Nothing says summer in America quite like a yard sale. On the surface, it’s a great way to get rid of unwanted consumer goods and earn a little extra cash/find stuff you may or may not have been looking for on the cheap. But it can also be an extraordinarily personal act of revelation in which individuals turn their front yards and garages into intimate thrift stores of memory. It’s an opening up of one’s life to the neighborhood as consumer choices (taste in decor, embarassing mementos, books and sporting goods) tell stories the seller might want to forget or can no longer afford to carry. Haggled purchases thus become a kind of ritual divorce in which objects or cult cargoes with varying degrees of significance for the seller are parted from their histories and sentiments as they’re carried off into new lives. Of course, an untold number of disposable objects, unwanted gifts, etc., also fuel this purgatorial, fair-weather economy. Regardless, the sometimes-careful, often-mysterious arrangements of these objects in this folk market almost always create curious juxtapositions and narratives worth considering.

[Music in this piece: "Memories Are Made of This" as sung by Johnny Cash]

(We greatly appreciate your feedback in the comments below or to thebigsomething@krcc.org. If you liked this piece and feel inspired to do so, please consider joining, renewing your membership or making an additional gift HERE. Thanks!)

 

4 Responses to Still Life at Yard Sale

  1. Lenore Fleck says:

    Seeing collections like this, in a way, gives me hope for the world. We really could get by with a lot less stuff without changing the quality of our lives. Which means, we could get by using a lot less resources.

    But how to keep the economy going if we buy less stuff? Buy more experiences — concert tickets, lessons, dinner out, art; make more donations.

  2. michael comora says:

    i have always said several things about yard sales……well, first i have said mine is the home that yard sales built…and that if you look carefully you can almost always find just 1 item that you absolutely need from even a junky yard sale….and then also i have said…yard sales are better than stealing because you don’t have to feel guilty…
    But more importantly is one of my other great yardsale quotations which is that it is only half about the stuff and the other half about getting to meet some great neighbors…..and they are a captive audience because they are stuck waiting in their chairs as they mind their yardsale. Also, i agree with the KRCC narrative that we truly do learn a lot about people from their sales……Happy Yard SAiling!!

  3. Matt H says:

    Always start at the record collection.

  4. Hiker gal says:

    love the shot of the clothes hanging from the picket fence. dang – did I see a hula hoop???

News

July 31, 2014 | NPR · An isolation unit at Emory University’s hospital will be used to treat a patient infected with Ebola, the virus that has killed more than 700 people in a recent outbreak in West Africa.
 

AFP/Getty Images
July 31, 2014 | NPR · About 58 percent of California is currently in the worst of the four drought levels used by experts, in conditions normally seen only once every 50-100 years.
 

AP
July 31, 2014 | NPR · The truce is set to begin at 8 a.m. local time Friday. Envoys will also travel to Cairo to negotiate a possible longer peace deal.
 

Arts & Life

Well Go USA
July 31, 2014 | NPR · The very prolific James Franco directs a Cormac McCarthy adaptation that struggles to overcome a repulsive main character with whom it’s almost impossible to empathize.
 

IFC Films
July 31, 2014 | NPR · The drama War Story is trying to wrap itself around both a personal story of a traumatized journalist and some larger social issues. Despite a strong central performance, it succeeds only partially.
 

Courtesy of Sundance
July 31, 2014 | NPR · The eight-part drama that begins Thursday stars Maggie Gyllenhaal as a British baroness with an Israeli passport. She’s a fearless actor in a show full of kidnappings, seductions and betrayals.
 

Music

July 31, 2014 | NPR · Harvest Records used to be known for having a strong link to the progressive rock sound of 1970s London. After laying dormant for years, the label is back, and looking for a new identity.
 

Courtesy of Jerry Graham Publicity
July 31, 2014 | NPR · The New York rapper on the music industry — from sitting on the shelf, to refusing deals, posthumous releases to sales expectations — music journalism and taking risks, personal and professional.
 

July 31, 2014 | WPLN · Sometimes the kids you hear on records for kids aren’t really kids. In fact, there’s a crew of adult singers in Nashville that specializes in sounding young — very young.
 

Get the KRCC iPhone App

The Writer's Almanac

Radiolab