my yardsale moment

"Yard Sale" by bsivad via flickr

Today was my very first yardsale.

Not because I never before had things that I didn’t need but rather because I am constantly giving them away. I absolutely hate to have things sitting in closets or in boxes that can be useful to someone.

My littlest one will probably need therapy when she grows up because I’m constantly sifting through her closets for clothes too tight or books and toys grown out of. “Clothes are meant to be handed down. Books, once read, should be in the hands of their next reader,” I say in a sing-song voice trying to tattoo the message on her brain as I fill bags for the girl down the street or for strangers. “But I like that book…” she says wistfully, and when she does I relent, and she keeps it, until my next round of purging, anyway.

I can’t help it. Maybe because I grew up with few “things,” but to have too many, especially when they are not used seems decadent, sinful, especially now when the shelf-life of most items is so limited…if they are left to gather dust they lose all their value, or potential value, to someone, somewhere.

I’ve never been one who enjoyed luxury or excess. I’ve been a budget traveler by choice even when I might have afforded more, and the happiest times I’ve had were when I had the least. I crave simplicity. I drool over the sparsely furnished spaces of the Japanese architecture I see in a blog I read about architecture. White walls, clean wood and windows. A bed. A vase of flowers. A bookshelf. Purposeful. Ahhhhhh…

But back to the yardsale…

I should, I suppose, mention that I literally hid in the house all day, letting my husband deal with the selling of the few items we had, suggesting—when he asked my advice—that he should just give it away. Ironically that is where his big-ticket item ended up, for I just posted it on freecycle. It seems he’d priced it too high and we were left with it at the end of the day, forced to cart it back into the house to keep it out of the rain.

When he asked about freecycle I explained to him the beauty of its simplicity: you buy a new microwave and your old one works perfectly fine, so you give it away to someone who needs one via freecycle. Simple, right? Well, as he so wisely pointed out, the problem is that you are buying a new microwave when you have one that is working just fine. Snap.

He’s right, of course, no matter how we try to escape it we are all lured into consumerism. But at least this way the wealth (albeit in the simple form of a used microwave) is spread about to those who need it and the item doesn’t end up uselessly fulling a landfill. I guess. But indeed the root of the problem is not resolved. We always want more, are never satisfied.

An ironic twist is that the very people raised on the excess of the 80’s and 90‘s and the explosion of society and culture, the globalization and technological advances which made the tiniest village in Croatia not all that different from a town in Connecticut and Madrid and New York and Singapore and all the other cities in many ways interchangeable—are the ones now looking inward. Now that we have had it all, fast and furious, we want to step back and curl into our homes in search of a respite from it. Or at least I do. Most of the time.

I often wonder if all of the “movements” one hears of which involve simplifying, downsizing, localizing our lives are truly a reaction to the expanding boundaries of our world or a reflection of the fact that most of those who champion such movements are baby boomers, wistful for times past and frightened of this crazy new world. Those in their twenties don’t see anything wrong with a totally open-sourced world, but they might someday at least consider the logic behind some of its critics, because it’s not just the boomers, it’s spreading.

I was a Lit major, not a scientist, but were I a physicist I’m sure I’d be able to cite theorems or mathematical principles to cover this concept of expansion followed by a contraction. It’s a natural progression.

The transparent privacy-debunking friend-the-world movement of Facebook is now morphing, apparently, into a web of tinier networks composed of more intimate groups of thirty or fifty, people who share like interests. The sprawling MacMansions once envied by many (God knows why) are now vilified and the movements to build smaller, simpler (even Tiny homes) growing in popularity. We embraced the mall mentality and dove with passion into the huge inventories of Amazon and Barnes and Noble but now are finding the values of shopping locally (Shall I mention here that my love of indie bookstores is only growing exponentially). We see the value of having a relationship with those from whom we buy (not a virtual relationship simulating a personal one). We shopped for food at warehouse sized stores which carried a million types of sauces and peppers and cereals and sponges and then sighed with relief when we found a CSA or a food coop where we could buy apples that smelled like apples and lettuce that still had dirt in its fresh leaves.

I’m hopeful, actually, that like children we go out and conquer the world, open our arms wide and greedily want it all, but that eventually we calm a bit and find the things that we really want, discover the things that we are good at and how we can contribute and in the end all works out. The expansion of our world is in its drunken heyday (which in the scheme of things is just another blip on the screen), but will regain enough focus so that the beauty of discovery and creativity and truth can shine though the noise. Too noisy it is, right now, but out of the chaos will come great things. I’ll watch it with one foot in my zen home and the other in the middle of all the glorious insanity.

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4 thoughts on “my yardsale moment

  1. I love freecycle (and the free section of craigslist on occasion). It makes me feel like I am helping someone out, and it helps ME because it takes me forever to try to organize something like a yard sale, or take clothes to a consignment shop. I’d rather know that the item is going to someone who needs it rather than make a couple of bucks.

    Although books are a weakness. I hate a house filled with furniture and “things” but would love walls lined in book filled bookcases.

    I really enjoyed your last paragraph. 🙂

    1. I used to have thousands of books… and through my work I got free books so that made it even worse (or better!). Funny though, now I keep only the books that hold a special place in my reader’s heart, including a few collections that would be difficult to replace (mostly foreign writers, etc.). The rest? I give them away, often just leaving them in conspicuous places where readers gather. Something about the randomness makes me happy 🙂

      As for freecycle…yes! A lovely young woman just came to pick up the dining table and chairs and how it made me smile.

  2. Nice post! I, too, am a Freecycle fan and love to do with less. My one weakness is books: we have more books than we have time to read them and I’m slowly cleaning my shelves to take them to the used book store.

  3. Love this post! Seriously, we are kindred spirits because I deem whatever doesn’t serve a purpose in my home, clutter! And I hate clutter. It gathers dust, which in turn makes my allergies flare, and this leads to doctor’s visits and the cycle continues. I say, end it by ridding ourselves of all the excess crap! I love your generosity of spirit. I especially love how you said, “Books once read should be in the hands of the next reader.” Lovely!

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