On how not to become a pack rat


Why do we do it?  Why do we encumber ourselves with possessions?. 

- Alice Thomas Ellis

ONE man’s junk is another man’s treasure.

Just for a little fun, go garage “sale-ing.” There aren’t as many in the summer season as there are in spring. Many old-timers have to deal with their stuff gathered over the years, a lot of which have long ago outlived their usefulness.  For practical purposes, many just want to reclaim the spaces occupied by junk and clutter and re-use the space for some other purpose other than storage.

Some simply want to make a few extra bucks. If you have too much stuff and would like to simply reclaim your breathing space or to get rid of what has become dust catchers, you can have fun clearing out your stuff and convert them to cash by becoming the seller. The pace could be faster than selling your stuff on ebay.

Don’t just kibitz if you are a buyer. Enter the flow. Don’t forget to bring along a  few kindred souls and some cash. A note of caution is in order. Garage “sale-ing” is one fun activity that can get out of hand if you let it. Particularly during tough times, a good number of people are becoming creative on how to stretch the dollar and are looking at garage sales, either to sell or to buy.

Particularly for newly arrived immigrants or newly married couples starting a new life who are wary of getting into a whopping financial burden by going into debt at the outset, going to garage sales particularly in affluent areas might be an option.

Cash remains king. With a little cash, you can go to garage sales, tag sales, estate sales, swap meets and thrift shops to find practically everything that you will need, and more besides, to set you up in your new place — practically for pennies on the dollar, at least during the beginning years, when you are conserving your resources to prep yourself for the big purchase decisions, e.g. like buying a  car or a condo or house, when the time is right.You will be amazed at what you can find.

Newer communities with yuppies as residents will have newer, modern, mass-produced plastic or vinyl stuff, the kind that you get at Ikea while older communities will have items from the past, perhaps still in working condition but in outdated styles. Unless those wily antique collectors and estate handlers beat you to estate liquidations as they most often will, if you’re lucky, you might stumble upon treasures or heirloom pieces that you only get to see on “Antiques Roadshow” ringing up unbelievable appraisals.

Be warned. Appraisals are just benchmarks of value given as expert opinions, from which buyer and seller can begin negotiation and arrive at a purchase price, which can be higher or lower than appraisal value, depending on the motivation and time frame of both buyer and seller and the perceived intrinsic value of the item being sold.

Simply because manufacturers are not making more of it, good handcrafted furniture pieces made from mahogany and other prized hardwood of over 100 years or porcelain ware, hold up their value comparatively well as sought-after prized antiques than disposable, ready-to-assemble furniture made from particle board and melamine mass produced in China.  Still, there’s no accounting for taste and individual preferences. The younger ones prefer the sheen and gloss of lacquer or the spanking new, modern furniture of plastic, steel or formica over the patina of old, seasoned wood.

Whatever your choice, dare to be different. Be creative. Immerse yourself in the books written about styles you would like to emulate. You can have your own style with very little money. Let your imagination and a little elbow grease help you create your own unique haven. The really creative ones do it on a shoestring budget and still have great fun along the way while earning themselves some bragging rights in creating treasures out of junk. Also, you’re doing your  environmental bit by recycling.

America is a consumer society and the amount of discarded things is simply staggering. Out with the old, in with the new. Every season brings new fashions and trends and since closet, basement and garage spaces are limited (most times, bursting at the seams) and public storage units cost money, there is an endless round of garage sales going on in America, more so these days when money is tight for many households.

You will find that a lot of items, specially for babies and younger children who outgrow their things pretty fast, look almost new and highly usable. Plates, silverware, kitchen items, small and big appliances, decor, furniture, framed art, clothes, videos, audio and video tapes and tools are the usual fare.

Many items are still new and in their original packaging. Sometimes, there are genuine antiques or priceless works of art hidden in dust and grime. That’s when you hit paydirt. But such instances are few and far-between, so keep yourself grounded. There is no sales tax. Check your local community newspapers or go online for these weekend events.

The early bird gets the early worm. The earlier you come during the day, the better the selection but the prices will be marked a tad higher unless the seller wants to seriously dispose of his merchandise fast and pack up early. The later in the day you come — from noon to early afternoon — the prices are cut drastically, practically at giveaway rates, but the selection is much less, with junk a-plenty.

Learn to negotiate. Read Donald Trump’s “The Art of the Deal.” In America, what you get is not what you deserve. Very often, it is what you negotiate. If you are uncomfortable with haggling and if you happen to be with someone who can dicker with the seller in a courteous, pleasant  way, get him to do it for you. The key is to be respectful. Never disparage what is being sold in the transparent attempt to get a lower price.

Many crafty buyers use this as a tactic and instead of getting a better price, all it does is irritate the seller. If you want a lower price on an item you like, ask politely, “Would you take less for this?”  And then state the price you are willing to pay. Very often, the seller will counter with a lower price and then you can proceed from there with the price getting tossed back and forth until you agree on the final figure.

Merchandise is sold on an “as is” basis and most of the time, is not returnable. Buyer, beware. Inspect closely. There are more trustworthy sellers than there are hucksters. They will tell you if the item is working or if there is a crack or a flaw on it. If you are uneasy about not being able to return things, buy the item new in a department store which will usually take it back, if it is defective.

There are no guarantees when you buy stuff at garage sales. You decide on the spot and there is no turning back — most of the time. If you want to hone and practice your decision-making, buying  and negotiating skills as an immigrant, this is one inexpensive (translate that to cheap) way to go. It is also a lighthearted learning experience of what people value and discard on the material level and a personal and up close method of interacting with people of various cultures no book or classroom can teach you.

Above all, have fun garage “sale-ing”. The joy of discovering something that you need or want practically at a price  of a song and a dance is part of the whole experience. But as in all things good and bad, do this with balance and moderation. If you become obssessive-compulsive with even as trifling a thing as going to garage sales as a matter of habit, you can become a pack rat. Curb the human tendency to be obsessive.

With time and as you accumulate things, you will find yourself holding your own garage sales because you have encumbered yourself with too much stuff. Or you might find yourself renting storage spaces for stuff that won’t fit in your home. When this happens you’ve reached a dangerous tipping point. The time has come to trim your possessions down to size and take back some of that breathing space you used to have.

Better yet, when you buy one thing, discipline yourself to get rid of 2 items at the same time. It is a feng shui principle to clear the pathways in your home. Avoid “plaque build-up” in the spaces of your home. Expedite the flow of “chi” or life force by becoming a minimalist. Toss things out.

Less is more. From a practical standpoint, you get back the breathing space you had when you first moved in to your empty abode. Having less stuff also means possibly having more in your piggy bank, that will allow you to have better, more meaningful, fulfilling life experiences at the right time.

The ironic thing a recovering pack rat discovers about himself is that as he travels down life’s highways and byways, it is so much more liberating and more fun to travel light,  refusing to be bogged down by mere possessions. The bonus is that one gets to journey farther without stressing and straining while loading up instead on life’s precious experiences.

In our final journey, the only thing we might bring with us in that big blue yonder, if Alzheimer’s doesn’t wreck our brains first, are our MEMORIES.

Stuff, after all, is just stuff.

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Nota Bene: Monette Adeva Maglaya is SVP of Asian Journal Publications, Inc. To send comments, e-mail monette.maglaya@asianjournalinc.com

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