Rick Norsigian likes to spend his Saturdays perusing neighborhood garage sales for possible antique treasures. One morning in 2000, Rick was rummaging through the local sales in hopes of finding an old barber chair. Instead, he stumbled upon a couple of dilapidated cardboard boxes containing old photographic plates from the early twentieth century.
An artist himself, Rick recognized the quality of the work, so he dickered the owner into dropping the price from seventy bucks to forty-five for both boxes. Rick slid the newfound treasure under his pool table and that’s where they stayed for the next four years.
In his downtime, Rick scoured the art world and internet for clues concerning those old negatives. He’d recognized images of Yosemite, and he started getting a hunch that maybe these pictures were actually worth a lot more than his initial investment.
He moved the plates from the pool table to a bank vault and enlisted the aid of photography expert Patrick Alt. Alt and a team of photographic forensic specialists eventually confirmed Rick Norsigian’s hunch: the plates he’d paid forty-five dollars for were original Ansel Adams negatives. They were samples of the renowned photographer’s sophomore work from 1919 through the early 1930’s and were part of a collection thought to have been lost due to a fire in Adam’s studio.
Appraised value: two hundred million dollars.
I read that article and thought, “Why can’t I find stuff like that at garage sales?” The junk I buy always turns out to be… well… junk.
And then, without really thinking about it deliberately, I started wondering what priceless treasures I might already have tucked away in my attic.
Of course, I know there aren’t any Rembrandts or early Van Goghs because I never bought any of those, and none of my relatives have ever been rich enough—or cultured enough, come to think of it—to dabble in fine art. But surely something among those piles in my attic is worth something.
We do have all those Star Wars figures the kids played with growing up. Maybe those could go for some cash. But I think to really be valuable, you have to have left them in the box, untouched by the hands of children. Ooh, we do have those McDonald’s toys from two hundred thousand Happy Meals or so. I kept every one that I pulled out from between the seats in the back of the minivan all the way through the 90’s. But no, I can’t imagine anyone thinking those battered old things have any worth. And I guess nobody wants my wife’s Cabbage Patch doll or the fifty or so “valuable” Beanie Babies we collected.
It turns out there aren’t any valuable finds in my attic. So why, then, is my attic crammed full of decidedly not-priceless things?
There’s an easy answer for that. Somewhere in the back of my head is that niggling suspicion: “What if someday my junk becomes priceless, and I mistakenly throw a treasure away or sell it for cheap?”
Do we all have this innate fear that we might become the person who pawned off the priceless Ansel Adams negatives for an incomprehensible fraction of their actual worth? Is that why we are forever holding onto things that simply take up space?
Maybe it’s the difficulty of sorting out the important from the inane. Every smidgen of stuff in our attics comes with some kind of a backstory. The memories of a lifetime are stored over our heads. Separating the nostalgic from the rubbish requires a time commitment that I’m just not willing to make.
This reminds me of an old Carlin routine where he is trying to clean out the refrigerator.
Perhaps the worst thing that can happen is to reach into the refrigerator and come out with something that you cannot identify at all. You literally do not know what it is. Could be meat, could be cake. Usually, at a time like that, I’ll bluff. ‘Honey, is this good?’ ‘Well, what is it?’ ‘I don’t know. I’ve never seen anything like it. It looks like… meatcake!’ ‘Well, smell it.’ (snort, sniff) ‘It has absolutely no smell whatsoever!’ ‘It’s good! Put it back! Somebody is saving it. It’ll turn up in something.’ That’s what frightens me.
We’d rather hang onto all of it rather than risk parting with something valuable.
You realize, of course, that by doing that we are carrying a far greater load than we or our attics deserve.
So there it sits, a tangled web of plastic, cloth, and paper all jumbled together and decaying in falling-apart cardboard containers. The good. The bad. The worthless.
And here’s the worst part: because the attic is so full of “potentially” priceless artifacts, there’s no room for things we really need.
I hate to say this, but the time has long past to have a garage sale. It’s time to rifle through attics and closets and make critical decisions about what is junk and what is treasure. Then we’ll drag it all out, scribble down prices, and put the signs out. Soon, the whole world will come to buy our junk.
It’s kind of a miserable affair, but there’s an upside to garage sales. When they’re done, we have cleaner attics and emptier closets. They lighten our load and get rid of junk that we no longer need. Maybe garage sales are a necessary evil. It does us good to have garage sales every so often because they force us to make decisions about what we really need to keep in our lives.
Spiritually speaking, it does us good to walk through the attics and closets of our soul and pull out the things that have accumulated there over time.
Like my attic, my soul can get overcrowded with junk that I’ve picked up on my journey. In time, these things can weigh me down.
This is exactly what the writer of Hebrews was discussing when he wrote:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. (Hebrews 12:1)
From time to time, we must examine everything in our lives and get rid of the things that are only slowing us down, tripping us up, or taking up space!
That time has come. Forgive me for using these five hated words, but they must be said: “Let’s have a garage sale.”
Let’s Have a Garage Sale is $13.00 in paperback from Bill Dye Ministries. Copies are currently available through the church bookstore at North Monroe Baptist and will soon be available through Amazon.