Stuff’s got to be old to make it worthwhile for Tara Hale to hit the pavement bright and early every weekend. Hale and her sister Sandy Schmidt have a standing Saturday morning garage sale date from May to August — no friends, no kids, go light and go fast.
They’re particular about what they’re looking for, though.
“Old stuff, vintage stuff, stuff for my garden,” Hale says. “I wouldn’t wake up at 8 o’clock to buy new stuff.”
The sisters have fine-tuned their routine for maximum efficiency. They get the paper the night before and highlight the sales they’re interested in. They spurn Internet listings because many older people advertise only in the newspapers.
“We’re a little snobby about where we go — we do Riverdale, Porter Creek, the older neighbourhoods because there are more old people and they have the stuff we like.”
They only go to the ones they’ve highlighted, although they’ve been known to do the dreaded drive by — cruising slowly past a sale to do a quick visual scan before either stopping or driving on.
It’s an practice that can destroy a garage sale holder’s self-esteem.
Once at a sale, they do a quick once over, then split up. This strategy allows them to get through many yards, spending only about 5 minutes at each, unless it’s really good.
For Hale and Schmidt estate sales and church sales are especially rich.
“That’s where the old stuff is,” Hale says. “They just have boxes of things. They don’t unpack anything, they don’t price anything, you just take a box and take it to the guy and he’ll say five bucks and you’ll take the whole thing.”
What makes a bad garage sale? Hale’s two pet peeves are half-burned candles and free plastic pots that plants come in.
“Our joke is that if we ever see a table of planter pots and burned candles, we’re going to flip the table right over,” Hale says. “You can’t sell a pre-burned candle. You should give that stuff away.”
Unlike many, Hale doesn’t tend to haggle. She’s willing to pay the sticker price, or just put it back on the table.
“If it’s old people, my sister and I are funny,” she says. “We lost our mom about five years ago, so it seems like every little old lady who we see selling stuff is like our mom, so we want to talk to her and we end up paying like double what she’s asking for because we just think, ‘This is her stuff.'”
Not only that, she loves the people she meets so much, she can end up buying things she might not need.
“There was a lady in Riverdale who had two garage sales two years in a row because she had to downsize to move into a home,” Hale says. “Her kids didn’t want any of her stuff. My sister and I — my god, we bought so much stuff. I have a bag of jewellery downstairs because I thought this can’t go to just anyone. It’s funny how you just take on the story of the people of the things you buy.”
Her big find this season is a huge sign that says, “Thank you. Please call again” which is now mounted on the outside of her house, just above one of Hale’s charming perennial beds.
“The man I bought it from said they used to put it out at the end of their driveway so that people would see it as they drove home from parties.”
Hale uses many of her purchases in her garden, but being a crafter, a florist, and an events planner under the company name the Wishfactory, she often incorporates her treasures into her work. Her crafts are fibre-based works that use floral and garden motifs and can be checked out on Facebook.
“If I’m using something in an art piece I love the juxtaposition of old rusty stuff with the bright felts, fabrics and sequins.”
Garage sales require commitment, but for Hale, the objects of the past are worth the hunt.
“The quality is always better,” she says. “They weren’t mass produced and the styles of the 50s and 60s were always so kooky.”