It starts out simple enough. You buy a new lamp to replace the old, dusty one that is probably older than you, later on you pick up a new coffee table to replace the one you got while dumpster diving, and the next thing you know, life has snowballed to the point where you've got a garage so full of old, unused items that you can barely walk into it, let alone park a car. So, what do you do? If you're in the US, you hold a garage sale, that's what.
Garage sales are a somewhat American affair. Other countries may have such affairs on a smaller level, but none have them on such a large scale, and with such exuberance. They are a celebration of capitalism, a literal and symbolic expunging of the old, a rebirth of sorts; when it's done, you have removed all of the debris from your life, ready to start again, new, clean.
The preparation begins weeks in advance. The perfect weekend for the event is sought. It needs to be a sunny weekend, which is why few garage sales are held in the winter, as rain has a tendency to wreak havoc on both the people holding the sale, as everything they're trying to sell gets wet, and on the people picking through, looking for diamonds in the rough, as very little is worth going through a box of soggy National Geographics. It also needs to be a weekend where people aren't busy doing other things. You'll get very few people going to a garage sale on Mother's Day, for example, but will get loads on the Saturday before Memorial Day.
Final preparation starts early in the morning, usually six thirty or earlier. Signs are posted around the neighborhood, herding the curious, and the bargain-seeking to your little place in the world. A lawn chair or two is set up in the front yard, as a place to rest when there's a lull in the sale. All of the bags of old clothes, the boxes of old appliances and knickknacks, the old sofa are dragged to convenient, and somewhat strategic positions on the driveway, on the lawn, and in the garage, hopefully causing someone to make an impulsive purchase or two. While doing so, inevitably, there will be earlybirds.
They always come, at least an hour before you say the garage sale starts. You advertise the sale starts at nine, they're there at eight, you advertise at eight, they're there at seven, looking for a good deal before anyone else shows up. Consider them while making your plans, as some have been known to knock on the garage sale holder's door, wondering where all the stuff's at. Most of these times, though, they're harmless, and reasonable people, but realize that these people are out for real bargains and will try to lowball you, so be a bit more rigid in your haggling. Finally, after you've dealt with getting the items ready, and with the earlybirds, the sale starts.
Depending on the weekend, there will either be a slow trickle of people, or a steady stream. Obviously, the conditions of the weekend have a lot to do with it. For example, a cold weekend in December will usually have far fewer people than a hot Saturday in July. Regardless of the time of year, though, best to leave plenty of room for people to park in front of your house, as garage sales are a chaotic thing, and as such, it's impossible to predict exact turnouts. Just be patient, as the crowds have a tendency to come at the most inopportune times, such as when you've run in to use the restroom, or when you've had enough and decide to pack it in a couple hours early. Whatever decisions you make regarding a garage sale, remember to take Finagle's Law into consideration. You're dealing with people after all, and people are unpredictable.
This unpredictability, however, is what makes a garage sale so desirable. The people who hunt through garage sales are a microcosm of America. Young couples just starting out, looking for items to furnish their apartment, the extremely pregnant woman, looking through the baby clothes, middle aged men looking through the cardboard box of records, reminiscing when the albums inside were considered hip and cool, older women, looking through the antiques, searching for a rare Hummel, or a Tiffany lamp placed alongside the worthless Elvis plates. They're all here, barely acknowledging each other, occasionally looking up at the person holding the sale, to ask that all-important question.
"How much," they say, pointing to an old radio. The most important part of a garage sale has begun, the haggle.
"Fifteen bucks," you fire back.
At this point, one of three things can happen, they take the offer, and hand over the money, or they'll put the item back down, realizing that it's too much for their tastes, or they'll try to make deals and haggle.
"I'll give ya ten," they reply.
At this point the offer is considered, contemplated, and likewise, accepted, rejected, or countered. Back and forth, usually for no more than a couple rounds, until a deal is either made, or declined. Haggling is the lifeblood of garage sales, that forgotten facet of capitalism that is so undeniably human.
Just as often, there will be people who'll ask, and talk about, the items you've got out. They'll ask about functionality, which is always an important thing to ask at a garage sale, they'll ask about age, missing pieces, all those things that separate the wheat from the chaff. They'll also talk about their own relationship with the items, talking about their memories of the item, telling that they used to have one just like it back in college, or that their momma used to have one just like it. You'll shoot the bull for a moment, and then they'll move on.
Garage sales are a transient event. People stop their cars, look for a moment, then move on to the next sale. They're sometimes gruff, sometimes kind, sometimes completely insane, but always interesting. Just remember, there are people out there who make garage saling a hobby; these are people who have "I Brake for Garage Sale" bumper stickers, and whose idea of a good way to use up a Saturday morning is to look through other peoples' unwanted stuff. They have a story to tell, and sometimes, if you look like you care, and they're in the right mood, they'll tell a bit of it.
Finally, after several hours of negotiating, of watching, of experiencing, you're ready to call it a day. Depending on your feelings towards the unsold items, they either go back into the garage, waiting for another Saturday when the moment is just right, or to the Goodwill or the Salvation Army or to the dumpster, and gone out of your hair. You count the money earned, and realize that the stuff you sold probably cost you ten times what you got for it. The process then begins again, eventually, when you look at that old cabinet in the hall and wonder "hrmmm..." and can faintly hear the god of capitalism laughing at you. Garage sales may be a culmination, but they're rarely a termination. After all, every house is perfect after just one more thing.