Retail. Never pay full retail.
It was ninety-eight degrees. The hottest day of 2018 so far – and as luck would have it, that was the same day we planned to have our garage sale.
After having a few garage sales, my wife Betty and I made a promise to never submit ourselves to that process again. Apparently, we were going to break that promise.
“We just need to lighten our load a bit,” I kept saying, “After almost twenty-five years of wanton shopping and spending, we just have too much stuff.” Betty agreed, but it was hard for her to let go of things. She frowned as she stacked and priced items in our home, each one with a particular memory.
For us, part of leaving the U.S. is leaving behind some bad habits, and mindless spending was one of them. Consumerism is part of our culture and we had been devout followers of that mindset. My wife has more purses, shoes, and jewelry than she could ever use. But I am guilty too. My weakness has always been cars and electronics. In our home, we have no less than ten flat-screen TVs, nine cars, and more gadgets than we can store. Add to that the fact that we both tend to take care of our things, we keep them forever. We’re bordering on being guest stars on a hoarder show. This would have to change.
We have already built a home in Mexico, so we know how much room we have and we don’t want to stuff it with junk. We would like to start over.
We built a two-story, 3,000-square-foot home, but we knew we would not need that much space for two people, so we had the first floor designed to be two separate units. With us living on the second floor, we can rent out the bottom two units when they’re not being used by friends or family. We have already furnished the lower units and have a property manager to look after them. Right now, we don’t plan to ship anything to Mexico that won’t fit in a suitcase, so perhaps we’ll complete the upstairs when we move there full-time. We may change our minds, but for now that’s the plan.
That leaves us with a huge dilemma: What do we do with all this stuff? We will most likely have to store what we don’t wish to sell or give away. A local storage facility wants $325 per month for a 300-square-foot, air-conditioned unit. That fee is month-to-month and includes insurance. Unfortunately, we cannot store jewelry, firearms, or vehicles there.
A mobile storage service quoted me just over $500 per month for two sixteen-by-eight-foot containers that they will deliver to our driveway, pick up, and store. Similar restrictions apply and the overall square footage is smaller, but this may be a better option as we may want to buy a small house in Texas sometime in the future, depending on how we do with the sale of our home in California. The mobile storage service will deliver the containers to the new house we may buy in the future, so we won’t have to pack and move twice. Betty and I have been considering these options carefully, but there is really no way to know just how much stuff you will have until it’s all boxed up and stacked.
“For now, let’s just have a garage sale,” Betty suggested. Immediately, I remembered how difficult a process that had been in the past.
“I guess you forgot how much fun that was last time,” I frowned. “We put up signs saying we would open at 9:00 AM and people were banging on the door at 7:00 AM.”
“Yeah, I remember that,” She nodded.
“Remember the creepy guy in the white van who came by and offered us $300 for everything?”
“His van had no windows. Scary.” She said.
“How about you feeling insulted when people tried to bargain with you?” I asked.
“Well, I would rather give the stuff away than sell it for what they offered,” She defended herself with a grin.
“Exactly. So, why not just donate it and take the tax write-off?” I asked, but I knew what she would say.
“Let’s do that with the stuff we don’t sell.”
I knew it.
“It’s going to be a huge amount of work for pennies on the dollar,” I said. And it was.
Without going into too much detail…
Here are some lessons from what will surely be our LAST garage sale:
- Books: Donate them. People do not buy books anymore; not even nice ones that retailed for over $50 each with prices from $1.00 to $5.00.
- Prices (Part 1): Retail. Note to self: Never pay full retail. A brand new NFL football jersey with price tag still attached, retail price of $225, priced at $20.00, did not sell. *It was a gift. Thank God we did not pay that price.
- Prices (Part 2): No matter what you ask for, people will grind you down. Garage sale shoppers have no shame. If $20 is a fair price for a used $100 item, they will offer you $2.00. You will agree and they’ll shrug and say they don’t really need the item.
- Reality: The real reason to have a garage sale is to get rid of things. Once you embrace that fact, price your things very low and/or accept low offers, and you will be free of all that junk and have a few dollars for your time. Other than that, your used stuff is nearly worthless compared to what you think it’s worth.
- Never Do This Again: Donate things or give them to friends and family. The recipients will appreciate it more than the value of the small amount of money you will make at a garage sale. From a purely financial stance, your time is worth so much more and there are tax write-offs to consider.
I should have known that we were buying too many things years ago. Last year, I had received a $100 gift card to Best Buy from a client, and I could not wait to browse that electronic toy store with my free loot. I entered the store and smiled as I smelled the aromatic chemicals swirling in the air. I inhaled the bouquet that included a mixture of the toxic plastic used for computer laptops, the industrial paints that decorated massive flat-screen TV shipping boxes, and the miles of cellophane wrapping used to envelope each DVD and video game case.
This was an electronic paradise that I had frequented many times, and the mountain of gadgetry in our home was proof. But this time there was a problem. As I wandered through the aisles, I realized that I already had every single thing in that store. Laptop, check. TVs, got ‘em. Cell phone, yep. Stereo, big time. Game system, of course. Camera, several. Even the smaller stuff like external speakers, wireless keyboards, and modern desk lamps…I had all of it. I had a modern problem. I did not need anything. I wound up regifting the card to another client and I have not set foot in that store since.
Since that day, I have been focusing on getting rid of things. Sometimes it’s more difficult than others. For example, my first car was a 1974 Mercury Capri. Later in life, I wanted to find another one. As luck would have it, I found two and purchased them both and then had to build a detached garage to house them. I rarely drove them, spent too much money fixing them, insuring them, and paying the registration year after year. And for what? To fill a hole that just got bigger with each purchase? Fortunately, I recently sold both cars and made a profit on each. The extra garage will be a good selling point when we list our house for sale, so not everything we spent was in vain.
But a lot of it was. And we have decided to remember that we can only spend each dollar once. Having no income now reminds us of that every day. And we must really devote ourselves to living a bit lighter and to stop drowning ourselves in stuff.
We made almost $1,000 at the garage sale but still had mountains of things that did not sell. My son and I drove three truckloads to Goodwill. As I carried the items from the truck to the store, I realized just how little we needed any of that stuff. I had anticipated feeling melancholy as we gave away thousands of dollars and decades of memories attached to the stuff, but I didn’t. I actually felt relieved. I hoped that someone else would find a use for all of it, and I was thankful for the lesson I think I had finally learned.
Now, what will we do with the rest of the stuff we want to keep? I don’t anticipate doing the garage sale thing again, so when we move we will most likely offer some things to family and friends first, then donate the rest. That leaves a large group of stuff I call the “can’t-do-withouts.” Realistically, they are more like the “don’t-want-to-do-withouts,” but that will depend on how things shake out when we get closer to listing our house for sale. The things we want to keep need a place, and that will be either a storage facility, a small rental house, or we may just buy a small house in a more affordable state like Texas.
The local housing market in a year will surely help dictate just how much we can really keep. Here’s why: I mentioned before that we had nine cars. Before you shake your finger at me, realize that only a couple were really worth much and we collected these cars over two decades.
We had a company car which we got rid of and I mentioned selling the two Capris. That left six cars. We’re giving one older SUV to our son for college, leaving five cars. One car is another classic car that is an heirloom, so we’ll store that one at my sister-in-law’s house. That leaves four cars, all of which we would like to keep if possible.
Dilemma number two: What do we do with these cars? I have considered shipping two of them to Mexico, but I still need to remember that I may want to get a small place in Texas. Storing cars there would be much easier and there would be very little paperwork to get them licensed. I need to investigate more on shipping vehicles and belongings to Mexico. Would it be worth it? I’m sure there are some experts at Escape Artist who can help me, so I’ll email them today.
Registration and insurance for cars that are not driven is a waste of money, but the real problem is storage. Of the four old cars I want to keep, only one (a Ford SUV) could stand being stored outside for a long period of time. Of the remaining three, one is a roadster (no top), one is a convertible (soft top with a plastic rear window), and the last one is a true classic that I’ve had for 17 years and wish to keep for my son.
NOTE: Yes, we plan to leave the U.S. for Mexico. I mentioned possibly getting a place in Texas above. That’s a backup plan. Southern Texas is a lot like Mexico, it’s a short flight from San Antonio to Cancun, and the cost of living there is much less than California. I’ve lived in Texas before (while in the U.S. Army) and have friends there, so the transition would be a simple one. I have also realized that many of my issues with the U.S. are not truly with the country, but more focused on my home state of California. It’s just not the place where I grew up anymore, and the changes are more than I care to deal with in retirement.
Many years ago, my grandfather gave me some good advice when I was planning to relocate from San Francisco to Paris for work for an extended period of time. I didn’t have much furniture then, but I liked what I had. However, the storage fees were very high.
“How many times do you want to buy that furniture?” He asked me. He was right. For what I was going to pay for storage, I could buy new stuff when and if I returned to San Francisco. I sold some, gave some away, and donated the rest. I kept almost nothing.
If his advice was so wise then, why am I struggling with it now? Maybe because we have so much more now and the thought of starting over in our fifties would be very expensive. I have a year to figure this out, and that seems like a long time, but these details are weighing on my mind. I need to make an action plan.