Move to an affluent neighborhood — one a few cuts above your previous neighborhood, anyway — and garage sales become the focus of keen interest. You may have a functioning brain, but you still have a greedy, greedy id, and the id is not only sorely tempted, it’s stupid: Look, a garage sale at a zillion-dollar house! Surely they’re selling a bunch of old diamonds and fur coats they have heaped up in the closets, and at great savings!
I’ve learned this lesson before, but I offer it to you if you haven’t:
1) Affluent people are at least as likely as poorer ones to have atrocious taste (see: Donald Trump).
2) Affluent people are more likely to be really cheap. (It’s how they got affluent.)
3) Their junk looks like anyone else’s junk.
The tag and estate sales have been the biggest disappointment in terms of bargains, but are almost always interesting for the entree you get to a house in transition — I was in one last week that appeared to have been decorated by a preppie on acid. Everything was pink and green, but bright kelly green and vivid fuschia pink. All top-of-the-line fabrics, but, well, if I’m going to drop $2,000 on a used couch, it ain’t gonna be kelly green moire silk. With a ruffle.
Garage sales have been better, but hit-or-miss. This week the city of GP held its World’s Greatest Garage Sale inside a parking garage downtown, surely a stroke of genius — we went through the thing exactly the way you look for a parking place, spiraling up and then down. The bad news: It didn’t live up to its name — it was more flea market than garage sale, and yes, there’s a difference — but there were a few moments. Like: Earlier this year we came thisclose to buying an oversize Mission-style bookcase at a consignment store in Royal Oak. They were having a “half-off sale” that knocked the price from $1,800 to $900. There were two to choose from in different finishes, they weren’t antique, but one was big enough to fill up a big empty wall in our living room and at least partially solve our book-storage problem. Finally, sometime in March, when John and Sammy were visiting, Alan and Sam drove out there to dicker and, with luck, pull the trigger on one of them, the one with the darker finish. As they arrived, some guy was closing a deal to buy it — for $800. Curses! Alan considered getting the other one, but by then it felt like a non-antique, honey-finished oak consolation prize, so he passed.
Well, there it was at the World’s Greatest Garage sale, at the new, Grosse Pointe price — $1,100. Oh, as if.
But we did get a fashionably rusted Mexican iron windowbox for our kitchen, and on the way back to the car, wandered past a homeowner who was, in garage-sale terms, the holy grail — a guy with too much higher-quality crap on his hands who wanted to get rid of all of it.
Which is how, to take the long way around, I bought a brand-new Krups ice-cream maker for $10. (Gotta love affluent suburbanites; when I asked, “why are you selling it?,” he replied, “We have two.”)
We made French vanilla the first night. Nothing like making your own ice cream to appreciate just how much heavy cream and sugar you’re getting in every spoonful. But oh, how far a spoonful goes. I can’t wait until berry season. I told Kate, “We’re going to experiment with ice cream all summer long.” She said, “Yay!” How often do you get to make a kid say yay at the idea of spending time in the kitchen with her mother? Not often. I’d say the money was well-spent.
Linda said on May 31, 2005 at 2:26 am
” Affluent people are at least as likely as poorer ones to have atrocious taste (see: Donald Trump).”
Thank you. I’ve been saying about Ivana Trump for years that money can’t buy good taste or fashion sense.
Nance said on May 31, 2005 at 7:20 am
But it can buy a hell of a lot of plastic surgery.
Maureen said on May 31, 2005 at 11:52 am
You have much to learn this summer Nancy. The real highest and best use for that ice cream maker is frozen cocktails. I’ll pass along my Tolstini recipe.
mary said on May 31, 2005 at 12:02 pm
Living in LA, one of the first things one learns is that money and taste are completely unrelated. A drive around Beverly Hills proves this.
I don’t know if there is any sort of equivalent there, but I’ve had great luck here buying used furniture from a place called Hotel Surplus. My couch used to be in suite at the Beverly Hilton, and one of my chairs was at the Pebble Beach Golf Club. I reupholstered the chair, but the couch only needed a cleaning. New, it would have been completely out of my league. Luxury hotels redocorate often, and they buy good stuff, so they’re a great source.
Chris said on May 31, 2005 at 4:27 pm
I’ve been to that GP Garage Sale. Once. I wasn’t impressed either. And I grew up on a dairy farm.
Mindy said on May 31, 2005 at 5:50 pm
Any trash pickers sorting through the bins in your neighborhood on trash day? I know someone who makes a point of touring the uppercrust neighborhoods when large items are being collected. And I’ll admit to having done so last year. Scored a bird bath and small plastic fences to use as part of the Happy Birthday theme for a friend with a violent hatred for yard art.
Dorothy said on May 31, 2005 at 7:36 pm
Why just this morning someone helped themselves to the standing lamp I had set out for pick up. I know it’s done and I know I can’t do anything about it, but for some reason it just bugs me that people do that. It seems like stealing to me. My husband scolds, saying “You’re throwing it away anyway!” But there is something about it that just doesn’t sit right with me, I don’t know…
In my neighborhood in Ohio there were trucks who routinely made their slow rounds in our subdivision at dusk, and it always made me feel like they were buzzards circling a carcass!
Nance said on May 31, 2005 at 9:45 pm
We have trash-pickers here; one guy makes the rounds in a big pickup with a fence on it, and collects all matter of stuff. As long as they don’t count the wine bottles in my recycling, it’s fine with me.
colleen said on May 31, 2005 at 10:07 pm
We have trash pickers too….in fact, we can tell them by the sound of their truck as they come around every thursday night. And we don’t live in a particularly affluent neighborhood.
Linda said on May 31, 2005 at 11:53 pm
Here in Vancouver, BC “Dumpster Divers” are the norm. Lots of guys who are one step above the panhandlers on the streets are industrious enough to supplement their welfare checks by collecting cans and bottles for money. And anything you want to get rid of, you just put it in the alley behind your house and someone will come along and take it. It’s doesn’t bother me at all, as it has saved us the cost of many a trip to the city dump.
Pam said on June 1, 2005 at 8:06 am
Dorothy, please don’t be upset about the trash pickers! They are some of the world’s best recyclers. If your lamp had made it to the trash truck, it would have been tossed inside, crushed and sent to the land fill. The pickers put it on a truck and sell it at a flea market to someone who will use it. One man’s trash etc. So just think of the pickers as eco friendly folks performing a service. My next door neighbor knows who these folks are and contacts them in advance of placing a choice item on the curb so they can get it before the truck arrives. He had some old windows that he knew were still good but no one he knew needed them. So basically, he got free hauling service and someone else will get a bargain window!
Dorothy said on June 1, 2005 at 12:21 pm
You have all convinced me that I need to re-visit my thoughts on this subject. I agree, Pam, that it is a good way to recycle. But when I put things outside to toss them, it’s because they are not redeemable. Anything that could be re-used I always donate – to Goodwill or St. Vincent dePaul collection boxes, etc. This particular lamp had a very loose whatchamacallit where the light bulb is inserted, and it was causing the light bulbs to burn too bright. It seemed scary to me – too scary to pass on to donate. I just pray that whoever recovered it has the good sense to make sure the wiring is not hinky.
So I’ll try to keep an open mind about such things in the future! Thanks for your input, all.
ladibug said on August 6, 2005 at 12:26 pm
I am a “diver ” myself. I take what I find, fix itand/or refinish it, some of the stuff I keep and a lot of the stuff gets donated or given to folks that will use it. There are a lot of folks out there who can’t afford(luxury) some of the things that others just throw in the trash. I also have folks that know that I dive or curb and the ask me to look out for items…