My Stuff Runneth Over

I think most of us would admit we have enough stuff – too much, probably. More and more I find it harder to argue with George Carlin’s assessment that my house is merely a pile of stuff with a cover on it. And yet, we always seem to be on the lookout for more.

My wife and I started cruising garage sales when we were young and broke and had no qualms about upcycling other people’s cast-offs. Now we use the excuse that we’re looking “for the kids,” who just moved into a new place. We’ve also graduated to estate sales in order to avoid the awkwardness of rifling through the flotsam of another person’s life while they’re watching.

Julie has a thing for mixing bowls, and while it defies comprehension (by those of us with the Y chromosome, at least), it’s also not the hill I choose to die on. Oh, rugs and mirrors, too. And clocks. Whereas I look at tools, and old toys. You see, I grew up playing with Hot Wheels, and believe that buying them again will actually reverse the aging process, kinda like Benjamin Button. But mostly I’m just there to carry the big stuff, and make my disapproving face when she starts to reach for the lawn gnomes.

The email rolled in about a week ago. Huge Estate Sale, it trumpeted, This Saturday, 7am! Huge or not, the attached photos did little to sell me on the event. Department 56 villages, Hummels, Thomas Kinkade paintings – a trove of “collectables,” though nothing I would ever care to possess. But wait…the garage appeared to be chock full of tools and outdoor gear, some of it quite possibly from this century. In particular, a snow shovel caught my eye, leaning against a shelving unit packed with tarps and bags of fertilizer. A record-setting snowfall this past February had finally convinced me that my current shovel (and trusty friend) was no longer up to the task. Nearly two inches of plastic have been worn off the blade, the result of years of scraping across concrete driveways. I had my objective.

Saturday dawns clear but cool. Maybe the chill will keep the lookie-loos away. But as I turn the corner onto the street, it’s obvious we’ve underestimated the number of people who want to get their hands on those Hummels – not only is the street lined with cars, but there are dozens of people standing in line outside, hands stuffed in pockets, waiting for the feeding frenzy to begin. I have a moment where I think, it’s not worth elbowing my way through all that humanity just to save a few bucks on a lousy snow shovel. But something won’t let me drive away – some ancient malignancy in my Scottish genes that can’t pass up the possibility of a “deal.” As I drive past searching for a parking spot, I quickly size-up the crowd. I’m pretty confident in my ability to take most of them – only one or two look like they might put up a fight. By the time I park and we make our way the quarter-mile back to the house, they’ve just opened the doors and the herd is shuffling in.

The line inches forward at an agonizingly slow pace. Once we finally cross the threshold, though, it’s like a throw-down has broken out at a Silver Sneakers session. “Vintage citizens” are everywhere, gathering up lamps and linens and framed paintings. Julie gets her “bad to the bone” attitude on and makes a bee-line for the kitchen, from whence the sounds of struggle emanate. Via con Dios. The garage…how the hell do I get to the garage? I push past a gaggle of women scuffling over Johnny Mathis albums and duck into the mud room on my way to my destination when I spot a large guy in Carhart overalls and a Broncos hat coming the other way with an armful of yard implements, one of which happens to be my snow shovel. I also recognize him as one of the two people I didn’t think I’d be able to best if it came down to a tussle. Guess I’ll have to go all ‘Donald Trump’ on his ass.

The shovel has a $3 price tag on it. “I’ll give you five bucks for that shovel,” I offer as we pass in the mud room.

No response.

“How about ten?” He continues on his way without even making eye contact. I give brief thought to engaging the man in a discussion about the lack of civility in modern society, but decide against it when I realize he’s also carrying a pitchfork which could easily be pressed into service.

So, the primary target has been preempted…maybe I can still find a consolation prize in the garage. But in a final cosmic irony, the doorway is blocked by several people who are comparing details about the various dietary supplements each consumes in order to keep their exits clear. Meanwhile, beyond them, I can hear what is no doubt the same sound locusts make as they strip a field bare – the contents of the garage are being picked clean to the last roll of duct tape. Defeated, I retreat to the porch to wait it out and watch as a lifetime of stuff is dragged away piece by piece, to become someone else’s stuff.

Eventually, Julie emerges with her treasures – a pair of bowls that look remarkably similar to the ones she bought at last weekend’s sale. “Aren’t they awesome?” she asks, holding them aloft.

“Awesome,” I answer, wondering who will be dragging them out of our house some day.

Photo courtesy of

21 thoughts on “My Stuff Runneth Over

  1. “make my disapproving face when she starts to reach for the lawn gnomes.”

    I started out on disapproval but have since moved onto the harder stuff. These days I stomp to the curb and scowl. It works well for other things too.

  2. Excellent post! I really enjoy your writing.
    Sorry about the shovel. Glad you didn’t get forked!
    Now, see, I’m looking at the red spindle piece in the photo, and thinking: i like that, i wonder where i could use it? is it a chair or a stool?…surely i have room for it somewhere..
    This is why I don’t thrift often.

  3. It used to be a lot harder for me to resist ‘estate sales’ when we got a local paper and Thursday’s classifieds were chock-a-bloc full of the weekends bargains. I did once score a fabulous garden shovel that I still have, and think about that $4 bargain when I pull it off the hook every spring. Do you want me to ‘tag’ it for you? I mean it won’t work for snow but my estate sale will no doubt precede yours and I’d like it to reside on good hands. I’d knock the price down to $2.50 ‘cuz you’re a damn fine writer.

  4. I can’t even begin to say what I’m thinking about this article, other than…with head bowed in shame, “I relate?” And not to YOUR perspective. Eeeeeek! Though the older I get, the more I’m seeing the light (and am sick of the vintage dust up my nose).

    I got into collecting those lovely Department 56 houses over 20 years ago. I have a ‘small’ collection that I call ‘The Monster’ in the closet. The collection, only about 25 buildings plus some little people and lots of trees, takes up most of the master bedroom closet, yeah…the biggest closet in the house. Our kids so love ‘mother’s village’ that I am filled with guilt if I don’t take the 24-hours+ to go through the agony and defeat of putting it up every Christmas. It takes up half the dining room, where I have fantasies of actually ‘sitting’ and ‘serving’ Christmas dinner (someday).

    Last Christmas I proclaimed to my grown children that they are free to start eyeing (and taking) whatever buildings they have a fondness for. Everyone looked away, and, of course added, “Oh but mom, it wouldn’t be the same if it wasn’t all put together with your special touch.” In other words, they won’t be carrying it out of our house until I’m dead. It’ll be ‘The Monster’ that kills me! They’ll probably find me collapsed on the snowy streets of the village, in the warm glow of the lights shining from each little window, after laboring ceaselessly all day adding my ‘special touch.’

    When I see those village houses at estate sales, I get a little sick to my stomach. Thereby guaranteeing that, no deal on Earth will stir MY Scottish blood into buy another one!

    But bowls? Dishes? Yeah, I could still add those to my collection of ‘stuff.’ I just need more closets!

  5. I smiled all the way though this. My mother had a great fondness for garage sales, estate sales, antique shops, and flea markets, so when she still was alive, I had experiences galore as I toted her from one to another.

    Now? I haven’t indulged since she went to the great garage sale in the sky. I just don’t like them. I always have a feeling that I could be doing something far more interesting than pawing through other peoples’ stuff. The only thing I’m still actively acquiring is books. Otherwise, it’s decluttering time in my life. It doesn’t happen quickly, but it’s happening, and it’s giving me as much pleasure as acquisition ever did.

    • We used to be good at decluttering. We moved a lot, and the process kept us pretty lean. But we’ve become a bit more sedentary of late, and the stuff just seems to accumulate on its own. I guess that’s what dumpsters are for.

  6. This post made me laugh! It has a very familiar ring to it. My husband and I began going to estate sales earlier this year and he had a similar experience in a garage over a push lawn mower. He was so excited when he saw it through the garage window and headed straight for it when the doors opened. But as he approached it and started to check it out, an older man walked up behind him and said “that’s mine” . It’s good to know he isn’t alone on his experience.

  7. Yeah, I once got home from a garage sale with a pond liner.

    A pond liner? What the hell did I think I was going to do with a pond liner? Dig a two-foot-long pond to float the Queen Mary in?

  8. Reblogged this on Piney Woods Treasures & Candles and commented:
    Take a few minutes to check out this funny blog by “Lies Jack Kerouac Told Me”. If you’re an avid estate sale shopper, then you will probably find humor in this writing. At Piney Woods Treasures, we have had a similar experience and laugh about it now. Comment below and let me know what types of things you’ve missed out on at estate sales.

  9. Pingback: Freshly Seen at Jill’s Scene during August | Jill's Scene

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