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The latest figures are now in. During one week in April, local papers listed no less than 643 yard sales for the metro area. Recession and unemployment arenít the only symptoms of a flagging economy. Yard sales in record numbers are an equally valid indicator.
Yard sales are an easy way to earn spot cash. Practically every home is rife with yard sale stock, forlorn gifts and frivolous purchases - things too impractical to use and too precious to throw away. The purpose of a yard sale, it seems, is to palm off unwanted items on the casual buyer. In the bigger picture, though, they contribute to the proliferation of stuff, a practice that is not necessarily wise.
Henry David Thoreau understood the folly of such sales. Following is a passage from "Walden", describing the estate sale of a deacon in Concord, Mass 150 years ago: " ... as usual, a great proportion was trumpery which had begun to accumulate in his father's day. Among the rest was a dried tapeworm. And now, after laying half a century in his garret and other dust holes, these things were not burned. Instead of a bonfire or purifying destruction of them, there was an auction, or increasing of them. Neighbors eagerly collected to view them, bought them all, and transported them to their garrets and dust holes, to lie there until their estates are settled, when they will start again."
How little things change. Of yard sales, the phrase "caveat emptor" - let the buyer beware - may best apply. Not because the items are pricey. Just the opposite, and as Thoreau so aptly put it: "The more you have of such things, the poorer you are."
(The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. Louis Public Radio.)
A journalist and photographer since 1982, Wm. Stage has plumbed the life stories of thousands of people. He has taught photojournalism at Saint Louis University's School for Professional Studies [1990-96] and he is an alumnus of the Photojournalism Workshop, offered by University of Missouri - Columbia's School of Journalism and held in a different Missouri town every year since 1946. He is the author of six non-fiction books including Have A Weird Day: Reflections and Ruminations on the St. Louis Experience. He lives with his dog, Jack, in The Hill neighborhood of St. Louis.