Following the Yellow-Signed Roads – By Lauren Oertel

I spent many Saturday mornings of my childhood yard sale hunting with my mom. After I finished my bowl of cereal, we’d hop into her car and drive around the neighborhood, following the trail of cardboard signs.

There were a few ways we’d evaluate each one before deciding to commit. As our car crawled in the street in front of them, we’d scan for how many other cars were there, how many people were browsing the selection, and if anything jumped out as especially exciting. It was mostly clothing we were looking for. The good stuff. Those name-brand or otherwise appealing items that satisfied our hunger for a great deal.

I now look back on that activity as a place where the pressures of our culture of constant consumption intersected with tight budgets. But I also see how the practice of buying used clothing and household items is more sustainable than getting everything new. But at the time, we were just thrifty thrill-seekers.

Finding a like-new pair of Guess jeans that smelled like they had spent more time in a dryer than a garage was like opening a chocolate bar with a golden ticket inside. “These are only a dollar!” My mom would say, holding up a pair of barely worn platform shoes that she knew I had been eyeing on my friends that summer. Her grin was contagious.

Yard sales were a place where one kid’s “trash” turned into my back-to-school outfits. They taught me to get by with less and carry no shame about buying used. They also turned into a meet-your-neighbors activity, as my mom would usually chat with the families hosting the sale. We hosted our fair share of them too, putting ourselves on the other side of the haggling table and metal money box. Many years later, and with too many states between me and my mom, I still can’t help but do a quick scan when I pass by front yards filled with undervalued treasures.

Lauren Oertel

Lauren Oertel is a community organizer covering Texas and New Mexico for a nationwide nonprofit. Her work has been published in The Ravens Perch, Evening Street Review, Noyo Review, MONO.Fiction, and The Sun Magazine. She lives in Austin, Texas, with her partner Orlando and their tuxedo cat Apollonia.

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