Priced to sell


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May 15, 2023

Priced to sell

My wife and I recently fulfilled a long-delayed dream. We held a garage sale. If

My wife and I recently fulfilled a long-delayed dream. We held a garage sale. If ever there was a home begging to have large quantities of its stuff decommissioned through the agency of folding tables filled with junk it was ours. But we could never seem to do so. Mostly because our house is so far off the road that weekend bargain hunters probably wouldn't be able to find the place; and also because we don't really want strangers invading our privacy.

But the opportunity to shed large quantities of aesthetically and functionally questionable material arose when Kinderhook, NY economic development director Renee Shur and her husband Guenter generously invited us to set up a table on their front lawn last weekend. It also happened to be garage sale Saturday in the village so we’d be able to maximize the amount of traffic, and increase the universe of people of questionable, or should I say ecumenical, taste that might be tempted to spend a few bucks on our flotsam and jetsam.

Financial reward was not our primary motivation, though I’d be lying if I denied that it's fun finding some unanticipated cash in your pocket. Alleviating our basement and garage's clutter was our goal. If our home's isolation was one obstacle to holding a tag sale my unwillingness to part with things was another.

My excuse is that every object, at least lots of them, tell a story. They’re steeped in family history. The time may come when I need an old lamp, say, or a Fifties era emerald crystal vase to illuminate our saga. Also, I’m of the opinion that objects that common sense would suggest have no value – a Forties toaster, for example – might turn out to be priceless heirlooms.

I blame eBay and Etsy for that. Visit their websites and you can find almost anything that's accumulating dust in your basement selling for hundreds if not thousands of dollars. That doesn't mean anybody is willing to pay the asking price. But it gives you pause.

My wife and children were willing to take that risk. They’d be disappointed, of course, if a sooty painting we sold for a few bucks turned out to be a Rembrandt. But not that disappointed. Their purpose in life, apart from restoring some semblance of cleanliness and order to our household, is to wean me of my attachment to unattractive things.

They have a point but I also question whether they possess my connoisseur's eye. After listening to Mark Lawson, an antiques expert, on WAMC's Vox Pop afternoon call-in show I shot him a few photographs of artwork my wife was at that moment pricing to sell. He gave me the name of a local auction house and suggested I get in touch with them. "You will get much more for them," Mark told me.

So there. We dodged a bullet. Not that I’ve contacted the auctioneer yet.

Come early Saturday morning we set up three folding tables on Renee's lawn. Things didn't get off to a promising start. Guenter was setting up on a nearby folding table of his own and Debbie coveted some bookshelves for which Gunther was asking forty bucks. I thought the whole point of this endeavor was to shed stuff, not to restock. Besides, there was no guarantee we’d make forty dollars on our own junk. The day hadn't even begun and we were operating at a potential loss.

Fortunately my spouse became distracted by the cars that started pulling over to eye our bric-a-brac. These included the various mugs, tumblers, ashtrays and carved elephants you might find at any garage sale. But also some hidden gems, such as a egg-shaped 19th century composition in porcelain, a tableau if you will, of a courting young couple that somebody – I suspect my grandmother – had framed in a questionable swatch of tapestry.

I didn't have high hopes this object d’art would find a home. But it was purchased for thirty bucks along with a pair of beseeching disembodied plaster hands by a couple of Millenials that I was led to understand collect quirky things. That transaction probably constituted the sale's high-ticket item.

I discovered something about myself over the course of the morning. That it's better to give than to receive. But it's even better to sell something for a few bucks that finds a new, loving home.

In the end we made over $180. That's not enough to retire on. But it's money we didn't have for stuff we didn't want. Such experiments also teach you something about human nature. I’m still trying to sort out what that is. But I can say with a reasonable amount of confidence that taste is fickle. Things I assumed wouldn't sell – a pair of dusty old binoculars – were snapped up. While some vintage highball glasses went unloved.

We also discovered that people love a bargain. But they’re suspicious of things you’re virtually giving away. Price something at five or ten dollars and it may be more likely to sell than if you ask for a buck.

Renee kindly invited us back for Kinderhook's next village-wide garage sale and we’ve gladly accepted. Not because we sold approximately half of our merchandise – any leftovers promptly went to Goodwill or Restore, Habitat for Humanity's resale store in Hudson, NY – but because we could populate five or ten more garage sales with the remaining unwanted contents of our basement.

Now I just have to contact that auctioneer. I may be sitting on a small, very small, fortune.

Ralph Gardner, Jr. is a journalist who divides his time between New York City and Columbia County. More of his work can be found be found on Substack.

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