Evolution of the Garage Sale

Summers and warm weather are pretty much synonymous with yard and garage sales. Every weekend throughout these warm months you’ll be able to find at least one family in every neighborhood hosting a garage sale.

Historical Roots

The garage sales you see in present day are vastly different from the ones in the past, but the same principle still exists. The first garage sales, which are also known as rummage sales, can be traced way back in history to the port cities. Rummage is a nautical term that means the arranging of items within a ship’s casks. After a ship pulled into the dock, any unclaimed or damaged cargo would be hauled off the ship and put up for sale—hence the beginning of a rummage sale. Centuries later, this practice was adopted by charities and churches to raise money and give to the less fortunate. Typically, these organizations would ask their parishioners or the wealthy to donate any unwanted or discarded goods to raise money.

20th Century Practices

The practice continued to expand, with Americans selling items they no longer had use for or desire to keep. While many neighbors had already done this before, now the concept of selling—not just trading—your goods. In the trying economic times, this practice proved to be useful for many Americans who needed to make ends meet. The practice of selling your own items became more socially acceptable in these early times, as it had been frowned upon immensely before to purchase the goods of someone else.

Downturn of Garage Sales

The negative social stigma of purchasing pre-owned goods hit an all-time high following the years of the World Wars. Many Americans had no choice but to shop at these sales during the hard economic times following the wars, including the Great Depression, in order to find affordable products. In the same fashion, many Americans had to sell their clothes or household items to make money to purchase food or to pay for their lodging or rent.

The 50s and early 60s saw a downturn in popularity of the yard sale, as it wasn’t socially acceptable to purchase pre-owned goods. These two decades were of great wealth for many Americans, with the expectation that the more new products and appliances you had, the better off you were.

Upswing of Garage Sales

Once the 70s rolled around, though, the nostalgic and loved sense of yard sales returned. As Americans began to embrace environmentalism and being thrifty, the yard sale transformed into the iconic tradition that is known now.

Today, Americans are wealthier than ever before, but the environmental aspect of capitalism has resulted in many Americans preferring to purchase pre-owned goods in lieu of brand-new goods. Additionally, some people just want to save money, and many college students are in so much debt that they don’t have another choice but to hit up garage sales before the big box department stores.


Garage sales have come a long way from their humble beginnings. As times continue to change, you can expect that garage sales will only continue to grow in popularity. Happy shopping!