Confessions of a Yard-Sale Addict
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I confess, I sometimes wear dead people’s clothes. You got a problem with that?
On an otherwise aimless Saturday afternoon, my friend Ingrid – who happens to live in a condo in one of Canada’s wealthiest neighbourhoods, Toronto’s Forest Hill – phoned to let me know there was a basement sale at an Anglican church near her.
Don’t know how I’d missed it, but getting there late meant experiencing one of the great traditions of rummage sales: the fill-up-a-garbage-bag-for-$10 final half-hour. As expected, even the remnants of the castoffs of the 1% was a cut-above. I snagged practically new gloves, a Nike athletic shell, a Hockey Canada windbreaker, a cashmere scarf, and then…
It was the Holt-Renfrew label that caught my eye. A subtly rust-coloured cashmere-blend Canali jacket that looked like it had never been worn. It fit perfectly. Into the bag it went.
My wife Bianca studied fashion in college and worked in clothes-buying early on. And she was wide-eyed. She googled Canali and discovered the jacket had been at least $1,500 new. It was the kind of designer schmatta I’d admire in GQ and then laugh when I saw the suggested retail price. I’ve worn it to events since and it drew compliments and a lot of admiring fabric “feels.”
Well-heeled people like Loblaws’ CEO Galen Weston, McDonald’s Canada’s George Cohon and Barrick Gold Corporation’s Peter Munk live in the neighbourhood. So, I imagined the jacket was received as a gift by somebody who maybe didn’t like the colour or fit, and thought nothing of tossing it to charity.
“Or maybe they died,” Bianca added helpfully.
All very possible. As yard-salers and estate-salers since the ‘80s, we have inherited an awful lot of dead people’s stuff at fire-sale prices – clothes, paintings, furnishings, garden pieces, objets d’art. Sometimes we come up empty, but snagging “stuff” is only part of the reason we do it. We regularly see parts of the city and neighbourhoods we’d never otherwise have an excuse to visit.
And, particularly at estate sales, we get a glimpse of lives. Recently, through an online vintage tech site, I bought a vacuum tube that brought a 1955 AM/FM radio back to life. The estate sale at which we bought the radio was full of ancient electronics, TVs, guitar amplifiers, “hi-fis” etc. (For some reason, the late owner also possessed every episode on DVD of the ‘60s sitcoms Bewitched and Get Smart.) We tour their homes and possessions and discover tinkerers, handymen (handypersons?), seamstresses (seamsters?) and fitness nuts.
Anyway, I like to think I brought a little bit of the previous owner’s spirit back to life when the 63-year-old Panasonic began playing with a warm, rich sound.
The most unexpected thing we ever unearthed from an estate sale was an envelope taped to the bottom of a drawer. It contained 10 crisp ‘80s vintage $100 bills. We’d bought the chest of drawers for one of our young sons’ rooms, and it had sat in that room for two years before Bianca discovered the taped treasure. We couldn’t even remember where we’d bought it, but I think we paid $20 for it.
Why would someone hide a thousand dollars under a drawer? It turns out hiding bits of money for a rainy day is not uncommon among the elderly. I recently helped a friend empty out her recently-deceased grandfather’s apartment, and we found numerous $20 bills slipped in and between books and CDs.
In any case, the C-notes caused a commotion at the bank, as employee after employee demanded to see the ancient paper notes.