Garage Sale Spirituality

The pictures used in this article are from a Simplify Your Life Yard Sale held at the Fairfield Friends Meeting in Danville, Indiana.  The pictures were taken by Mary Lee Comer.  If your meeting has a yard sale with proceeds going to Right Sharing of World Resources, tell us about it!  Send us the pictures, and we will be happy to post them on our web site. And we thank you!!

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Since when could anyone find spirituality in garage sales?  What are you talking about?  Just think about the junk, the mess, the work, the dust on items left in the garage for months…years!  This is all as mundane and earthy as it gets, and utterly disgusting! Yet, think again; in every aspect of garage saling there is opportunity for spiritual experience and meaningful soul growth.  I hear you say, “Oh, come on now, how?”  Read on.

Even before your meeting or church decides to hold a Simplify Life Sale, there is a seed of awareness that grows in someone or in several people.  Perhaps you have held voluntary simplicity groups.  Perhaps you have been troubled by your own excessive material possessions.  Perhaps the budget of your meeting/church doesn’t include as much giving to others as you would like.  That seed of awareness germinates into ideas, plans, action steps and opportunity.

Fairfield Garage Sale #6

Planning

Planning for a Simplify Life Sale brings with it clear awareness of the excess stuff pervading our culture, overflowing from our closets.  There is a clarity and spaciousness created when unneeded items are removed.  Try the “put it in a box, close it up, wait a month” method.  If you haven’t needed or wanted the stuff in the box, off it goes to the Simplify Life Sale!  It goes without saying that cleaning, sorting and removal of excess are rewarding in themselves.  To quote Carolyn Stephens:

“…In life, as in art, whatever does not help hinders.  All that is superfluous to the main object of life must be cleared away, if that object is to be fully attained.  In all kinds of effort, whether moral, intellectual, or physical, the essential condition of vigor is a severe pruning away of redundancy.  Is it likely that the highest life, the life of the Christian body, can be carried on upon easier terms?”

Then there is the excitement generated when you realize that you will be making something (useful for others) from essentially nothing (completely expendable stuff).  Further energy can be generated as you consider where to send the proceeds generated from your efforts.  More on that later….

Selling

Once the goods are at the sale, sorted neatly and priced, the items begin to sell.  There is a physical release which if written as a chemical reaction might look something like this:

Fairfield Garage Sale #2

Release of unneeded material goods = Opportunity for
others who need those goods + a physical sense of lightening for those who release excess stuff.

This physical sense is a little like losing that extra 10 or 15 pounds.  You feel lighter with less stuff weighing you down.  You feel en-lightened.  And you are lighter, physically, with less to burden your spirit.

When folks who need things purchase them at low or insignificant cost, that is equivalent to our sharing those items with others who have need of them.  We all know to recycle, reuse, and reduce.  The Simplify Life sale recycles many items that would otherwise end up in the landfill.  What is unneeded stuff to me could be just what another person truly does need!

Then there’s the issue of our over abundance of financial wealth.  There’s a double opportunity here, not only sharing the excess goods with local folks but also sending the proceeds to where they can be most efficiently utilized (Africa and India come to mind).  We are all aware of the inequity of the distribution of wealth in this world.  Here we can transfer some of that wealth relatively easily and transform it into opportunity for others.

Fairfield Garage Sale #4Not to miss any opportunity, there are great teaching moments for adults and children in the Simplify Life Sale.  Children can sort through and donate some of their own things, help organize the sale, practice counting and interact with customers.  And, above all, they can be made more tender to the needs of others, the deeper motivation for the sale.

Purchasing

Purchasing?  What’s that got to do with all this?  Several things.  First, if you buy something that you actually need at a garage sale, you are recycling, saving money and denying the omnipresent commercial system of at least one sale.

The abundance at a sale provides you with a discrimination task.  Do I really need/want this?  Then there is the “good energy” moment when you find just what you need in a way that seems uncanny, serendipitous at least.  The couch was removed from the waiting room by my office, leaving a need for some replacement.  I imagined a trip to Office Max or Staples, but I was reluctant, thinking that two new chairs would probably cost $75-150 each.  Lo and behold, I turned down a small street (by mistake) on a Saturday morning, and there on a side yard were two decent (not perfect) oak office chairs, 2 for $25.  I offered $15 and the owner accepted.  Chairs into the back of my Forester, cleaned up and hauled to the office.  Problem solved.

Of course, you cannot naively assume that every time you need something you are going to find it at a garage sale!  That would be foolish.  But, to be open to possibility is a spiritual exercise.  There is an easy flowing of energy, which we as Quakers describe as “way opening.” Taoists would say that they are “in the Tao.”  Consider the lilies of the field.  We are provided for.  But in order to experience the opening, we have to be receptive to it.

And then, what about the digital camera that seemed too good a bargain to be true?  There are mistakes.  Advertisements make much of life seem too easy, too simple, too good, but reality is often quite different.  A lesson learned.

Cleaning Up

If you have ever cleaned up after a large yard sale, you will be appalled at the actual value of many originally costly items.  Treadmills come to mind.  How much did you pay for that?  You can’t pay people to take them home.  You cannot miss the awareness of excess and our difficulty in dealing with it.

Fairfield Garage Sale #7

You may develop a real appreciation for the organizations in your community that will take the dregs of your sale (and employ specially-abled persons in the process).  They will make good use of them.

David Orr, well-known ecologist, speaks of “nothing ugly, up or down stream.”  Having to deal with physical stuff and where it actually lands can help us become aware of the amount of non-recyclable stuff we use. It can help us to ask before we purchase something:  What was this made of?  How much toxic material does it contain?  Can it bio-degrade or be somehow re-used?

Finally, cleaning up (like setting up) can require cooperation.  One person cannot lift a heavy table, but four people can do it easily.

Transforming stuff into opportunity and empowerment

Now, then, as you prayerfully consider where the proceeds of your sale might go, thinking about all the very worthy organizations in your local communities, please consider those who can only dream of  the standard of living of the poor in the US.  What is our appropriate share of the resources belonging to the whole world?  What share belongs to those who have only a small voice with which to plead?

Right Sharing of World Resources is a Quaker organization dedicated to addressing the inequity in the distribution of wealth in the world through the funding of micro-enterprise projects in India, Sierra Leone and Kenya as well as the work of raising awareness in the wealthy world of our privilege and opportunity to share. Even small donations provide women and their families with dignity, hope and opportunity for meaningful change.

–  Linnea Wang