All About Rummage Sales

Discover why rummage sales can offer you a money-saving, grass-roots way to purchase and recycle items like clothes or household goods.

| May/June 1971

  • Rummage Sales
    Many people have found very valuable treasures while shopping at a local rummage sale.

  • Rummage Sales

Do you hanker for an alternative to Bigger—Better—New—Improved consumerism? Do discount stores and sterile shopping malls give you metaphysical nausea? Are you offended by plastic and depressed by those nasty "gift catalogues"—all alike—addressed to you in personalized computerese? Me too. But you still may need a spring coat, fabric for a wall hanging, a few sweaters, some dishes or slacks to wear around the homestead this season. So do I . . . but you won't find me paying fifteen dollars for them at any flossy shopping mall. I'll get mine at a rummage sale for ten or twenty-five cents.

Rummaging is loads of fun—if you like treasure hunts—and is a marvelous grass-roots way of recycling clothes and household goods. No top-heavy organization or sophisticated equipment is needed for rummage sales so you'll find them just about anywhere you go. Churches, fire company auxiliaries, lodges and women's clubs dispose of their surplus and outgrowns this simple way. It both makes money for the group and gives everyone involved a good morning's gossip. Cities, small towns—even some farmers' markets—have their rummage sales . . . usually in the spring and fall when folks are cleaning closets. Some organizations hold a sale both seasons, allowing you to be well-dressed year-round . . . without ever leaving your favorite charity!

Where and when are the rummage sales? Small town newspapers, radio stations and advertising flyers usually carry the notices. In a city, neighborhood newspapers and supermarket bulletin boards are your best bets. And—in both towns and cities—make a mental note of the location of the sales you attend. Often, the same vacant store is rented by a succession of groups offering rummage. Some city rummage sales are refined to the point of offering special sections of "antiques", "better dresses", "nearly new" and such. Prices, of course, are boosted to match; five to ten dollars for a really elegant coat or several dollars for a name-brand dress in excellent condition (though if the label matters, I doubt you've read this far!) 

At small town sales I've found near-antiques; some really good quality, well made clothes; and a few brand new things mixed in with the general run of stuff . . . all priced at a fraction of what you'd pay at the "boutique" rummages. You never know what you will turn up, of course. That's what makes it as much fun as a combined fishing expedition and grab bag outing.

O.K. So you know when to perk up your rummage antennae . . . now, what's the best way to approach the sport? There are two ways of looking at this. Many organizations hold their sale open for two days—or a day and an evening. Naturally, the best selection is available when the event first starts . . . and that means when the door opens. This is usually awaited by a line of at-the-ready shoppers as impatient to charge as kids fidgeting for the school dismissal bell. It's a funny thing to see. Prices are higher the first day (or morning of a one-day sale) than they'll be later on, but if you're looking for a particular item—skates, boots, an iron—this is the time to go. Toys and children's books always disappear soon . . . as do boys' clothes, dishes and useable appliances. When I go to a rummage sale, I arrive either at the very beginning (best selection) or at the very end (best prices). In the middle you get neither though. of course, if that's the only time you can get there it's still worth going.

At the end of a sale, the good ladies are anxious to clear out and go home and the clothing they're still knee-deep in begins to look less dear. Often they'll say "ten cents an item" or "fill a bag (standard grocery bag) for 50¢ or so. Coats go for a quarter ad skirts and blouses for a dime. Odds and ends such as doll clothes, sox and miscellaneous dishes are a penny each. Much depends on the group, the amount of leftover stock and the size of the haul they've already made. Which is to say that sometimes your coat comes high and sometimes low . . . but never more than two dollars. And where else could you do as well? Think of all those hidden taxes you're not paying . . . and where they're not going. When you rummage regularly things even out, and the occasional higher price you pay for something you dearly want will be balanced by the ridiculous lows paid for other things.

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