Story Graphic

Story Graphic

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Giving Away My “Stuff”...

I am the product of a perfect storm of frugality. Born to a mother who lived through the Great Depression, raised by grandparents with a Hutterite heritage of simplicity and never wasting anything, I came of age in that save-the-earth era of the 1960s and 70s. I rode my bicycle the ten miles to and from my high school on the first Earth Day in 1970. In adulthood I fully bought into the reuse, reduce, recycle, green, save-the-earth mentality of the 2000s. Our recycling dumpster is usually full on garbage collection day, our trash dumpster almost empty. I have three (3!!!) compost bins in the backyard. With such an impressive resume of environmental concern, one would think I'd have figured out by now what to do with “stuff”... those things that fill my life that I don't want or need anymore, but I just can't seem to get rid of. “Stuff”...

I spent most of my childhood and part of my young adulthood believing that everything I owned I would keep until 1) it broke, 2) it wore out, or 3) I outgrew it. Any other option seemed like an irresponsible waste of something that was still useful.* Over time, I learned to let go of clothing and household items I was no longer enamored with by donating them to thrift stores and agencies that collected such things. But what about the “stuff”...those things that were just one small step above being actual garbage, the “stuff” that could be useful to the right someone, surely, who would be happy to repurpose it and give it a new life? Now, in the downsizing stage of late middle life, I had to face the fact I had a basement full of “stuff” to deal with.

I never had a desire to have a garage sale, having a hard time imaging people would pay for anything I would be willing to part with. But the concept of having a giveaway “sale” was something I had been entertaining for a number of years. Finally, when the “stuff” in the basement had gotten to a critical level, I made note of the days of our annual neighborhood association garage sales and got to work moving boxes of items into our garage to give away. I printed signs that read “GIVEAWAY – EVERYTHING FREE! (REALLY!)” and listed our address, posting signs at the two entrances to the neighborhood and putting two more signs on the front lawn. We filled the garage with “stuff”, my husband chalking lines around the free stuff, marking the interior “free”, the exterior “not free or for sale”. (We really did want to keep the canoe and the lawn mover and the garden tools...)

My husband had serious doubts about this giveaway thing.** He brought the boxes up from the basement, muttering under his breath that nobody would want this “stuff” and we would just put it in the garbage dumpster at the end of the weekend. But he humored me, putting up the signs and willingly sat in the garage the first morning of the garage sales to keep an eye on the canoe and lawn mover while I went off to Bible study. He had to be somewhere before I returned, saying he would just shut the garage door for the fifteen minute gap in time before I returned. I pulled into the driveway about noon, opened the garage door and was amazed to see the garage that was full of stuff at 9 am was now down about a third of its volume. I sat in the garage that afternoon and experienced what I imagined my husband had experienced that morning.

Several neighbors had real garage sales around us, so we benefited from their traffic. Cars would slow down, look toward the garage, some stop, some move on only to come around again. “Is it really all free?” was a common question. I got into the habit of addressing each approaching newcomer by saying “It's all free. If you can use it, just take it.” And they did. Some would offer money for their finds. We would decline, saying if they felt the need to pay for it, to just send something to their favorite charity. Some people would come, look and leave without taking anything. I imagined they probably had their own basement of “stuff” to deal with.

My husband returned and joined me in the garage, telling me about his productive morning. He graciously said he had come to see the greatness in the giveaway idea. People love getting free stuff, and surprisingly the not-quite-garbage was in fact useful finds for many people. The two dozen glass jelly jars I used to store dried herbs in? Snapped up by some woman. The three dozen plus metal teas tins (Yeah, we drink a LOT of tea...) was excitedly taken by a man who was looking to organize the hardware in his own basement. (I had used the tins for the same purpose, but was unable to break the habit of saving them, even when I had more than I needed...) He also took two old lawn chairs badly in need of restrapping. Old flower pots, boxes of old crayons, random plastic storage containers, old books and magazines, Barbie cars, cheap jewelry and small toys from Happy Meals, sports trophies my children had no interest in keeping, obsolete electronics and various and sundry other “stuff”.

Neighborhood kids would come and rummage through all the kids stuff there, taking some, coming back with friends to take some more. “This is the best garage sale in the neighborhood because everything is FREE!” said one young repeat customer. After he returned a twelfth time, he said he came just to talk to us. His mom had told him he couldn't bring anymore things home. A Hispanic family came toward the garage. I spoke my line about everything being free. The husband spoke something in Spanish to his wife whose eyes lit up and she happily began gathering up her finds. Their children shyly began picking through the toys, perhaps stunned by their good fortune. Some people would ask why we were doing this. Some people asked about the logistics of it, they themselves thinking it was something they might want to try.

One of the items we were giving away was an old metal garden rake, its wooden handle broken in two. My husband wanted to put it directly in the dumpster, but no, I said, I had seen on a craft website that some creative person had sawed off the handle of just such an old rake and turned it into a wine glass hanger. My husband rolled his eyes, left the rake alone and said that if some one took the broken rake, he would declare me a true giveaway genius. We watched as people approached the rake and passed it by, or took it up to look at it and put it down. One man took the rake, got as far as his car, brought it back and said he remembered he had a broken rake just like it at home. The other item that was to become a measure of my recycling-reusing giveaway genius was the box of unwanted sports trophies. I had previously talked to someone at a trophy store, asking if they recycled sports trophies or knew of anyone who did. He said no, but he had heard that some crafters take them apart and use the colorful columns and stone bases for craft projects. The last day of the sale such a crafter came by. She and her husband were staying with relatives in our neighborhood on the way to Kentucky from a trip out west. She took the box of trophies, saying she did indeed take them apart and use the various pieces for different craft projects. She also took the broken rake. She was quite excited to get both and she and her husband gifted us with a railroad spike from a collection of spikes they had in their car from their trip through the Dakotas.

By the last day of the garage sales, there was little left in the our garage. Sadly, books and magazines did not disappear. The books went to Goodwill, the magazines in the dumpster. Aside from those items very little else had to be disposed of. With the big box of sports trophies gone and the broken rake on the way to being repurposed, my husband declared me the genius of the garage giveaway.


This year we repeated our successful giveaway when the neighborhood garage sales rolled around again. We had a smaller collection of “stuff”, but again most of it went. Kids' sports tee shirts, excess water bottles, old coffee mugs, backpacks, an obsolete under-the-counter cassette player/radio, a futon without a frame, and boxes of hair paraphernalia all went. A huge box of scrap lumber dwindled to a few random pieces. We put out more books, and this time there were some takers. We had repeat visitors in the neighborhood kids, again sorting through a new batch of small toys and costume jewelry. The man in the neighborhood who took the thirty plus tea tins last year came back and told my husband that thanks to those tins he now had neatly arranged all the hardware in his basement. He said that last year, when he left our garage, he stopped at the local Walmart with the old strapless lawn chairs in the back of his pickup truck. When he came out of the store, they were gone. Those giveaway items had unexpectedly and unwittingly been “given away” again...

*If you desire to delve deeper into my save-everything mentality check out:

**If you want to delve deeper into his throw-away everything mentality, see above link...

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