. Why no one wants the books, I have no idea. I'm so excited just to get rid of them in hopes some other kid might read for once that I help one grandmother pick out a half-dozen her grandson might like.
One elderly couple stops by as we're packing up, and in hopes of getting rid of the last bit of my own stuff I offer to let them take the entire box of arts and crafts supplies for free. I'm not exactly into pipe cleaners and glitter glue, anymore. I even go on and pack it into their trunk for them, so long as I get it out of there. The trick to it is not to make money, but to just make it go away.
It's a long day, and IÕve gotten a better tan from keeping watch in the yard than I did on my cruise to the Virgin Islands. Almost everything went, and as I pack up whatÕs left of the clothes — they'll be dropped off at the Salvation Army, to be hidden in clearance racks with clothes from the mid-90's — I see another older woman pay my sister for a little Lenox sculpture of a ridiculously-droopy-eyed puppy. As the woman leaves for her car, my sister shoots me a look, and I grin. We both know that, in a few years, the Lenox puppy will end up at another yard sale, to join the other things that have been circulating around the area's basements and attics, a cherry to top the rising mounds of junk across New England. But I don't really mind so much, and neither does anyone else, as long as there's a chance to move on uncluttered.
English Composition 1, Fall '07