Garage Sales Help Build Community

We have been having an annual garage sale now for about 10+ years.  It first started as a way to get rid of some junk to make room for some new junk; oops I mean “new treasures.”  While I wouldn’t call us hoarders, we do love to collect things, especially when we are on holidays. For us a garage sale is an opportunity to relive all of our vacations…a book from a used bookstore New York City, a painting from Value Village in Victoria, a bracelet from a San Diego street fair, a beer glass from Strasbourg, France or an Armadillo mask from Playa del Carmen, Mexico. You get the picture.  What we didn’t realize is just the annual garage sale would become the catalyst for creating an enhanced sense of community amongst our neighbours.

The garage is packed full of treasures, waiting for some treasure hunters. 

A close up of some of the fun and strange things we had to offer.

How can you tell we are low tech people?

Some of the shelves each with their own theme.

Neighbours are the best....

Initially, curious neighbours would come by to see what was for sale or to ask if buyers could move their cars so they could get our of their garage.  Soon we were chatting about our junk vs. their junk (who isn’t interested in each other peoples' junk and the stories about where and why they bought it). Eventually a few neighbours joined in the sale by opening their garages also, but most are happy to simply drop by for a chat. 

Things really changed a couple of years ago when a neighbour couple (let’s call them Pat and Don), spent more than a few minutes chatting and eventually invited us to come by for a glass of wine after the sale wrapped Saturday afternoon. We had so much fun at this impromptu, inaugural Happy Hour that we agreed we should do this again - and invite some of the other neighbours.  This was the beginning of our every few months neighbours Happy Hours.

This year, the garage sale became a truly communal effort with one neighbour couple who are moving to condo in Sunnyside contributing some of their artifacts including bookshelves, which we were told we have to keep for others to use in future garage sales. And the young mom next door, a garage sale virgin, was also game to host a sale. In addition, we had contributions from friends in Lakeview, Acadia and Mission in our garage sale. It was indeed an eclectic mix.

OK who is bringing the dessert?

The Lakeview contributor used his photography skills and his wife’s Facebook skills to get the word out to friends and colleagues, resulting in many friends showing up that we hadn’t seen for years. Who knew garage sales are such a good networking/reconnecting opportunity? 

After the Friday night (Day 1) of the 2-day sale, our simple chili, salad and wine dinner for sellers, expanded to include homemade cornbread by one neighbour and homemade banana bread and appetizers by another. The impromptu potluck dinner was such a hit that it was suggested our Happy Hours should become potluck dinners.

Our garage sale has become a bit like a potlatch - neighbours dropping by, buy each other’s stuff (often just give it away or swap), chat and catch up. This has lead to communal snow shoveling, grass cutting and gardening – even babysitting.

Yes, we all live in big new infill homes, but that hasn’t prevented us from being good neighbours – nor has the fact that our ages range from early 30s to mid-60s.  It has also been a great bonding opportunity between the adults and the children.    

This man's best friend is his dog, who is making friends with a stranger.

Happy City

Charles Montgomery, in his book “Happy City,” says “Most of all, [the city] should enable us to build and strengthen the bonds between friends, families, and strangers that give life meaning, bonds that represent the city’s greatest achievement and opportunity.”

While many (including Montgomery) blame the increase in automobile use vs. transit, urban sprawl and other late 20st century city planning and urban design for the decline in the sense of community in today’s cities, I don’t buy it.

Just because you take transit doesn’t mean that you will talk to your seatmate, especially in this day and age when everyone seems plug into some electronic device and shutting out their everyday world.

Some people seem to always want to blame someone else for their problems. Sure, blame the urban planner or the developer for creating big houses, with six-foot fences, attached garages in communities where you can’t walk to anything other than maybe a playground or pathway. If people didn’t like these homes and communities, developers wouldn’t build them.

Everyone's happy in this photo as we share our yard with our neighbours kids i.e. no fences here.

Say Hi to a stranger....

What I think is missing from late 20th / early 21st century is the willingness to say “Hi!” to strangers.  It is too bad that we have to teach children “not to speak to strangers” as what we need is more people saying “Hi” when walking by people - be that in the parking lot of a mall or along the sidewalk.  We find that when we initiate conversation with a “Hi” with people on the bus, in the store or even in restaurants - when the opportunity presents itself.  This has often leads to interesting conversations or a laugh.

So, if you really want to get to know your neighbour, be the first to say “Hi!” Be the first to invite them in for a coffee or an adult beverage. Shovel their snow or cut their front grass while you are doing yours. Or, have a garage sale and invite them to see your “treasures.” 

Creating a sense of community starts with “YOU,” say “Hi” to a stranger everyday!

Let the bargaining begin.

Memories/stories from our 2015 Garage Sale!

An older gentleman said, “If people are defined by their stuff, you guys must be FUN!” (We took that as a compliment.) An older visitor said, “As I get older I am more and more attracted to older stuff!” (Isn’t that the truth!) One of the sellers looked at the slide ruler we trying to sell and said “Did anyone ever really use a slide ruler in real life.” We all greed we didn’t, he then quickly quipped, “When we said in school that we’d never use calculus, physics etc. we were RIGHT!”  (Yes we are getting old!)

The KISS!  A neighbours’ 4-year old granddaughter was over playing with another neighbour’s 4-year old boy. When told it was time to say goodbye, the girl ran to the boy and they gave each other a big hug and kiss on the lips.  (I won’t soon forget that.)

A 4-year old shopper said, “I’m hungry - I like cheese!”  Luckily, we had some cheese and crackers out for the sellers in our kitchen so we brought them out and she had her snack. Several teachers told us to advertise our sale to neighbourhood schools, as teachers would love our treasures for their classrooms. (We are always looking for marketing tips.)

“Hey Mister, can I ride your horsey?” asked a young shopper who spotted the vintage playground toy in the backyard.  (Yes, she got to ride it.)

An older lady in a whisper said, “I’d like to have a garage sale but my stuff has too many memories, most of it is older than the Province!” (I’d love to go to her garage sale, if she ever has one.)

For years our signs have said “G-SALE” and it never fails that someone always says, “I had to check out what a G-SALE is all about.

A shopper subtly hands me his business card, which simply reads, “Do you have any firearms?” (BTW, we had none.)

Want a souvenir of 911? These items were confiscated from travellers at the Calgary Airport after 911.  Five of a dollar.

“Hey Mister, can I ride your horsey?” asked a young shopper who spotted the vintage playground toy in the backyard.  (Yes, she got to ride it.)

An older lady in a whisper said, “I’d like to have a garage sale but my stuff has too many memories, most of it is older than the Province!” (I’d love to go to her garage sale, if she ever has one.)

For years our signs have said “G-SALE” and it never fails that someone always says, “I had to check out what a G-SALE is all about.

A young woman wants to buy some things but has no money, so she and our young neighbour/seller next door try to use their phones to transfer some money electronically.  When that doesn’t work, she hops into her car and goes to the ATM machine a half a block away.  She comes back with money to buy a large Ikea television stand, large antique wall mirror and some other smaller items. Problem is she only has a two door Altima, which won’t fit the larger items. Another neighbour comes to the rescue (again, let’s call them Pat and Don) offer to use their SUV to deliver her purchases to her nearby home at no charge.  (That’s what I call being REAL neighbourly!)

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