Barnes and Noble shelves are filled with books on grief and grief counseling and, as one who has suffered some socially legitimate grief in her life, I certainly don’t mean to make light of grief in any way, particularly in light of these times when people are once again throwing themselves off bridges and other high places, if only figuratively. However, I do believe that some consideration needs to be given to Garage Sale Grief since it afflicts so many, regardless of the dearth reported in the media or prayed over on Sundays (or Saturdays or Fridays, for that matter). So, with utmost respect for the gargantuan range of grief that people are experiencing, I put forth the Four Stages of Garage Sale Grief to promote greater understanding in the populace at large, both the large portion of hunter-gatherers scanning their local and regional papers on Friday’s (and Thursdays’s and Saturday’s for the hard core), mapping our their routes, matching hours of sales with density in given areas, quality of area, distance from starting point and distance from Sale #1 forward through the ten or so sales they hope to get to the next day, and the fewer retailers-for-a-day who are having the Garage Sales (or Yard Sales, though there is a distinction to be made between the Garage Sale and the Yard Sale. I fully acknowledge the validity of the Yard Sale, and have been known to cruise by a few myself of a lazy summer weekend, but herein lies the very distinction itself. I ask you, can you, in good conscience, equate the Yard Sale event – one for which neighbors or extended families gather together, often with their little urchins racing around the tables of goods, upending those boxes of tattered toys to grab the broken hula hoop, the ragged Curious George, the Godzilla action figures, the red wig that was the very essence of the Little Mermaid, for a resurrection of their tiny memory banks of fun – these rambunctious young families gathering on the green lawn of one or the other, someone starting up the grill, chilling the beer and the sweet tea (substitute Kool Aid, lemonade, sodas for Anywhere, USA), putting out the lawn chairs (NFS of course), some in front of the (possibly for sale) TV plugged by way of multiple extension cords stretched as far from the garage as they will reach, ready for the long leisurely day chatting, occasionally selling the badly cleaned grill, deflated football, odd mismatched glasses, old paperbacks, and cookies (cookies!). I ask you, does this equate to the bona fide Garage Sale, the rain or shine event which disrupts the very gut of a home, forces complete subjugation of all authentic garage items (cars, trucks, lawn mowers, bicycles, lawn games, man-stuff, etc.) so that days, perhaps weeks, can be spent hauling boxes from the netherlands of the home, examining contents, sorting, choosing, re-sorting, reclaiming and handling endlessly in the arrangement of such items so that they will indicate meaning at the Actual Sale, during which there is room for only one lone attendant, staring at the residue of his or her (but usually her) life, assaulted by memories, to make change for that dollar bill thrust out as the offer on the Mister Coffee (asking $5 - how many dimes, nickels, quarters will I need?)? Need I say more? Garage Sale Grief is real and palpable. Yard Sale Grief? I don’t think so.
Hereafter we will speak only of the Garage Sale (GS) and with quiet respect, Garage Sale Grief (GSG), and one holding the GS as the Garage Saler.
Of course, the initial or Stage One of GSG, Deciding, starts not with sadness, but rather with either 1) the heartfelt desire to lighten the load, simplify, make a physical/spiritual space in one’s metaphorical Garage/Life or, 2) make some money (which may also achieve #1 if one is very, very fortunate and has excellent Karma). For some, these ostensibly obvious two purposes begin to morph back and forth almost immediately, usually beginning with The Box. The Box is a professional term used to describe that item, heretofore hidden from daily view, perhaps in an actual box, but more likely put in an attic or basement, hidden behind, stashed away, but certainly forgotten. Oh, Forgotten! How soon we forget! How could we have forgotten! Don’t you remember when…?
And so it begins, Stage Two: The Angst of Letting Go. It is possible, at this point, if one is doing the GS alone, without emotional and tactical support, that paralysis may set it. It can strike with the speed and power of a new Cuisinart on a Bermuda onion – final, irremediable, forestalling any future plans for the Garage Sale. The unsuspecting Garage Saler simply cannot deal with the guilt of forgetting, cannot withstand the onrush of poignant memories -tiny fingers pressed into the plaster of paris Mother’s Day gift, the dusky smell of Grandma’s hairbrush, the box of matchbox cars, little plastic hammers and saws, a father’s fedora. The Saler is lost. The usual response is to replace the goods (a long sigh, perhaps a few tears, a story or two recalled), close The Box and guilt free, having now cancelled all GS plans, return to the forgetting. However, should the Garage Saler have been forewarned by a sharp eyed and experienced Garage Saler Guide, this phase can be delicately handled with patience, hugging, an empathetic ear, enabling the grief stricken to gracefully move on to the next stage.
Stage Three: It’s Only Stuff. (This paradigm shift is critical if one is to not only recover from the GS experience, but to move on to a position of Support For Others embarking on their first GS experience.) The phrase, “It’s only stuff!” must not be acknowledged by the experienced Guide too quickly lest the Garage Saler think the Guide is making light of the “stuff” in question, and therefore, the whole painful, excruciating exercise. This can result in anger and a lasting distrust of the friendship. Tread with care upon others’ memories. It’s Only Stuff is the transitional stage of GSG, the stage during which the Garage Saler has time (while moving boxes, bins, furniture, pieces of her unexamined life, chunks of her persona, of her history, of her memory, of her successes and fears) to recite the litany of the transition from purpose #1 and 2, mentioned above, to the Truth of It’s Only Stuff. Momentarily overwhelmed by decisions and memories she can usually accept the Guide’s suggestion that the sorting begin with what can be disposed of (“…just the stuff you really want to throw away…”). Saler, desirous of comporting herself with dignity, mumbles the new mantra, “it’s only stuff”, as she discards the detritus of that camping trip, old house, school holidays – crushed Coleman stove, torn sweats, cracked pottery lamp, worn out kitchen utensils with melted handles from when she had that gas stove in college, it’s only stuff, kid’s coloring books (whose were they?), unidentifiable metal things (he should have stayed to help me sort this stuff out!), oil paints hardened in the tubes (damn, I wish I’d taken that class..), bird house (ick – stinky), small dressing table chair (oh. Damn. Mom’s. It’s only stuff. It doesn’t work in this house. Kids don’t want it. It’s only stuff, Mom.) It’s only stuff. The process may be short, more likely, long. It requires the sorting through of so much more than the stuff. The sorting of memory, of feeling, of sadness and joy, all takes time. And then, in one moment, the window opens and the Garage Saler looks out at her garage full of stuff, and it IS just stuff – beautiful stuff, ugly stuff, useful and useless, reminiscent but no longer redolent of emotion. A Heart Shift has taken place. Memories of sadness, anxiety, anger are gone – weighed and found no longer valuable. The goods are now Just Stuff. Memories of love, joy, fun, generosity are so alive that the goods representing these emotions pale by comparison – just stuff.
Prepared now to let go, she enters Stage 4: The Sale. It’s just stuff – stuff that the young couple are so excited to get for $2 for their kitchen, stuff the man collects for his shop, stuff the mom will use to do projects with her children…wonderful stuff, and so cheap! Aren’t they lucky!
Aren’t I lucky? I love. I am loved. I am free.