Three random story ideas picked up while rummage sale shopping

Wisconsin has several proud traditions, including Friday Fish Fry and shoveling snow into April. One of our favorites, however, is rummage sale season. In some places, they’re called yard sales, garage sales or rummages, but they all serve the same purpose: People who want to get rid of some of their stuff will post an ad/signs and other people will come from all over the place to find hidden jewels among the junk.

Ever since I can remember, I spent my summers seeking out rummage sales, estate sales, flea markets and more. I stocked my life with secondhand books, Mad magazines and old baseball cards. Now, I tend to look for old furniture to restore, vintage signs to hang in the garage and… well… old baseball cards.

After spending a pretty darned cold weekend scouring the city of Neenah for these items, I came back with a corner hutch for my wife, a SPAM T-shirt for my kid and three potential story ideas for you all:

WHEN HIP AND TRENDY GOES SPLAT: Last year around this time, my kid was begging for a fidget spinner, to the point I was stalking the only area Walgreens that got a shipment once a week. When I finally got there at exactly the same time as the shipment, there were at least three crazed parents digging through a box that hadn’t even been stocked yet. We had all the grace of a pack of “walkers” that caught a slow, fat guy on “The Walking Dead.” I bought four of them, kept two and sold two to a colleague, whose children were so grateful, they wrote me these wonderful thank you notes.

This year? They are rummage sale fodder at about 50 cents a piece.

Rummage sales are great opportunities to recall what used to be cool, given that people tend to use the sales to dump off things they bought as part of a trend, but now wonder, “What the heck was I thinking?”

Beanie Babies, pogs and Tickle Me Elmo dolls are just a few of the toys that fit that bill. There are also the “health trends” like the Ab Lounge and the Thigh Master that show up from time to time. Look at what’s out there and help people take a trip through time as you recall what used to be the “it” thing.

FOLLOW THE PROFESSIONALS: Shows like “Storage Wars” and “American Pickers” showcase the glamorous life of big finds and digging through other people’s stuff. On a much smaller scale, areas that have estate and rummage sales tend to have lower-level pros as well. These are folks who have specific collecting needs, antiques shops and other similar desires to find “that one thing” they desperately want.

For a while, my wife was into Jadite dishware, a 1930s-1940s-era green glass stuff that was utterly ridiculously overpriced at antiques shops. However, if I scoured the rummages around me, I tended to find a piece here and a piece there on the cheap. In showing up early for these sales, I kept bumping into the same six people who were all waiting early. There was a “tool guy” and a “fishing guy” who always were there for one or two items they collected. There were three women who ran antiques booths at the local vintage shops who were polite while we waited, but went after each other like “The Hunger Games” when the doors opened. They bumped and checked each other out of the way as they flung themselves through the house in search of items that could be flipped at their booths.

Find one or two of these people and do a profile piece on the life of a professional rummage-sale junkie. See if you can tag along for a weekend and see what it takes to be that person, what motivates him or her and the ups and downs of the “business.”

EMBRACE THE WEIRDNESS: If the eyes are the windows to the soul, rummage sales are the door to the weirdest room in someone’s head. Most rummage sales are simple affairs: Parents dumping off baby clothes and equipment now that their kids are grown, older adults “downsizing” before they head to a smaller home or folks just trying to clean out some  clutter.

However, some of the things that pop up at rummage sales have you thinking you’re about three steps away from being part of a “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” reboot. Or even worse.

I went to rummage sales where the main item is dead things. Bleached animal skulls, lamps made from animal horns, bone-based items and more. Hunters live in this area make that a little less weird than it might seem at first blush, but I’m not exactly sure who goes to a rummage sale thinking, “This is perfect! I was looking for a skull of about this size!”

There are also people selling tons of unopened products like shampoo, toothpaste, body wash and cereal. Occasionally, there are “opened” products as well. Who the heck wants to buy a “once used” stick of deodorant? I don’t know but it could have been mine for a dollar. Also, I have no aversion to used clothing of some types (ties, shirts, even pants) but some things I want my own of. I don’t know why but this weekend I ran into three sales that had rows upon rows on a table of used bras. Someone can clue me in what that’s OK, but undergarments tend to have me thinking, “I’ll just buy some new ones, thanks.”

Figure out what are some of the weirdest things for sale and ask about them. See if you can find trends in the weirdness or if there’s just that “one guy” who is selling stuff that makes you think, “I’d better make sure I can get cell service out here…”


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