Rummage Sales

It is April 29.  Even though it snowed big flakes all over the lawn yesterday and it was only twenty-five degrees when I got up this morning, I know that rummage sale season is right around the corner.  In Wisconsin, we walk by faith, not by sight.  We believe in spring and summer, even when neither of them has yet shown up by the Fourth of July.

At our house, we are veterans at hosting  rummage sales.  My teenager, who thrives on cleaning out my clutter, sees to it that we have one every year.  Through the years, we have noticed some patterns among the customers, and I thought it might be fun to pass on our observations to the world:

First of all, maybe you don’t call them rummage sales where you come from.  Yard sales, garage sales, rummage sales — they’re all the same thing.  Come to think of it, not everyone calls them rummage sales here, either.  I’ve seen quite a few signs for rumage, rumige, rummag, and rammuge sales.  We may know how to have ’em here in the Rhubarb State, but we don’t necessarily know how to spell ’em.

People spend their hard-earned nickels on the oddest things — gross things, to my way of thinking.  Why would anyone want to buy used personal items — deodorants, cheap perfumes, body wash, lipstick, makeup, hairbrushes(!)?  I wouldn’t buy them, and I wouldn’t have the guts to try to sell them.  However, it works.  A friend sold them at one of our sales.  I’m wondering what would have happened if she had attempted to get rid of used toothbrushes for a quarter each.  My guess is that somebody would have bought them.  She managed to unload samples she had gotten through the mail, too.  Resourceful creature!

Do you know what sells best?  Stuff that comes out of the junk.  My husband occasionally junk-picks.  I don’t know why he does, so don’t ask.  Now that he is retired, I think I am going to send him out every trash day to look for salable stuff.  He brings home seemingly worthless items, and the rummage sale queens all want them — lamps, bicycle baskets, rusted milk cans, flower pots, Christmas garland, radios, plastic flowers, you-name-it.  If it came out of somebody else’s trash, it is guaranteed to be the first thing to go.  Perhaps this is because Wisconsinites are a very ecology-minded folk.  We do our duty to God and our country by recycling our junk back and forth among each other, rather than filling up landfills.

The guys that come through really get into all the hardware and technology items.  But sometimes they want to know why my husband would have fifteen razor knives, eight bottles of windshield wash, and ten wire nippers (all still in the package), in the first place.  I don’t usually divulge the reason: Paul gets them free with rebates at the local hardware store, and then sells them at the yard sale.  Sometimes the men are onto him: “I know where he got these … I got them there, too!”  I just smile and don’t say too much.

Grandma gifts are in much demand.  (Pink flamingoes really do sell, folks.)  If my mom bought it for me to hang in my kitchen, living room, backyard, or on my person, it’s probably going to end up in the rummage sale.  Please, don’t tell on me!  Gaudy plastic butterflies that will pop your eyeballs out 300 yards away, grinning cows wearing flowered pantaloons, plastic “Home Sweet Home” plaques spray-painted gold, ceramic plates etched with sentimental calligraphy about a woman and her kitchen.  Tsk!  The mail-order outfits that sell this stuff ought to be prosecuted for taking advantage of little old ladies!  These are very hot rummage sale items.  Grandmas not only buy these things through the mail.  They pick them up new on the summer rummage sale tour.  They pass them on at Christmas to their daughters and granddaughters.  The daughters and granddaughters smile and say thank you — and then shuffle the items into the basement, where they wait in happy anticipation of being recycled at the daughters’ or granddaughters’ rummage sale the following summer.  Other grandmas buy them at that sale and save them up for Christmas ….  They become like Aunt Maude’s recycled fruitcake — they just keep making the rounds.


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