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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?

I don’t know where my frugal nature comes from, and it certainly isn’t consistent. I can save, but I can also spend. I’ve been in debt, and I’ve been rolling in cash. The one common theme in all of this inconsistency is my ability to not waste things. I truly love the phrase, “waste not, want not.” I believe that if I can use the tools and resources at my disposal, I can use my money and time for more important things.Well advertised!

Notice the use of the word disposal above. That was on purpose.

In case you haven’t noticed, we live in a disposable society – and it’s killing me. Seriously, actually, hurting my soul. I can’t stand to throw something away if it still has value.

While something may have lost its usefulness, if it still has some value left in it, I can’t bring myself to toss it. Lest you get the wrong idea, I’m not a hoarder. But I am a bit of a pack-rat. For instance, I have this coffee can in my tool room where I toss loose screws, mismatched nuts and bolts, and random pieces of metal and plasticdoo-dads. When I’m working on a project, trying to fix something – or invent some Mickey Mouse workaround, I know I can go to that can and find something to make my project work. Not only is it cheaper than a trip to the hardware store, it is definitely more time efficient (see my post on Energy Efficiency from a few days ago).

Sometimes I’ll look at a piece of metal, a s crap of plastic, or a butter tub and wonder what I could use this for. No, I didn’t grow up in the depression, but I’m only two generations removed from that. My Dad grew up very poor, and though we lived comfortably, we didn’t have a lot of extra cash lying around. I’ve just learned not to waste things – one never knows what use they might find for some doohickey, or widget.

‎”We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.”  ~C. S. Lewis

That’s what makes this transition in our lives so hard. We are liquidating everything – except bare essentials (eg; clothes, toiletries, and other stuff) and memorabilia. What doesn’t sell will be donated to charity or tossed into the dumpster. I don’t mind liquidating – and I have little fear for the future. I know my needs will be provided for (see Matthew 6). I just hate wasting things.

Already we sold much in last Friday’s moving sale, and I expect to sell much more tomorrow. Though it’s hard selling $200 chairs for $40, I feel better when the people really want them. It was much harder selling my Canon AE-1 and a bunch of lenses and accessories for $40 – when I originally spent close to $2000 on all that gear. Not to mention 35 years of memories. But again, much better than tossing them into the wind at the Goodwill or in the trash.

What is hard for me is seeing stuff that still has value, but will have to be thrown away. My bucket of nuts and bolts for example. It’s not worth anything, but it is. In fact, I can live without this stuff. Seriously, I’m not afraid of being without a random nut, or bolt, but I just have trouble tossing them.

Yesterday, I threw away one nail, two screws, some sheet rock anchors, and a rubber band when I cleaned my desk. They hadn’t quite made it to the coffee can yet – but I just threw them away. In the trash. wasted. Almost 9 cents of usable product – and I just tossed them!

Loving Gifts…

Then there is our bedroom furniture. Solid oak – I mean solid. Well built, quality furniture. The two dressers are heavy – and did I mention solid? The two dressers, two nightstands, mirror, and headboard were given to us out of love by some dear friends. I planned to keep them the rest of my life. Though they scream disco, water-bed, 70s – they are quality furniture. Our friends probably paid well over $2000 for the set 35+ years ago. I’m asking only $200 for the set – and no one has shown any interest.

And why should they? They aren’t stylish – and they aren’t cool. Anyone could go to Ikea and get cool, stylish furniture for just a few hundred more – and if they put it on their credit card, it will only cost about $5 bucks a month. Besides, who has an extra $200 cash lying around?

This seems to be the case for a lot of our stuff. Why would anyone pay a dollar for our very fine, working toaster, when they can buy a new one, in the box, at Wal-Mart for $6.00? I have tire chains, coil springs, ladders, couches, chairs, and a bunch of stuff. I’d like to sell it, but not because I need the money – although money is good and we don’t have a lot of it right now. I want to see it because I can’t stand to see it wasted.

We gave away our piano – another loving gift from some dear people. I was happy to give it away to a good family who will use it and treasure it. We have actually given away a lot of stuff to friends and family – and that feels really good. I’d give away more if I thought people would take it and appreciate it. Our king-size mattress is only a year old, and I’d love to get some of our $1000 back out of it, but more importantly, I just don’t want to see it tossed.

Small stuff, big stuff, junk, or crap – I just hate to see things wasted. I don’t know why – it just is.

Circumstances…

A couple of months ago I binged watching a show on Hulu. It was about the US Marshall Service Witness Protection Program. The thing that struck me was how people would have to leave everything, including photographs, in a matter of hours, and relocate in another life and location. In one episode, the whole family looked at a door with the kids heights marked on it. A lot of families have a wall, door, or door post marked like this. With great regret, they had to leave the door. Stuff like this is hard.

I can’t even imagine walking away from all my stuff; but in a sense, this is what I feel we are being asked to do – with caveats and some flexibility. So, I think, what if this area was being swept by a wildfire, like the recent one in Colorado Springs, and we had 45 minutes to evacuate. Obviously, we would lose everything that wouldn’t fit in our car – and maybe more. Including the board that measures the kids heights through the years. We, like many, would have no choice but to walk away – or run, as the case may be.

Then I think of time, circumstances, and opportunities. Millions of people lost everything during various wars. I think of all the houses bombed, burned, and looted. The lives lost – the opportunities missed. It simply happens.

The other day a man died alone in his home. His body wasn’t discovered for a month. He had no family so Realtors, neighbors, and city officials were cleaning out the house. They discovered $7 million in gold coins. What a waste!

Sometimes it’s all abouttime goes

If I knew I was going to die tomorrow, would I be concerned about wasting my stuff? Of course not! If I knew I was going to be offered a wonderful job on another continent, I’d gladly part with it all. If I knew I was going to live here for another year, I’d certainly not part with it. If I knew I were going to spend eternity in Heaven, and on the New Earth, with no needs ever – I’d gladly part with it.

So really,time, again, is the crucible of character (see this recent post). If I knew I had a lot of time to part with the stuff, I could find the right buyer, or right recipient and I would feel good about passing on my stuff. If I knew I were going to die tomorrow, I’d walk away from it all and spend the day with my family at the beach. If I knew I had 45 minutes to evacuate my house before a raging wildfire swept through, I’d grab my computer, kids, and other valuables and flee (not necessarily in that order mind you). If I knew Jesus would be arriving tomorrow, again, nothing here has any value.

It’s the unknown timeline that throws me. Like running a race without knowing how far it is, or where the finish line is located – I don’t know what I’ll need, or what I won’t.

Lessons from Michael Weston…

Another favorite show on Hulu is Burn Notice. Michael Weston is a burned spy trying to restore his career, reputation, and life’s calling. As you can imagine, I really relate to this show. In the process of restoring his life, Weston becomes a freelance spy, or fixer of sorts. He helps people, asking nothing in return – just because he is a good guy.

The lesson I learned from this show was particularly poignant for me. Weston and his team use resources to fit the need, regardless of the value or scarcity of the resource used. If they have to blow up his prized, vintage Dodge Challenger, they blow it up. If they have to use up the last of their bullets, they use them. They hold nothing back and they approach everything with a total disregard for saving something for later.

This is exactly my problem. Sometimes I look at my resources and wonder if I should use them now, or save them for later. (Remember the whole energy conservation post?)

I once went backpacking in Arizona with friends. It was a beautiful trip. We hiked in a narrow creek bed, cut through the desert, which put us in the shade, in the water, and out of the heat. Parts of this slot canyon were so narrow we had to float our packs on inner tubes and swim in the icy cold water. Most of it though, we were able to hike. We wore sandals so we could easily walk on the rocks or through the creek

Unfortunately this hike took two days longer than expected. The guidebook told us it would take two days. We planned on three, but it actually took four and a half days. By the end of day three, we were out of food. I don’t do well without food – especially when carrying an 80 pound pack. The challenge was, do we eat all our food and reduce our pack weight, or do we ration our food and make it last for the next couple of days? We chose to ration it – but truth be told, I had some power bars stashed in my survival kit. When we got out of the canyon, we went out for pizza and ordered five large pizzas – one for each of us.

This is my tendency. I evaluate my resources (ie; emotional, financial, social, or physical) and estimate the costs and benefits. Then I ration those resources to get maximum benefit and ROI (return on investment). But when the destination is fuzzy, the finish line is unclear, and the results are unknown, it is really difficult to know how to use one’s resources. Being the good Boy Scout I am, I tend to take a conservative approach and save my resources so I can “be prepared” for what may lie ahead.

Sometimes one has to go full speed ahead and ignore those damn torpedoes.

We don’t know what lies ahead; we have no resources to speak of; and we are being asked to liquidate it all. My hesitation to do this is purely my issue. Waste, or not, it has to go – but man this is hard!

When I replaced my aging Gore-tex parka several years ago, I discovered a tool that helps. I looked at the old parka, which cost $300, and divided that price by the 15 years use I’d gotten out of it. I realized I’d received plenty of value for $20 a year. It didn’t seem like such a waste to toss it aside when I looked at it as rent. For $20 a year, that was money well spent. On the other hand, it was still costing me $300 to replace and it still had a lot of life left in it.

When I was in seminary I read an article about Lot and his family leaving Sodom. It’s said the angels actually had to grab them by the hand and drag them out of the city. On their departure, if you recall, Lot’s wife turned to look back at her old home and she was turned into a pillar of salt. This author said the reason she hesitated was because of Lot’s failure to lead – and his hesitation when they were first told to leave. This story has haunted me since.

I do not want to be the cause of hesitation in my family. When God gives direction, I want to boldly proceed.

Though I hate to waste resources, in the end, it’s all going to burn anyway. And what good would $7 million in gold do me at my death?

Really, in the end, it isn’t the one with the most toys that wins. The one who wins is the one who found peace, serenity, and value in their family.

“So I recommend having fun, because there is nothing better for people in this world than to eat, drink, and enjoy life. That way they will experience some happiness along with all the hard work God gives them under the sun.” ~ Solomon

Every once in awhile, something becomes crystal clear. It may come after being clobbered upside the head, and it may take 50 or so years to figure it out, but some of those lessons are the clearest.

DragonThis week, while going through boxes of files, memorabilia, and stuff, I introspectively relived the past 15+ years of my life. My move from Oregon to California, in 1995, was orderly. I had time and energy to plan, pack, and organize. Of course, over the next few years, I acquired more stuff – but I got rid of most of my stuff before moving to Michigan. And now, three states, one wife, and two kids later, we have more stuff than anyone should be allowed to have.

It’s ludicrous. Our move from Michigan to Wyoming was done in haste. Newly married, fresh out of grad school, and needing to be in our new role quickly, we just through it all into the truck and drove cross-country. The move to Colorado was accomplished with probably less intentionality. But it was the five years in Colorado Springs, in a decent sized house, that caused our stuff to multiply.

In addition, we moved before, during, and immediately after our Smiling Son’s birth. In other words, we brought a crap-load of stuff with us. During all these moves, it is the papers that have haunted me. Files, bank records, old mortgage contracts, canceled checks, letters, photographs, and everyday paraphernalia that clutters our lives as we move through it. I knew I didn’t need bank records from 1973, but I can’t just toss them into the wind. I know that a lot of the cards and letters I’ve saved over the years needed to go.

Photos need to be organized and junk needed to be tossed. And there’s no better time than right as one moves, to trim the detritus from their life. Except, there are plenty of other things to do. The motivation almost always comes down to money. Since we don’t know where we are going to land, after moving out of this house, we plan to put much of our stuff into storage. A 6×10 storage area is $50/month. A 20×20 unit is about $150/mo. If we only needed this for a month, it wouldn’t be that big of deal, but if we need the storage unit for 10 months, the cost begins to add up. This could end up costing anywhere between $500 and $1500 dollars – or more.

When I look at our stuff, I realize most of furniture and stuff wouldn’t fetch more than a couple thousand dollars on Craigslist.com. So, despite the its personal and nostalgic value, it’s really cheaper and easier to sell everything and rebuy it later. Of course, some of our used furniture is really high quality and in the future, we may not be able to reacquire such quality. But it really doesn’t make sense to rent a truck for $2-3000 to move it cross country, or spend that much to store it for a year or more. And this is why we are preparing to sell, donate, or throwaway almost everything.

Now I’m the kind of guy who likes to have a plan. I scope out the options, examine the issues, investigate the problems, and develop a plan. Looking at our schedule, the weather, and when is the best time to have a sale, I decided that we should plan our big sale for the Friday before last. When that didn’t happen, we began to plan for last Friday. That came and went and I got discouraged.

I feel overwhelmed and stressed. We are losing our house, we have no income, we have to move, and we have no place to go. Hmmmm…. But I’m OK with losing the house – we’ve known this was coming for some time. The loss of income was a conscious choice made after much prayer. Moving? Well, moving always sucks. It’s just difficult. And having no place to go – that just makes packing and downsizing more difficult. It makes it difficult to prioritize keeping or tossing some items.

In the last week, I have converted at least 20 boxes of stuff into about three boxes; I’ve hauled about 15 boxes of photos and memorabilia to storage; and I’ve tossed much of my past life into the trash. This is a great process for an introspective person like me, but it would be better if there wasn’t a ticking clock hanging over my head. Given the time, I could sort, write, meditate, write some more,, toss, and reorganize. The possibilities are endless.

However, given that our short-sale closes in about two weeks, this is now just a chore. And that’s when my mind begins to process how we are going to get all the puzzle pieces into place by the deadline. This is where my planning begins to morph into a grouchy, stress-inducing dragon of responsibility. Suddenly, a task that should only take minutes, begins to feel like it will take hours to complete, and the perfectionist, procrastinator  inside me wrestles my self esteem to the ground and kicks it in the crotch. I fall into the unholy triad of the pit of despair, discouragement, and a sprinkle of debilitating depression. It’s hopeless!

And that’s when the pieces began to fit. Going back to some lessons I’ve been learning over the past month or so, I realize what my job is – that is, to stay connected to Jesus. I go to Him for direction, hope, and insight. Last night and this morning, I was reminded to live one day at a time – it’s a great conccept.

So, I realize, I can only pack, sort, and toss so fast. I’m just going to do that until I’m done – then we’ll have the garage/moving sale. And yet… That sale has to be advertised and prepared for. One doesn’t just get up one morning and have a garage sale. There are signs to place, ads to list, and organization to be accomplished. So, I need a plan, right? Nope. My job is to listen to God. When He says advertise, I advertise. When He says organize, I organize. When He says move, we move.

My role is to obediently listen and obey. A plan, at least for me right now, is a recipe for stress and grouchiness. One foot in front of the other – that’s all I need to do. I don’t need to know the destination, the plan, or the process. I just need to put one foot in front of the other.

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