Anonymous yet personal, this Blog chronicles
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Chapel Hill, NC, United States

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Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Great American Yard Sale

Sooner or later all of the clutter builds up and reaches the point of critical mass. As the late comedian George Carlin nicely put it "we have lot's of stuff."

Fortunately Americans' have a practical solution to remedy this situation. The Great American Yard Sale has long been a suburban ritual. It's a summer time institution in these parts - and I'm glad that it exists.

I say this proudly because the "sell my garbage" tradition is not yet ingrained in European culture. It seems to be an American thing. In Holland for example, the public is only allowed to sell their used possessions on just one day of the year. That day is April 30th; the birthday of their former queen - Juliana. It is known as Koninginnedag (Queen's Day), and aside from public celebration, people are permitted to sell their old tea pots or Delft bric-a-brac TAX FREE.

We Americans have it good. We can sell our garbage all summer long without a Royal decree.

As a way to rid our basement of extraneous items, and perhaps generate some extra cash, we had a yard sale today. (It helps if you pronounce "yard" with a New England accent).

We have been planning this big event for a long time. This past week we were up late at night sticking little orange dots on countless items for sale while anxiously looking at the weather report to see if the forecast would be in our favor or not. We made bright DayGlo yellow signs to place around the neighborhood, and electronically posted our event on the town's Internet listserv.

Saturday morning seemed to arrive very early. Before we knew it, people were hovering outside our door at 7:30 AM for a yard sale advertised to begin at 9 AM. These early birds are known as the "vultures." They are professionals who take their work very seriously, and have the phrase "can you do better?" burned into the speech-center of their brains. And the more advanced examples of the species use technology too. I saw one lady snapping photos of select items with her cell phone. I presume she was emailing them back to her staff at HQ who were analyzing it and finding comparative prices on eBay.

Even before I could inject French Roast coffee into my bloodstream, we had to move what seemed like a truck load of stuff from our basement over to the driveway and front yard. Here is a photo of how things looked once we were setup...

The results were good. Many interesting people came and our clients seemed to be made up out of the fabric of America. We heard a lot of different languages being spoken, including Hungarian. In the process you get to know your neighbors a lot better too, and meet people from the community at large. It's a very social activity, and clearly the consumer can determine a lot about the seller...including what you wear, read, and listen to. It invites discussion. Even our regular mail carrier took a break from his route to see what we had for sale. It was a mini-happening.

In the first hour "product" was just flying off the shelf. Some items that we had been embarrassed to offer for sale found a rightful and happy owner. Little children came in droves and earnestly picked through the boxes of toys to find the one that appealed to them in a special way. Others found an item of interest or fascination (such as an obsolete analog cell phone) and they were glad to take it home for a dollar or so. Joseph made out very well, having sold his PS2 and a lot of video games and controllers - including Guitar Hero II. (He recently upgraded to XBox360 and has no need for the old technology).

I had also thought people might like to beat the heat and purchase a bottle of ice-cold drinking water. We had purchased bottled water and a large cooler at Walgreen's the evening before thinking it would be a nice option, but for some reason nobody seemed thirsty today. But it will eventually come to good use (I hope). On hot days this summer I plan to take the water cooler down the hill to sell cold drinks to dehydrated joggers, rollerbladers, and bike riders as they zoom by on the bike path. It's the Capitalist way. It seems that wherever there is a need, there is someone to fill the niche and supply the service.

Our yard sale had been scheduled to go until 1 PM, but we kept the doors open a little longer to satisfy the strong demand. Cars kept driving up, and at one point it created a traffic situation on our normally quiet little street. What didn't sell is currently piled up on the sidewalk in front of the house with a large sign reading "free" on top of it. We hope that these last remaining remnants will mysteriously disappear in the dark of the night. (Anyone in the Boston area reading this is welcome to drive by and pick through it).

Today's take was close to $200. Not bad since most of the items were priced to be purchased for small change! Joseph earned about half of that, and he is currently out at the local Chinese restaurant having dinner with his buddies and paying for his buffet with hard earned cash from the yard sale.


Now, if I could only clear garbage and clutter from my mind as easily.

Is that what blogs are for? (A rhetorical question).


Postscript: July 13th. I woke up early the next day and looked out my front door to discover that virtually all of the free items had been removed during the night.