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My Great American Garage Sale

Let me blunt: I'm a tightwad. A cheapskate. A Scrooge of sorts. My mother calls me, “Frugal,” but that's only because she's a kind woman.

So that is why I love garage sales. I love browsing through them, buying trinkets on the cheap and bragging about my finds. How would the kids say it? “Ain't no garage sale like a Grosse Pointe garage sale.” Generally, my neighbors tend to sell things with tags still on them – items barely worn, played with or even enjoyed.

But after this weekend, I'll admit: I hate throwing one. I thought it would be an interesting look into the psyche of the Metro Detroit consumer. Perhaps what my shoppers purchased would give me some insight into the troubles and concerns of the average Michigan resident. At the very least, I could clean out my basement and cupboards.

Instead, here's my grand conclusion courtesy of my West Coast friend Laura: Put the big stuff on consignment and give the rest to a good non-profit organization (in my case, The Salvation Army). It makes for good karma, and it helps those truly in need. Otherwise, you're going to be haggled, harassed and haggard by day's end.

The plan started so well: It was supposed to be a Neighborhood Block Sale. In years previous, five or more houses would all chip in, place the classified ad and put out their wares by 9 a.m. sharp. You'd get tons of traffic, sell all of your stuff and have ample closet space as a result.

This year, only two of us ended up out there in the wet, muggy early hours Saturday. That made our shoppers cranky, I think, and it may be why they were so hungry for a deal. I'm a veteran garage saler – I know you don't mark things up or expect to get what you paid for when you do these things. But when I tell you something costs $1, don't try to drop it down to 10 cents. I'm just not gonna budge.

Years ago, I remember going to one Grosse Pointe garage sale where one woman priced her dining-room set – an aging, yellowing thing – at the gross price of $800. I walked away laughing. That's such bad Garage Sale Etiquette. I don't think she was hurting financially; I think she was plum crazy. But I digress.

My kids even did the cute thing of having a lemonade stand for 25 cents a cup – a bargain price compared to what some of the other rug rats in the area are charging. They made all of $1.25, and most of that came from me.

In the end, I made enough money to pay for one week's worth of groceries for my family of four. I got a sunburn, and perhaps a cavity from all that over-sweetened lemon drink. Still, the kids and I had fun, unrolling all the “For Sale” sleeping bags and pretending to camp out on our front lawn. I'm sure I reduced our property values even further, and I may have convinced a few more neighbors that I'm a little soft in the head.

All in all, it's just not worth it. I felt the same way after selling some of my baby bargains at a Mom-to-Mom sale. It was more fun to shop other people's tables than to man my own. Plus, I had to invest about eight hours to just selling there, and that made my total hourly rate about $6. For those earnings, I'd rather sweep the streets.

Here's my new thinking: People love a bargain, but not many people are going to pay for the gasoline, waste their valuable weekend time or care to wade through all of my unwanted junk. Yes, Michigan is hurting. Detroit is teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, as are many other suburban cities. But maybe we all feel like we have enough to get by. Adding a few more trinkets to the pile isn't going to make anyone – or any city – feel any better.

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