Life During a Pandemic: Doni’s Guide to Culling and Selling Stuff

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Chairs for sale from another house, another year.

There is something about spending so much time cooped up inside the house during the pandemic that makes me look at my belongings differently. Good Lord, do I have a lot of crap stuff!

I didn’t want new stuff, necessarily, but I felt the need to lighten my load, and de-clutter, and give my place a more airy, open look. Normally, it may have taken me years to come to this realization, but since the pandemic, I’m spending concentrated periods of time inside these walls, surrounded by the same stuff. It’s as if since spring, we’ve lived in dog years. My stuff looks older. Hell, I feel older! Has it really only been six months since the first shutdowns? It feels more like six years.

Since the COVID shutdowns, many of us have already gone through closets and dressers and have gotten rid of a lot of clothes. This was easy to do since we’re not going anywhere to wear all those clothes anyway. The tricky part is finding places that will take them.

The line to drop donations off at Goodwill in Redding was so long that Doni gave up and left. She’s still driving around with bags of clothes in the back of her car.

But what about things you don’t want to donate, things that have value?

I have two ways to sell excess stuff that I don’t want to donate.

The first way I sell stuff is that I’m lucky to share a booth with my sister inside the Vintage Market Pop-up Shop in Redding. It’s called a pop-up because it’s only open about six days a month.

Having a booth inside an antique mall helps support my lifelong vintage/thrift store/garage sale/estate-sale habits. Back when I was married, I’d have to sneak my purchases into the house in the dead of night, to avoid hearing commentary and criticisms about some awesome vintage item I’d bought, like that rustic pine armoire I bought on impulse at Epperson’s Auction; the source of a huge argument many decades ago. I loved that armoire. He hated it.  Funny, I’m no longer with that husband, but I still have the armoire. (Actually, you can see the edge of it in the far left side of the photo, above.)

Being single, it’s awesome that I can buy what I want, but that can also have some down sides, such as the fact that there’s nobody here to bounce ideas off; nobody to remind me that I already have so many chairs in my living room that I perpetually look as if I’m ready for a Bible study. What can I say? I love chairs. I love having people over to sit in them, too. Of course, during the pandemic my days of inviting people over to sit in those chairs may be over for the foreseeable future.  Yes, it might be time for me to sell some chairs.

Another chair from Doni’s past, sold many years ago. Fun fact: The chair cushion upholstery was made from a sundress.

The second way I sell stuff is to post lots of things on Facebook Marketplace. Once upon a time I used to sell things on Craigslist, but no more. I encountered so many creepy people and so many bizarre requests (wire money please to my uncle in New Guinea who’ll come via hot air balloon to pick it up) that I’ve not been back since, as a buyer or a seller. Craigslist is dead to me. I don’t do eBay, or sell on Amazon, either. I’m kind of a one-trick Facebook-Marketplace pony.

The thing is, right now, our antique booth is so full of inventory that Shelly and I have zero space to bring in anything new, unless it’s teacup-tiny.

So Facebook Marketplace is my go-to site where I both buy and sell. I have found it’s kind of addicting to start scrolling through all kinds of things for sale. You’ll find everything: toys, tools, wedding dresses, furniture, motor homes, fences, fruit trees, trampolines, boats and garden supplies. Pretty much almost anything.

Lately, because I’m in a culling mode, I’m much more seller than buyer. (Although I did buy an adorable tiny drop-leaf table a few months ago for $10. Score!)

I prefer Facebook Marketplace for a number of reasons: It’s easy to post items: Just follow the prompts and upload a photo with all the information. I also like that I can see who the buyers are, and when I do, peruse their Facebook pages, and decide how comfortable I feel about them.

This isn’t a tutorial on how to use Facebook Marketplace. You can Google “how to use Facebook Marketplace” and you’ll find everything you need to know. And Facebook Marketplace isn’t the only way to buy and sell things. I’m no expert about all the other ways, but maybe you are, so share away in the comments section.

But I’m here today to share some tips that might make it easier for you as both a buyer and seller, especially during a pandemic.

Buyers

• Bring a mask. Assume you’ll be wearing one. Keep your distance from the seller.

• If you click on the button, “Is this item available” – then for Pete’s sake, follow up after you’ve asked the question. I have never figured out why so many people ask if something is available, and then they go quiet, never to be heard from again. I’ve chalked it up to Facebook Marketplace pranksters’ version of Ding Dong Ditch.

• Bring the exact amount of money. If the item you’re buying is $25 for example, don’t hand the seller a $100 bill and ask for change.

• During your communication with the seller via Facebook Marketplace Messenger, once you’re to that part of planning when you arrange to see an item, or buy it, omit the personal details. The seller just wants to sell the item and be done with it.  State a time, and stick with it. Period. No need to explain that your daughter is getting off work but your husband has the car and your grandson is getting out of school and you have a headache and you might have to put gas in the car and second thought you forgot you’re taking your dad to his cardiology appointment.  Stop the madness. Edit. Just the facts, please. Just the pertinent details, please.

• If you’ll be late, say so. If you’ve changed your mind, say so.

• Don’t ask to come inside, and don’t ask to use the bathroom. Those requests are awkward any time, but especially during a pandemic.

• Do not ask for the seller to hold an item for you, or to mark it sold before you arrive. You’re probably a responsible, honest, dependable person, but there are plenty of flakes who never show up, but tie up an item for a long time before the seller figures it out, which causes the seller to lose potential sales.

Fpur vintage chairs (from some lodge) canvas and wood. Sold years ago.

Sellers

• Stick to the Facebook Marketplace text messaging app to communicate with prospective buyers. There’s no reason to give any other information, such as your phone number or email address. Likewise, do not give out your address until the person says they are on their way. Sometimes a prospective buyer will say they’ll come by the next day, and they’ll ask for your address, but they never arrive. Now they have your address, and you still have an unsold item.

• Have a face mask handy by the front door so when the buyer arrives, you can have it on when you open the door. It also alerts the buyers that you’re pro-mask, so they should wear one, too.

• Take many photos of the same item from different angles. The more photos, the better.

• Over-describe the item. Say it now, or say it later, over and over and over again via text messages. Anticipate any questions the world’s most inquisitive person might ask, and include all that information in your description, otherwise your phone will be pinging and driving you batty with the same questions. What are the dimensions? Do you deliver? (Are you crazy?) What kind of condition is it in? How old is it? What brand is it? Does the item come from a home where someone smoked, or from a house full of animals? Those last two, especially regarding smokers, can be a deal-breaker for some buyers (like yours truly).

• Price your item slightly higher than the price you’d like, because it’s common for potential buyers to ask if you’ll accept less. That way, you have some wiggle room. Otherwise, state your price and stick with it. On the other hand, if an item hasn’t gotten so much as a single inquiry, consider dropping your price. Unless you’re not in a hurry to sell. However, if you really want to get rid of something, price it to sell. Try not to get too invested in the item’s original price.

• Once it’s sold, mark the item as sold on Facebook Marketplace. This prevents people from bugging you about an item you no longer have for sale, but it’s also a courtesy for buyers, so they can move onto another item if yours isn’t available.

• Clearly spell out how you accept payment. Venmo? Cash? (That’s my preference). Do not accept checks. Too risky.

• If you’re selling something big, cumbersome and/or heavy, mention that in the ad, and clarify in your ad that the buyer will need someone to help them carry the item to their vehicle, and by someone, I don’t mean you, the seller. (Unless you’re cool with helping carry heavy, cumbersome stuff.  If so, go for it!)

• Along these lines, mention in the ad that the buyer should bring a hand truck, or some other tools to help transport the item to their large transport vehicle. I learned this the hard way recently when I sold an electric fireplace. The buyer arrived with his minivan and no help to carry the fireplace down two sets of my concrete stairs. I helped carry it, and it turned out OK, but I vowed to not do that again.

• If possible, have an adult friend or family member at your house when the buyer is coming to purchase an item, just for security’s sake. In my last house, I had a dear neighbor who lived across the street and would come over and sit on my couch and flip through magazines when I felt uncomfortable about a stranger coming to buy something at my house.

• If you don’t have someone like my wonderful neighbor Tom for a pretend spouse, the Redding Police Department has a few parking places in front of the building just for people who want to meet an online buyer or seller, especially for big-ticket items, like cars. I’ve never used this option, but it’s nice to know it’s available if my gut is telling me that something’s off. (Which has yet to happen during a sale or a purchase.)

• If a buyer is on their way, have their item either waiting outside, or right by the front door so you can bring it outside when the buyer arrives. Better safe …

• There may be times when you have things you don’t want to sell, things you want to get rid of and give away, just because they’re hanging around and serving no purpose except to get in the way. I’ve posted free rock, free fill dirt, and even free broken concrete, all of which people gladly came and hauled away.

One woman’s ugly pile of broken concrete pieces is another woman’s garden path.

• If you’re bored with something, or it no longer brings you joy, consider selling it to purchase  something later that you will really love. It’s kind of fun, and breaks up the pandemic’s monotony.

Everything in this photo, with the exception of the yellow ottoman, and the yellow corner table, and the gold-framed artwork, and some of the white dishes, Doni has sold in previous years.

• Disclose unto others as you would like them to disclose unto you. Admit every flaw and imperfection. If the couch has faded spots, say so. If the couch was used as a dog bed, say so. If the chair is wobbly, say so.

Maybe one day I’ll fill in all the empty spots in my home with something new. But right now I’m liking the look of a house with less stuff. The best part is every time I sell something, I can squirrel away a bit more money to spend on something else, like home and garden projects, since that’s where I spend most of my time during these pandemic days anyway.

Or better yet, maybe I can sell so much and earn so much that I can take a dream vacation to a far-away land in a far-away time, far, far away from the coronavirus, and elections, and fighting and fires and smoke.

Back to reality. Next stop: I’m tackling the garage.

Doni Chamberlain
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. Chamberlain is an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, California.
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