One Man's Junk, Another Man's Treasure–True Stories from the Field!

Here in Omaha, we’re winding down with Garage Sale season. After all, it’s mid-November, and Nebraska can be downright cold and snowy this time of year. But the weather lately has been mild, and we managed to squeak in a garage sale just a couple of weeks ago.

Now, the women in my family have this garage sale thing down to a science. We know what we have to do, and we all take turns doing it. We almost always have our sales in spring, before school gets out. And our secret weapon is my sister’s house. And I mean secret with a capital ‘S’.

She lives on a corner on a busy through-street, across from a school, and catty-wampus from a church and pre-school. This corner gets TRAFFIC. All we have to do is put up a few signs and balloons and folks come calling. Even better, we’ve developed a reputation over the years that this multi-family of mine has good STUFF to sell. And we sell it cheap.

Now note that I am so not a garage saler. I love having them (most of the time), but I never, ever go to them. It’s just not my thing. But folks love them, and they come to ours in all ages and nationalities.

Every garage sale has it’s own personality, and we’ve been at this so long, we’ve accumulated quite a few stories to tuck under our belts. Here’s a few:

**Like the time when a twenty-something young man bought my daughter’s coat. This was when girls liked the baggy, masculine look, and her coat was a good fit for him. He bought it for a few bucks and left. Well, you can imagine my surprise when he came back a little while later with a big grin on his face. He proceeded to tell me he’d found two $20 bills in the pocket. And he wasn’t there to give them back, either.

I gasped in shock. “Shame on you. My daughter worked HARD for that money!”

He only smirked. “Finders-keepers.”

And he walked off. I just wanted to smack that arrogant smirk right off him. The mother in me really thought he should’ve returned the money.

*I* would have. I think. Would you?

**Another of my sisters sold her husband’s snow blower. It was a big one, and a city employee had bought it. But he couldn’t lift it, nor could he fit it into his vehicle, so a short time later, he returned with an official City of Omaha bobcat, lowered the bucket and scooped that snowblower right in. It was funny seeing the bobcat lumber off with the snowblower.

**One year, we had so much traffic, cars were parked on both sides of the street and other cars couldn’t get through. A cop happened by, pulled over and got the street cleared again. Then he figured as long as he was there, he’d have himself a look around. He drove off with my dad’s sawhorses in the trunk.

**At this last sale, a female bus driver pulled up and opened the bus’ door.

“Is that a dog bed you got there?” she called.

My sister walked toward her. “Yes.”

“I can’t get off the bus, and no one can get on. Hold it up so I can see it.”

Barb did–and held up a cat’s bed, too.

“I’ll take them.”

Sold! And the buyer never left her steering wheel.

**Likewise, a young woman of color and her friend stopped at the end of the driveway. The friend got out and moseyed through our treasures, but she didn’t get far before the young woman called from the open car window.

“What’s in the bag?”

Now this was a very non-descript vinyl bag. I have no idea why she even noticed the thing, let alone wanted to know what was inside it.

We were in the garage, but we yelled back and told her it was a queen-size air mattress. She asked how to blow it up. We yelled you had to pump the pedal.

“I’ll take it.”

Her friend paid the $2 for her. She never got out of the car, never looked the mattress over, never even touched it–or asked any more questions.

If she had, we would’ve told her the mattress had a teensy little leak that was just about impossible to find. Oh, well. I guess whomever slept on it would know all about that leak when they woke up in the morning.

**Another secret weapon is my 75-year-old mother. She takes our garage sales seriously, and she considers every person who steps foot in the driveway as a potential sale. She’s quick to ask what they’re looking for, and if they’re only browsing, she’ll suggest any number of our treasures for them to buy. She’s our best salesman, even if she’s a bit pushy.

The last few hours before our garage sales end, we sell everything half-price. It’s funny watching my mother sell our stuff to unsuspecting Hispanics, and if they don’t speak English, well, it’s beyond hilarious.

“HALF-PRICE,” she yells, waving her arms up and down, trying to make them understand. “EVERYTHING HALF-PRICE. CAPISCE?

She’s so intent on trying to communicate, she doesn’t realize she’s speaking one of the few Italian words she knows, and if the good-hearted Mexicans noticed, or understood her mistake, or took offense from her posturing, they never let-on. And yes, Hispanics are some of our best customers.

**Then there are those warm fuzzy moments when our cast-offs truly are someone’s treasure. This year’s sale happened to fall on Halloween, and a young couple came to a screeching halt in front of the driveway.

“Are those Power Rangers costumes hanging over there?” the woman shouted.


She squealed and jumped out of the car, her male companion right on her heels. She took one look at the two costumes, still with their tags on, and whipped out a couple of $5 bills.

“We’ve been looking everywhere for these, and costumes are sooo expensive. Oh, thank you!”

We had no idea if the sizes happened to be what she was looking for. We suspect she was just so glad to have them for her little boys, she’d MAKE them fit. Yeah, we basked in the warm glow of that sale.

So how about you? Are you an ardent bargain finder? Love having garage sales? Love going to them? Have a story to tell? Please share!

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Pam has written 30 romances, most of them historical westerns, but her newest releases are contemporary sweet romances featuring the Blackstone Ranch series published by Tule Publishing. Stay up on the latest at

36 thoughts on “One Man's Junk, Another Man's Treasure–True Stories from the Field!”

  1. This is delightful, Pam!! I’ve never held a garage sale–for me it’s less hassle to donate the items and take a small tax deduction. But you make it sound like so much fun!
    Back in my struggling single mom days garage sales were a godsend. The desk where I’m sitting, big and battered and well loved, was a $10 garage sale item. I paid my daughter’s friend $25 to scrape off the old varnish. It’s a treasure. These days, since my house is small and I don’t need much, I usually pass garage sales by. But the temptation lingers.
    Thanks for a great start to my day.

  2. When I was little garage sales were a given on Thursdays and Fridays. My mom and cousin would pile me and my sister and the kids my cousin babysat into my cousin’s Bronco and we’d go all over the place. If she wasn’t able to take us, my mom, sister and I would walk our neighborhood to go to the ones close by.

    I can remember we used to have a lot of them when I was little. My dad’s work side of the basement was always converted into a “store” for those couple of days. My dad would see trinket shelves and other items he made. My mom would sell crafty stuff she made along with old clothes, toys, National Geographic magazines, mine and my sister’s toys we didn’t want anymore, etc.

    I haven’t been to garage sales in years though. For me and my mom and sister now it’s Goodwill and consignment shops more than garage sales.

    Most recent finds I have gotten was a twin size Beauty and the Beast sheet and it’s pillowcase. They didn’t have the fitted sheet, but I bought them for maybe $2-3, brought it home and made a single panel curtain out of the sheet for my 5 y/o. I found an 8X10 picture frame for a buck fifty, a “Don’t Quit” picture with an encouraging saying on it and pictures of irises that now hangs in my living room close to my desk as a reminder. I’ve gotten a lot of my kids’ clothes at Goodwill- I got my stepson several brand new shirts that still had the tags on them for about $1.50 each. I found curtains for his room, too.

    I love finding a bargain. I’d have to say that going to garage sales, or consignment shops, Goodwill or fleamarkets are some of my favorite things to do, especially if I come home with an armload of stuff and spent very little.

    (BTW- congrats ladies on your Bloggy Award and sorry I haven’t been around much lately- been wrapped up in NaNo.)

  3. Elizabeth, I loved your garage sale story! You truly have made someone’s junk your own personal treasure. Just goes to show what a little love can do–by stripping that desk of its varnish, you shed its past and gave it a new future with you.

    Thanks for sharing!

  4. Hey, Pam T. Thanks for stopping by!

    I admit to a curiosity when I pass garage sales, too. It’s fun to see what’s out in the driveway, even if I have no intention of buying.

    I helped my daughters furnish their college apartments by succombing to that curiosity, tho!

  5. Taryn, what interesting comments today. Sounds like you’re a pro!

    Goodwill is rather chic these days. It’s that thrill of the hunt, isn’t it? My daughter has really gotten into consignment shops to outfit my little granddaughters. She loves a bargain, and hey, if Sarah Palin can shop at consignment shops, we can, too, right? ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. What a fun, post, Pam. I have never given a garage sale — like Elizabeth, I tend to give those kind of things to charity and take the tax break.

    But I have gone to many garage sales. There are periods of my life where money was very tight and once my ex and I decorated our apartment with garage sale items — and some of them were antiques, which we hadn’t known at the time. : )

    I love garage sales and often will stop, even if I’m not looking for anything. Sometimes, it’s the only way to get older copies of books.

    Great post.

  7. We don’t have garage sales here in Finland, but we do have fleamarkets and I love them! You just never know what you might find. I think that I’ve for instance bought all my perfumes from fleamarket. There’s even this program on tv called “Fleamarket” now. And I like that show. I also love to trade stuff. I once got a bag full of yarn for some plastic beads -my neighbour had a new hobby, beading and she didn’t have the time for knitting any more. Gloves or a small bag for a cell phone, anyone?

  8. Our cul-de-sac has a big garage sale once a year or so…maybe next time I can unload our big old, old-fashioned oak TV unit. (Charlene knows this story LOL) But other than that, I already have too much stuff to go out and forage for more.

    I PROMISE hubby that 2009 is the Year of Cleaning Out the Attic. Mostly that means getting our son’s stuff over to him, now that he has his own house LOL. But maybe there will be stuff to sell also.

    This was a fun post, Pam.

  9. What an interesting post. We don’t have garage sales where we live in the country. The closest town might have one or 2 multi-family sales a year. But, in the city, they are on almost every street from May to Sept. (I live in Sask.)

    Having a garage sale is great if you are in a high-traffic area but too much time and effort (that could be spent writing ๐Ÿ™‚ if you’re not. Out of 3 sales, 1 of ours was successful b/c we lived in the city at the time, another one I had to take everything into the city to my SIL’s house since we are 2 mls off the hwy, and the third one was when we lived in town and everyone had a sale that day.

    When I go to a sale, I’m usually looking for 3 things:
    – books to complete a series/continuity
    – odd restaurant dishes
    – cookie cutters

    I love the idea of garage sales, farmers markets and flea markets, etc where you have something to sell, so you set up your table, sell it, then go home.

  10. Karen, you are so not alone in being a young married couple and feathering your nest with others’ treasures. We did the same thing for awhile. Certainly makes you appreciate your ability to buy new when you can. But I suppose it’s all in the attitude, right?

    Thanks for stopping by!

  11. Minna, you made me smile! Oh, yes, we have fleamarkets here, too. I remember driving through Arkansas, and there was a huge fleamarket going on, right off the highway! People were pulling over, and of course, there were a ton of rubber-neckers. Sure made for some slow driving.

    Thanks for always giving us the Finnish perspective!

  12. Tanya, do you just have the one son? I would think attics would be huge treasure collectors! We’ve never had an attic that we could access and store stuff. Thank goodness. I’m sure I’d have it filled to the rafters. Out of sight, out of mind.

    But we’re still storing stuff like my daughter’s wedding dress and their baby bassinette. Lots of cabbage patch dolls that still have fond memories. And wedding reception stuff. And on and on!

  13. Hi, Anita Mae! Books, kitchen things and tools are probably the best sellers at most every garage sale, wouldn’t you say? And you’re right about being away to walk away when everything is said and done. It’s nice, too, when someone else is doing the organizing and advertising. All you have to do is show up.

    Thanks for stopping by!

  14. Hi Pam,
    Oh I loved your garage sales stories! I think I’d be really ticked off at the boy who came back to gloat that he’d gotten away with your daughter’s $40! It’s bad enough he came back to gloat, if he hadn’t -chances are no one would have known and what you don’t know, can’t hurt you.

    We’ve had umpteen garage sales in our day. My cousin is great at selling, sort of like your mother. And we found that clothes sell really well, especially baby clothes and/or equipment. We don’t have much to sell these days, but when our kids were younger, boy, we’d clean out their closets to get rid of their old toys and junk. We always let them keep the money if they participated. It was a good lesson for them, in many ways. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Yep, we’ve had some great garage sale days too.

  15. Fun stories, Pam! I’ve had a couple of garage sales over the years. Some bring in more traffic than others–it’s great if you can get rid of all your stuff! I always feel sooo good cleaning out my closets. I can’t believe you had one recently in this colder weather. LOL on the guy who found the $20 bills in your daughter’s pockets. Maybe he was fibbing?

  16. About Salvation Army: with our first daughter, we bought everything new. By the time the next few kids came along we had to make some decisions. They wanted expense electronics and designer jeans. It wasn’t going to happen.

    Our eldest daughter by that time had discovered the magic of Salvation Army and Value Village. She could find designer clothese there for a fraction of the cost.

    We told the other 3 that as long as they liked expensive clothes, they’d have to look at other kids play with their gizmos because we wouldn’t have any extra money for them. They changed their minds pretty quick.

    I mean, when you have kids that outgrow their clothes every few months, you have to watch your pennies.

    Now, when we go to Value Village, even the 10 yr old goes straight to his section. I love watching him shop. He’s very selective in what he likes. He’ll pick out a 6 or so pairs of jeans and bring them to me to check. If I can’t find rips, holes, etc, he’ll go try them on. Usually, he’ll end up with a pair or 2 that he really likes and that fit well. And the cost is minimal – under 10 bucks. (7-8 US)

    Then the next time we go to the Game Store or Walmart, etc, he’ll pick out a game he likes and I’ll pay for it. We’re both happy.

    Meanwhile, SA or VV has jobs for people and the money goes back into the community.

  17. Charlene, it sounds as if you have a long history of garage sales, too! You should share a story or two with us. ๐Ÿ™‚

    I have always made it a rule that if one of my kids wants money from the sale of their stuff, then they have to mark it and/or take a shift working the sale. No way will I let them make mom do the work and they get the money. ๐Ÿ™‚

    So I agree. A good lesson for our kids, in many ways!

  18. Love those clean closets, too, Kate! That makes the sale worth it right there, because we sure don’t get rich having them, do we? ๐Ÿ™‚

    Nah. That guy wasn’t fibbing. You could just see the gloat in his eyes!

  19. You know, Anita Mae, as much as I hate to say it, one good thing about the economy being in the pits is that it’s making people realize they don’t have to have all the luxuries they think they have to have. You’re doing a good job teaching your son priorities. Way to go!

  20. It seems like you either love garage sales or you don’t, Estella. If my sisters, mother and I didn’t have such a good time doing them, I’d be hauling my treasures to the Goodwill and writing the donation off, for sure!

  21. Unfortunately these pages are only in Finnish, but there are a lot of pictures from the “fleamarket” show:
    They show for instance how to make new stuff out of old things (Vanhasta uutta), they introduce some collectors and other interesting people and how to find the good stuff from fleamarkets(Wallen matkassa, Tavaroiden tarinat and Ostoksilla). I’ve found some useful webpages and books thanks to this program (Kahvilla -some of the webpages introduced here have English pages, too).

  22. Loved your stories, Pam. One year I held a city-setting garage sale in our driveway. Hubby was on edge over it all, so he left early. Unfortunately he came back early, and the sale was still going strong. He passed a table and snatched up a pair of baby shoes and baby sneakers. The poor dear sputtered, “WHAT are you DOING selling THESE? THESE are NOT shoes! THESE are FEELINGS! And you CAN’T sell THOSE!
    Off he stomped hugging the things to his chest. He eventually did let me sell them. He just need time to get over the idea of selling feelings. : ) My hero.

  23. Minna, this is so interesting! The Finnish language has some really looong words. LOL. You’re always so good about teaching those of us here at Wildflower Junction all about your part of the world. Thank you!

    And yet your English is flawless. Were you born here in America?

  24. Hi Pam, I have a daughter, too…but she lives in an apartment. Believe it or not, she has more stuff than any of us LOL. And guess where it’s all stored?

    Hmmmm. When I realized there was space up there. I made Hubby put in one of those attic-ladder doors. If you’ve ever watched Chevy Chase in Christmas Vacation, well, you recall what I mean. In fact, we even call it the griswald.

    Mostly it’s for holiday decorations, but as the kids left home…anything they couldn’t take along went up there. Yes, indeedy, there are Cabbage Patch dolls up there. Also Star Wars, Match Box et al infinitum.

    I do think we’re at full capacity now.

    We have a Finnish daughter…our exchange student from a couple of summers ago. She is Netta. Her English is flawless and she speaks five other languages!

    Fun day today in the Junction!

  25. I can’t believe that guy came to gloat.

    I’ve only had a couple of garage sales myself – way too much work. But I love to go to them! First thing I look for is books lol.

  26. I’m with jeanne, having a garage sale is way too much work but my daughter and I have had a couple. At the first one, I pulled my pickup down the street so more people could park in front of her house. As she worked the sale I sat in the porch swing holding my grandaughter while she slept. I figure I got the best of that deal. All of a sudden there was a loud grack and a bang. The tree down the street split and lost it’s largest branch. Yep, you guessed it, it fell onto my pickup totally smashing the topper and damaging the pickup. Didn’t make enough on that garage sale to pay for the damage.

  27. Yes, Jeanne. Way too much work–and that’s what I tell myself when I start scrounging my treasures up. But then when they’re gone and I have some mad money to show for my trouble, then it’s worth it. At least, that’s what I tell myself!

  28. Oh, Connie!!!!!!! What a bummer about that darn tree branch. Guess you could look on the bright side that no one was in the truck when it happened, eh?

    One thing I do is refuse to take vacation time to have a garage sale. I’d be losing money, and vacation days are too valuable.

    Thanks for sharing your story with us!

  29. Of course not! But I was an exchange student in NDSU for a few months. I started learning English on 3rd grade (just like everybody else) and I’ve been studying it ever since. And I have relatives in Canada, so I had a great motivation to learn the language.

    Yes, we do have long words. You need 5 words in order to say “do you speak Finnish, perhaps?”, but we need only 2: “puhuttekohan suomea?”.

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