Lessons from a Yard Sale, Part 1.
Yesterday we had a yard sale, even though we're not really "yard sale people". We don’t particularly enjoy going to them, and we have very little experience hosting them, so this was all new territory for us. However, I'd been looking forward to this event for months- a culmination of my new minimalist lifestyle, a way to fully rid myself of unwanted possessions, all while raking in a profit!
It all started last spring when we participated in our very first yard sale, convinced to join in a multi-family sale with some friends. It was a hit- we each made over $300 and had a great time sitting around with pals and neighbors in the morning sun. I got such a rush from it that I couldn't wait for my next one. So as a result my expectations for last weekend were set high. I assumed we would have the same success this year- the only difference was that we were on another side of town in our new house, and it was on a Sunday instead of a Saturday.
Apparently those two variables mattered A LOT because over the course of 6 hours we only had about 8 people stop by- many of them left with nothing, and only made around $50. It was a huge disappointment to have gone through all of that trouble in coordinating, only to be stuck with our same junk and only a few dollars richer at the end of the day. (Not to mention that I got a horrible sunburn because in all of the chaos and excitement I completely forgot to wear sunscreen.)
All day long, and for days afterwards, I've been ridden with guilt and shame- Maybe I would have been better off donating the items in the first place? Should we try again in a few months, with better planning and execution next time? What the hell do I do with all this stuff in the meantime?
Regardless of the "failure", and whether or not we try again, it was an eye-opening experience and only helped to reinforce the values that the Happiest Camper stands for. Here is everything I learned that day- in a two-part series!
Purging vs Editing. I love the idea of a yard sale as an annual tradition. A regular, deep cleaning and thorough examination of everything in your home really helps you look at your life with fresh eyes and different perspectives. Declaring "out with the old" can be very liberating as you shed a past version of your self and rebirth a newer, wiser version. Every year is a new you- with new hopes, dreams, priorities and needs, so why shouldn't your space reflect your values in the same way?
That being said, maybe it's not the best idea. With each big purge, I am forced to face, head-on, the amount of clutter and waste that has accumulated in our lives. When all of this meaningless (unwanted) stuff is grouped together and you can see the amount of space and weight it takes up, it's pretty nauseating. As such, I am, now more than ever, going to be careful and cautious of what we bring into our home and keep. If it doesn't come in then it never has to leave- and that's one less trip to Goodwill or the landfill, and one less yardsale. The ultimate goal is to get to a point in our lives where we will never have the need for a yard sale in the first place. If everything in our home is actively used and/or cherished then the major, once-a-year expurgation will evolve into a quick and easy monthly revision instead. It will be about gradual maintenance, not mass expulsion.
The market is unpredictable. It is very hard to predict what will sell at a yard sale, and what won't. We were selling a variety of items- everything from clothing and shoes, to kitchen items and housewares to books and electronics. There was artisan pottery, a retire tracker, brand-new designer clothes- some never worn and with the tags still on! Out of everything there though, the 25 year old plastic toys from Adam's childhood were our best seller. It turns out several of our neighbors were also children of the 80s and collectors or comic book (Batman, Ninja Turtle, Ghostbusters) enthusiasts. We knew these toys had some value based on a quick eBay search, but we truthfully didn't have the time, energy or focus to devote to selling them there. Now we wonder if that was a mistake.
In hindsight I can see that it didn't matter how great or valuable we thought our items were- that the customer was the one with the power to decide what they are worth. So even though there was hundreds of dollars of clothes and shoes- it was all for nothing unless we found customers who wore our size and had our exact taste in attire. If I really wanted to get "something" back for what I had invested originally, I was better off saving them for a ladies Clothing Swap, or with slightly more effort- consigning them. But again, the ultimate lesson here: Buy less, but better.
Consumerism is a disease. A lot of people have this disease, and I know this because I was one of them at one point. For me, it was online shopping- I was addicted to the convenience of perusing clothing sites from the comfort of my home and the thrill of getting a special package delivered with just the click of a button. There are people out there who love yard sales because of the same thrill- the high they get from finding something unexpected or unique with a price that is "too good to pass up". The problem is that most of these people will go through their lives with this pattern of behavior, endlessly accumulating stuff and never finding satisfaction. Or accumulating stuff and then readily discarding it, destroying resources and creating unnecessary waste. These "addicts" never see there is a problem and will continue to be imprisoned by societal norms or own their false perceptions- neither of which are a healthy reality. So, consumerism itself is not a problem. It becomes a problem when we are buying things out of want and greed, not practicality or need.
The amount of people who love free stuff is even more alarming. After our "Curb Alert" post went up, we watched as people (most with shaky hands, worried faces, frantic energies) would pull up and pack up their cars without a thought of what they were actually taking. That was secondary, in their minds. We suspected some people may do this "for a living", scrounging the neighborhoods for anything that they may sell or repurpose. Others may have a hoarding disorder, collecting whatever they can for that possible, just-in-case use one day. All of the items were gone within a few hours and the next day there were even desperate people walking onto our porch to see what might remain. Either way, we were happy to see the items go to such eager homes.
Now that I know my mistakes I will commit to doing the yard sale "right" the next time around (if there is a next time). We will shoot for a Friday or Saturday sale, commit to more advertising, more signage, more price tags. We will stage the high value items in a visible way to draw people in. And after all of this, we may make a few bucks more, but maybe not. The important thing is that we have learned a valuable lesson: that you can't put a price on freedom.
(For more, see part 2)