Junker’s Blues

"One man's trash is another man's treasure." It's a cliché I hear all the time, when I'm "in the field" junking, or when I'm trying to tell some new acquaintance about my odd method of making an income.

Illustration by Nathanael Roney.

I'm here to tell you that it isn't true. Take it from a junker: One man's trash is pretty much another man's trash.

As regular Junker's readers may remember, I had a yard sale scheduled for a couple of weekends ago. We hadn't had one in a couple years, and we'd piled up a bunch of junk. My wife and I took a couple of weeks, stared down some of the piles in the obscure corners of our house, stuck meager price tags on them and put it out there.

I was full of mixed emotions whilst looking over the stuff as it piled up in my garage and in the front room, ready for the yard. It's not that I was wistfully looking at any of the stuff we were slating for the sale – far from it. I wanted it out of my house, with genuine passion. What I was was excited and depressed.

I was excited because it was a foregone conclusion that, no matter what happened to the stuff at the yard sale, it was going to leave the house – no way was it going back into the attic. The leftovers were going to the thrift store at the end of the day.

But I was depressed because the forecast was for rain. This has been the wettest Asheville September in recent memory, and we scheduled our yard sale event for the apex of moistness. If we were rained out, we'd have to decide if we were going to box up the stuff AGAIN, probably for another eight months, or if we'd just take a total loss and drag it all to the thrift. I'm a junk guy. I hate total loss. But dragging it back upstairs was unthinkable.

I was also a little embarrassed. It was inevitable some of my fellow junkers would come to the yard sale, and looking over everything, most of what I had was worthless. I'd turned all of my "real" stuff into money or "inventory". What was left was half-working appliances, knick-knacks, un-regiftable Christmas rejects, old magazines, worthless records, ordinary household cast-offerings – total amateur hour. I have cred to maintain in this town, dammit! I felt like I was getting ready to spend Saturday standing in my yard in my underwear. In the rain.

But Saturday came, and it didn't rain. Few hipsters showed up because they were all hung over, spaced the date or got scared off by the rain. And as the day went on I was reminded of another truism that has been until recently been the driving force of the U.S. economy: Just because it's trash doesn't mean that somebody won't buy it.

The first thing that sold was an old rattan couch that I'd literally forgotten we had until the very last moments before the yard sale started, and after that it was ON – the stuff that I thought might have a little value was ignored, and junk was all that sold. The next thing that went was that huge pile of unlabeled videotapes I mentioned last column. I carefully went through these things to make sure there was nothing sentimental or, um, personal on them, but still, I was glad they went to an elderly, pre-TIVO couple "buying them for blanks" rather than a seeker of found video. No one needs to know I had some old episodes of Bands on the Run on tape.

But while one man's trash was turning into a small pile of treasure, or at least filthy lucre, I remembered why we hadn't done a yard sale in two years. Yard sales are a hassle, even in the sunshine. They are not any kind of sane marketplace. It's a lower form of transaction than impulse buying: It's idpulse buying. Customers run furiously hot and cold on things, refuse to make you an offer even if they know your ceiling, and sometimes even come back to make returns –- we had someone drive back from Fletcher to return a three dollar item – spending at least that in gas to get their money back. Yard buyers, please, if you blow it at a yard sale, don't try to return it. Sell it at your next yard sale.

The last step in the process was the mad dash to the thrift store that should follow any semi-annual yard sale. This really is the best part of a yard sale, especially if you've made a little money. The lightness is an actual physical sensation. Returning home, we put the house back together and basked in what we'd managed to buy for ourselves that day – brand new, unused, empty space.

Thanks to each and every person who bought something at our yard sale.

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