April 5, 2014

The Free Yard Sale. ~ Gwen Soffer


I am a very sentimental person, and precious objects have always held meaning for me.

Ever since I was a little girl, I loved to save treasures. I grew up on a 30-acre farm, where there was always ample space for all of my things.

I used to have an extensive collection of miniature glass and plastic animals that I kept in huge plastic laundry baskets. I spent hours arranging these on my bookshelves and in imaginary settings. I had hundreds of glass dogs, cats, horses, bunnies and those plastic Noah’s Ark animals you used to get with each fill up at the gas station.

With every visit to the local gift shop, I would eye up my next small creature to add to my menagerie in the hopes that my mom would buy it for me.

When we moved from our farm in Chester County, Pa. to downtown Philadelphia, we took very few of our possessions to our new row home in the city—we had to downsize considerably.

We had a massive yard sale at our farm, selling off everything from furniture, farm tools, saddles, and yes, my life-long toy animal collection. (I was entering ninth grade and was surely old enough to let go of my childhood possessions…I was fourteen.)

I acted as if this did not bother me, but deep down there was that pang of the past being left behind.

For years now, I have had spontaneous free yard sales—I set the items out on the curb for anyone to take.

We live on a very busy road, so the items are usually gone within just an hour of putting them out. We often take bets as to how low it will take for items to be picked up. The more unusual or useful the item is, the faster it goes.

I used to have traditional yard sales, but haggling over items that once used to play a role in my life always felt depleting. The free yard sale, on the other hand, brings me a sense of calm—passing on items that used to mean something to me to someone who has the same affinity for them. Even though I rarely get to meet the people that adopt my items, I feel a sense of connection.

After my children outgrew the green wagon that I pulled all over, kids, groceries, and dogs aboard, I held on to it. I told myself that I could use it for gardening. (That would be great if in fact I gardened.)abilenewagon

The wagon sat for a couple of years unused and collecting dirt.

One day, I cleaned the wagon and put it out on the curb.

I sat at our bay window observing as every mini-van that passed slowed down to size up the potential find. I eventually moved out onto the deck and sat hidden on the staircase, still cautiously observing who would take this item that held so many memories for me. One of the vans eventually pulled in, and the woman driving came down the driveway. She was asking permission to take the free wagon I had set free only minutes before. She told me that she had just adopted multiple siblings, and the wagon would be perfect.

On another day, I set out the multitude of toys that my kids were now too old to play with.

These items had spent many years in our attic—lonely, unused and without purpose.

Included in the spread were three laundry baskets full of Lego. My kids had spent hours and hours building with these. Before I had even made it back to my front door, a young dad stopped in and told me how much he wanted to bring them home to his son. After some conversation about how many memories I have of my boys playing with these little colorful blocks, he asked me how much I was selling them for. When I told him that they were free, there was that moment when two strangers have that surprising connection. He loaded them into his car, and I could only imagine the excitement of his son when he came into the house with such magical loot.

So here I am watching the curb again as I have set out the final bits of my kids’ childhood—my second child left for college this week (the last one is ready to go off next year), and I found myself cleaning his room—clearing out old unused items, making his bed and carefully stacking his things in the closet and on bookshelves.

It reminded me of preparing for a baby and beginning that instinctual nesting process: cleaning the baby’s room, preparing the crib and setting all of the small garments perfectly folded into the drawers. Now I was doing the same, but more so in a closing ceremony fashion.

As I watch people stop and look through books, toys, Christmas items, children’s furniture, I have that same pang of letting go of the past.

I still consider myself sentimental and objects still hold meaning for me, but I am much more selective about those that I hold on to. The thing is, these objects only have meaning when they are being used—when they are held in someone’s hands. Once they are put aside and start collecting dust, they become lifeless.

When I see unused objects like these in my home, I know that they really represent something bigger that I am having trouble letting go of.

The free yard sale is bitter sweet for me. With that melancholy of letting go of the past is also a feeling of contentment and connection as I watch the multitude of parents that stop with excitement to put these loved items into their cars to bring home to their children.

One by one the items disappear making space for new memories.

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Editorial Apprentice: Terri Tremblett / Editor: Renée Picard

Photo: Flickr & elephant archives

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