My dad always used to get sad when he heard the Harry Chapin song “Cat’s in the Cradle,” for its depiction of how kids grow up so quickly and, all the while, we’re too busy working so we can feed them to spend any quality time with them. Before we know it, they’re grown and gone, just when we’re ready to sit down and have a chat.
I can’t even listen to the song all the way through – it’s a complete downer. No other song quite so clearly says, “You were in over your head having kids in the first place, and now look what you’ve done to them.”
Harry Chapin must have been getting ready for a garage sale when he wrote the song. There’s just no more fitting theme song – or punishment – for sifting through box after bottomless box of memories in the form of Barbies and baseball gloves. Short of waking up from a 20-year-long coma, what other visual conveys the passing of time more starkly than a couple of decades’ worth of paint guns, glitter batons, hula hoops, Halloween costumes and catapults? The cats in the cradle were just part of the hoard in our attic, which is why we decided it was time for the big purge: the garage sale to end all garage sales.
I have friends, neighbors and relatives who have garage sales regularly, and I’ll never understand how they do it. I’d rather have a baby than have a garage sale. Neither being practical, I swore off having garage sales (and babies) years ago after a hosting The Sale from Hell.
Something in the ad must have alerted the creepies to pound the tom-toms about my sale. They came from near and far. After shooing away the pre-dawn throngs who refused to get off my lawn when the sprinklers switched on and arguing with customers about what wasn’t for sale in the garage, I tackled a garage sale shoplifter – the universe’s lowest life form – as she scurried across my yard with a still-new-in-the-package sheet set. And it wasn’t even noon on Day 1. (Side note: There’s a special place in hell for your ilk, garage sale shoplifters.)
Memories from the Sale from Hell (and the grass stains on my knees from the shoplifter incident) gave us a convenient excuse to postpone holding regular garage sales every two or three years like we should have, but I’ve decided that a good, regular purge is the only sure way to avoid a sudden onset of nostalgia about parting with a Superman cape here or a tire swing there. We could have eased into this separation with those sparkle-plenty glitter flippers years ago instead of crying about them now while “Cat’s in the Cradle” spools on continuous loop in our heads.
Until the recent garage sale to end all garage sales, I used to manage burgeoning closets any time trucks made their rounds through the neighborhood. Donations like these are so much easier because there are no real rules of engagement (and no physical contact).
Garage sales, on the other hand, are all about mental (and sometimes physical, if you must tackle a shoplifter) engagement. The entire process of putting your stuff on display for evaluation and eventual sale is a dance – a dance with my stuff. The logical side of me reasons, “Get rid of it! It’s just stuff!” But the fool in me who put off having the garage sale for 20 years reasons that it’s stuff I didn’t want to send away in the first place. It’s stuff someone places a smaller value on than I do. Stuff I don’t want someone touching if they’re not going to love it. Stuff that used to make me yell out loud when I’d see it scattered through the house, wedged between the bed and the wall, or packed between the cushions of the couch. Stuff I crossed the five-county metro to find before wrapping it at 2 a.m. on Christmas. Stuff someone in my family loved once because it was important at the time. Stuff I collected to start or complete a set. Stuff I made. Stuff my kids made. Stuff that connected us to a certain place and time. Stuff I kept because it meant something to my kids at the time. Stuff I kept because I thought it would mean something to them when they were older, but it didn’t. Stuff I kept because I didn’t want to forget how it felt to own it. Stuff that’s part of who we were. Stuff that made me happy. Stuff I hope will make someone else happy.
Seeing it all on display, I know exactly why I’ll put 20 years between me and my next garage sale: I AM unapologetically attached to my stuff.
Cue the Harry Chapin.