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 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???


Flickr Creative Commons
November 26, 2015 | NPR · Urban foragers don’t just pick their meals from the trash; many eat only the finest, freshest produce — picked from city trees. The League of Urban Canners harvests fruit from trees to make jam.

November 26, 2015 | NPR · Pope Francis is making his first-ever trip to Africa, where he is stopping in Kenya, then Uganda and the Central African Republic. All three nations are dealing with issues related to religious extremism.

November 26, 2015 | NPR · Burned the turkey? You’re in good company. Even accomplished chefs have suffered unsalvageable meal messes. Ruth Reichl, Jaques Pepin and Pati Jinich share their stories.

Arts & Life

November 26, 2015 | NPR · Burned the turkey? You’re in good company. Even accomplished chefs have suffered unsalvageable meal messes. Ruth Reichl, Jaques Pepin and Pati Jinich share their stories.

November 26, 2015 | NPR · NPR film critic Bob Mondello offers a selective preview of the likely blockbusters and Oscar contenders that Hollywood has in store for the end of the year.

Courtesy of 47North
November 26, 2015 | NPR · Ursula Vernon (writing as T. Kingfisher) delivers a fleet, stripped-down fairy tale with echoes of Bluebeard and Peter Beagle. Critic Tasha Robinson praises Vernon’s tough-minded, distinctive women


Courtesy of the artists
November 26, 2015 | NPR · Ari Shapiro speaks with four artists — Oregon’s Blind Pilot, Nashville’s Rayland Baxter, Atlanta’s Raury and Colombia’s Kali Uchis — about a fellow musician they’re grateful for.

November 26, 2015 | KCRW · Watch the ambitious neo-soul collective perform “By Fire” live at Apogee Studio.

Courtesy of the artist
November 26, 2015 | WXPN · Hear the ZZ Top guitarist like you’ve never heard him before.

Get the KRCC iPhone App

The Writer's Almanac