We all have to part with our beloved childhood belongings at some point. My mother organized an online sale for mine. There are books about how decluttering can make you feel lighter, but I couldn’t have felt heavier about letting go of the decapitated doll that had once been a loyal playtime buddy, or those roller skates that had caused both bruises and joy. I felt as though I were selling the best years of my life.

A few days later my mother handed me the box that had held the belongings we’d sold. Confused, I opened it to find a photograph of each item, accompanied by a note in her handwriting. I didn’t have the toys or clothes anymore, but I did have the memories.

Savera Hota
New Delhi

My husband and I had recently moved back to the US after living in Germany for five years. At a yard sale in our new neighborhood, I noticed a beautiful teapot with a pattern of blue flowers peeking out of an abundance of greenery. It resembled some of the cups and saucers I had brought home from Germany. Checking the price tag, I asked the elderly woman slumped in a lawn chair, “Does this say ten dollars?”

Mistaking my question for an attempt to negotiate, she offered, “How about eight?”

I assured her that ten was fine. She wrapped the teapot carefully in newspaper before putting it in a bag.

At home I found that the pattern did not match anything I owned. I also saw an unfamiliar maker’s mark on the bottom of the pot and decided to have it appraised. My husband and I were on a strict budget in the 1980s, so when an antique dealer offered me $250, I thought I had hit the jackpot. We had dinner out to celebrate our good fortune.

That night I dreamt of miniature blue flowers surrounding a woman in a faded housedress. She seemed to need the ten-dollar bill I’d handed her.

The next day I walked back to the house where I had bought the teapot. Before I could have second thoughts, I explained to the woman that I had made money selling her teapot and wanted to share the profit with her: $125. She burst into tears and told me that it would help with her husband’s medical expenses. We ended up having tea and a long conversation. As I was about to leave, a wave of guilt washed over me—did I really need that money?—and I insisted she take the remaining $125.

I was halfway down the block when the woman ran after me to give me an envelope. “This is for you,” she said. When I opened it at home, I found two five-dollar bills and a note that read, “Sharon: You forgot your refund. Remember the good you did today.”

Sharon Ammen
Westchester, Illinois

I took up hiking to heal from a tumultuous infertility journey filled with losses, including an in vitro fertilization whose failure we learned about on Christmas morning and a heartbeat that stopped after eight weeks. Being outdoors has helped me move forward, one step at a time.

When I stop to camp, I make a mess: everything out of my pack, gear strewn about, clothes drying on tree branches. One morning a fellow hiker surveyed my scattered belongings and exclaimed, “What’s this? A yard sale?”

Soon I was known all along the 485 miles of the Colorado Trail’s Collegiate East route as “Yard Sale.”

I embraced the nickname. Like a yard sale, the trail taught me to let go of things that no longer served me. I walked off my insecurity, my fear, and my feelings of failure and defeat. The high mountains, lush valleys, and ponderosa-pine forests absorbed my grief, and I reached the trail’s terminus with a renewed spirit.

Yard Sale is the stronger, braver version of myself: an infertility warrior, a suicide-prevention ambassador, a miscarriage survivor, and an aspiring mama-to-be. I don’t know where I’d be without her.

Lauren Jones
Englewood, Colorado

Before my family moved to Costa Rica, we held a yard sale to clear out our house. Among the wares were some paintings I’d inherited from my grandmother. They were all Christian images: Jesus with flowing white robes and a shepherd’s crook. Jesus as a baby with pearly skin and blond locks. The Last Supper in tones of gray with colorful highlights for the disciples’ clothing. Though the paintings reminded me of my grandmother, it was time to accept that they were never going to graduate from the basement. I priced them at a few dollars each.

I was surprised when the first and second customers at the sale each bought a Jesus picture. Thinking the paintings might be more valuable than I knew, I decided I should save at least one for myself. I went to the art table and discovered that all the pictures had disappeared. I felt a sense of deep emptiness and shock. Nothing had been more important to my grandmother than Jesus, and I’d set her paintings out in the yard for common thieves to steal.

It took me a while to realize that the Jesus my grandmother loved had nothing to do with the artwork I’d lost, and that my memory of her faith was not available for the taking.

Annika Fjelstad
Minneapolis, Minnesota

My mother is a legendary deal-finder. When I had no money, she bought me a car for sixty-five dollars at a garage sale, and when I needed a long white gown for my eighth-grade graduation, she paid three dollars for a stunning Lord & Taylor number that made me feel like a million bucks.

In 1984 I had to leave my husband, and my two young children and I moved in with my folks. My dad died about a year later. Three months after that, my mom was diagnosed with lung cancer. It eventually metastasized to her liver, and she had to undergo chemotherapy.

One Friday evening I asked my mom if she was up to babysitting so I could go out with the man I was seeing. She said she hadn’t felt well all day, so I stayed home and watched a movie with her instead.

The next morning I woke at 6:45 to the sound of a car engine trying to turn over. Thinking someone was trying to steal my mom’s car from the driveway, I ran outside in my nightshirt only to find my mother in the driver’s seat, looking sheepish under her chemo scarf. She had a piece of paper and some cash in her hand.

“What are you doing?” I demanded.

“Just running to the grocery store.”

I told her no way. It wasn’t worth the risk of an infection.

She pleaded her case, saying the store would be empty so early in the morning, and she just needed a few things for breakfast. I pointed to the list in her hand and said, “Let’s see.” She handed it over. Instead of food items there were sixteen addresses scribbled down.

“Absolutely not, Mom! No yard sales today.”

She assured me she felt much better. I recalled something she would say to me on Sundays during my childhood: If you’re too sick to go to church, you’re too sick to go out and play.

Now I told her, “If you’re too sick to babysit on Friday night, you’re too sick to go yard-saling on Saturday morning.”

She looked at me with her hazel eyes and said, “Please? You never know. This could be my last one.”

I was outmaneuvered by that look and the possibility she could be right. As a compromise I tore the list in half.

She took the shortened list and drove up the block to pick up her friend Cass. Later I heard that when Cass approached the car, my mother said, “Hurry up and jump in, will ya! Susan’s after me!”

Susan Corley
Horsham, Pennsylvania

During the late 1970s I was immersed in the folk-music scene and played guitar in coffeehouses, bars, and clubs. That ended when I left the Midwest to attend law school in Washington, DC. I no longer had time for music, and I missed it.

One day I took a break from academics and went for a bike ride that took me through Cabin John, Maryland, a small community along the Potomac River. On a whim I followed a yard-sale sign to a modest house surrounded by vintage car parts, old bicycles, birdhouses, and a life-size bull statue. On the lawn was a man playing banjo. Not only was he damn good, but he was playing old-time music on a vintage Vega Tubaphone Number 3.

Unable to resist, I asked him about the banjo. He told me its history and casually mentioned that he’d played it when he won first place at the old-time banjo competition at the venerable Union Grove music festival.

“Who are you?” I asked.

“Reed Martin,” he said. I recognized the name as belonging to one of the finest modern interpreters of clawhammer banjo music.

I mentioned that I played guitar, and he invited me to accompany him at a weekly solo gig he had in a bookstore in downtown DC. At that point I don’t think he even knew my name.

Despite my nerves, I joined him that week, and every week after that for years. We also played folk festivals and concerts in the Washington area and the Midwest. I ended up moving to Cabin John, and Reed introduced me to the woman I would marry.

Once I got to know Reed, I learned his yard sales were a ruse to help him add to his immense collection of old banjos. He would sit outside and play, hoping someone would come along and say, “I have my grandfather’s banjo up in my attic that’s not getting any use,” at which point he’d swoop in for the kill.

Dan Blum
Braddock Heights, Maryland

My marriage ended when I discovered my husband was having an affair with a family friend. I’d been married since I was twenty-two, and now, at the age of forty-seven, I was thrust into the dating world with little experience. Through friends I met a man who took me to dinner and then invited me to his apartment. Though apprehensive, I told myself that this was a new world where I was free to act spontaneously.

Inside his place I noticed a few handmade ceramic cups on the windowsill. They looked familiar. My date explained that he had bought them at a church rummage sale, having been drawn to their simple beauty. I asked if I could hold one. On the underside, written in a child’s hand, was the name Ward.

Ward is my son, named after my grandfather. I turned over all of the cups and found the same signature on each one. Without telling me, my ex-husband had given away our child’s artwork, as if it were of no value to him. At that moment I realized the divorce I’d thought was a tragic loss was in reality a wonderful gift.

Nyack, New York

Soon after my parents and I had moved the big items out of my grandparents’ house and onto the lawn, my dad left. He couldn’t stand seeing the contents of his childhood home displayed for strangers to haggle over. The week since Granddaddy had died—gone to be with Grandma is how I thought of it—had been filled with wonderful memories as well as grief and the financial and logistical concerns of wrapping up the estate. By the time the bargain hunters began arriving, I’d run out of patience. Eight hours into the sale, I was ready to jump on the next person who asked a stupid question or made a crass counteroffer.

A young couple was standing next to my grandparents’ Westinghouse stove, the man peering into the cabinet below the cooker.

“We love mid-century modern,” the woman told me, “and this has a great fifties vibe. I was just wondering, does it actually work?”

A rush of memories came: The dozens of times my family had arrived in our blue Ford station wagon, tired and cranky after a cross-country drive, and entered the kitchen’s reassuring warmth. The countless Thanksgiving and Christmas turkeys and roasts that had been produced by that oven, sending tempting scents through the house. The year I turned eleven and was deemed responsible enough to open the lid of the cooker and baste the turkey, careful not to burn myself. The time I stood peeling potatoes at the sink as Grandma told me she’d sign over her Social Security benefits to me to help with grad-school tuition. The previous year, when Granddaddy was sliding toward the end but still wanted a proper holiday dinner, and I wrangled the Westinghouse alone.

“It works,” I told the couple. “I promise.”

Laura E. Bailey
Manzanita, Oregon

I’d finally saved enough to put a down payment on a small house, but I had nothing to fill it with—no art, no furniture, just a few framed family photographs I wanted to hang in the hallway. My first Saturday in the house, I went to a yard sale down the street and found a hammer to hang those photos. Another weekend I bought two kitchen chairs, a saucepan, and some volumes of classic literature in the yard of a former English teacher. Over time I filled my house with beautiful pictures, folk art, and unique furniture, almost all of it secondhand.

Now I am seventy-four, and I don’t want to leave too much for my family to sort through when I’m gone. It’s time to simplify, but I still enjoy my Saturday-morning yard-sale routine. So I’ve found a unique way to declutter. I call it “reverse garage-saling”: I go to strangers’ yard sales and sneak one precious piece at a time into the mix of items for sale. I’m careful to contribute only things that I’m sure will sell, and perhaps a few the homeowner will even keep.

Linda Romero Criswell
Carbondale, Colorado

Over the weekend I went to a yard sale. Two large goldfish bowls full of matchbooks caught my eye, and I bought them.

I’ve purchased similar collections before. I enjoy trying to figure out what sort of life the collector has led. In this case it seemed the owner was a salesman for the oil industry. There were lots of matchbooks from oil-equipment companies, hotels in oil-producing countries, Saudi Arabian Airlines, and even one from the Petroleum Club (no address).

But there was one matchbook that told the real story. On the inside cover was written:

Don’t mind sales.
I want to know where I am going.
Am I getting pushed out?
Are there plans I don’t know about?

As he was writing the last line, his pen dried out. The final four words were simply indentations in the cardboard. I pictured him sitting in some far-off hotel bar or coffee shop late at night, depressed, lonely, and running out of ink.

Bruce Lellman
Portland, Oregon

Years ago city regulations here in Naples, Florida, allowed only one yard sale every six months at each address. I had a close friend who was dying, and, desperate to keep him alive, I held yard sales all over town to raise money for him to receive alternative medical treatments. I begged people to let me use their yards, advertised for donations in a local magazine, and drove a borrowed truck to pick them up. It was hard work, but I was hopeful. The money was accumulating into the thousands.

I held the fourth yard sale in my own front yard with my friend Marilyn to help me. She pointed out a handsome, well-dressed man sorting through the Architectural Digest magazines laid out under my palm tree, and she encouraged me to go talk to him. He looked perfect. I was a sweaty, disheveled mess, but I approached him despite my bashfulness.

Sadly, my friend passed away, but the man who was looking at the magazines has been my husband now for eighteen years. We’ve gone to hundreds of yard sales together to hunt for treasures. He loves to tell people that I’m the best one he’s ever found.

Patricia Acerra
Naples, Florida

My father, who served in the Marines in World War II, took advantage of the GI Bill by going to school to learn upholstery. He was a superb craftsman, and in the late 1940s and early ’50s he designed and built beautiful furniture.

When he and my mother wanted to start a family, she told him he didn’t make enough money to have kids. He talked to his priest, who pulled some strings to get him a “good government job,” complete with a pension, overtime pay, and health insurance. My father trudged through the next thirty years as a postman, delivering mail and making enough to please my mother, and all the while seeming to grow angrier and sadder. His upholstering skills were relegated to the odd project around the house.

When my father was in his eighties, my mother hatched a plan: she would buy old furniture at yard sales for him to reupholster and resell. She had a good eye and a sharp head for business, and they might have made a successful team decades earlier, but he no longer had the interest, dexterity, or eyesight for the work. Then she began experiencing dementia. She became obsessive, bringing home one ratty chair after another until the basement of their tiny house was full. Begging her to stop just made it worse. It was as though she was assuaging some deeply buried guilt for pushing my father away from his creative path years ago. After he died, all of the furniture went to a local thrift store.

The phrase “yard sale” still pierces my heart, reminding me to do what I love while I can.

Diane Pienta
Boston, Massachusetts

My partner, F., is a hoarder. We have almost gotten divorced several times because of our clashing approaches to material possessions: I love a tidy, well-organized environment and ruthlessly clear out items that I haven’t used in a year; F. would prefer that nothing get thrown away.

We’ve tried designating personal spaces in our home. The dining room is my work area, clean and calm. F., a musician, has two large rooms at the back of the house, where a grand piano stands among a sea of cables, amps, empty beer bottles, receipts, boxes of vitamins, unread letters, and broken electronic devices. F. is charming, but it’s still damned annoying when they come into the dining room to play violin or guitar. “It’s so much cleaner in here,” they’ll say. Then F. will complain about the clutter at the back of the house, as though the rooms themselves have caused the mess.

Just after the pandemic I managed to persuade F. to apply my one-year rule to our bulging drawers and cupboards: anything we hadn’t used in twelve months we would sell at a local yard sale. F. was surprisingly acquiescent, though there were a few skirmishes, particularly over a broken VHS player.

Miraculously, when the sunny May morning of the sale arrived, we laid out three garbage bags’ worth of items on a plastic table. I did brisk business and had sold nearly everything when I spotted F. laughing and chatting nearby, beer in hand and a large plastic bag at their feet.

A few minutes later F. approached, smiling proudly. “I found some real bargains!” they said, opening the bag to reveal a pile of clothes—and an ancient VHS player. “Don’t worry,” they assured me. “This one works!”

Susan de Muth
United Kingdom

When my mother-in-law died unexpectedly, just ten days after receiving a cancer diagnosis, my husband and I were overwhelmed by the task of dealing with her possessions. Other family members took sentimental pieces, and we donated some furniture. The remaining items went to the garage and driveway for a sale.

We set low prices, hoping for speedy transactions. I imagined buyers would marvel at all the steals and simply pay what was on the sticker. This was naive, of course, because to shop at yard sales is to haggle.

“How much for the terra-cotta pots?” one woman asked.

“Three dollars each,” I said.

“How much if I buy more than one?”

I tried to calculate a discount in my head. “Three for six dollars?” I replied.

“Three for four dollars?” the customer rebutted.

“Fine,” I answered, already weary at eight in the morning.

“I’ll take all of them,” she said.

I was insufficiently caffeinated to figure out her total.

We were two hours in and becoming irritated when a woman stood up from examining lawn ornaments and asked my husband, “Is this Sharon’s house? Did she die, honey?”

“Yes,” my husband replied.

The woman had casually known my mother-in-law from the yard-sale circuit. Everyone in earshot paused a few beats to take in the news before they continued bargaining:

“Will you take one dollar for the cat cookie jar?”

“Is the television still for sale?”

By eleven thirty my husband and I were done. We hadn’t sold it all, but we were finished dealing with humanity. As we ushered people toward the sidewalk, a woman holding a small clock asked me, “Will you take fifty cents for this?”

“The clock is two dollars,” I said firmly.

“One dollar?” she countered.

I didn’t want the clock, much less to be standing in my mother-in-law’s yard, selling her things. But I did want some semblance of control.

“The clock is two dollars,” I said again.

The woman set it down and walked away.

Mandy Ream
Huntington Beach, California

In the late eighties, after a divorce, I became a single parent of three children: the son I’d given birth to and two daughters adopted from Guatemala. The girls had challenging emotional problems and needed me with them as much as possible. This meant I could work only part-time. Money was tight, and I budgeted carefully, hiding five-dollar bills in my coat pockets for those days I was down to my last penny. I bought the kids’ clothes and toys at yard sales.

I belonged to a babysitting co-op in which families provided childcare for one another. This meant I could get a few hours away from home without having to pay for a sitter.

Occasionally this group of moms would get together for lunch and talk about parenting concerns. When the topic of buying used clothing came up, one of the women, who was married to a lawyer and lived in a big house, said she only bought new items, never secondhand. She believed the spirit of the person who had worn the garment before would linger in the fabric.

Feeling judged, I retorted, “Two of my children are ‘secondhand,’ but I love them dearly. And I don’t care if their clothing isn’t brand-new. We have fun getting things at yard sales.”

My crass comment immediately made me cringe inside. There was a long pause in the conversation, and I realized I should have kept my mouth shut. That mother never asked me to babysit her children.

Nancy Turner
The Dalles, Oregon

In 1997, shortly after I moved to New York City for my first job, a colleague invited me to a dinner party. She lived in Brooklyn above a pizza parlor. Inside her building’s vestibule stood a dollhouse with a room designated for each tenant’s incoming mail. I wanted to live in this neighborhood where whimsy prevailed.

A few years later my boyfriend, Kevin, and I needed more space for our vintage collectibles, and we moved into a big, crumbling apartment on that same block. I found a lot of religious icons at stoop sales in our old-school Italian neighborhood, and I kept a Nativity scene of mismatched figures on the fireplace mantel year-round. Our landline phone was shaped like a banana. Many of the neighborhood’s nicer brownstones had shutters in their windows, so we went out on garbage night, found some on the curb in mismatched sizes, and propped them up in front of the windows, letting our potted ivy plants snake through the slats.

Kevin and I broke up, and he moved out. I had to learn to make the place mine. I made a new table out of an old door I’d carried home over my head. (The knob made an odd lump under the tablecloth, but guests never seemed to mind.) Over the next several years my place was featured on design websites and in books about vintage collectibles. I was proud but beginning to feel imprisoned by how much I’d amassed. I’d look at my belongings stacked to the ceiling and think, I can never leave this apartment.

One Labor Day weekend I came home on Monday night to find the air thick with dust. The ceiling had come crashing down. It had crushed my maternal grandmother’s rattan chair, where I read in the evenings, and flattened my paternal grandmother’s pleated lampshade. Chunks of plaster lay on every surface. I stood for a moment and stared. Then I called the man I’d been seeing, a minimalist, and asked if I could spend the night at his place. Seven years later I’m still there.

Michael Quinn
Brooklyn, New York

After my husband and I separated, I had to empty out our cavernous, 134-year-old house before it could be sold. Though the home was a historic landmark and many loved its unique architecture, I hated it. It was hot in summer and cold in winter, and over the years I’d encountered creepy, unexplainable activity in its rooms. I was glad to be getting out of there.

My sister and I put a sign in the yard and opened the house up to shoppers. Sales were brisk, and many curious neighbors came just to get a look inside the place.

One man asked my sister and me, “What can you tell me about your visitor?”

“What visitor?” my sister replied.

“There’s a woman in a white gown standing at the top of the stairs,” the man said.

He explained that he was a medium, and I asked if I could take him through the entire house.

“Of course,” he replied.

In my son’s bedroom he reported the presence of a man who was “not happy about you being here.”

I knew from the family who’d sold us the place that their grandfather, a cranky old man, had slept in that room. A few years earlier I’d encountered a ghost in the hallway just outside the bedroom door. I was so rattled I shook for an hour. If I’d ever had doubts about the existence of ghosts, that moment erased them for good.

We went to the third floor, where two of my sons had their bedrooms. More than once the boys had sensed a menacing presence in that space. They’d hear their names called or feel someone sit on the edge of their bed, causing the mattress to sink.

Pausing at the first bedroom, the medium said there was a “malevolent entity” up there. As we started to descend the stairs, he warned, “Be careful. He wants to push somebody down.”

What the medium didn’t know was that a couple of years prior, my youngest son had felt a shove from behind and had fallen down the stairs. By the time I reached him, he was having a seizure, something that had never happened before.

I had one last thing to show the medium: an old doll the previous owners had left in the attic. Her hair was matted, her face chipped, and her lips parted to reveal tiny, sinister-looking teeth. I’d named her Babydoll and kept her as a conversation piece. More than once I’d been unable to find her where I’d last seen her. She’d turn up in some unlikely place, and I’d blame my kids.

The medium said a little girl moved the doll around the house.

I didn’t feel right selling Babydoll, but I couldn’t leave her behind either. Instead I shipped her to a friend who collected dolls. The friend was elated to have her, and I was happy to have Babydoll and her ghost girl as far away from me as possible.

Cyn Kitchen
Maquon, Illinois

After I got married, I spent many weekends helping my father-in-law, H.C., maintain his sizable property. I was good at carpentry, plumbing, and other household projects, and H.C. was not a handyman.

One Saturday H.C. took my wife and me to an estate sale, complete with an auctioneer. The large yard was full of household items, clothing, and tools. H.C. stopped at a riding lawn mower: faded red with a thirty-inch blade and an old-fashioned metal seat. It had seen better days, but he seemed interested.

By the time the auction started, we’d lost sight of my father-in-law. When the auctioneer called for bids on the old riding mower, a lone offer of five dollars came from the crowd. I was pretty sure H.C. wanted it, but where was he? I put my hand in the air and said, “Ten dollars.” The bidding continued, and the price rose. When it reached fifty dollars, I paused, uncertain if I should keep going. I searched the crowd for H.C. again and finally spotted him on the opposite side of the yard. He was glaring at me. I’d been bidding against him all along.

From then on, I made sure to visit H.C. whenever he needed his grass cut.

John Marcum
Hazelwood, Missouri

Neighbors are few and far between in rural Michigan, so I was looking forward to meeting more of ours at our first yard sale.

On the day of the sale a beloved local restaurant burned to the ground. One of the shoppers seemed to know a bit about it, so I asked if he knew the cause.

He winked and said, “Jewish lightning, probably”—a phrase I instantly recognized as an anti-Semitic slur for financially motivated arson. As one of only a half dozen or so Jews in my county, I knew prejudice existed, but I was stunned by the reminder of how some of my neighbors see me.

A decade later I still want to know my neighbors better, just maybe not all of them.

Nathaniel Borenstein
Greenbush, Michigan

The artist was breastfeeding her baby when I wandered into her small studio to look around. Her work wasn’t to my taste: religious folk art with a south-of-the-border theme. Asking if I’d like to see something else, she slid a painting from behind the couch where she was sitting. It depicted a woman lying on the ocean floor, surrounded by coral and sea plants, being leered at by a large shark. She was naked, her dark locks swirling in the water and her hand between her thighs. I fell in love with the piece. The price was too high, though. With regret, I took the painter’s business card and wished her well.

Months later, after my divorce was final, I decided to hold a yard sale to rid the house of the last of my husband’s belongings. He had enough fishing and camping equipment to outfit a Boy Scout troop, and I wanted none of it. On a whim I called the artist and asked her if she’d trade the painting I coveted for my husband’s gear. Luckily for me, she and her husband were outdoor enthusiasts. I told her they could have first crack at everything.

Early on the morning of the yard sale the artist pulled up with her baby, husband, and mother in tow. They took a tent, cooking pots, sleeping pads, a fishing pole, and other items and gave me the painting in return. With handshakes and hugs we sealed the deal. I had my mermaid, and she and her family could camp to their hearts’ content.

After the baby was safely ensconced in its car seat, the artist’s mother ran over to me for one last hug. Before letting go, she whispered in my ear, “Thank you for taking my daughter’s pornography.”

Jane Hillson Aiello
Centennial, Colorado

As we did every year, my family was going through closets and drawers, toy boxes and bookshelves, in preparation for our annual street-wide yard sale. The night before, we made signs, and the kids baked cookies to sell, proud of their entrepreneurial spirit.

The weather for the sale was especially lovely, and lots of people showed up. We sold an old bike and piles of clothes and household goods. By late afternoon we were ready to call it a day. Our last customer, a seemingly lonely older man, lingered to talk as we cleaned up.

“Take whatever you want,” my husband said. “No charge.” We put together a bag for him with some shirts, a pair of shoes, and the last of the home-baked cookies.

“You have a beautiful family,” the man said to my husband and me. “I wish I had a family like this.”

I couldn’t look at my husband. We had not yet told anyone, but our marriage was over. A few days earlier he’d announced that he didn’t love me anymore and was leaving.

As our children ran off to play, I finished tidying up our last yard sale as a family, filling boxes for the dump and Goodwill. I remember thinking: Look at all this stuff that we once thought we loved and couldn’t live without.

Jill Wolfson
Santa Cruz, California

My first glimpse into queerness came at a yard sale. As a child I didn’t even have a word yet for what I was, understanding only that a dark thing lived within me and caused me to hide behind the seesaw to kiss girls.

My beloved aunt Sunny lived with a friend I’d always known as Laura, but on the day I helped them set up their yard sale, everyone was calling Laura “Louie.” I was kneeling in the grass, arranging shoes in neat rows—jewel-toned pumps in a size far too large for my aunt—when I looked up to see Louie standing over me.

“I thought you were Laura,” I said. The grown-ups shushed me. I remembered Laura with the rough, long hands of a man and stubble beneath her makeup, her sinewy arms opened up for a hug.

I am thankful for my aunt, and her partner, and their queerness. I’ll never know how Laura identified or if she would have lived openly as a trans woman if she’d had the opportunity, but I’m forever grateful to Louie, who loved and tended to my aunt until her death. It was his raspy voice I heard on the phone when I was pregnant with my daughter, telling me our sweet Sunny had finally gone. Together we cried.

Jess Hamilton
Decatur, Georgia

Our family auto-parts shop ran into financial problems when two of our biggest buyers shut down. My husband and I laid off staff, sold one of our trucks, and got side jobs, but the creditors kept calling. One evening I came home from work to find the power had been turned off.

We filed for bankruptcy, and within days a For Sale sign went up in our front yard. Concerned neighbors came over, and we explained that we couldn’t afford to stay in our house.

Unbeknownst to me, our neighborhood immediately got to work. Pamphlets were delivered to every house, requesting donations for a yard sale. I didn’t find out about the sale until the night before it was scheduled. The following morning cars arrived early, and they kept coming all day. I sat on my steps, dabbing away tears as I looked at the huge array of donated merchandise. Our neighbors worked for hours in the sun, and that evening my friend handed me several thousand dollars.

My neighbors weren’t finished, though. A second sale was planned for the following Saturday, with pamphlets distributed more widely, asking for help with a “save-the-house sale.” I moved furniture, my piano, and our ping-pong table into the driveway to sell. Across the street they added a bake sale and a car wash. Afterward my friend again handed me thousands of dollars—enough for us to stay in our house for more than a year. Grateful and humbled, I wrote, “Thank you, dear friends and neighbors,” on two pieces of poster board and taped them to our For Sale sign. I could never repay the love and kindness that was shown to us.

Claudette Kay
West Jordan, Utah

Every Sunday when my mother was alive, she and I used to go to a large outdoor flea market down the road from us in Massachusetts. I liked to pick through the various wares and imagine how that potato peeler or embroidered pillowcase might have added value to its owner’s life.

One Sunday we strolled past a young woman with a sophisticated inventory: antique rugs, wooden bowls, steamer trunks, and the like. On a table sat a beautiful brass cake or Jell-O mold, about ten inches in diameter.

“Oma had one exactly like that,” my mother said.

Oma was my German grandmother, a domineering, mostly well-meaning woman with whom my mother had a complicated but loving relationship. Oma had traveled the world and spent the last four decades of her life in Costa Rica.

“Where did you get this mold?” my mother asked the vendor.

“Well, it’s kind of funny,” she replied, and she told us how she’d been to Costa Rica not long ago and had bought it at a yard sale there.

My mother and I looked at each other in disbelief. Toward the end of her long life, before she’d moved into assisted living, Oma had held a yard sale to get rid of the belongings she wouldn’t need in her new surroundings.

There’s a photo of my mother as a nineteen-year-old bride. In front of her, on a coffee table, sits that brass mold.

“How much do you want for it?” my mother asked, careful not to let the vendor sense her excitement.

“Five dollars should do it.”

Days before my mother died, she reminded me to take the mold, now softly tarnished and dented, which had traveled 2,400 miles to reunite with her. Today it hangs on the wall above my fireplace. Every time I look at it, I’m reminded of the life that inhabits our things and the things we don’t know about life.

Liz Frame
Newburyport, Massachusetts