Monday, May 22, 2017

Selling students' stuff

On Sunday, my college hosted our now-annual end-of-year yard sale, where we sell of the stuff our students leave behind.   Now, I don't work at a humongous college.  (We bill ourselves as a "small liberal arts college", with fewer than 3000 students).

Futons, shelves, floor lamps, table lamps, toasters, printers, fans . . . 

And because of the way our dorms are set up (with older students living off campus), we pretty much only get to sell things that the departing first-year students left behind, with some stuff from sophomores as well, but hardly any donations from juniors or seniors.  So we're missing the "good" stuff from our many apartment dwellers.

pillows, foam rolls, mattress pads
(in another area, we had piles upon piles of bed and bath linens)

So we only got castoffs from a fraction of our students, and even then, we only got fraction of what those students discarded, because many students tossed whatever wouldn't fit into their cars into the dumpsters outside the dorms.  Some people are just too rushed/lazy/distracted/whatever to sort things, even though we tried really hard to make the donation areas highly visible and easy.  
Toys, clothes, and (just out of sight) tables of household goods,
food, laundry detergent, toiletries, school supplies, books, . . . 
In spite of the winnowing -- that is, although we rescued only a fraction of the discards from only a fraction of the students at a fairly small school -- we managed to make use of much of our basketball gym, with tables and tables of goods, and piles and piles of clothes, and lots and lots of household items for sale.

A view from my "check out" stand, at one corner of the gym.

The pictures above look devoid of people because I took them all just before we opened the doors to the community.  (The people in light blue shirts are all the volunteers who are helping to staff the event).  When we open the doors at noon, it's like a Rolling Stones concert -- people just pour in.  Seriously, they wait for an hour before the sale starts in a line that stretches around the block, and within three minutes of the doors opening we have hundreds of people filling up this gym.    I took the picture below just as the doors opened -- and after that, I couldn't take photos because I was so busy as the check-out person.

The crowd entering the sale, at 12:00 exactly.
We had several hundred people fill the gym.

We sell all this stuff at the very high end of Miser Mom prices:  $1 per item, or $5 per grocery bag, or $15 per garbage bag.  Even at those prices, we made almost $3000, all of which is going to local charities.

This event is one of my favorite days of the year, because it's what some of my friends call a "Triple Win":

  • a win, because we keep tons of stuff out of the landfill, 
  • a win again because community members (some of them, resettled refugees) get to furnish their homes and get clothes for bargain prices, and 
  • a third win because all the money goes to help other good causes.  
I'd add a fourth and maybe even a fifth possible win:

  • organizing this event has built and strengthened ties between our college and some of the groups that help up us with the carrying/sorting/pricing/staffing of the event.  I'm loving the stronger social network.
  • And finally, almost anyone I've seen who has ever been to this sale marvels at how much the students leave behind, and they are very likely to think twice about how they buy (or not) things for their own college-bound children.  Or maybe even how they buy things for themselves.
This last point feels like a mantra of mine:  we do live in a world of abundance -- it's so easy to live on the leftovers of others around us, if you have the patience and the knowledge of how to discover where those leftovers become available.  

But mostly, I just love this yard sale that we do every year.  Every year, when we clean up the gym at 3:00, we compare the small amount of bags and boxes we have remaining against the mounds and mounds and mounds of material goods we started with, and we feel so good about rescuing so many perfectly good items from their untimely demise in a landfill.  Then we go home and rest our achey muscles, and admire our "new" pair of shoes or office chair or some such, and we pack up the supplies to get ready for next year's sale.


  1. My undergrad did this as well (first choice for goods went to the cleaning/maintenance/cafeteria staff, then they opened it up to the rest of the school community there for the summer).

    It drove me nuts that my grad didn't do it and instead PAID EXTRA for dumpsters. Ditto when getting rid of worn but still good quality and useful furniture (DH and I rescued some of these pieces before they went to the dumpster and still use them). They broke the furniture down before putting it in the dumpsters too. ARGH. So wasteful! They would have saved money giving it away. (The guy in charge was incompetent in many ways involving rodents, cockroaches, paint, soap, duct tape, etc. and did not take my suggestions.)

    1. So, apparently a decade or so ago, some of the cleaning crew got "ambitious" and started "cleaning" even before students left. Or maybe students lost things and accused the cleaning crew of stealing it -- I'm not really sure on the details. But the result is that there is a firm and fast policy that once the students move out, the cleaning crew must throw everything that remains into the dumpsters -- no saving anything that's left in the hallways, unless it's explicitly put into the donate areas. And it's volunteers who collect that stuff, not the cleaning crew.

      We do have a bunch of the cleaning staff come to the sale, although the logistics don't let us have early birds look over stuff.

      The extra dumpsters outside of dorms during exam/move-out week make me cringe, too.

  2. "we do live in a world of abundance -- it's so easy to live on the leftovers of others around us, if you have the patience and the knowledge of how to discover where those leftovers become available" - I LOVE this!!!

    This post totally took me back to my days as an RA in college. I grew up clinging to the bottom rungs of the middle class, and while we never wanted for any necessities, I always felt like I didn't have the same nice things as the people around me did. That feeling got amplified when I went to a private east coast liberal arts college on scholarship, and was surrounded by people who made even my comparatively well-off high school classmates look like paupers.

    Imagine my shock when, at the end of my sophomore year as an RA, I had to inspect all of the "empty" dorm rooms. I couldn't believe the things people left behind! Since the university wasn't organized enough to have a sale like the one you describe, I was allowed to take whatever I wanted. I got a pair of skis, an answering machine (which was a big deal back in the 1980s,) clothes, dishes... in fact I still have a few things from that haul - clothes hamper comes to mind!

    That was my first introduction to the concept of "living off of the land" so to speak, and in a funny way it set me on a path to the life of "outsmarting the system" that I currently enjoy!

    1. Yeah, I think now as a professor I dress more fashionably than I did as a student, because I end up wearing my students' cast offs. If you ever want running clothes, by the way, go to the first or second mile of a big marathon. I am flabbergasted at people tossing *super* expensive clothes by the side of the road. Leg warmers, jackets, even shoes (?!?).

  3. I just looked more closely at the pictures... do you teach at Franklin & Marshall? One of my father's best friends taught statistics (in the psychology department) there until 2001. His name was Dick Lehman. Probably before your time, but the munchkins are singing in my head now... "It's a small world after all..."

    1. In fact, I think Dick Lehman might have been one of the people who interviewed me for my job!

    2. It IS a small world - though you can nix the part about the munchkins, since CatMan has informed me in no uncertain terms that I have my iconic childhood songs all mixed up and munchkins have nothing to do with "It's a Small World." Sigh.

      Anyhow, Dick passed away about 15 years ago from Alzheimer's - very sad. But I do think it's cool that the whole 6 degrees of separation thing is at work here! :-)

  4. A large portion of my college wardrobe, some of which I'm still wearing, (though wear, weight changes, laundry mishaps, and moving have taken their toll), came from the donation piles in my dorm from the end of freshman year!

  5. My school also hires extra dumpsters. Perhaps one would be in order (the kids keep a lot of true garbage in their rooms until the end of the year -- or maybe we dorm parents need to do a clean out with each room of kids every once in awhile) but not multiple.

    My dad was visiting this year during move-out and saved, gosh, thousands worth of stuff for donating and for my parents and for us. We're moving to a new place, so he got us laundry baskets (hadn't needed those in our tiny apartment) among other things.

    He saved no less than 60 towels from dumpsters, so now I have a ton of towels for my classroom. That's a miser-momesque moment -- I realized this year that I go through tons of paper towels in my room, and most of them were for sopping up water kids invariable spilled during labs. With 20 some towels in my room now, I'll be able to just lay towels down for cleaning, laying out wet microscope slides, etc. I gave some to other science teachers and have some for our new place as well. Towels alone likely cost around a thousand.

    We also got new work shoes for my husband (not even worn and a $250 pair -- at least that was in donations) and tons of other random small stuff. Oh, one last baffling find: a brand new sweatshirt, complete with tags, from our school store in the dumpster! A $56 sweatshirt, no less. I don't understand people.

    1. Love the rescue and repurposing of the towels! It's great to figure out a way to save money AND reduce trash. And I'll be the cloth towels are a lot faster and more effective at drying stuff than the paper ones were.

      The brand new stuff (still in boxes, still with tags) is always the thing that has our volunteers scratching their heads. The Gucci (or was it Prada? I don't remember) purse, the Ugg boots, . . . and yes, the sweatshirts and college wear. It makes you want to invent a story about how person X got this decided never to touch it. Spurned lover? Trust-fund extravagance? Who knows?

    2. The craziest "scratch your head moment": my dad went through a bunch of garbage bags. I'm not quite sure what prompted it at the start -- maybe the sound of jingling change in them? I've collected dorm change since our 3 year old was born, and we just started her kid bank account with $75 in it. Anyway, he opened up a bag from the dumpster and saw a few bills on top, so he kept looking. I'm not sure of the full amount, but he found somewhere in the several hundreds. And twenty some singles in another bag from a different dorm. Granted, I think these came from international students (tho one student threw away the equivalent of $100 US in her native currency). But to throw away actual cash? I'm completely baffled. Makes me just want to sit in the dorm rooms as they pack and grab stuff. I imagine they had cash in piles with junk and just did the grab and toss.

    3. and, yes, I'm thrilled about the towels! Will work so much better than paper, especially since the paper towel dispenser in my room is hands-free. Therefore, you have to wave your hand in front of it for every_single_towel. Cleaning up a mess took forever.

      What do you do in public bathrooms? I think that would warrant a post. I know some people carry little cloths for wiping up. My favorite ted talk is actually about public restroom paper towels. It's by Joe Smith and called "how to use a paper towel." I recommend it!

    4. wowee about the cash. I think your explantion that they threw away piles of things that just happened to be cash stashes makes the most sense (when we cleaned out my Nana's home, she had random wads of tissues and random bills tucked in many of her clothes pockets, which made for a very exciting/disgusting cleaning expedition for her granddaughters!).

      I'll watch the Joe Smith talk soon, and whip up a post on public (and other) restrooms.