Garage Sale Diaries 1: In-Person Version

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Rewind back to 24 years ago in Binakayan, Kawit, Cavite (Philippines):

I tried having a garage sale when I was 8 years old. I was suddenly obsessed with having a lot of cash, so I collected all my nice things and took a long, good look at them: a neon-green plastic jewelry box with its lock and key, a super-hero themed coin bank, a black and pink striped jumping rope (a boy from my class bought it for me so I could give it as a birthday gift to another girl, but I kept it anyway; he didn’t seem to mind when I told him) and my 60+ bead-shaped plastic “kisses” (a.k.a. aroma beads).

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I thought they would be irresistible to all my friends and in my mind, I was already projecting sales of up to 50 pesos!

Sad to say, the enterprise was not successful because when my first customers arrived asking how much things cost, I realized I couldn’t put any price on anything on display! The thought of my jumping rope being used by Beng-beng or my coin bank being filled with Dan-dan’s filthy coins (I meant that literally, that boy was not very hygienic) didn’t sit well with me. Quickly I changed my mind and gave up my dream of having 50 pesos for the day. But that was okay, I forgot all about it as soon as we ran out to play. I think we ended up climbing a guava tree that afternoon…

Fast forward to when I’m 32 years old, in Paris 12ème (France)

*Note: Garage sale is called vide grenier in French. This literally means “empty attic”.

As I carefully picked clothing too bulky to be brought back to Madrid, I remembered the exact moment I purchased each of them: the very first black coat I bought as “serious” office outfit, the white blazer I got for a wedding I couldn’t attend to because I got sick, the pencil cut skirt that was wearable during all the 4 seasons, the little black dress I purchased on sale for a New Year’s Eve party and the maroon dress I got “just because”.

Hard as it was for me to part with them, I saved myself from getting too emotional by offering them to my friends first. I didn’t mind selling them at a very low price- what mattered was that they were going to the hands of someone who would appreciate and take care of them as much as I did.

My husband criticized me at first because he considered the prices as a big joke. I said of course I could’ve sold the items at 5 times more expensive but my conscience wouldn’t allow it. Each item must be at least 5 years old, was purchased either on sale or in an outlet store and was very much used back then. I just took care of my clothes really well. (My secret? I brought them to the dry cleaners instead of washing and ironing them myself.)

Anyway, I sent a text message to my friend J (we’re both petite women, so I thought maybe she’d like to check the stuff out). She was thrilled and agreed to come to our house.

She came, brought Leo a gift for his 1st birthday and got me a box of chocolates. This garage sale started out pretty well, wouldn’t you agree?

So, after the customary “how are yous?”, “fine and yous?” , etc… she proceeded to try on the clothes. She loved almost all of them because she purchased 6 out of the 10 items I was selling. J was also very shocked at how low I priced each clothing. But I explained that they were really used clothes. They just don’t look it because I really paid attention not to wear them out.

She was so happy with her purchases, she asked me to go with her the next time she went clothes shopping! She even said that she has never dressed so elegantly for work. I was truly, very glad. That honestly made parting with my clothes much easier, seeing that my friend was so happy. She looked beautiful, of course. But what made her more beautiful was the look in her eyes when she saw herself in the mirror wearing my pre-loved stuff. It’s as if she couldn’t believe what she was seeing! And that, dear reader was the cherry on top.

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I wholeheartedly bade farewell to my precious clothes and sincerely wished my friend the same confidence and poise that they used to give me.

Why am I disclosing all this?

First of all because as obvious as it might sound, garage sales are truly a great way to rid oneself of things we don’t want or need anymore. Even if the sole purpose is just to de-clutter limited space (we can’t all have Kylie Jenner’s mansion now, can we?), this is a great way to do it.

Second of all, it is worth mentioning that people are big on acquiring second-hand items in France. When not buying, people wouldn’t hesitate to get usable furniture or decoration left on the street. You see, some really generous (or desperate) folks would leave their possessions on the pavement for the rest of us to freely pick up: baby strollers, cabinets, bedside tables, books, kitchen appliances… once or twice I even saw toilet bowls.

However, we’re talking about things that I really did love. So the “love” in “pre-loved” isn’t just a term. It really described how I felt about those clothes, explaining why I made sure they went to very good hands.

Truth be told, I wouldn’t have gone back to Madrid with any of them. Had my friend not purchased anything, I would’ve sold them online at a higher price. But I’m currently selling other things that way and the dynamics are totally different (more of this later). As I’ve said earlier, it seems I made the right choice because I disposed of them immediately and my friend was able to shop without the hassle of actually doing it the traditional way.

My husband told me that I might as well have handed the clothes for free, if I were going to sell them so cheaply. What he doesn’t understand is that there’s a reason why a “symbolic price” is called as such. The psychology of the person who acquires something differs when it is freely offered to them, compared to when they have to give something in exchange.

Another reason I’m sharing this is because garage sales are another fun way to bond- aside from sleep overs, dinners, movie nights, shopping trips or drinking sprees.

Several years ago, a friend also held a garage sale in her house. Her aim was to make more space in her closet, so she invited family members and some friends to take a look at her stuff (for some reason, I ended up not paying for anything I got). And it was there where I got the idea to hold a garage sale for friends.

I believe this is a good idea especially if you’re trying to sell anything with sentimental value because you wouldn’t want just anybody to go to your house and try or test them, would you? At least that was how I felt about the whole ordeal.

When it comes to your friends being your “clients”, you can easily slip in a few snacks, some gossip tidbits from your common circle, talk comfortably about anything that comes up and it’s even nice when they stay for a while longer even after the purchase.

Additionally, I would like to let people know how much joy the whole process gave me: from the day I had to text my friend, to the moment she came to our house (bearing gifts, too!) and finally upon seeing her so proud of herself for having acquired such nice items at a very low cost… I know I made my friend happy and at the same time, she knows she’s helping me a lot with our packing problems. It’s a win-win situation.

Lastly, when I compare this experience to my first intent of garage sale a quarter of a century ago I realize that the reason why it didn’t happen was because I really couldn’t make do without those bibelots. They may be junk to anybody else, but for me, the jewelry box was magical, the coin bank was cool, the skipping rope gave me super powers and the aroma beads multiplied themselves when flattened with a pencil… In short, they were irreplaceable objects back then.

This time around, I had to be practical and admit that clothes are expendable. To give you a clearer idea of my point: I would never sell any of the books or comic books I had here in Paris, may they be bought, salvaged from a park bench or originally brought from Madrid 3 years ago.

Tips

Before ending this entry, I would also like to share some tips I got from this personal experience namely regarding garage sale and pricing.

But before that, may I first suggest that you be very clear on why you’re having a garage sale. Is it to de-clutter your wardrobe? Perhaps you want to make space for new stuff? Or maybe just like me, you’re moving and doesn’t want to bother with packing bulky stuff like winter clothes. It is also possible that you simply wish to raise funds for something new to purchase!

This is a very important step because the reason you’re doing it will determine the rest of the things you’ll have to do to make the garage sale: the choice of items to sell, the pricing, the choice of how to hold the event, etc…

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In my case, I wanted to get rid of some of our things and at the same time earn a bit of money to pay for the boxes we have to send to our new house. But I also wanted the future customers to find real value on what they’ll buy from me. I want to be part of that group who does what’s in their hands to curb excessive commercialism. I would like to contribute to a more sustainable, less aggressive model of consuming in my own little way…

Having said that, below are some of the tips I promised earlier:

On garage sales

  • Gather all the objects you want to get rid of.
  • Separate them in groups according to: very good condition, good condition, slightly impaired and very impaired.
  • Donate the very impaired ones. People buying second hand items are most probably not first-timers and they would be pissed off if they discover they’d been outsmarted. Admittedly, many people sell very impaired objects. My husband once got a vacuum cleaner that never worked. But I would suggest you save yourself the trouble of potentially facing a non-content buyer.
  • Itemize the objects and write a brief description about them.

On pricing items in your garage sale

  • Search for the items you’re selling and find out how much they cost when brand new. From there, price your products according to their condition, how many times they have been used and how much do you think they are in demand.
  • Ask yourself whether you’d buy the same second-hand objects at the prices you just set. Be very honest with your answer. Also, ask people around you for their opinion.

After you’re all set, I believe you are now ready to announce your garage sale via SMS, group chatting devices, social media and of course- through word of mouth!

Tune in next week for “Garage Sale Diaries 2: Online Version”.

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