The weird and wonderful world of yard sales in North Idaho

By Susan Drinkard
Reader Contributor

I started going to garage sales when I moved to North Idaho about 40 years ago. I think it’s great fun and also a “ministry” of sorts. I come by it honestly. 

My mom, who is no doubt sitting on the right-hand side of God, saw everything as an opportunity to help someone. Once, when she and dad were visiting us in Sandpoint from Oklahoma, where they ran a church camp, my mom bought a pile of stained baby clothes at a garage sale out in the Selle Valley. We didn’t have any babies in the family then and she had to find room for them in her suitcase. When I asked her why she bought baby clothes, she said, “I think that woman needed some help.”

“No, I won’t sell that to you for a nickel!” Courtesy photo.

I’ve been fortunate to have a kind of “calling” to various garage sales over the years. Once, I wanted a red dish drainer. I had no doubt I would find one that day, and I did. I thought $3 was too much for it, but it lasted many years. 

I work with mentally ill women who sometimes make decisions that are not in their best interest. For example, one woman used to periodically throw all of her clothes in the trash. I spent a lot of time trying to find shoes, a coat and other replacement items at garage sales. Some of us have minds we cannot trust, so I continue to do this by “shopping” at the free pile at the dumps for people who need particular items, as well as at yard sales.

Every time someone I work with really needs something, there it is at a yard sale, always affordable. It’s almost as though the yard sale host knows what is needed and is in collusion with me.

Once I took a developmentally delayed older woman with schizophrenia to a garage sale in Sandpoint. She lived at an assisted living and didn’t get out very often. A big swing sat in the driveway at the garage sale and my gal sat in the swing, blissed out, so relaxed as she hummed and watched the sky and the birds. The garage sale host looked at her with warmth and kindness and said it was OK for her to stay and swing. She is in Heaven now, but I won’t forget the profound contentment my client experienced there, in a driveway at a Sandpoint garage sale. 

There have been a few yard sales where I had weird experiences. At one, I looked at a navy sweater and considered buying it, but it cost too much. I went to my car and the lady ran after me, yelling. I thought I’d left something. She threw the sweater through the window into my car and said, “That will be $5.” I did not want it, but she was so insistent that I thought she must have been desperate, so I gave her the $5. As it turned out, I wore that sweater for at least five years.

Another time, not that long ago, I bought a roomy purse at a yard sale. I didn’t look inside. The purse was green and cool and the price was right. 

A couple days after purchasing the purse, I set to cleaning it out. Inside I found a used meth pipe. Really? Not another moral dilemma. I considered taking it back to her, but then she would know that I knew she used meth. I thought I might just put it in the trash, but — of course — that would be the time extra-nice and good Catholic Laura at the Upland Drive dump would go to put down the lid of a dumpster and see drug paraphernalia next to my name on an envelope. After that, I’d be in the pokey. 

I was a nervous wreck. I ended up burying it in our burn pile and never told my husband, who has been up to his ears in anxiety these past four years.

Yard sales are sometimes weird, but often they are places where angels fly, providing just what is needed at the right time — except when a meth user is forgetful.

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