Just when you thought Melbourne had it all, the world’s third most liveable city can add another feather to its cap. But hold onto your high horse – this has nothing to do with festivals, food or footy. Think conscientious-consumerism-meets-hagglers’-heaven because according to Google Insights data, Victorians are the biggest online searchers for garage sales in the country.
Leaving the rest of the Australia at the shopping mall, it seems the good citizens of Victoria not only love to shop, but a whole lot of us are doing it on a Saturday morning at the crack of dawn, elbow to elbow, on someone’s trestle-lined driveway. Billed as garage sales, lawn sales or moving sales, the basic premise is the same: an informal sale of miscellaneous second-hand household and personal goods held on the vendor’s private property. Expect prices under ten dollars except for furniture and larger appliances and equipment, which are valued at around a third of the original cost and sold ‘as is’.
It sounds like the high street shopper’s worst nightmare, but it seems there’s more to it. Why are we so keen on garage sales? Just follow the signs…
For the hard-nosed dealers and on-sellers it’s all about adding value: seizing the finest quality items and bundling them for re-sale through community markets, second-hand stores and eBay. Books, clothing, working appliances and furniture hold their value well and can provide a profitable sideline for the weekend entrepreneur. You may not appreciate them fronting up an hour earlier than advertised, but expect to make your best sales to dealers before the day has begun.
Garage sales are open slather for avid collectors, and one great find could be the making of that rare tea set, footy card suite or Thomas line-up. The delight in paying trash prices for unknown treasures shouldn’t go underestimated, especially when a bout of snatch’n’grab or frenzied bidding heightens the stakes.
Amateur enthusiasts admit it’s not necessarily the junk they’re attracted to, but the expectation of the unexpected: a shiatsu pad for that bad back; a perfectly fitting parka for next month’s ski trip. Armed with the limp ‘because it’s there’ excuse, most amble through three or four sales in a morning with no other agenda than gleeful curiosity.
‘Michael’ (not his real name) is a seasoned garage sale hopper and willing Saturday morning tour guide. Able to spot a hand-drawn arrow from a hundred meters, Michael navigates his regular circuit by instinct, snubbing the advertised listings (‘too much effort’) for well-placed signage and the telltale gathering of cars and balloons in a quiet suburban street. He’s lured by the ‘thrill of the chase’ - discovering that elusive sci-fi title under a pile of Women’s Weeklys. There’s also an element of curiosity: a voyeuristic peek into other people’s lives and the value they place on their detritus.
Like other long-term garage sale enthusiasts, Michael has had to curtail his fifteen-year habit around a less enthusiastic partner and more recently, his first child. Nowadays The List justifies his habit: four pages of micro-printed standing orders from friends and family, which he deems his mission to fill. Steven needs a Neptune figurine for his boat (under $5); Mary loves pre-2000 Smurfs (very good condition); Alex wants children’s books for his village in Sri Lanka (the postage far outweighs the cost). Participants set their budget and details of their existing collection. If Michael doubles up on a title he bares the cost. Otherwise it’s strictly COD.
Another reason to shop at garage sales is the opportunity for conscientious consumerism. It may not stimulate the economy, but it is an easy way to reduce, re-use and recycle. A new breed of salvagers are choosing to make a difference by furnishing their homes and lifestyles with second-hand goods, and garage sale favourites like books and quality children’s toys live well past trend-oriented use-by dates.
John Romaine knows why we’re so keen on garage sales. Everyday he fields queries, processes orders and dispatches signage from his five-year-old site www.egaragesales.com.au, where 70% of his advertisers are promoting garage sales in Melbourne and its outer suburbs. He publishes a myriad of information, reviews and articles online, from ‘How to Prevent Early Birds – Four Easy Methods’ to ‘The Art of Haggling’. Romaine believes garage sales are an ‘Australian way of life’. Along with the lure of hidden treasures at bargain prices, he reckons they’re popular because they’re contagious, spreading from neighbours to whole communities on the premise: if they can make a couple of hundred dollars, imagine what our junk could earn!
Flip the coin and there are just as many reasons why garage sales appeal to vendors.
In these economically challenging times, cash is definitely king and people are finding new ways to secure it firmly in their pockets. Whereas they had previously shunted old stuff to the op shop, young families, empty nesters and new home owners are discovering there’s money to be made on the front lawn and with a bit of effort, a few hundred or even thousand-odd dollars is worth the set-up.
It’s good enough for California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose ‘Great California Garage Sale’ raised almost $1.9 million in August this year. Declaring ‘We’re trying to raise some extra money here, getting rid of the old stuff we don’t use anymore’, his state’s budget deficit of $31 billion may not have recovered, but the people of The Golden State lapped up the surplus prison shirts and jeans, antique pianos, office equipment and a selection 600 state-owned vehicles on offer. The lucky ones paid a premium for Arnie-autographed sun visors in their new cars.
For many vendors, whether moving house or just spring cleaning, it’s all about ‘de-cluttering’ – the buzzword that says as much about domestic pride as it does about mental health. Justine Law, director of household management service Domestica, understands the appeal of garage sales and recommends them as means of clearing clutter, but only if the person is able and ready to part with their excess belongings. Holding a garage sale can help a client see the benefit of ‘letting go of stuff, not just (financially) but spatially and emotionally’, which is a positive step for the average bowerbird (note that ‘a true hoarder would never have a garage sale’). The Australasian Association of Professional Organisers, of which Law is a member, concurs: ‘everyone has a different relationship with their stuff’ explains vice-president Roz Howland. ‘As long as a client is able to commit (to a time and date), and not use it as a tool for procrastination’, holding a garage sale is a productive way to de-clutter. It comes with a warning, however: there’s no point of return. Whatever’s not sold goes straight to charity.
Victorians have one other claim to fame, although perhaps not quite so noble. In his 2008 research paper ‘Stuff happens – Unused things cluttering up our homes’, Josh Fear concluded ‘Victoria has the most cluttered homes in Australia’. Need some fresh air? Given it’s also the most densely populated state in Australia, are Victorians simply running out of room for their stuff: 5 million hungry consumers with storage issues? Little wonder we’re hunting down those garage sales.