Second-hand memories

Insight studies at the car boot sale


Car boot sales offer once cherished objects a second lease of life, with objects arranged on paste table bidding for the attention of a new owner.  Looking specifically at storytelling, the issues around authenticity and the construction of stories to accompany objects were observed through a series of field studies at a car boot sale. Through interviews and observations I recorded instances of sellers and buyers sharing memories and stories associated with the objects for sale.


This trader constructed different stories around the same object on numerous occasions, each time potential buyers approached. He uses this ‘star’ object to entice people to his stall, even though he told me he would never sell it. Entertaining in his storytelling, over the weeks I discovered many versions of this object’s history. Known as ‘Crocodile Dundee’ because of the impressive stories he tells about acquiring the tiger’s tooth around his neck, there is no evidence of any truth in these stories, but each time a story is told, more people are encouraged to look at the stall (which I observed).

The motto ‘never let the truth get in the way of a good story’ is a successful selling tool for him as he advertises objects for sale with a compelling tale. Telling stories around objects offers space for elaboration and exaggeration, and great storytelling can embrace this for monetary gain. Missing memories around objects at car boot sales rarely affects selling and what seems more important is to have a story that is compelling and grabs the audience’s attention. True authenticity is less important as people are able to use the stories for the entertainment value they were imagined for.


Design speculations

Observations at the car boot sale identify the importance of exchanging memories around objects, not only for keeping memories associated with the object alive but for refreshing our own memories and relationships. Considering car boot sales, objects not personally owned still have the capacity and potential to trigger strong personal memories and this identifies a potential design space; using display’s of other people’s possessions to encourage and provoke our own personal memories. Though successful triggering of memories cannot be guaranteed with impersonal objects, design may be able to introduce parameters that measure and match likely triggers to our own memories.

car boot coffeeCar boot coffee table

The table displays items currently for sale on online second-hand selling sites.  The table has a display beneath a glass top that haphazardly displays items on the screen, similar to table-tops at car boot sales.  When used as a coffee table, having the display beneath ensures it becomes obscured at times offering limited views that warrant physical interaction for further discovery.

The items appear on the table when listed on an online selling site (such as Ebay, Freecycle or Oxfam), and disappear when sold.  This produces a frequently changing, evolving and chaotic display of many layers.  Similar to a car boot sale, the objects on display offer occasional triggers to memories, where living with the display over time is likely to offer many unexpected discoveries of forgotten memories.


ebayframe672Ebay frame

The proposal uses an external database of existing content to display audience-relevant images of objects currently selling on the Ebay website.  Designed to provide background prompts to memories, the frame could display era-specific content, for example, childhood toys based on the age of the people in the room.

The concept uses the Ebay website for content as it is a good example of an existing database of categorised objects.  Streaming this type of content attempts to provoke reaction; hung on a wall in a shared space, it offers background information that can be acted upon or ignored by people in the room, where seeing a glimpse of a recognisable image in the periphery may cue reminiscing.  The Ebay frame proposes how impersonal content, in this case photographs taken by strangers to sell their possessions, can be used to successfully trigger other people’s personal memories.



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