In Celebration of Stuff . . . .

This last weekend I hit a spot that collectors and other dealers dream of:

I was mad at my stuff.

Before I go into that, let me do a dreaded backstory dump. For about 25 years, I've made all or part of my living in the secondary market. That's the formal name for the buying and selling of stuff. If I think I can sell it for a dollar more than I paid for it, I'm all in. I've sold everything from car and computer parts to antiques to every shade of collectible toys and pop culture you can think of. My knowledge is a mile wide and an inch deep. I listen to collectors and other dealers and glean their knowledge and add it to my encyclopedia of stuff.

Circa 2002 in yet another convention center - probably around Dallas

My expertise is matching you with the stuff you need (replacement parts, odd books, useful household goods) and the stuff you want (collectible objects and oddities that exist only to make you happy). Stuff is wonderful. It's bright and tactile and can evoke or create wonderful memories. Collectors also preserve history as they curate papers, books, recordings, clothing, and objects. A collector will ferret through every scrap of information available and collect it (because that's what they do), even digging through dumps, all in search of knowledge about their favorite stuff.

I don't understand those who seek ascetic surroundings. If that's you, cool, you don't have to justify it to me. I need the sensory input of cheerful curated clutter. I like that my lamps sat on end tables in the 1950s and evoke the sense of style and hopefulness of the era. Many of my glasses were stolen, um collected as souvenirs, from hotels across the country before plastic cups became the norm.

I've made a career of it. And, by the way, I've met more than one person who claims "to be above all that foolishness" who own 500 pairs of earrings or 2000 ebooks. They kid themselves. They're collectors who derive pleasure from the mere existence of the stuff of their choice.

Note: None of this is to be confused with hoarding. Hoarding is a specific mental illness usually associated with OCD or depression. My late husband was a hoarder. I'm still dealing with it because he was a hoarder with a really good eye. I'm scratching out a living sorting and selling his accumulation.

He was even a hoarder in the video game FALLOUT. Sometimes, he'd spend an entire day seeking out stuff and hauling it back to his virtual apartment. Every shelf was lined with Pip Boy figures and the other spoils of his picking in the game.

His hoard was the result of childhood trauma and untreated anxiety disorders. He needed the stuff to soothe and distract him. It cushioned him from his inner turmoil. I don't like the show "Hoarders." They do good work, but they also precipitate trauma and anxiety for ratings. Instead, I'm talking about collections and things that bring joy.

All that said, now I'm mad at my stuff because I want to do something different with different stuff. I want to move and that requires a 75% de-volume. Every room in the house is floor to ceiling with boxes and piles as I glean the gems out of the hoard. There's also the stuff that's going with me to restart my business and sustain me through what will be a difficult first year.


And my mad is your gain.

I held a 2-day garage sale this weekend. By noon on the first day, it was "The higher the pile, the sweeter the deal." I made some sales that would have been eye-rolling back in the day. I sold to dealers (we know each other, there's no hiding it,) to collectors, and to people who were going to give unusual vintage pieces to their kids because it's cheaper than Walmart toys (yes, that last one hurt, but, it's their stuff now.)

The rest of it is being priced for what I'm calling "The Vault of Awesome Fantabulous Buck Booth" at a local flea market. I've developed groupies. They know when I stock and they are there to try and catch the best deals.

There's also been more than one box where I just said, "screw it" and hauled it to the curb.

I'm a collector and a dealer, not a hoarder. I can sell it for pennies. I can throw it away. I also know when to hold my ground - because I've got bills to pay.

Some days, the sheer magnitude of the labor does get to me. That turns it into a job. We all have jobs to do.

The latest trend is self-styled experts who want to be paid to pressure older folks into "decluttering and downsizing." The shame tactic they use to fuel their business is "don't leave this mess for your children."

Fuck that.

Sorting the accumulated possessions and collections of a life well-lived is a privilege. I know that when I'm allowed into someone's life, I treat it with fascination, curiosity, and respect. I've stopped what I was doing to sit and read love letters from WWII. In a dumpster (long story) I found a notebook from a church trip to 1950s Europe and descriptions of sights that will never be seen again. A box of matchbook covers or postcards? I'm done for the afternoon. The bills can wait.

And, unless you're an expert, you don't know what you're doing. I've been to more than one clean-out where the family assured us that they "got rid of all the old trash" and then expect us to crow and pay them a fortune for the 2008 manufactured collectible Betty Boop kitchen accessories.

I mourn and wonder what was lost. The history. The esoterica. The dollars and cents. This thing I do is both a joy and a skill.

So, yes, get rid of the legit trash. The newspapers, the utility bills, the junk mail . . . yeah, get rid of that (especially if water or rodent-damaged). Clean your environment and make it healthy. Give treasured heirlooms to the generations. Sell it to someone like me and use the money for something you need or blow it on something fun. But do it because you want to, not because you're shamed into it by some so-called expert or clickbait article.

And if there is a true hoarding issue, let someone help - including the emotional and psychiatric help that you need.

Until then, enjoy your stuff. Don't freak out if your parents are enjoying their stuff.

And when you're mad at it or need to clean out the estate, call me. Odds are, I'll teach you something about your own parents. And if what I discover is hidden in their underwear drawer, know I'll be respectful.

And honest. That limited edition Andy Griffith spoon rest is probably worth less on the secondary market than mom paid for it. If you're insulted by my offer or if I decline your price, don't be. I have to wholesale. But you're welcome to do what I do. Look at that photo. How hard can it be? The first thing you need is a van, plastic shelves, and packing materials by the case. And some bookkeeping skill. And time. And a mental encyclopedia of stuff (good judgment comes from bad experience). And a high tolerance for dirt, mold, vermin, and unexpected wildlife. Don't think you'll do it all online. Knock yourself out.

But for the moment, *looks around* THIS STUFF HAS GOT TO GO. It's in the way of my happy stuff and my happy place.

Back to work with me . . .

Being self-employed means you never escape the boss.


Susan Mihalic said…
I enjoyed this piece, Terry. I have a few collections . . . and a few hoards. I can't let go of my 1960s-era Disneykin figures (sadly, there's no box) or the Breyer horses I collected as a kid (again, no boxes), even though they're in storage and I'm not *doing* anything with them. I've thought a couple of times about giving away the horses, but for whatever reason, I'm not ready to part with them. My hoarded items tend toward pens and notebooks. It could be worse. Sometimes I consider taking steps to live in a more spare environment, but it doesn't seem to be in the cards (by the way, I have a set of playing cards--one deck is Secretariat and one is Bold Ruler--and there's a box!).