By Ilene Raymond Rush
To have complete strangers enter your house and rave about pieces you hardly noticed proved surprisingly satisfying. Even better, many told me how they planned to use what they bought. Some even forwarded pictures: a midcentury modern lamp on a child’s desk, a plant stand holding a bursting philodendron on a city porch.
Not everyone who responded actually showed up. And not every visit reaped a sale. But over five days, I emptied our house, save for a leather sofa and chair a bit too well loved by the teenage boys who once filled our house to be of interest to anyone else.
Our second acts
The central story didn’t turn out to be about me or my emotions: it truly belonged to those who “inherited” my stuff. A family of new immigrants thrilled to take home a kitchen table and matching chairs for less than $50. A newly divorced carpenter in huge steel-toed boots who purchased a well-made wooden cabinet. An adult daughter who transferred a large chest to her divorced mother’s apartment in a new city.
Also see: Why you need to downsize—now
Sure, it’s an old trope: one woman’s trash is another’s treasure.
Yet it was also something more: disposing of my stuff in this way provided me a chance to reconsider the community I lived in for 30 years and to meet people I might never have met.
People who were willing to ignore the scratches on a coffee table ($15). Or a single mother with four kids who had been eating off paper plates with plastic spoons (two sets of plates — including those gold rimmed ones — tablecloths and silver, $0). A young man who walked into the house and announced he wanted to buy one like it for his mother someday, two couches and a side table ($50).
At the start, I had set prices in mind. However, as the days trickled down, I began to ask my visitors, “What do you think is a fair price?”
When this stumped them, I offered suggestions on the low side — $15, $20. Even $5. I tried not to insult anyone’s dignity. But I also began to throw in things free — pots and pans, decorative pillows, that Persian rug.
As you might guess, I didn’t end up rich. I made enough to pay and tip our movers and to cover a few pizzas.
Now that we’re installed in our new house, once in a while, I flip through the pictures I took. The memories of the times my family and I spent with these objects arise, but now they share the vision of our stuff occupying foreign living rooms and bedrooms and kitchens all over Philadelphia as they experience their second acts.
And so are we.
Ilene Raymond Rush is a health and science writer whose work appears in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Diabetic Lifestyle, Diabetic Living, Good Housekeeping, Weight Watchers Magazine, Philadelphia Magazine and many other publications. She lives in Elkins Park, a suburb of Philadelphia, with her husband and overweight schnauzer, Noodle.
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