Yard Sale – 4 Lessons

capitol hill yard saleRiding up the chairlift at Mt. Hood Meadows, I looked over just as someone took a high speed fall and tumbled down the hill. Gloves, skis, poles, hats, and stuff scattered all over the side of the hill. Three chairs up, some punk yelled: “Yard Sale!” And I laughed. It was the perfect description. That was in the early 1980s, and the term seems to have stuck.

It’s a badge of honor to fall hard enough to scatter one’s gear across the slope – especially under the chairlift! When it happens to me, I usually leap to my feet and throw my fists in the air in a triumphant Gold Medalistesque pose. I figure, as long as I’m in danger of looking foolish, I might as well make a joke out of it.

Yesterday, and the Friday before, we staged a real Yard Sale. Forced to move, and with no place to land, we decided against storage. Nothing we own is worth enough money to justify a couple thousand dollars in storage fees. Neither is it worth enough to spend a couple thousand dollars to haul it in a truck and take it with us. It just doesn’t make sense. So, we’re liquidating.

When it comes to furniture, tools, or the myriad of carp we have, I don’t mind selling it. However, when it comes to antiques, family heirlooms, and sentimental items – that’s different. Photos, keepsakes, and important documents are being put into storage, as are a few things that are irreplaceable. But as I look at the stuff we have, I realize there is a spectrum between being valuable, useful, and worth keeping – and those items which are purely carp. Sometimes, often, especially for me, it’s hard to know the difference.

To make it easier, we’ve set limits for ourselves. We only rented a small storage shed. We are limiting ourselves to two boxes of clothes each. We are limiting ourselves to one box of books each – far less than the 38 boxes we moved when we left Grad School.

My last post is a cathartic processing of the need to let go of my stuff. Working through that was important and necessary. It’s still painful, but I continue to fake it as I learn to make it.

Here’s what I’ve learned this past week:

1.  People come to garage and yard sales to get bargains.

They aren’t buying things they need, or necessarily want. The price has to be a small fraction of the original value, or people won’t buy. They don’t need more junk, stuff, or carp – but they do want to think they got a real steal. Buying a $20 rake for a dollar is a great example. Could I get $5 for it? Probably, but only if I’m willing to wait for the right person to come along. If one wants to liquidate, quickly, cheaply, and with the least amount of time and energy, it’s best to just price it low and let it go. This is what we did.300/365 My first Brownie.

Yesterday we sold a formal dining room table and eight chairs, for $190. It probably cost close to $10k new – but I didn’t get a single call on it until I lowered the price to $190. Most likely, the right person would have paid $500-1000. So, it feels like I gave it away. On the other hand, it would cost a lot of money to store it, and a lot of time to sell it for what it’s worth. Looking at this correctly, I realize I could have spent more time and more money to get a better price – but my net gain would have been the same. It’s a commodity.

2. Our neighbors didn’t appreciate our sale.

I notified our next door neighbors that we’d be having a sale. They are nice people who have been really generous and nice over the past five years. However, on the morning of the sale, he put signs on the grass beside our shared lane, instructing people to not park on the grass. Unfortunately, the signs looked like garage sale signs, with fluorescent orange arrows, and they confused people. Those coming to the garage sale ignored all the stuff in our driveway, and drove right up to his signs. Then, when they started turning around in his driveway, he parked his cars to block the driveway and made it really difficult for people to turn around.

Mixed MessagesThe next neighbor down then followed suit, blocking his driveway with his car, and posting a hand drawn, cardboard sign, demanding people to get off his land and “USE REVERSE!”

All of this created a huge bottleneck on our narrow lane, plus, because of the slope and loose gravel, they couldn’t go back up the hill. Tires slid, gravel flew, and ruts were dug into the lane. It was a sad, disheartening, and almost funny (if it wasn’t so weird) spectacle.

The people paying the highest cost for this are the very neighbors who blocked their driveways. Now, the lane in front of our house is a mess – and they’re the ones who have to drive on it – or will have to repair it.

One neighbor even took the time and energy to create a fake G-Mail account and send me an email, just to call me a body part that is usually only used when I sit on the toilet. As if I didn’t already know that I’m a jerk – I mean, people have been telling me all my life. Did he think this would be a new revelation to me?

This is the first time I’ve had a garage sale when the neighbors didn’t come over and buy most of the stuff. If I had known it would be an issue, I would have shared some of the proceeds with them. I guess, next time I’ll check.

3. It’s very freeing to get rid of this stuff.

No, as I said, it isn’t easy – but really, we don’t need this stuff. I’m sending 40 pounds of books to a friend of mine in Michigan, giving a couple hundred dollars worth of books to a pastor friend, and we’ve passed on a ton of stuff to others. Yesterday a fellow homeschooler came by with her half-dozen kids. We gave them an inflatable 2-person boat, backpacks, tennis racquets, and toys. It was awesome. The value of that stuff was substantial, but we would have only recouped about $10 in the sale.

So much of our stuff has been passed on, or handed down to us. We feel free to be as generous to others, and our house is starting to look like the moving van has already been here.

Seriously, we don’t need this stuff.

4. The majority of stuff we have left fits into three categories:Donate books poster

A) Carp. The crowd has spoken and this stuff needs to be taken to the dump. Nobody wants a 10-year-old computer, VHS movies, or my cassette tapes from the 80s.

B) Donation. We have a lot of stuff that needs to be donated. A crib, changing table, and breast pump – to name a few. We’ll probably take this to a pregnancy center, or women’s shelter.

C) Craig’s List. Our desks, couches, mattress, and dressers were too big for a garage/moving sale. We’ve had a much better response in online classifieds and I’ll continue to promote that stuff there. If it doesn’t sale quickly, I’ll continue to drop the price until it fits into one of the two above categories.

The journey isn’t over, we still have much packing, sorting, and hauling left to do – but the good news is, we have a whole week to finish. It’s amazing how the crucible of time forces us to make the crucial decisions.

I wonder if there are any spiritual lessons to be learned here?

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  1. […] Riding up the chairlift at Mt. Hood Meadows, I looked over just as someone took a high speed fall and tumbled down the hill. Gloves, skis, poles, hats, and stuff scattered all over the side of the hill. Three chairs up, some punk yelled: “Yard Sale!” And I laughed. It was the perfect description. That was in the early 1980s, and the term seems to have stuck.  […]

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