Was there tension? Heck, yes. Was the satisfaction of finally ridding our basement of toddler games and toys worth it? Absolutely.

By Liz Vaccariello
Ari Michelson

My husband is a keeper, and by that I mean a collector—a man who has small jars of sand from every beach we’ve ever been to lined up on shelves in his office and folders containing tear sheets and receipts from photo shoots decades ago. I am the throw-away-now-regret-it-later type, a woman with a single shoebox of souvenirs from my teens and 20s. I saved one of our wedding invitations, but not the envelope.So to pressure test our marriage, Steve and I decided to have a garage sale.

The week leading up to it went smoothly. On Monday we negotiated the girls’ toys. Tuesday, dozens of lightly used board games. Wednesday was children’s books; Thursday, random housewares. Friday was reserved for pricing everything. I was feeling lighter already!

But as the sun rose on Saturday and we began to lug and arrange, tension built. Instructions, suggestions, and reactions to choices flew back and forth between us. Eyes rolled. Someone might even have said, “Shut up,” and someone else might have replied, “No, you shut up.”

At 8 a.m., the early birds stopped in front of our driveway and distracted us. (“Are you open yet?” asked a woman shopping for estate jewelry, a guy in search of video games, and a couple keen on

clothing.) I added four old soup bowls to a table, and Steve immediately whisked them away, declaring that soup bowls would be essential when we moved into the summer house we have no plans ever to buy.

I won’t tell you which one of us said to the other, “You are driving me crazy.”

Earlier in our marriage, Steve would be gone for weeks at a time for work, and I’d take that opportunity to toss holiday-themed plastic cups, torn T-shirts, socks with holes, and unopened bottles of

hot sauce gifted to him years earlier. “He’s just like his father,” my mother-in-law had told me when I’d mentioned his tendency to “hold on to things.” She said, “Just do what I do. When he’s out, slip a thing or two into the trash and he won’t even notice.”

But Steve noticed. When I’d been on one of my cleaning binges, he would rifle through the trash, looking for forgotten possessions that he could be indignant about finding: “What have you done? I wanted to keep this brochure for kids’ activities in southwestern Pennsylvania that I picked up on the Turnpike!” (I’d shoved it under a leaking pickle jar, and it was soggy beyond repair.)

Courtesy of Liz Vaccariello

The garage sale had been my idea. I signed us up for a county-wide effort in which everyone who gave 20 percent of their proceeds to the local food bank would be put on a digital map. Foot traffic was guaranteed, and with plenty of notice, Steve could take his time deciding which dusty, unused, and outgrown objects sparked his joy and which we could live without.

Despite the stress of the setup, my husband was in his element that Saturday, meeting new friends, chatting up neighbors, and holding firm on the $2 price for hardcovers since the proceeds were going to charity. I don’t know what he found more satisfying: making $500 or giving to a good cause.

One neighborhood mom summed up my feelings best when, as her toddler walked away carrying a sparkly mermaid pillow, she said, “Feels great to have your crap become our crap, doesn’t it?”

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