In June Chris and I held our first yard sale ever. While we have always been very big supporters of reuse and resale – going out of our way, at times, to make sure our used stuff found a home – we have never been organized enough to hold an event. It wasn’t until our neighbors asked – and reminded us several times – to participate in a neighborhood yard sale that we finally decided it was time to give it a try.
It was a great success. And it felt great to basically give things away to other people in our region. But it also got me thinking about how this happens – how we acquire so much that we need to set up a “free” sale almost annually.
An event by any other name is still the same event.
People have never been more connected to the rest of the world like they are today. Thanks to technology and social media, we can have global conversations on any – and every – subject imaginable. And we manage to do it with relative ease. If you weren’t aware of the cultural challenges associated with language and communication, you might not recognize how remarkable it is that so many individuals have successfully managed to conduct global conversations in less than 260 characters on Twitter. After years working in international development, I still can’t wrap my head around it.
So when terms like “what to call the event where you sell your old, used crap to people in your driveway/yard/garage” still carry heavy localisms, it is – to me – a fascinating lesson in the preservation of local culture.
Let me give you an example.
I have spent the majority of my life in Eastern Massachusetts and Western Maine. I attended UMass Amherst, in Western Massachusetts, and briefly lived in Connecticut for a summer. In each of these relatively small places, the name of “what to call the event where you sell your old, used crap to people in your driveway/yard/garage” is different. It’s been referred to as a yard sale, a thrift sale, a garage sale, a tag sale, a rummage sale, an “antique market” (BIG stretch), and a junk sale. And this is just the places I have lived in New England!
I’m not the only one fascinated by this. The University of Wisonsin Milwaukee is just one of many universities to study geographic differences in language. This is the UWM map.
And what is really interesting, if you have the time, is this story from NPR’s Here and Now, an interview with Harvard University professor Bert Vaux, the man who created the local dialect quiz that was featured in the New York Times this past December.
And with all this attention paid to selling your extra crap, you have to wonder – consumer culture aside, even those of us who are conscious customers fall into the trap of acquiring large volumes of things we don’t need. What’s up with that?
Do we really need that? Moving to new digs means moving all that crap too.
At this time last year, my husband and I – along with my mother, separately – were asking ourselves that same question. It’s a strange coincidence to see so many branches of our family looking to relocate and downsize all within the same year, but trendy for good reason: we have all arrived at the point in our lives where we are done with the financial stress of living at or outside of our means.
And as we have each, separately, taken on the process of packing up all the things that we have acquired over the course of years, we have all come to the same conclusion: I just don’t need all that stuff.
What is that stuff? How did we acquire it? Why do we hold onto it?
Those are questions far too complex to address in a single blog post, so let me just say this: while difficult, time consuming, and emotionally exhausting (at times), downsizing, parting with the “extra stuff” in your home can be one of the most liberating, relieving, and uplifting things you ever do. And when you sell it all at a yard sale, you gain peace of mind knowing that other people will get to enjoy the treasures you acquired in a whole new way.
Check back on Thursdays as I discuss reuse and downsizing for a better life (it’s true!).