I had a garage sale last week, to get rid of the things I don’t want to dust anymore. Rather than put price tags on every little trinket, I had a table of free stuff, a table of $5 stuff, a table of $10 stuff and one little table to hold the few things that were really worth any money. Wasn’t this the idea that made Woolworth rich — a five- and 10-dollar store?
Before the day was over, I had $600 in my pocket. I’m on my way to becoming a big department store magnate, I thought. Until I figured out that the stuff I sold for $600 probably cost me $3,000 over the many years spent collecting it. Still, somebody else is dusting it now, while I’m spending the $600 on a few months of premium cable channels.
At the end of the day, there were still plenty of items left on my “free” table. When you can’t give things away for free, there’s a problem. And it’s not just strangers that won’t take our stuff; it’s family, too. Almost everyone I talk to says the same thing: “None of the kids want my stuff.”
“They don’t want the dishes I got as a wedding present,” my friends say. “They don’t want my grandmother’s needlepoint napkins, they don’t want the linen I never use, they don’t want the cut crystal, the china cabinets, the silver table settings, the Wallace Nutting prints. Just put all that stuff in the coffin with me because if you don’t, my kids will put it straight in the trash. They don’t have any idea what it’s worth.”
Yes, they do: To them, it’s worth nothing. If it can’t fit on their cellphone or in their PlayStation, they don’t want it.
They go out to eat or order pizza; what would they put in a china cabinet? A pizza box? An empty Chinese takeout container? All their ramen noodles? What would they do with a crystal decanter? Put craft beer in it? Go ahead: Try to sell a silver-plate water pitcher and coffee pot. Together they’re worth less than a Starbucks coffee in a paper cup. And when you think about it, they should be. Who would put coffee in a silver container? It would go cold in about three seconds. And the water pitcher would drip condensation all over your polished furniture. When was the last time you used yours, if ever? Yet for years, they were given as wedding presents. Today’s favorite wedding present is an envelope with a gift card in it.
I was talking about this with my brother when he was visiting with his teenage children, who, like most teens, could care less about all the old stuff around the house. Until they found my record collection. (Not my “vinyl record” collection; I bought them long enough ago that they were just called “records.”)
You’d have thought those kids discovered a gold mine.
“Wow! Look at the size of these things. It’s like a Frisbee. Who are the Kingston Trio? You’re kidding — someone was named ‘Petula’? If they’re the Beach Boys, why aren’t they wearing bathing suits? The Rolling Stones. I think I’ve heard of them. Vaughn Meader? Who’s that?”
Even I had nearly forgotten Vaughn Meader, who had a hit comedy album lampooning President Kennedy and his Boston accent. It was a huge best-seller until one day in late November 1963.
I let the nephews have the music albums, but I hung on to the comedy albums, many of the routines I had memorized when I was their age. “The Buttoned-Down Mind of Bob Newhart,” “The Smothers Brothers at the Purple Onion” and Rodney Dangerfield’s “No Respect.”
I would have like to have listened to some of the records with the nephews and shared a few laughs, but my record player was on the “free” table, and someone smarter than me has it now.
(Contact Jim Mullen at email@example.com.)