Tuesday, November 23, 2010

On The Value of Things - at a Garage Sale

The proceeds
I spent this past Friday and Saturday pondering the value of all sorts of things- toys, games, books, furniture, household items, clothing. I had four colors of stickers. Green was one dollar, blue was two, and red was just fifty cents. yellow dots we priced "as marked" which meant more than two dollars. Three dollars seems to be a lot to ask - at a garage sale.

We had a beautiful day on Saturday, and people came non-stop. The timing was great- people are starting to think about the holidays, and we had lots and lots of toys. The sale was a great success for us- about 80% of the stuff we put out disappeared, which is a good thing, because otherwise we'd have to figure out another way to get rid of it all. My colored dot assignments weren't about intrinsic value; it was more about how much we wanted to get rid of a thing.

Putting a price on things also meant that people had to value them. If 50¢ was two much for someone to pay for a kitchen knife, well, that person was unlikely to provide the knife a worthy home. Of course some people felt compelled to bargain, despite the dime-on-the-dollar pricing. So I bargained a bit, and they left happy. Others apologized for the low prices; they left happy, too.

The free items were my favorites. I had a bag of shoes in the garage; originally meant for discard. A gentleman asked if they were for sale, and I said they were free to our good customers. So he tried them on, and he was so happy that they fit. They were old shoes, but Rockports do last a long time.

Another fellow had selected bunch of books including several of my father's old particle physics books. Why my dad, an electronics engineer, had particle physics books, is one story; why I shipped them from Indianapolis to store them in my basement is entirely another. But anyone that interested in particle physics deserved to get those books for free!

Dad said: "Just go to bed!"
Most of the books we were selling were ones that our kids had grown out of. They were a dollar each, half off if you bought more than 10. Chapter books were 25 cents each, though I couldn't bear to part with Mercer Mayer's "Just Go to Bed" at any price and took it off the sale shelves.

One eleven year old gleamed when she found out there were books for sale. Her mom had bought some furniture and was arranging to pick it up later. "You can look at the books when we come back" she said, herding the girl and her 8 year old cousin to the car.

The Librarian from the Black Lagoon
It was dark and the sale was long over when they returned for the furniture. I had already packed the leftover books into my basement. After helping to load the furniture into the car, I told the mom that if the kids wanted to see the left over books, I'd be happy to give them any books they wanted. So the four of us went down to my basement and looked at the books. "Oooh, I want!" said the girl at some age appropriate books. "Ooh look, Shakespeare, Mommy! I want!" The mom and I looked at each other and smiled. The mom's smiles were understandable to any parent; mine were because it was the copy of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" that I had read in high school. The cousin did not go away empty handed. I pushed some "Black Lagoon" books on him.

Reflecting on the joy I experienced in seeing kids excited to get some books, I got a better understanding of why so many librarians love what they do. Imagine if you could do the same thing for lots and lots of kids. It would be like taking that joy and multiplying it by thousands.

Maybe that's why I've been obsessed with "ungluing ebooks".

Personal Note: I believe that in life, when you discern a calling, you need to remove whatever obstacles there may be to answering that call. I hear this call to "unglue" ebooks quite personally and clearly. And also to have a "bounty market" to make it happen ready before Thanksgiving in 2011. You can consider that an announcement. For now, why not celebrate Thanksgiving by taking a book off your shelves and find the person who is meant to read it next?


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