Greg_Ruffing_03 Albany, Kentucky

Greg_Ruffing_09 Seville, Ohio

For Yard Sales, Chicago-based photographer Greg Ruffing documents the nuanced phenomenon of American rummage sales. Visiting homes turned inside out by moves, foreclosures, or military reassignments, he captures the massive heaps of stuff that compose a typical modern household. In this fascinating subculture of wheelers and dealers of all ages, the discarded possessions of strangers take on deeper meanings. With an unerringly sensitive gaze, Ruffing cuts through the outlandish to touch on a universal story of human sentiment and struggle.

Growing up with brothers, Ruffing was attracted from an early age to the culture of used items, thrifting, and hand-me-downs. He began the project in 2008 with the onset of the Great Recession, when many of the families he shot were struggling financially. He explains that while the yard sale is mainly an American construct, build in part around notions of consumerism and personal property, it also counters the impulse to consume too much by promoting the recycling of goods. At their best, yard sales can promote “social connections and feelings of neighborliness and community,” says Ruffing.

In the midst of the buzzing activity of a successful yard sale, some of the sale items stand out for their heartbreaking specificity. It’s doubtful that anyone but the original owner will feel a great deal affection for a laboriously completed puzzle, a worn baby doll, or a velveteen owl lamp. Ruffing reports, however, that even the most absurd items are often scooped up and proudly toted to a new home. Here, we might thoughtfully gaze at these bizarre trinkets, sold out of economic necessity, the death of a relative, or for the sake of a large life transition, recognizing that they once meant a something to an anonymous somebody.

Greg_Ruffing_11 Lehigh Acres, Florida

Greg_Ruffing_01 Albany, Kentucky

Greg_Ruffing_12 Signal Mountain, Tennessee

Greg_Ruffing_02 Fort Payne, Alabama

Greg_Ruffing_04 Signal Mountain, Tennessee

Greg_Ruffing_05 Clinton, Michigan

Greg_Ruffing_06 Fort Leavenworth, Kansas

Greg_Ruffing_07 Longview, Texas

Greg_Ruffing_10 Cape Coral, Florida

Greg_Ruffing_08 Lexington, Michigan

Greg_Ruffing_13 Gadsden, Alabama

Greg_Ruffing_14 Lehigh Acres, Florida

Greg_Ruffing_18 Greenville, Ohio

Greg_Ruffing_15 Kellogg, Minnesota

Greg_Ruffing_16 Seville, Ohio

Greg_Ruffing_17 Mentor, Ohio

All images © Greg Ruffing

via Wired