“That’s the meaning of life isn’t it? Trying to find a place for your stuff… That’s all your house is. It’s a pile of stuff with a cover on it.”
“Have you noticed that everybody else’s stuff is shit and your shit is stuff?”
- George Carlin
Stuff is devious. It pretends to be something that will make your life easier or more pleasurable but often ends up being a burden – something you’re tied to and can’t get rid of. Suddenly, pleasure becomes a responsibility. Better not get rid of this stuff. It might be useful again one day. You might be unhappy if it were gone. You might never find stuff like it.
So you relegate it to the garage or the basement or the attic where it fills boxes and makes homes for spiders and becomes forgotten. Even there it creates work. It needs to be moved about so you can get to other stuff, shoved aside so you can get to the Christmas decorations or the summer water toys or the Halloween costumes. It’s in the way, taking up space – in your home and in your brain. Just what was in those boxes, you wonder. Or, why do I still have those lamps or an antique cookie press I’ll never use or boxes of toys the boys outgrew years ago? So I decided it was time to liberate my family from the tyranny of owning too much stuff – by having a yard sale.
Before we moved to our present home, we lived in a neighborhood that had collective yard sales every May. It worked out really well. It became habit once a year to rid ourselves of excess stuff. But four years ago, we moved. Fortunately, I did a pretty thorough job of thinning our stuff then, because ownership is not nearly so attractive when you have to pack all your stuff in boxes, carry it up the basement steps, and load it in a U-Haul. So we trimmed down. Way down. In terms of stuff, we were positively svelte by the time we took up residence in our new home. But that was four years ago.
Some of you may have noticed a series of posts I did about cool stuff I’ve found at thrift stores. (See thrift pick) I frequent them regularly and drag home odd, old or unusual items that have only one thing in common – we have absolutely no use for any of it. I admit it. I am a collector. A junk store junkie. (See Confession of a Thrift Store Junkie) I regularly troll second hand stores and drag home whatever cast-off catches my fancy – a globe, a green glass jar, 800 Scrabble tiles. Four years is a long time for someone like me to go without thinning out the stuff.
It was time. So it’s a good thing for me that you can haul all your stuff out on the front lawn and put a sticker on it and chances are, someone will come along and buy it. (Unless it’s badly broken or extraordinarily ugly, it which case you put a sign that says “FREE” and it will disappear. American magic.)
So last Saturday, I did just that. After 4 hours of standing in my drive way with nothing better to do than to study the people who stopped to look at our stuff, I was able to identify several types of yard salers:
- Saturday morning pleasure shoppers – I like these kind. They’re the type who figure yard saling just means a drive on a pleasant morning, a cheap way to spend time with friends, and the off chance you might stumble on something you think is really cool.
- Antique Roadshow wannabees – These are fairly annoying. They’re just hoping to rip off some poor schmuck who’s selling his great granddaddy’s ugly old painting for $5 that’s actually an authentic Picasso. They’re not looking to find treasure. They’re looking to take it from some one else.
- Junk dealers – Only slightly less annoying than the Roadshow trollers. They tend to come early and drive big pick-ups with stuff piled in the back. They don’t expect to find treasure, but they want to pay dirt for your stuff.
- Grandparents – These can be fun because they’re always looking for something for their grandkids. Some of them will pinch a penny until it screams though and will haggle over a quarter.
- Young couples with cute little children – These are my favorite. They often don’t have a lot of money so they really appreciate cheap stuff (especially toys and kid clothes which we always have). And it’s always fun to give the kids more toys than their parents are willing to buy.
All in all, having a yard sale isn’t nearly fun (for me) as going to one. But I have to do it, right? I try to think of it as the ultimate recycling. Just doing my bit to keep my shit out of the landfills. (Sorry. Couldn’t resist.)
And how else would I get to have fun conversations like this:
“Will you take $5 for this?”
“Uh…I don’t think so.”
“But it’s old and ugly.”
“Yes, but I don’t think the neighbors want to sell their cat.”
“Do you have a dining room table?”
“Yes, it’s in the dining room.”
“It’s not for sale. That’s why it’s not out here. In the driveway. Where we’re selling stuff.”
He looked at me like I had just spit on him and stalked back to his car.
“Hey, can I get a cup of coffee, too?”
“Uh, I’m not serving…What do you mean ‘too’?!” I spun around. “Alright, who took my cup?”
Okay, I made up one of those. I’ll let you figure out which.