The Junk of Others

By , May 14, 2008 10:58 pm

This past month I have probably spent close to 60 hours sorting through other people’s castoffs while my 2 year-old rolled around in the dirt.

Every year my children’s small but worthy, financially challenged Montessori School holds a giant yard sale, and every year I volunteer to help sort. I never work the sale because, although I find the sorting process rather fascinating in an odd way, I simply can’t deal with the actual feeding-frenzy atmosphere and depressing desperate bargaining of the sale itself.

The sorting experience is really quite enlightening however. I can share a few tidbits here.

What I have learned from five years of sorting through other people’s junk:

1) People all have different tastes:

This year I had the pleasure of discovering the number one most revolting looking and smelling giant “hand-dipped” candles I have ever encountered in my life (picture “chocolate – cinnamon – banana – lavender – cat pee” fragrance in candles looking as if they had been lovingly hand-dipped in vomit). Resisting both my gag reflex and my urge to toss these misplaced treasures into the trash, I optimistically priced them at 10 cents for the pair (other candles of that size, more acceptable to my taste, went for $1.00 each). Guess what? A lady stopped by and excitedly purchased them WHILE WE WERE STILL SETTING UP!!!

2) Sorting other people’s castoffs day in and day out makes one a little weird:

Another item that sold during set-up was our mascot: The lime green teddy bear in sunglasses and fancy flowered hat who, when you squeezed her paw, sang the Beatles song: When I’m Sixty-Four. Unlike those candles, I was a bit sorry to see her go. After hearing so many repetitions of When I’m Sixty-Four, I was beginning to think I NEEDED that bear. Perhaps it is a good thing that she was sold to someone else.

3) If you give desperate Christmas gifts to someone unlikely to appreciate those gifts, they WILL end up, unopened, in a sale like ours:

Some examples of obviously desperate Christmas gifts that the poor recipients were eager to dispose of: a John Wayne coffee mug new-in-box (NIB as they say on Ebay), several ornate photo frames with syrupy, sentimental sayings (also NIB), an electric quesadilla-maker (isn’t that what frying pans are for?), dubious-smelling candles (nothing like the 10 cent candles though!), and an actual nose hair trimmer (I don’t think I have ever seen one of those before), among others.

PS. Check out the Christmas Unplugged posts for more information on how to avoid that “have to give something” feeling.

4) Check the titles of the books you turn in (unless you plan on dropping off the box anonymously after hours):

If you have a whole box full of self-help books along the lines of How to Live With a Cross-Dressing Husband, or How I Overcame My Gambling Addiction, whether they are your books or your long lost cousin Debbie’s, then you might want to consider dropping them off after-hours. Although my friend and I who were sorting the sale were nice enough not to take notes on who made the revealing self-help book donations, others might not be so kind!

A fascinating fact: people’s books reveal a lot about themselves. Amateur psychoanalysis is a fun way to pass the time while sorting and pricing stuff.

5) Americans have A LOT OF CLOTHES.

Gold lamé jacket in East Podunk Arizona anyone?? Didn’t sell.

6) Simple donation etiquette:

Please don’t just tip the toy bin into a garbage bag and hand it over. Usually there is a considerable amount of useless junk and trash in there that needs to be thrown away. It is WONDERFUL when people bag up small pieces of toys and tie or tape the bag on to the main toy. Ziplock bags are perfect of course, or you can recycle grocery store produce bags. They are transparent, fairly large, and free. Please wash clothes before donating. If puzzles and games are missing pieces, or you only have one sock in a pair…please don’t donate. Make the sock into a puppet instead, or toss or reuse the remaining game/puzzle pieces somehow. (Unplugged Project anyone?)

7) (Warning: cliché ahead!) “One man’s junk is another man’s treasure.”

Very true. A lot of people found treasures at our sale last weekend (“chocolate/cat pee candles” for example) and we made $5,000 for our school!!


I believe that everyone should spend 60 hours in 3 weeks sorting other people’s junk. I felt like an earthworm. Not only was I helping recycle all that we humans consume, but I had a lot of time to think about how much “stuff” we have in our part of the world, and how disposable it all seems.

This year, the amount of clothing we acquired is what struck me the most. I have many thoughts on clothing (enough for at least one thorough, or several “chapter” posts). Beware: I might inflict those on you soon.

Photo thanks to Wikimedia Commons.

8 Responses to “The Junk of Others”

  1. Susan T. says:

    Sorting is fascinating, isn’t it? I’ve helped out at our library’s big summer sale, and enjoy seeing what comes in. I’ve seen many books with loving messages from the giver to the receiver just tossed into a box and dropped off to be sold.

  2. Marsha says:

    How interesting! I’m not surprised to read about the huge amount of cast-off clothing you encountered. Clothing is ridiculously cheap in the USA, so much so that when you factor in cleaning/repair time and costs as well as desire to follow fashion trends, it actually “makes sense” for most people to replace their clothes frequently.

    Now, the environmental cost to the planet as well as lessons we’re imparting to our children…well…most people don’t worry about those, unfortunately.

    Marshas last blog post..Rant the first

  3. Nicole says:

    The book section cracked me up. I have to wonder if you really got *those* books. I would be too embarrased to walk up with them much less who is going to buy that.

    The nose hair trimmers. HMM you have to wonder if that was a hint to someone. lol

  4. MatchMomma says:

    If you want to repurpose clothing … check out Awesome little webcast shows on how to do it. Very fun!
    We LOVE recycling!!!

    MatchMommas last blog post..vacation

  5. Jenny says:

    I laughed out loud at your description of the “lovely” hand-dipped candles! I think I’d be good at sorting stuff like this too- I can see why you find it fascinating.
    PS My husband loves his nose hair trimmer! :o)

    Jennys last blog post..A Preschool Train Unit

  6. Kate in NJ says:

    LOL, Congrats on the money raised for your school!
    My sister dropped off a box of books nowhere near
    as embarrassing to my house for me to freecycle
    for her, and I clearly stated in my ad “books from a relative”.
    Just in case. ;-)

    Kate in NJs last blog post..Some of what we’ve been doing this week….

  7. Tina says:

    ROFL!!! I can so relate! I love thrift stores. I am always amazed at what and for how much I find at these stores. I also help run our food pantry/ clothing ministry. The things people bring us in the name of chairity is sometimes beyond me! I especially love the “dry clean only” clothes we receive for our homeless folks! Your post was such fun to read!

    Tinas last blog post..Psalm Friday

  8. […] spent last week and the weekend sorting through other people’s stuff for our annual school yard sale. People have A LOT OF […]

Leave a Reply

Panorama Theme by Themocracy