Lessons from a garage sale

Over the past three years, since my husband’s ministry launched, we’ve had a lot of garage sales. Honestly, we’ve always been a family who did sales about twice a year, but when having one can mean the difference between eating and not, they tend to take on a different meaning.

I have often been guilty of just dragging out the stuff we’re selling and determining price when someone’s interested, but for today’s sale, I actually spent time organizing it, pricing it and having everything set up on tables so that I could just open the doors at 8 AM. I posted an advertisement on Craig’s List, listing a bit of what we were selling.

This morning at 7:30, I went out to finish up the last few things before opening the garage door. When my husband came in from a quick grocery store trip to get coffee, he told me there were three cars parked outside, and someone had asked him if we were opening at 8 on the dot.

That isn’t entirely unusual; particularly if you advertise certain items, early birds will show up. Still, I decided that since I was all set, I’d go ahead and start opening the door a bit early, at about 7:50.

I was not prepared for what met me. People standing outside the door began pushing in, all of them yelling and asking me where the jewelry was. I had had the foresight to keep the more valuable pieces inside, so no one could get to it, even as they attempted to begin combing through items on the tables, as my husband and I tried to move things out.

It was bedlam. Once I’d moved the tables into place, I brought out the pricier jewelry. And then things really got interesting.

People yelled. They grabbed. I was scratched on the arms as each one tried to snatch up his or her fair share–or more. They fought with each other. They were nasty, mean-spirited.

In the end, while I sold all of the pieces save one, I’m sure I was taken advantage of in terms of price, because I was completely overwhelmed and almost sickened by the entire process.

In all of my years of hosting sales, I’ve never seen anything like this. I’ve met quirky people; I’ve certainly met pushy customers who have tried to get me to lower the price on things that they knew were valuable. I’ve met those who bordered on rude. But most people who frequent sales are kind, generous, friendly and interesting. We’ve been especially impressed by how many people are supportive of the ministry and eager to help us keep it going, or at least want to know more about our mission.

Today was beyond the pale.

It wasn’t long before all of the ravenous gold buyers had left, and one man who’d arrived later lingered. He’d seen the tail-end of the feeding frenzy and asked me about it. I told him a bit of the bedlam, and then I offered to let him look at the one remaining ring I had, the piece that had been at the center of much of the contention.

He examined it and handed it back to me. “Your price is right on,” he told me. “Don’t let them talk you down.” A few minutes later, he left and then came back with an official gold scale, weighed the ring for me and showed me the value, proving that what I’d been asking for wasn’t unreasonable.

In the face of so much greed and nastiness, he was kind and generous with his time and information.

A little while later, a lady who’s been at my past sales came by. We chatted briefly about the jewelry vulture experience, and then she said, “Well, hopefully you made enough to make your rent.”

I sighed and told her that we hadn’t yet. She nodded.

“I’m not a religious person,” she began. “I don’t really believe in anything. I don’t go to church. But I was here before, and I heard you telling someone that everything works out. You said that God had taken care of you before. I remember you saying that. If he did then, I think he will now, too.”

My breath caught because this woman was saying precisely what I needed to hear, at the moment I needed to hear it. She didn’t buy anything, but she actually gave me more than anyone else did today.

As I sit tonight, considering how the day went, I could focus on the people who swarmed me early in the morning. I could be sad that we didn’t sell more, that my porch is filled with unsold items that will be donated later this week.

Or I could be grateful for the man who reassured me that I hadn’t held out too long on the price of the ring. I could focus on the woman who reminded me that it’s going to be okay, who reminded me of my own words. I could appreciate that we did make something toward the amount we need.

You don’t have to be religious or even spiritual to choose your point of focus. You just have to shift perspective . . . make the choice to see what is positive. I’m not preaching here. I know how hard life can be. Trust me.

But I’m going to do my best to look at the sunny side whenever can. Won’t you join me?