January 21, 2013
Moving Sale-Everything Must Go
Yesterday we had a moving sale in our house. A trickier proposition than I had imagined. We were selling just about everything we owned -furniture, pots and pans, lamps, rugs, pictures, you name it, we we were selling it. My husband was manning the garage and the barn where there were tools, rakes, a surfboard, skis, a 1980 Mercedes 450SL, and various other things he had collected over the years from renovation jobs he worked on. I call him a dump picker. A garage, barn, and shed to store things in over twenty-one years are not necessarily a good thing.
We spent the day before lugging furniture down the stairs-heavy old mahogany bureaus, bookcases, and chairs. Backbreaking work and no easy task in our old house built in 1728. The staircase has three steps to a landing then bangs a sharp left with a low ceiling overhead. It is extremely difficult for most furniture to make it around that corner.
We placed an ad on Craigslist and in the local papers. Estate Sale, 8-4, No Early Birds. By 7:15, ten cars were parked on the street and at ten minutes to eight, the locusts began to swarm. There were several old New Hampshire Yankees among the crowd. Old men with bushy gray beards, well-worn flannel shirts, and work boots. They hung in the garage with my husband, silent and business-like, poring over our possessions. The women came in the house, saying very little and getting right to work, examining everything. They opened drawers and looked on the bottom of vases and glasses for esoteric markings that would indicate this might be something of value. They bombarded me with questions and made tough bargains. If something was marked fifteen dollars, they asked, “Would you take five?” Most times I acquiesced. We had so much stuff to unload it didn’t seem wise to hold out for a higher price.
Most of our possessions are old, hand me downs from our parents or freebies we received from friends and customers of my husband, people who could afford new furniture every few years. We were selling a lot of things we’d never paid for in the first place.
I spotted a man heading out the door with a box full of stuff. I was in the middle of making change for a woman who was buying several cups and saucers. I quickly took care of her then sprinted after the guy with the box. “Hey,” I shouted. “You didn’t pay me for that.”
He turned and said “I’m just putting it in the car, I was planning to come back and pay you.”
“But I don’t even know what’s in the box.” He sheepishly returned, let me look through the box, and gave me the money.
One woman walked by my husband with the surfboard as he shouted, “Hey, you have to pay for that.” She replied, “Yes, I paid your wife.” Later on in the day, he asked me if someone had given me twenty dollars for the surfboard. “No, they did not,” was my answer.
Other than those two incidents, most of the people we met were lovely. My favorite was the older couple that held onto each other’s arms as they walked up the icy driveway. They were both eighty-two and lived not far from us. She had been a writer for local newspapers and was very interested in my book. She had also been in a writing club but as she sadly noted, “Not anymore. They’ve all passed away.” They bought lots of our old games-Scrabble, backgammon, and Chinese checkers to play with their great grandkids.
Her husband was interested in old bottles. I had three old glass seltzer bottles for sale and knew I had only sold one. When we went to the table where I had displayed them, the other two were missing. Most likely taken during the first hour of the sale, when the house was swarming with vultures. He asked if we had any lanterns. He collected those, too. I knew there was one out in the garage hanging by the woodpile. It had been there for years, left by the former owners of the house. When we went outside to look for it, it was gone. I asked my husband if he’d sold it already. He hadn’t. It was another item that had taken a walk that day.
It felt very strange to sell your lifelong possessions to strangers. It felt worse to have people take off with your belongings. But it was also very liberating. My husband took the random thefts much harder than me. He felt violated by the fact he let people into his home only to be robbed of items we were only asking four or five dollars for.
One thing I know for sure, from here on out I will be traveling light. Back in my twenties, when I owned few possessions and traveled often, there was one thing I always carried with me. A well-worn copy of The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery. To quote the little prince, who was so wise about so many things, “He who would travel happily must travel light.”
And then there are the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson who once said of his good friend Henry David Thoreau, “He chose to be rich, by making his wants few.”