Having a sheriff traipse through your house with eyes on EVERYTHING is like somebody shining a spotlight through a magnifying glass onto a pimple.
Suddenly, you see every embarrassment that you’ve hidden away, every secret stash of unmentionables. But sheriffs are trained to pry, and when you stand behind a sheriff looking through his eyes as he goes room to room, your heart sinks into your belly.
Innocence looks guilty through a sheriff’s magnified glasses. My husband’s plant hobby, for instance, which he’s really good at. No, we don’t grow any of THAT, but you can bet that the sheriff assumed that we did.
Bear snips tiny twigs off of bushes, trees, and annual flowers, and then roots them to create plant clones. We plant them, we give them away, and once during a yard sale we even sold a few. Nothing illicit whatsoever, but you know for sure that the sheriff filed this info away, especially since we’re two old people with flip flops and long hair — old hippies.
Also innocent are the bells hanging in the middle of the hallway as if to warn us of intruders — or the law. But that’s not why we hung the bells. I just like the sound, and bells won’t ring if they’re up against a wall, so we hung them in the middle of the hallway where I could ring them as I walked past. Childlike joy in the sound of small, ringing bells.
But you can imagine what a sheriff would think, adding another mark of guilt where none existed. This visit was The Trigger — that moment in time when the project we’d been putting off for ten years suddenly became real and immediate.
The sheriff’s search of our home had nothing to do with us. We’d just been accommodating when they came knocking on the door as they were doing with every house on the street, hoping to find a missing kid. In hindsight, it was probably a bad idea to let them in because I’m sure we looked guilty of SOMETHING, even if we weren’t.
But the sheriff’s visit isn’t what this post is about — it’s what his visit triggered. I was mortified when he saw our catch-all room, that room where all the Christmas stuff is stored, and the boxes we never unpacked from ten years ago, and all the incoming Christmas presents that we had no use for or just plain didn’t like. You hang onto these gifts because somebody that you care about GAVE them to you, so they get packed away to fill up closets and drawers.
We also had boxes full of packing peanuts, and piles of bubble wrap taking up a big chunk of space. You can’t throw this stuff away, you know? So it would pile up, and then we’d give the packing peanuts away on Craigslist — but the bubble wrap, it was imperative that we keep it, I just wasn’t sure why.
And of course there were all the empty boxes from when we bought something, the original box that the item came in. If we ever moved we’d have boxes ready to pack, and if we ever sold the item, having the original box added value for the buyer.
And of course there were countless boxes full of * stuff * that was never important enough to figure out what to do with. Or maybe it was so important that we couldn’t give it up, but we just didn’t know what to do with it in the meantime, like the ratty old stuffed animal that I’ve kept since I was two years old. Too ratty to sell, but a keepsake to stash away until the end of never. You get the idea.
The sheriff’s keen eyes on this room, it was like a cattle prod. Suddenly, after years of procrastination, the overload of stored stuff became Priority Number One. But there just wasn’t ever a block of time big enough to tackle The Project. That’s how the project grew. I mean who has time to open a thousand boxes and decide on each little item, one by one?
If we keep it, where does it go? If we sell it, how much is it worth?
These were the keepers… stuff just too good to have a yard sale with. Except for the empty jars and bottles, but hey, glass jars are hard to come by with everything going plastic… so you see how this room exploded with boxes.
When you walk into a cluttered room thinking to make a dent, every spark of energy fizzles and you walk right back out again. So I said to myself, “Just one thing. Pull just one thing out of this room, put it on Craigslist, and sell it.”
I knew there’d never be a big enough trigger to tackle the whole room as a unit. It was like a multi-headed hydra, a creature that grew back two heads for every head you cut off. So I logged into my long disused Craigslist account, listed that one thing, and it sold.
It was a set of porcelain dragon figurines that I’d purchased back in the mid-1980s during my Oriental decor phase. Maybe it helped that I’d looked up similar figurines on eBay and Etsy, discovered that they were selling at $42 to $70 a pair, and mentioned that in the listing. I listed mine for $35 and took $20, although I should have held out for much more and sold it online. It was a learning experience, that first sale.
It was heady, clutching that $20 bill as the lady drove off with my dragons. At a yard sale we’d have been lucky to get $5, and almost everything I wanted to sell was too upscale for yard sale prices. This was the * stuff * we’d hung onto for decades, near and dear to our hearts in the yesteryear of life, now vintage and in pristine condition.
I listed several other things, always taking time to research each one, write up a detailed description, our history with the item, and noting what the item was selling for elsewhere if it made sense to do so.
Photos were key as well, but always with honesty. I didn’t just photograph the cool factor, but the flaws as well. You don’t want to waste your time meeting up with somebody only to have them say, “But hey, you didn’t tell me that the papasan chair had a pea-size stain blending in with the flowers! No thanks!”
I called it — my Living Estate Sale — this selling off of everything that wasn’t nailed down. We should have started ten years ago when we moved into this house, before an entire bedroom became a catch-all. Weeks passed, and then months, and then years, until ten years later the room had done such an excellent job catching flotsam and jetsam that only a pathway was left, wending its way through.
There is always something more important to do than clearing out a room, and honestly, who the hell WANTS to spend a month on such a project? It probably would have continued on for another ten years until The Trigger.
I sold a few more items and was getting into a groove with it, but then came the Big Scare. I’d listed my vintage 1980s Technics stereo system — a complete unit with giant floor speakers, a rolling cabinet, and several components. I’d kept the unit so pristine that I still had the user manual for the stereo, and the assembly instructions for the rolling cabinet. I also had the caster tool, and even a slip of bright orange paper showing how to change out the belt on the turntable.
This vintage stereo equipment, I knew beyond a doubt, would sell instantly. My husband was nearly in tears to let it go. He said, “How about if I buy it from you? We don’t really need to sell it, do we?” He didn’t get that it wasn’t about the money. The stereo system had been stored in that catchall room unused for a decade and it took up a lot of space.
I posted the stereo to Craigslist and instantly, emails flooded in. I was overjoyed! Everybody wanted to buy it! But something was wrong, and my buyers seemed off somehow. They didn’t feel right and the little voice said, “Search Google for Craigslist scammers,” so I did.
That’s when the bottom fell out. Completely and utterly. It was bad enough to discover the dark underworld of Craigslist scammers and slicksters, but the even darker hell-world of Craigslist robbers and murderers… my heart felt like it was going to pop. One misstep and you were at the wrong end of somebody’s gun… my skies turned a foreboding shade of slate grey.
Across the internet, ominous newspaper headlines warned of the dangers, such as the sweet old couple who just wanted to buy a car and ended up dead. Even off-duty policemen using Craigslist found themselves under fire, and one such policeman got shot several times. He survived. Who knew that there were so many predators just trolling our ads?
A less deadly, but equally sleazy scam involved having you ship an item to someone. They’d send a money order or some such, usually offering more than you were asking, and you’d ship the item. But the money orders, cashier’s checks, or whatever monetary unit they used were always counterfeit.
To combat all of these sleazeballs looking to roll Craigslist sellers, our Men in Blue had stepped up to offer safe zones in police station parking lots. All around the country, police stations now have designated parking spaces just for Craigslist meet ups and similar transactions.
From that point on, all of my transactions took place in the parking lot of our local police station, and I introduced myself to the policewoman at the front desk. She and I became friends.
Some buyers withered away like a melted flower as soon as I said “police station,” but others were overjoyed, such as the woman who drove for two hours from a neighboring state to buy our aquarium against the advice of her friends who’d also heard the Craigslist horror stories.
Four hours round-trip in rush hour traffic after working all day — that’s what she braved to buy a double-hex aquarium so rare, that I couldn’t find a single photograph on the internet, even as just a showcase for someone’s personal aquarium.
Three years earlier my husband wanted to give it away to anybody willing to come and get it, but then hamsters took up residence therein. By the time Hammy and Sammy passed away, I was fully active selling off our life’s possessions on Craigslist.
Clearing out that room wasn’t the only motivation. I was trying to talk my husband into downsizing for retirement, and believing that he’d eventually say Yes, I did NOT want to have to move * All This Stuff * yet again. I remembered what we’d gone through moving here, and now The Stuff had multiplied exponentially.
There is a learning curve to selling your stuff on Craigslist, such as items in popular categories dropping out of visibility within hours, or being a little too active and triggering popup warnings. Ebay has a learning curve as well, and you need to take high quality photos, especially of the flaws, and note every single flaw in the description down to the tiniest speck of dust. Trust me on that. Ebay scam artists use flaws in scammy ways against you.
Once I got the hang of it, I expanded onto eBay, Etsy, and local Facebook yard sale groups. I was on a mission, and while it wasn’t a speedy process, there was incredible satisfaction every time something sold, or was given away. Not everything merits a price tag, and some things are just too good for the trash, so you line up somebody who wants it, put it on the front porch, and they come and get it without you ever opening the door.
And all of the empty boxes, packing peanuts, and bubble wrap… they’ve become Pure Gold in packing items for eBay. I do make sure to note in the listing that packing materials may include pre-used materials, with a list of those materials and a blurb about recycling and protecting Mother Earth. Transparency and detail are the keys to success.
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Rehabilitating a Shelter Dog
When we adopted Dakota in the summer of 2007, she was a semi-adult shelter dog who was the Queen of Bad Behavior and the Master of Dirty Tricks. I turned her first year with us into a book — Bad Dog to Best Friend. The book takes you from Dakota’s awful beginnings to her amazing transformation into a beloved member of our household. In December 2016, she turned 10 years old, and she is so well-behaved that we’ve taken her all around the country on road trips.
Bad Dog to Best Friend
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