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With pieces of one's life spread on the lawn, a yard sale offers hope, disappointment


My body ached, covered in sweat, and I sat down in a chair, alone in my front yard, the late afternoon sun making a last surge before dusk. "This is my life," I thought. "My life is on my lawn."

It was my first yard sale and I hadn't slept the night before, as I had no idea how much work it takes putting one of these things together, especially on your own. I tore through boxes and priced my memories between 25 cents and a few dollars. I made signs and staked them out at dawn, hoping to lure in more people with my offer of "FREE COOKIES" and learning too late that duct tape does not stick to wood telephone poles. I got bags of ice so I could sell the bottles of water, tea, sports drinks and soda I got on sale. The cookies were chocolate chip, peanut butter, oatmeal and shortbread. I put an ad in the paper and on Craigslist and I took a vacation day, as I normally work Saturdays. I brought out a bookcase and filled it; harshly editing my collection so I could minimize my life and hopefully make enough money to pay some bills. I hauled out tables and a garment rack and when those were filled, I brought out sheets to put my things on.

My skinny clothes, my fat clothes, the clothes I bought that would fit if I lost 10 pounds but never did; the racy things from my cleavage-baring days, the khaki ones from my good girl, Ann Taylor, time. My hiking boots from college. The vintage aprons I got on eBay, as well as the top hat and gold shoes I bid on when I thought I would dress as the girl from Little Miss Sunshine for Halloween and then never did. The aromatherapy bath salts I should've used, but never would. Stuffed animals from past suitors. Jewelry and purses, priced well below their worth, because I finally realized that those things just aren't me. I'm not that girl.

At first, this was liberating, the idea of ridding myself of all my junk, my past, to start anew with who I am now.

The sale started at 9 a.m. and though the signs were out and the pink ribbon tied on my porch, I still frantically hauled my stuff outside. I was drenched and moving in the fast forward motion that only comes with the motivation of a scary person chasing you or the scream of a deadline. I was past deadline.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," I said to the few people who showed up. "Have a free cookie!"

"One of your signs fell down," one craggy man said to me reproachfully.

"Um, thanks for telling me," I said, but thought helplessly, "I can't do anything about it!"

I wrestled with another garment rack I bought at Big Lots, knowing the one I had wouldn't be enough, and finally got it together and put clothes on it and then a few minutes later, I heard a crash. I knew what it was, but didn't look.

"That did not just happen," I said to myself. But it did — the whole thing teetered to the dirt — and while I was picking up clothes from the ground and furiously jamming the faulty rack back into its box and then moving to other crises — sweeping crickets off the sheets and dealing with customers trying to haggle over a quarter — people drove slowly by, cruising my lawn. I would look up and smile and wave and say, "Hello!" and then they would hit the accelerator and speed off.

About 20 people did this. One red truck actually pulled into my driveway and then pulled right back out. I felt like crying. I had these visions of such a lovely day; people coming and eating cookies and chatting and buying things. Of me not crazed and smelling like a locker room, but calm and put together.

For eight hours I was out there. It's such a strange thing to have strangers viewing your life and then walking away, not wanting any of it. About a dozen people, give or take, bought stuff. I think I broke even, after returning the garment rack and drinks the next week. As the day wore on and people stopped coming, I sat and thought of when I lived in Memphis and had the short-lived and strange hobby of cruising neighborhoods on trash nights to see what was thrown out.

It was still light when I saw a house with the whole curb full of stuff, furniture, lamps, boxes, dozens of black trash bags. I stopped and began rooting through them and then others came, like ants to candy. A neighbor came out and told me that the little old lady who lived in the house had died and her son cleared everything out. He had a yard sale and then tossed what didn't sell. At the time, I was furious at that son. This woman cared so much for her belongings; things a half-century old still had their original boxes and warranties. There were hand-knitted afghans and clothes and Christmas cards she had carefully saved. Books. Trinkets. Paintings. How could this son not at least donate these to charity? The others ripping through the bags had ideas of selling them online or at vintage shops; these cool retro finds. I just wanted to save them from the dump and somehow give this woman some of her dignity back.

But as I sat at the ending of my own yard sale, knowing it would take nearly two hours to bring everything I already had said goodbye to back in my house, I realized that maybe I had gotten that son wrong. I had pictured him as callous, cold-hearted. But maybe it took all he had in him to go through his mother's house and price her things and maybe his heart was pierced every time a person came and rifled through them; nose up, eyes shrewd, scoffing, haggling.

And maybe by the time it was all over, he didn't care anymore, tears stinging, body drained, as he threw out what was left for the garbage because that's what it was, trash, junk, things once loved by a woman who would never care for them or him again.

Erin Sullivan can be reached at or (813) 909-4609.

.fast facts

Calling all yard sale experts

What is your advice for a great yard sale? What misadventures have you had? When scoping out yard sales from your car, what will make you stop? How much money have you made having a yard sale? Is it worth all the work?

Please send all your advice to or call and leave a message at (813) 909-4609. I will compile them for a future story, so we all can benefit from the shared advice. And I will be your yard sale guinea pig and use your tips for another yard sale, to see if it works or not.


With pieces of one's life spread on the lawn, a yard sale offers hope, disappointment 04/22/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 23, 2008 11:00am]
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