Treasure Hunting: Finding Divine Inspiration in a Random Driveway

Stack of cushions of various colors and patterns

We creep past the house, scanning the wares laid out on the driveway, while avoiding the hopeful gaze of the woman tending them. Is there anything here that entices us to tackle parking on this narrow, bumper-to-bumper-parked street? We spy just a few tables, all loaded with glassware and little kid stuff, so it’s tempting to keep driving.

Once an accidental hobby, “oh, look, a yard sale,” scouring the neighborhood for deals has become Our Weekend Thing for my husband, David, and me. Not that we need a single thing. Our house, garage and what-passes-for-a-basement-in-Los Angeles are already crammed full of enough supplies to support a small village. And their cats.

I blame the kids. If they hadn’t grown up, our weekend mornings would still be a blur of Music Together, T-ball practices and dance classes. After the little one left for college, we’d go out to sit in the minivan on Saturday mornings just out of habit, nowhere to go. “Let’s just go for a drive,” husband would eventually say, and we’d troll the neighborhood, commenting on who had new landscaping, while sipping overpriced lattes. Then we passed a yard sale, and that’s how it started. Thanks a lot, kids.

At first, the thrill of the Big Score gave us new meaning, a sense of purpose in this “what-now” phase of our lives. Paying $30 for a brand-new, still-wrapped-in-plastic Calphalon skillet (MSRP $249) elates me like finding money in my bank account the day before payday. The dopamine rush of that $10 Beach Boys box set that we sold for $250 lasted longer than any orgasm. To date. . .

Reality set in after hauling home too many broken blenders and suckless vacuums. So we set some ground rules, homed in on our targets: 1) Stuff We Really Will Use (and not just pretend that we will) and 2) Stuff to Sell on eBay to support our urban hunting habit. But it’s the anticipation of the big score that’s addicting, keeps us at it. Stand back, we’re Yard Sale Junkies seeking to score.

“Stop!” I shriek. I’ve spotted my find: outdoor furniture cushions. They rank at the top of my Really Will Use list. Have you seen how much the new ones cost? Triple-digit prices for some fabric and foam, I don’t get it.

Husband crams the van into the only available space, in front of a fire hydrant, so we have to hurry. But still, we play the yard sale game: amble up the drive, make nice conversation, feign interest in the myriad of mugs, until woops, what have we here? “How much for the cushions?” I inquire as casually as a howdy-do.

I hold my breath in anticipation. Pleasing blue stripes, like-new sun-resistant fabric, firm foam . . . I don’t dare get my hopes up. “Oh, just ten dollars.” For all five of them?? “Yes.” It’s such a bargain that I’m tempted to offer more, crazy as that sounds even to me. As I ponder, David says, “we’ll take them,” and fishes out his wallet.

He knows all too well my penchant for scooping up comfy chair pads. Sitting outside to read, to write, to procrastinate is an occupational hazard of sorts, seeing as how I preach about the healing powers of nature. If I’m going to stay perched on a hard bench for any length of time, I require a soft seat, hence the cushion obsession.

In the relentless sunshine of So Cal, though, even fabrics designed for the outdoors eventually disintegrate. Most of the ones I’ve acquired were free, donated by my generous Buy Nothing group neighbors. Those freebies were all “well-loved,” and I’ll be lucky if they last another summer. I despise throwing things away, sending them off to that Landfill of Shame where nothing composts, so I’m ecstatic to fork over a mere $10 for some that should last a lot longer.

My haphazard methods of collection do mean that the pieces don’t match, and the jarring mélange of stripes and patterns upsets me like fake pockets in women’s pants. When I bring home yet another clashing addition, I tell myself I’ll make some new matching covers for them all. Then I price the Sunbrella fabric at Joann’s and I’m back to scoping out yard sales and Buy Nothing gives. I can live with the mishmash. Or that’s what my wallet tells me.

Giddy from today’s acquisition, I skip back to the van as David remarks, “you’ve got some good padding now.” I chuckle as I retort, “I’m building my own padded cell.”

Which stops me in my tracks. Have I ever spoken truer words? As the Bad News mounts minute by minute, I struggle to find enough legal and socially-acceptable outlets for venting my fury. The more headlines I read about lives lost to senseless gun violence, about punishing women for seeking lifesaving healthcare, about China building a slew of new coal-powered plants, the more I feel like a volcano long overdue for an eruption. I meditate, I journal, I pray daily, and still, I catch myself mad-shrieking at the dishwasher for failing to clean simple spoon. The cats now keep their distance.

A padded room sounds enticing, just what I need right now. A place where I can stomp and curse and bawl and punch without hurting anyone—or alarming my family members any more than they already are. The irritating clash of mismatched cushions adorning my padded cell would only add fuel to my frustration, even more wrath to unleash. How perfect.

Suddenly, the mixed bag seems on purpose, a Divine Orchestration. Somebody is looking out for me after all. Hey, I take my flashes of Divine Inspiration wherever I can get ’em, even in the bargain bin of someone else’s castoffs. One woman’s trash makes my eco-friendly moment of Zen.

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  © Cheryl Leutjen