Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Garage Sale Fun

       Some of the best bargains around, besides happening upon abandoned furniture roadside (see my prior Roadside Gems essay), can be had at garage/moving/yard/rummage sales. I've never driven out of my way special for one, only encountering them incidentally—usually on weekend drives to or from the grocery store or church. And I've nearly always returned home first, then walked over with only minimal cash because they're just so hit-or-miss, usually the later. 
     It's fun snooping around other people's stuff, some quite interesting. What's this for? Where did you get that? How much for these?  The kids love 'em 'cause they can fool with all kinds of normally forbidden, hands—off, “that's not yours” stuff, much of which there's a good chance they can afford or if an item's cool or nostalgic enough I'll purchase for them.
     Our best deals so far have been for solid wood natural finish furniture: a dining room set (country style table and chairs) for $80; designer leather on steel frame occasional chair plus wheeled/adjustable wood reading desk on steel frame for $60 combined; chest of drawers for $75; old console-style stereo cabinet for $25; and a small three drawers cabinet plus a large night stand for $40.
     Less beautiful but highly functional furniture purchased through the years included a large book shelf, large stainless steel shelves, large storage shelves, and TV stand—all for $90. We also scored a Mighty Mite vacuum for $25 and a comparable Panasonic for $5.
     Fun stuff purchased included Hot Wheels tracks, a build-it-yourself model battleship, Tiger brand shaved ice maker, fishing rod, beautiful raised relief globe, hand saw, large cast iron clamp, a pair of detachable dumbbells (10lbs. each), and a nearly brand new children's bicycle—each for $10 or less.
           For $5 each or less we also purchased three different wheeled hand-carry luggages. Freebies (from generous neighbors) included a die cast toy helicopter, drawstring cloth shopping bags, a softball, two cast iron 10 lb. dumbbells, and door hinges with screws and wood trim.
     Here's the fun thing about bargain used furniture: you can't ruin them. The stereo console mentioned earlier was already gutted when I got it. My amplifier and tape deck (yes, it was that long ago) didn't quite fit in so I hacked away at the heavy duty internal uprights with chisel and hammer to construct slots into which they could slide. A decade later after Deanne and I had already married and had Braden, I gave away my albums and turntable to Goodwill, removed the remaining stereo components, and installed shelves into the speaker cavities to convert the unit into a diaper changing table. Deanne added attractive shelf paper and the top was fitted with a diaper changing pad.
     While changing Braden, Deanne once placed a wet water bottle used for clean up on top and it left an awful white water stain on the otherwise beautiful dark wood finish. I scolded her and rubbed furniture oil in for the next twenty minutes.
     Later, as the kids grew, the cabinet became theirs for clothes. Unbeknownst to me, over time they placed stickers on it and their bunk bed (it's amazing how these when small and few can pass unnoticed for months until one day when the room is finally cleared of junk, dozens of these huge, in-your-face ugly commercial cartoons materialize seemingly out of nowhere). We spent hours scrubbing them off, leaving unsightly scratches down to bare wood.
     The cabinet's condition worsened through time with a broken off brass handle (replaced with one from a discarded dresser drawer) and surface gouges, nicks, and scratches (but no more stickers). Now my attitude toward it is one of benign neglect: imperfections just evidence active, happy children. I challenged Braden to remove the three doors and sand, refinished, and reinstall them, but he passed (it's his choice, after all its his cabinet and his and Jaren's room).
     The large nightstand mentioned earlier will be our house's most unique piece (it allegedly belonged to a famous Hawaii artist, now deceased, and was obviously handmade). Trouble was, it was too dark, had hideous black stains (char from a fire and remnants from a spill), and it stank. I tried cleaning, sunning, and polishing it; washing it with baking soda; stuffing it with newspapers; airing it for weeks; and sanding and polyurethaning it. Those didn't work so I tried sealing its inside cracks with tape and polystyrene packing foam and chiseling off the charred parts underneath, but it still stank and looked off. So I hand painted over the offending sections with colorful acrylic paints—a wavy border around the three outer top edges and a bold yet whimsical ribbon stripe over a functional trim that stops the swinging cabinet door. It's light, cheery, more unique, and even fun now, just what I want for my bedside stand, and not so somber, heavy, or ugly-in-a-beautiful-sort-of-way as it had been. 
     Though antique stores may say I ruined its value I'm sure the fine arts painter/alleged former owner would approve, especially if I enjoy and continue to use the piece for years to come. After all, I bought it for personal use and not to resell at a killer profit, not that I think it's worth that much.  The process of working it so much has improved my feelings toward it, too, from, “It's nice and kind-of weird in a good way but can I fix it?” to, “Not bad...getting better...much improved...almost there...I'm getting to like this. Ah, just right!” Now, if only the faint lingering wood odor would disappear, I can finally bring it in and use it (but there's no rush and I haven't given up hope on it yet.) Best of all, reshaping furniture to suit our needs has been a heck of a lot of fun, keeping me thinking creatively, using my hands, working out (sanding all six inside and outside surfaces plus drawer top, bottom, back, and sides), and staying productive: time well spent saving money and helping preserve the environment, all the while enjoying the beautiful piece unavailable at any neighborhood furniture store.


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