Or So it Seems … Gifts, Guilt and Garage Sales

Here it comes, spring! When a man’s mind is seized with desire to do that one fine thing.…

Hold a garage sale.

It’s the yearly, not-to-be missed double-rush of TOSSING JUNK and MAKING MONEY.

What you tell your family, of course, is that you need to empty the garage so you can park your car—after letting it sit out all winter. But the real reason, the truth that men won’t admit to, is a good garage sale lets you weasel out of hours of work.

Consider this. The garage is an evil place, incubator of all things you ought to do… promised you’d do, once you had the time… but most definitely do not want to do.

Project Purgatory.

Now that spring is here, you must take pre-emptive action by unloading clutter that is waiting to be glued, screwed, tattooed, or otherwise resurrected. Tons of broken and semi-functional gadgets like the cuckoo clock that still won’t work after being bathed in WD40, pulverized porcelain keepsakes that the cat clobbered, or a vacuum that’s OK, except for the dog-decapitated power cord. It’s all there… waiting… unless you act.

But you have to sell the idea to your family. “Surely someone wants this stuff,” You say. “It just needs a little TLC.” Repeat this often, and you may even begin to believe it yourself.

“We could use the cash for a vacation,” is the best sales pitch.

Once you’ve gotten agreement, reluctant or otherwise, you’ll need to leap into action. The pre-sale process is a combination of triage and a trip down memory lane. I’m all for just selling EVERYTHING. But I’m married to a woman who has more sentiment than sense and a long, long memory.

I’ll be rooting through the shelves and lugging box after box—unopened—to the driveway. Karin is there, carrying stuff back in about as fast as I can truck it out.

We experience the yin and yang of material possessions. I lug an old picture of a flower out and plunk it down next to a Super-8 movie screen. I’m about to head back when Karin picks up the picture.

“Why is this here?” she asks.

“Well…” I look about with exaggerated surprise, “I’d say someone is having a garage sale.”

“But don’t you remember?” Karin says. “The kids gave you that for Christmas.”

“Christmas,” I look at the battered picture and draw a blank.

“Yeah, 10-12 years ago. You don’t want to hurt their feelings, do you?”

Guilt–the cause of clutter-constipation—I carry the picture back to the garage.

The truth is that I have to hide half the stuff I intend to sell, and then sneak it out when Karin’s on the phone. When I get the chance, I look at the people milling about in our driveway, and spot a likely target.

“Psst. Hey buddy. Come here.”

The guy blinks and looks at me.

“Yeah you. Got a great deal. Let me show you something in back.” So I take him past the “Keep Out” sign, pulling aside a sheet barring access to my workbench. He warily follows.

“Look at this,” I point to a new sink and faucet assembly, still in the shrink-wrap. “Sell it to you for half-price.”


“No. Not at all. I’ve got the receipts.”

“Why don’t you return it?”

“Can’t. Been sitting here for three years now.”

“So why don’t you have it out front?”

“Let’s just say I’d rather no one see this transaction.” I wink at him. “I’ll throw in the pipe wrenches.”

“Let me think about it,” the guy scratches his head.

“Not too long. Deal’s off if my wife walks out here.”

The guy looks at me and smiles knowingly. “Oh, I get it.”

“Great. Deal?” I ask.

“Ten bucks,” he says.

“The sink alone is $75!”

He shrugs. “Take it or leave it.”

“OK. Let me help you move it.”

So the sink is gone. One less project to worry about. If I could only lose that lawnmower…

The day wears on. Karin’s transactions net more—she’s ready to walk on lowball offers. But I deal in volume. Eventually, the vacuum is gone. Thank God. But the moment comes when signs come down, the traffic dries up, and the sale is over. I stand there looking at a sad pile of stuff that no one wants. I’m talking about stuff so outdated, ugly, and useless that it’s headed for the landfill.

Except that Karin wants to keep it, and starts putting it back on the shelves.

“Let’s back up the van, and I’ll cart this off,” I say, dragging a lamp in the opposite direction.

“No. We need this,” she wrests the lamp from my grip. Rebecca’s going off to college….”
“In two years,” I say, “We’ll find a lamp—a better one–by then.”

“There’s nothing wrong with this one,” she says.

“Yes there is…. It’s ugly and I hate it.”

“But you don’t have to use it.”

Karin puts the lamp back in the garage, stuffing it between an avocado-colored can opener and a Hello Kitty cookie jar. I flinch. She then looks at the sale’s flotsam and jetsam, grabbing up armfuls of junk and shoeing me away.

“This is all good stuff. Go inside. I’ll put it away.”

So I leave. I can’t bear the thought of seeing the shelves—my shelves–fill up again. No matter how much we ditch, the stuff that remains puffs up like popcorn to fill the remaining space. I vow, at an opportune moment, to start spiriting it off to the thrift store.

My MO works like this. I bag it up and throw it in the trunk, and I leave it there for a month or two. If no one notices, I give it away. This usually works. I have been tripped up, though. Once I donated a car seat while my wife was pregnant. She was astounded, and offended. My thinking was that it was easier to buy a new one than scrape off the baby food off the old one. I told her this, thinking she’d understand. Instead, she was horrified.


I shrug. “They seemed glad to get it.”

“I can’t believe you,” she said. “Five minutes with a bit of warm water…” Karin shook her head.

“My thinking exactly… How hard will it be for them to clean it?”

One random-act of donation kindness just about got me lynched.

On another occasion, I gleefully tossed a bunch of bags in the van, thinking they were old clothes. I donated them at the huge warehouse, and returned home. The next day, I had a rude awakening. Karin called me over to a bunch of plastic bags in the back bedroom.

“Aren’t you going to donate the clothes?” Karin asked.

“I did, yesterday.”

“No,” Karin pointed to the pile. “They’re right here.”

“Then what were all those bags in the garage?”


Faster than you can say Indy-500-pole-position, I was racing back to the warehouse, praying that there were at least a few of the half-dozen bags still on the premises.  I explained my plight to the attendant, and he nodded sympathetically.

“You’re not the first,’ he said. “You can go take a look.”

I entered the room and saw a tableau resembling the warehouse scene in the Raiders of the Lost Arc. I spent the next two hours finding most—but not all—of the bags.

So you’d think I’d have learned a lesson. But, sadly, no. Just a couple of months ago, I thought I had permission to donate a hideous monkey-cup that had reared its fuzzy head.

“You going to keep this?” I asked.

She laughed. “No, of course not.”

This, I thought, was the green light to get rid of the thing. So off to the thrift shop it went. What I didn’t know was that she’d planned on passing the gag gift along, as part of an office tradition that I had derailed.

I had to go back to the thrift shop, hoping they still had it. The best part is that all I had to say was that I’d left a “hideous coconut cup,” the staff knew exactly what I was talking about and immediately retrieved it.

So now it sits on my shelf, reminder, a coconut-shaped bit of cautionary karma:  “Thou Shall Not Sell Thy Spouse’s Stuff.”

But about that lawnmower… I’ll make you such a deal.

Robb has enjoyed writing and performing since he was a child, and many of his earliest performances earned him a special recognition-reserved seating in the principal’s office at Highland Elementary. Since then, in addition to his weekly column on A News Cafe – “Or So it Seems™” – Robb has written news and features for The Bakersfield Californian, appeared on stage as an opening stand-up act in Reno, and his writing has been published in the Funny Times. His short stories have won honorable mention national competition. His screenplay, “One Little Indian,” Was a top-ten finalist in the Writer’s Digest competition. Robb presently lives, writes and teaches in Shasta County.

Robb Lightfoot is a humorist, author and educator. He and his wife raised a family of four kids, a dozen or more dogs and a zillion cats. He has enjoyed writing and performing since he was a child, and many of his earliest performances earned him a special recognition-reserved seating in the principal’s office at Highland Elementary. Since then, in addition to teaching at Shasta Community College, and his former column on A News Cafe - "Or So it Seems™" - Robb has written news and features for The Bakersfield Californian, appeared on stage as an opening stand-up act in Reno, and his writing has been published in the "Funny Times". His short stories have won honorable mention in national competitions. His screenplay, “One Little Indian,” Was a top-10 finalist in the Writer’s Digest competition. Robb presently lives and writes in Chico where he manages ThinkingFunny.com. He also hates referring to himself in the third person, and will stop doing so immediately. I can be reached in the following ways: Robb@thinkingfunny.com PO Box 5286 Chico, CA 95928 @_thinking_funny on Twitter
Comment Policy: We welcome your comments, with some caveats: Please keep your comments positive and civilized. If your comment is critical, please make it constructive. If your comment is rude, we will delete it. If you are constantly negative or a general pest, troll, or hater, we will ban you from the site forever. The definition of terms is left solely up to us. Comments are disabled on articles older than 90 days. Thank you. Carry on.

5 Responses

  1. Avatar Yardsi.com says:

    Hi Robb,

    I enjoyed your post. I wish I could get rid of my roomate's stuff that easily. She sounds a lot like your wife!

    Thanks for the laugh,

    Jean @yarsi

  2. Avatar Robb says:

    My wife is a keeper, literally. But truth be told… there is one thing I horde. I'll be writing about it in a couple of weeks.

  3. Avatar Canda says:

    So funny! I love "project purgatory" and "clutter constipation". Your mind is an amazing thing. I don't know how you come up with this stuff, but it cracks me up!

    Hey, how about the guy who bought a "soup bowl" at a yard sale for $3 in 2007. After years of it sitting around, he decided to have it appraised. Turns out it was a rare "Ding" bowl, a 1000 year old ceramic piece from China valued between $200,000 and $300,000! Hope he didn't buy it at your yard sale!

  4. Avatar `AJacoby says:

    CLUTTER CONSTIPATION!!?? Now that one made me laugh right out loud . . . .until I looked around. Do you suppose Phillips makes something that would flush out the G.I. tract . . (garage internment)?

  5. Avatar Robb says:

    Hmmm…. still no takers on the lawnmower?? That's not a stock photo. Make you such a deal.