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

AP
September 2, 2015 | NPR · Actor Dean Jones, who starred in The Love Bug, That Darn Cat! and other classic Walt Disney movies, also played the role of Bobby in the original Broadway cast of Stephen Sondheim’s Company.
 

iStockphoto
September 2, 2015 | WYSO · Ohio will vote this fall on whether to legalize marijuana. The measure allows 10 growing sites; 10 groups of big investors already have dibs. Some would-be pot proponents are crying foul.
 

Getty Images/Gallo Images
September 2, 2015 | NPR · Earth is home to more than 3 trillion trees, a new map of forest density shows. That’s more than anyone realized. But the total is also down about 46 percent since the first humans arrived.
 

Arts & Life

AP
September 2, 2015 | NPR · Actor Dean Jones, who starred in The Love Bug, That Darn Cat! and other classic Walt Disney movies, also played the role of Bobby in the original Broadway cast of Stephen Sondheim’s Company.
 

Getty Images
September 2, 2015 | FA · Steve Silberman talks about how Nazi extermination plans and a discredited scientific paper about childhood vaccines shaped our current understanding of autism.
 

NPR
September 2, 2015 | FA · Jonathan Franzen weaves together a cavalcade of stories and characters in his latest novel. Critic Maureen Corrigan says that despite its breadth, Purity fails to “emotionally move the reader.”
 

Music

Courtesy of the artist
September 2, 2015 | NPR · “There’s a beautiful, kind of seductive trap in being autobiographical in our writing of songs: We just get stuck in our own syrup,” says the soul artist.
 

YouTube
September 2, 2015 | NPR · “Wildest Dreams” depicts a love story set in Africa, circa 1950, the director notes. It did not have a political agenda, and did have people of color in front of the camera and on the creative team.
 

Youtube
September 2, 2015 | NPR · Dreams and nightmares coexist in beautiful and haunting ways in this Icelandic singer’s latest video.
 

Get the KRCC iPhone App

The Writer's Almanac

Radiolab