Our church holds a rummage sale, spring and fall. I’ve come to think of it as my savior. It starts with the horse sheds. Townspeople know that throughout the year, they can leave unwanted items in one of the bays of the old horse sheds behind the church.
I can’t always manage to synchronize my need to unload with the proximity of the sale, but the horse sheds, high and dry, keep the donations safe for months, until the next sale. Lift the door and unburden yourself — a truly welcome invitation on any level.
The church accepts all kinds of things: clothing, linens, dishes, skis, household goods, even couches and small furniture pieces. Donated items must be clean and useful. No broken appliances. No clothes that need mending. No gravy-stained tablecloths, please.
The week before each sale, April and October, a rugged corps of ladies (and a few men) come together. It’s a full week of work for these volunteers, 9 to 5 each day. They sort, mostly the clothing: jeans and T-shirts, jackets, sweaters, and children’s wear. Shoes of all sizes and styles. Such mountains of apparel pile up that one might think there’d be no clothes left to be worn in the entire town. Irons, toasters, and telephones are dusted, plugged in, and tested. Small crystal treasures are appraised and priced, as are dishes and glasses, skis and skates, jewelry and oddments.
The rummage sale gives me the excuse to look through my closet or re-organize my dishes. I use the tried-and-true rule: If I haven’t worn something in two years, out it goes. Similarly redundant appliances or mistakes (Why did I buy these shoes? They hurt me every time I wear them!) go into the bag. In the end, I’ve made more space in my cupboards and have packed a shopping bag full of things maybe someone else can use. Off to the horse sheds it goes.
The ladies who sort hold high standards. “This should have been taken to the dump!” they exclaim indignantly, item after item. Such things are donated to a charity that happily takes away the rummage sale’s castoffs. “When are people going to learn to just throw things out?” I hear this quite often as the tired women rest up after the sale, which is usually very successful.
When I hear them say that, I cringe a little, as I know I’m guilty of this sin. I have trouble throwing something away, and somehow it feels better to give it to the church than to the dump. It’s hard for us to believe that things can’t be reused somehow. Use it up, wear it out, make do or do without, my father used to chant. So where exactly does the wisdom of that stop? We struggle with this commandment up here in the North Country.
I never miss the sale. There’s always something that catches my eye. Over the years, I’ve found perfect sets of sheets, favorite T-shirts (do I love them more because they cost only a dime?), a fabulous set of wine glasses, and a perfect down parka. You never know what will be there. I have a friend who still boasts that he bought the like-new Armani suit he wore to his wedding from the rummage sale. Five dollars. I know that slightly redemptive feeling, as if we’ve beaten the system — but in a noble way. We exit the church, grinning, gripping our treasures, having managed to obey several commandments at once.