Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Selling Our Stuff

With a little help from our friends we managed to sell most of our stuff. Many pick-up loads were hauled to a nearby community center where friends unpacked our things and set them out on tables for a two-day sale. While there was some order to the event, to say that things were neatly displayed would be an overstatement. It started out that way, but by the end of the unpacking we had piles of stuff on twenty ten foot-long tables.

The parking lot was full the next morning when we opened the doors for the sale and a steady stream of people came and went throughout both days. There were only a few moments that no one was browsing through our things. When it came time to close the doors at then end of the sale, little remained. Some furniture and an expensive bike went in a pick-up truck. Almost all of our other furniture has been sold to friends who are letting us keep it until we move. Everything else fit into three small cars and will be sold at a garage sale early next month.

So what have I learned through the process?

Selling your stuff is hard.

I have written before about how much stuff I had that I was going to get rid of in order to move to Strasbourg. I wrote that it was hard to contemplate getting rid of things because things can be a source of identity and refuge. As I dealt with those heart issues, I sensed a growing freedom because I was "free" of those things and found greater identity and refuge in Jesus Christ. As I actually sold my stuff I discovered additional difficulties that I didn't really expect.

Selling your stuff is tedious and can be hard on a marriage. Open any closet or drawer in your house and think about putting a sticker with a price on every item. How much for an umbrella? A plastic serving platter? A jigsaw puzzle? A bottle opener? Or consider your workbench. How much would you sell a jar full of nuts and bolts for? Do you sort them by size or just stick a price on the whole mess? We quickly used up the fancy labels we bought, cut up mailing labels from our printer until we ran out, and finally resorted to writing prices on masking tape. Hundreds and hundreds of stickers. Most in the twenty-five to fifty cent range. It can become pretty mindless work after a while. Which leads to the "discussions" as you notice that your spouse has marked something twenty-five cents that you think should be fifty. Seriously, we had many discussions about things like that! It was worse than hanging wallpaper.

Grandpa's house
While sorting and labeling and boxing all of our things for the sale was a lot of work, that wasn't the most difficult part. The hardest part were the moments when I came across something unexpected.  Like finding my grandfather's coin collection. Suddenly I was little boy at grandpa's house in Neenah, Wisconsin. The carpets were olive green. He had a little office with a built-in desk along the wall. It was covered with glass under which he had tucked family pictures and a few news clippings. I was standing next to him and he was showing me his collection of U.S coins. Mostly pennies and nickels, but as a child I was fascinated by them. Now as I held those blue books filled with coins, the memories came flooding back. I swear I could smell his cologne.

I opened a box in the basement and came across a half-finished carving. It was a relief carving of George Washington. My father had done one of Abraham Lincoln that turned out well, and this one was going to complete the set. The hair was beautifully done, but there was something about the mouth that wasn't right. It had stumped my father and he had set it aside hoping that some time away from it would lead to a different perspective that would help him finish it. It was still undone when he died. While I am not the carver my father was, I had looked at it several times hoping to finish it, but couldn't figure the mouth out either. There must have been something wrong with the initial design. But what do you do with your dad's half-finished carving? Or the chessboard he made for you when you were a child? Or the dulcimer that he built? It was hard.

We had too much stuff.

As I look around the house now it is more open because some of the furniture is gone. I actually like it better.  We've kept the essentials (like a coffee pot) but we sold about thirty coffee mugs. Some of our remaining things we will give to charity or friends when we leave. It is hard to tell what we have done until you notice that the closets are almost empty.

The crazy thing is that we sold twenty table-fulls of stuff and haven't missed anything! Well, that isn't exactly true. We had two rakes and I gave one to a friend who recently bought her first house only to discover that the rake I kept needed some repairs. I had to run to the store and spend twenty cents on a bolt, a nut, and couple of washers. Other than that, I haven't missed anything. I don't think I will, either.

Here at church we are offering a class called Financial Peace University by Dave Ramsey. It is great material, and he talks about the fact that most of us have way too much stuff and yet we borrow money to by more things we don't really need. He recommends that those in debt consider selling some of their things to get out of debt.While we sold our things because we are leaving the country, if you are taking FPU and thinking about selling something to get out of debt, I can say that we are not just getting by with less stuff, we don't even miss it!

It was kind of fun.

 It wasn't rollicking good times, but there was a part of selling our things that was enjoyable. It was fun to watch the someone buy grandpa's old "Green Box" fish locator. He was so excited! It sat in the basement for years, but it was one of the first things out the door.

The chess board? It wound up at the home of some of our dear friends. She will probably wind up selling it in her shop, but that's okay. I haven't played a game of chess on that board in over thirty years. Dad never did make the pieces to go with it.

The dulcimer? A man came in and bought a bunch of old dulcimer books. I asked him if he played the dulcimer and explained that I had one that I wanted to sell, but knew nothing about how to price it. He waited while I went home and retrieved
A dulcimer
it. He looked at, tuned it up and played it for a few moments. He noted that it was built from a kit and that the builder had written his name inside. I told him it was built by my father which made him reluctant to name a price. I told him that he couldn't insult me and he finally named a price. He walked out with a dulcimer and I was thrilled that it found a home where it would be played.

Oh, what happened to the partly finished George Washington carving? It wound up in the garbage. That's okay. Occasionally I carve a piece that doesn't work out. The pattern or the execution was poor and the result is bad. If it is winter it simply becomes expensive firewood. While it had some sentimental value, it really wasn't worth keeping.

But most of all...

Perhaps the biggest lesson I learned was that I have an incredible group of friends. The number of people who were willing to help us move and then unpack basically our whole house in one evening as part of our moving away from them was overwhelming to me. Not only that, but I suspect that some of the many church people who bought something did so just so they could help us out.

At the top of the list of incredible people in my life is my wife. Reading this article probably makes you think that I did most of the work and that would be totally wrong. I spent a couple of days going through things that were strictly "my domain". She spent many more days sorting and pricing. Anything that might be of value she painstakingly researched so she would know what price to put on it. I am getting rid of many things to make this move, but one thing I will never get rid of is my wife, Janet. She is priceless.


  1. Ooh, the part about being hard on a marriage. There are just certain seasons of life that magnify our differences, and they are not fun at all! But they are the seasons that remind us again that we can't imagine life without the other. Glad you are over this hurdle. Enjoy the loons in the weeks ahead. May there be more laughter than wistfulness in their song this year!

  2. Thanks for not putting a "MAKE OFFER" sticker on my forehead, honey. I would never want to go anywhere on this earth without you either. "...Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God."
    P.S. The Caribou coffee mug goes with me. Just sayin'.