Home Perspectives Opinions Baumel Joseph: One person’s junk is another’s precious vintage

Baumel Joseph: One person’s junk is another’s precious vintage

(Flickr photo)

The summer months always come with a proliferation of garage sales. Perhaps this is a result of the need to declutter, as families move from one location to another. Maybe they are due to the approaching school year and the need for new supplies, as well as the necessity of closet space for fall fashions. There’s also the fact that no one wants to be standing outside selling used goods in the middle of a Canadian winter. At any rate, these sidewalk sales of discarded consumerism create circles of exchange that are similar to the barter systems of the past – but much more enjoyable.

One person’s junk truly is another’s precious vintage. We trade and bargain, redistribute and reuse. It’s the best recycling system ever. Many cultures use variations of this system of exchange quite successfully.

In some indigenous communities of the northwest coast, there existed a circle of economic distribution and gift giving called “potlatch.” It was part festival, part rite of passage and part economic marketplace. Everyone knew the value of the products and was able to share and display them. (Regrettably, in its infinite “wisdom,” the government of Canada forbade the economic ceremony from 1885 until 1951.)

I much prefer browsing through these sales to entering antique shops, although there admittedly is a big difference between the two. Checking provenance is difficult on your own. One can, of course, end up with more junk, which inevitably leads to more garage sales. But you never know what you will find – what type of treasure awaits you on the street.

The amazing fact is that we all have a great deal of junk in our homes. We collect. We hoard. We live lives of intense consumerism and we don’t stop. I know.
I am guilty of this, as well.

As I sit in my big house and contemplate selling it, I am overwhelmed with the task of emptying it. My children adamantly declare: “Throw it out!”

I will definitely bequeath some cherished pieces to them. There will be gifts, items they will choose and some I will choose for them, including lovely paintings and pieces of jewelry. But honestly, it is only a drop in the bucket. If I am being truthful, I must declare that only last month, I bought another print. Oy! The urge to buy beautiful items and surround myself with them is powerful. It is as though I am declaring that I still live; that I still value beauty. But I must downsize. There is too much, even though I still love some of it.

In truth, I have been giving a lot of it away. I know which items to send to the kids. I know which agencies accept clothing, pots, pans and dishes. Furniture is hard to disown or give away. But the hardest to donate is books. McGill and Concordia universities take many boxes of general books. But Judaica is impossible. So I am left with thousands of good Jewish books that my husband and I collected over the years. And no Jewish potlatch; no Jewish bar mitzvah process to redistribute Talmud tomes, Humashim, commentaries and other famous books. For us, they were prizes, proud heritage signposts of our accomplishments as individuals and as a community. Now they sit unused.


Let me be clear: I am not sad at this juncture. I cannot give them to my kids because they have their own sets. Perhaps others don’t need them, as they can access most of them digitally. We live in a new age. Garage sales may end and new systems of exchange will operate in a technologically sophisticated way. It is, perhaps, a sign of the times. So go to garage sales while you can, trade and enjoy.