Jessie Raymond: Forget yard sales; ‘free’ gets results

It may sound unpatriotic, but here it is: I don’t do yard sales. Oh, I might go to one; I just won’t hold one.
I have no problem giving away things we don’t use anymore, and I’m open to selling things that still have some value. But spending an entire weekend hauling out all of our stuff, sitting outside in unpredictable weather for two days and haggling with people over whether a bent metal dustpan is worth 25 cents — well, I’m no business expert, but it seems like a lot of work for little reward.
I say this because we had a yard sale once. We spent a Friday dragging everything from clothes and small appliances to vases and coffee cups into the yard. At dawn on Saturday, we got up early to paste stickers on every last item, agonizing over how much to ask for this plastic colander (slightly melted from a dishwasher incident) or that juice-stained area rug.
In the meantime, the kids rediscovered a bunch of old things they had forgotten they once owned (“My six-foot-tall stuffed Barney doll! I loved him!”) and started sneaking stuff back into the house.
By Sunday afternoon, through intermittent showers, we had sold about 40 percent of our inventory and grossed $130 for more than 20 hours’ time. And we still had a truckload of stuff to put back in the house, give away, donate to charity or haul to the landfill.
Bottom line: I can find many less labor-intensive ways to spend a weekend, and I’m willing to do them for free.
So how do I dispose of things we no longer want?
Sometimes I sell stuff. This is my least favorite way to go, since it often involves negotiating, a skill I struggle with. In most cases, I end up giving people money to take the thing off my hands, since we both know that’s all I really want.
Sometimes I’ll set unwanted items out by the mailbox with a “free” sign taped to them. The first time I tried this, on a long shot, I put out a pair of custom-sized honeycomb window shades (one 28-1/4 inches wide, the other 30-3/8).
I didn’t expect much. But before I had made it back into the house, a passing car slammed on its brakes. A family leaped out and, with the urgent efficiency of a NASCAR pit crew, threw the shades into the trunk, jumped back into the car and pulled away, tires squealing.
It was magical.
The incident was not unique; the “free” sign invariably draws a fast and enthusiastic response. But, as with any great power, I try to use it sparingly.
Often, I’ll bring things to places like HOPE’s resale store on Boardman Street, which is, in effect, the world’s greatest indoor yard sale. The risk there is buying more than I drop off, thus undermining the whole exercise.
Also, donating items forces me to confront an uncomfortable truth: some of our stuff is just too well used for anyone else to see, let alone purchase.
Which brings us to the landfill, or, as I like to call it, the disposal option of last resort.
From my parents, children of the Depression, I learned to abhor wastefulness (perhaps more out of a self-serving sense of moral superiority than need, but still). And my environmental concerns make me hate adding to the waste stream. As a result, I have a hard time throwing stuff away, even when it is, by all objective measures, trash.
I don’t want to be responsible for adding non-biodegradable waste to the landfill, so if I can’t fix something, give it to someone else to fix or pretend it’s art and proudly display it, I store it in the barn for a few years until I can accept that it has to go. It’s a long, emotional process.
Over the years, we’ve built up quite an inventory of unwanted stuff, both saleable and not, to the point that the barn is now becoming a landfill in its own right. It’s time for a purge.
I’d hold another yard sale, but my growing awareness that life is short and every minute counts rules that out. All other avenues, however, are open.
I’ll probably start by placing a few free items — like a colander, an area rug and a six-foot stuffed Barney doll, for instance — out by the mailbox on Saturday morning.
They aren’t in great condition, but you can’t beat the price.

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