By Cindy Filipenko
Treasure or trash? Anyone who has ever taken part in a garage sale knows the line between those two commodities is not easy to establish. It would stand to reason that if you have it, and don’t want it, it’s trash; and if you don’t have it, but want it, it’s treasure. But that would be too simple and would ignore the fact that humans are path of least resistance animals.
Garage sales, which pop up as readily in the spring as dandelions, are proof that value is truly in the eye of the beholder. How else can the fact that a three-legged Ikea table circa 1981 be enthusiastically carried off to another home in exchange for a crisp $5 bill while a fully-functional five-disc, carousel CD player be left to languish at day’s end on the “free table” be explained?
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with trying to up-sell your junk at a garage sale. After all, it’s just another type of consumer transaction, complete with eye-catching display and clever marketing. What I take exception with are the well-meaning folks who possess items that they no longer have use for, but have decided that you are best equipped to provide a loving home for their castoffs.
Item in mind: The world’s heaviest couch and loveseat. Built at a time when ironwood was clearly the material of choice for furniture frames, this sucker embodies everything that was wrong with ’80s design. Aside from the vertebrae-crushing weight, this living room suite boasts a bland, earth toned pattern imprinted on a brocade fabric woven on completely unnatural fibres that can withstand fire, flood and pestilence. The fact that it’s still off-gassing years of fumes from Craven A Special Mild 100s makes it all the more special.
So why do we have it?
Because we have a basement. Having that extra square footage means we are marked as people who have an implied duty to take such monstrosities off the hands of their previous owners. The previous owners, in this case relatives who shall not be named, knew that although not aesthetically perfect, their couch was an upgrade from what was currently occupying the rec room. The slight whiff of genetically-enhanced guilt was all it took for us to agree to this.
And when push came to shove, I had to admit it was better than what was already filling up space under the picture window. So we borrowed a truck, bought a zillion feet of rope and traveled more than 300 km to ensure their old furniture would have a new home. Unfortunately, along with this unplanned acquisition came the dilemma of what do with the existing cellar dwelling sofa.
The original beater couch showed up under even more interesting circumstances. When initially offered, we had repeatedly made vague protests. Although we agreed it was a fine couch, and we did not have one for downstairs, we weren’t sure we were really in the market for a three-legged couch. We were vague, polite but distant when the topic of the couch came up.
One day it just appeared. We went to bed one night without a couch. And the next afternoon we had one. I am certain I could hear chortling as the previous owners drove away. Our protests had obviously been too mild.
I’m ashamed to admit this, but I tried to offload the wobbly, frayed and swayed sofa to someone else once Couchzilla and her mate had taken up residence. Even as I was extolling its virtues (“You don’t have to worry about your cat scratching it, it’s already trashed!”) I felt scummy, but not scummy enough not to try get rid of it in any other way. The thing was way too big to slip unnoticed next to my weekly garbage pick-up and borrowing a truck to take it to the dump seemed like too much hassle.
This weekend I was visiting a friend who had just moved into a new place. The living room was floor to ceiling with couches, cabinets, chairs and tables. Castoffs all. News flash: just because you don’t have a wood grain, Arborite end table, doesn’t mean you need one.
Thanks to people who were “well-meaning” my friend’s place had become social circle’s personal Re-Use It centre. Unfortunately, no one’s buying anything, they’re just donating.
She’s too damned polite to say “No.” The end result, she has yet to see her floor in her living room and now has to figure out how to deal with other people’s junk — doing their dirty work and disposing of it in a way that doesn’t infringe on anyone else.
Recycling our used items is socially and environmentally responsible. But before we foist our junk on others there’s two things we need to do: ask and listen.