‘Tis spring, the season of garage sales, and I am a garage sale convert. Not that I am expecting to throw my own garage sale, mind you, but early Saturday mornings I leave my husband watching the children finishing up their breakfast and take a peek at what the neighborhood entrepreneurs are getting rid of. I wasn’t always so eager to inspect the merchandise of our local yard sales, but something happened a few years ago that changed my mind.
Three years ago, our first son turned one. After filling our house with enough baby dolls, doll carriages, and toy kitchens to entertain my three girls, I knew I needed to find some masculine toys for our youngest, so I headed off to the local toy store to find some. I thought a Fisher Price fire engine and a simple toolbench would be just about perfect. At the store, I found the Fisher Price fire engines all right, but I also found that the Fisher Price firewomen outnumbered the firemen 2 to 1. In fact, the firedogs outnumbered the firemen 2 to 1! Disappointed, I turned to the Fisher Price police station, and found no policemen at all, but one policewoman and I think one police dog. At last I turned to the construction playsets, which were too elaborate for a one-year-old anyway, and found that the male-female ratio about equal, which struck me as completely absurd, since female construction workers are a rare sight indeed, although of course they do exist.
Now, whatever you think about firewomen and policewomen, you have to admit that they make up a minority of firefighters and police officers, so first of all Fisher Price is presenting to its consumers’ children a completely false view of reality. Secondly, while it may be nice to try and include girls in boy games occasionally so they won’t feel left out, it is unreasonable to do so by excluding boys from boy games. After all, how many fathers — or mothers — want their sons playing with toy figures of firewomen and policewomen? These toy figures are supposed to be role models, in a sense; they provide boys with a way of playing out different exciting professions, some of which they may actually pursue when they are older. Fisher Price produces many toys for girls, cutesy baby dolls, pink strollers and so on. To provide these and not to manufacture equivalent masculine toys is nothing short of female chauvinism.
Finally I settled on a fire engine put out by Weebils that featured a fire turtle (I thought for a long time that he was a fire frog, but recently discovered a green shell on his back). Then I went in search for a toy tool bench, a simple toy that would relieve his yearning for banging on things. However, here I was thwarted again. All I could find in the tool bench aisle were toys whose primary functions were electronic. Now, we do not allow electronic toys in our house for two reasons: first, because my husband and I believe that electronic toys encourage passivity instead of creativity, and second, because the cacophonous sounds which are regularly emitted from electronic toys would very quickly drive me insane. Nevertheless, today I was desperate and grabbed an electronic toy bench, deciding to remove the batteries when I got home, which I promptly did. Still, it irked me that I was paying for the electronic functions that my child would not use, and also that my child was probably missing out on several neat devices that these kind of toys used to feature before toy manufacturers discovered electronics.
When I arrived home, I wrote a letter to Fisher Price, complaining about the political correctness of their toys, as well as the overabundance of electronic toys (yes, the fire engines and police houses were all battery-operated, and the electronic toy bench I purchased was made by Fisher Price, too!) I received a polite reply, stating that my letter would be forwarded to the appropriate department. I wondered if they had photocopied it since its scope would most likely extend to several departments. But, after all this struggle, I still didn’t know where to find affordable, non-electronic, non-feminist toys. I knew of several catalogs that sell high-quality, non-electronic toys, but the prices were way beyond the budget of a stay-at-home mother with a husband who teaches at a Catholic high school, and most of them had small pieces not safe for one and two-year-olds.
And then it hit me. Yard sales often offer customers toys that are five or tens years old, toys that were made before electronics and political correctness overran our toy departments. Yard sales, then, were the answer to my problem. So that spring, I started going to yard sales, and I found, not only suitable toys, but lots of other useful items, all at great prices. One exciting discovery I made at yard sales this spring was some modest shirts and sweaters, something that’s not easy to come by in the department stores, as I found last fall; I needed some shirts and sweaters, but the styles were so tight and clingy that I had to buy shirts three sizes too large and then hem the sleeves no less than five inches! Not much fun. However, at a yard sale, you can find old clothes — clothes, sometimes, made when styles were not so revealing. Of course, at a yard sale, you can’t try things on to make sure, but you can make a pretty good guess, especially if you avoid the clingy, spandex type of material. An answer to another prayer! Yes, yard sales may well be the ideal “stores” for growing Catholic families, who can’t afford department store prices and who prize simple fun and modest clothes over the glamour and hype of the products of our culture.
Now, the one difficulty with garage sales is that you don’t always find the exact item you’re looking for. It’s usually hit-or-miss. But, if you have some storage space in your attic or basement and you can stock up on toys and other things that you may need in the next few years, you can really find a lot of great bargains.