Unexpected rewards reaped from yard sale

By  Lisa Petsche
  • September 28, 2007
“We can all do small things, with great love, and together we can do something wonderful.” Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta

My family just finished conducting a big yard sale. We're exhausted, but feeling good because the proceeds are going to the Dominican Republic Educational and Medical Supplies (D.R.E.A.M.S.) project, in which my daughter is involved.

{sidebar id=2}She's one of 12 successful candidates from her school who, along with two teachers, will be travelling in January to a remote mountain village in the Dominican Republic, to build housing. Ever since she received the news in June, she's been focused on saving up for the airfare and helping to fund-raise the necessary $10,000 for the project.

Shortly after Sarah's announcement, my mother, full of pride and excitement, suggested we hold an autumn yard sale, anticipating we could raise hundreds of dollars if we planned it right. She and Dad offered to be the hosts.

With my father by her side, Mom co-ordinated everything over the next three months, including soliciting donations, arranging pick-ups and sorting, cleaning, repairing, pricing and storing items.

The good news about charity yard sales is that donations are plentiful. The bad news? Some of it is pretty sorry stuff. (While one person's trash may be another person's treasure, some things are beyond salvage.)

We were fortunate to receive mostly saleable items – some quite valuable – since donations came primarily from people we know well, who wouldn't dream of burdening us with junk.

The day of the sale, we arrived early at my parents' place to set up. My daughter displayed poster boards featuring compelling photos from last year's D.R.E.A.M.S. project. The most sobering one is a close-up of a flimsy, rusting tin shack, not much bigger than our backyard storage shed. Beside it is written, "No human being should ever have to live like this."

Despite the best-laid plans, yard sales can be unpredictable, from the weather and neighbourhood competition, to customer turnout and demographics, to what sells and what doesn't. Over the course of the day, though, under sunny skies, we sold a lot of stuff.

Packing up the inevitable leftovers was the hard part, as we were ready to collapse by then. We were thrilled, though, upon learning we'd surpassed our ambitious target of $500, netting $565. The remaining items are being distributed to local charities.

My daughter appreciates how everyone in our extended family helped out in various ways: donating items, collecting donations, growing plants and baking treats to sell, pricing, setting up, selling, babysitting the youngest members and packing up. Even my deceased mother-in-law contributed in spirit, since we included items from her recently sold house.

They say that when you give, you receive as much, if not more, in return. This certainly was true of our undertaking. It opened our eyes to the excesses of our culture -– specifically, how much we North Americans own that we don't need and in many cases don't even value. Sorting through trip souvenirs, trinkets, knick-knacks, ceramics, glassware and other miscellaneous donations, my daughter commented, "There's a lot of (cheap, ugly and useless) stuff out there that should never have been made." She vowed never to buy any of it.

On a more upbeat note, we were gratified to witness how generous people can be in supporting a charitable cause. (One customer surprised us with a cash donation.)

Most remarkable, though, is how therapeutic an exercise organizing the sale turned out to be for my mother, who's been living with illness and disability for over a year. The endeavour provided her with a much-needed sense of meaning and purpose, diverting her attention from her health problems. It also helped build her stamina and restore her sense of self.

Depressed for some time, she re-engaged in life as she telephoned people in her social network and visited antique dealers (for appraisal of select items) and yard sales (for research), among other things. The yard sale project served as a form of rehabilitation in many ways.

In giving, Mom ended up receiving in ways none of us anticipated.

The way I see it, Thanksgiving came early for our family this year.

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