This weekend I helped our neighbor with her garage sale. She’s moving out of state so she was clearing out most of her house and my husband and I contributed some items, too. The majority of our donations was children’s clothing our boys had outgrown. As I arranged the clothing in the bins, I experienced little flashbacks with some of the pieces and was amazed my boys once fit into such tiny clothes. I spent the morning hanging out in her garage and although I was only next door to my own home, I felt like I had traveled to a much different time and place.

In today’s locked-door society, garage sales are a throwback to a more innocent time, when a stranger at your door wasn’t necessarily a cause for alarm. When you’re planning a garage sale, you’re basically putting out an invitation at large to the general community: “Hi, stranger, come on over to my house and look at my stuff. Here’s where I live…”

And then that morning, you greet the strangers with a big smile and say, “Good morning, here’s my stuff, there’s more inside and in the backyard, too. Go ahead and walk right in.”

It reminds me of the custom of trick-n-treating. For 364 days of the year, we tell our children, “Don’t talk to strangers” and then for one evening, we encourage them to go to houses of people they don’t know, walk right up to their door and ask them for something. And technically, threaten them with a prank if they don’t hand over some candy. Seems like an odd message when you think about it.

Anyway, back to the garage sale. It was actually a really enjoyable four hours. The people who stopped by were friendly and I learned that there’s a garage sale subculture happening in those early morning weekend hours when I’m usually still in bed. One of the first couples that stopped by, an older couple, said they weren’t looking for anything in particular, they just do this each week as a way to get out of the house and socialize. It made me think of my aunt and uncle – when my uncle was still alive, they used visit garage sales almost weekly both to get to know their new town and to see what bargains they could find. Their house was pretty much furnished entirely with garage sale finds.

One gentleman that stopped by purchased nearly all my neighbor’s tools. He said he visits garage sales each week to buy tools to send to organizations in Mexico who are working on building projects. Some members of my neighbor’s bridge group stopped by to buy a few things, as did some other neighbors who took any items that could be donated to teachers. Later that morning, a woman I recognized from about 10 years ago when I wrote an article about a project she was working on stopped by. We got reacquainted and exchanged emails and phone numbers.

The only other time I remember being part of a garage sale was nearly 20 years ago after emptying out my mother’s apartment. That was completely surreal. Here is the song I wrote about that experience: