It’s the Biggest Garage Sale We’ve Ever Heard Of

One woman got her entire city together on one day to celebrate reuse. She calls it a “Citywide Garage Sale” – and it’s been going for 25 years now. So, how did Marianne convince her entire city to stop throwing things away? Her story goes all the way back to Uruguay in the 1940s.

Depending on your perspective, Marianne’s dad was either a collector-of-treasures or a hoarder. Some of her earliest memories are of living among five barns and 20 rooms full of stuff. When her family relocated from Uruguay to New York in 1952, her family arrived (amidst a dockworker strike) with 72 crates of Stuff!

Because Marianne grew up in a house bursting with Stuff and a 1950s media culture that encouraged her to buy more, more, more, she necessarily began to consider how she could live with less. Growing up in Uruguay, she had been raised (despite her father’s practices) to appreciate basic, necessary and handmade things. Marianne eventually wrote her dissertation on the subject that would be her lifelong pursuit: REUSE!

Fast-forward to 1989. An earthquake in Marianne’s hometown of El Cerrito got the city to earnestly take up the effort of re-inspecting house foundations. But something stood in the way of this critical work: everybody’s Stuff!

When the inspectors went to visit the homes of older residents, they found garages bursting at the seams with decades of Stuff. At that critical moment, Marianne stepped in and flexed her citizen muscle.

She suggested that her town hold a “Citywide Garage Sale.” The first citywide garage sale was held throughout El Cerrito in October of 1990, on the anniversary of the l989 earthquake. In exchange for participation, the city offered foundation inspections at half price. Over 200 households participated and the usually sleepy El Cerrito was bustling.

Today the Citywide Garage Sales, held twice a year, have been going on for 25 years and spread to other cities in the East Bay. As a result of all this, the city has less landfill use. The residents have cleaner houses and garages. And Marianne is living her dream as a reuse crusader. It’s a win-win-win.

We asked Marianne for any words of wisdom on Stuff. She shared three pieces of advice:

  1. REUSE first, second, and last. Never throw away what can still be repaired and used.
  2. Read Don Aslett’s Clutter’s Last Stand, and then donate things that:
    — You’ve outgrown, physically or emotionally.
    — You’ve always hated and/or would shock, bore, or burden others.
    — It wouldn’t really affect you if you never saw it again.
  3. Pursue your passion. If I can do all this, just think what you can do!

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