I stood on a blue tarp in my parents’ backyard surrounded by 20 years of sentimentality. I had helped empty out our entire basement in cloudless, 90-degree weather. The heat was making me delirious–for some reason I had agreed to sell all of my stuff at our family’s yard sale.
Flash back about six months earlier. We used to refer to the house next door to ours as “The Bro House.” It was constantly occupied by awful tenants: hard partying college kids; broken, abusive families; or drug addicts. Sometimes all three at once. The most recent occupants had just moved out. When my father saw the landlords over there gutting the place, he marched next door and made an offer on the house. He didn’t haggle or compromise, and within twenty minutes the place was his. He promptly had the house demolished–immediately increasing the property value of every home on the block tenfold. A month or so later and the house had become an annex to our backyard. This newfound territory gave my parents the cleaning bug, and soon rumors of another yard sale began to circulate at family functions.
Getting rid of an entire house filled with trash wasn’t enough; my family wanted to clean out our basement. This 5’4″ tall subterranean level of our house is your classic Southwestern PA cellar: ice cold cement floors, a coal chute, a Pittsburgh Toilet, and lots of spiders. It also housed pretty much every toy I had growing up, every homework assignment from high school, and every piece of weird art I created in college… on top of the usual homeowner junk my parents collected. Cleaning this thing out would use up two of Hercules’s seven labors.
My brother had the idea to tackle the job like the show “Clean Sweep.” We would get three tarps and organize our crap into sell, keep, and trash piles. That was easy for him to say, seeing as how he’s the least materialistic person I know. Not only did he have the least amount of stuff, but he was also a loose cannon when it came to the yard sale–sell it all, and let the customers sort it out. I was more thoughtful in my approach. If it had been three years ago, I probably would have carried everything up from the basement, laid it out on the lawn, and then carried it back down. Moving out of your parents’ house sort of changes your perspective on that stuff. Also, having a very thoughtful girlfriend by your side to push you ever so slightly into throwing stuff away helps too. During Rubino Clean Sweep, Abby was there to keep me on task and ask the question most would be afraid to: “Do you really need that?” The answer was almost always “Nope.”
The problem with being any brand of geek or pop culture enthusiast is that you’re often defined by the stuff you keep. You like to collect stuff. You’re taught that your stuff may be worth money “some day.” So what happens is you wind up with a basement full of worthless… stuff. Most will never sell it, only finding out once they’re dead that you can’t, in fact, take that Princess Lea mint-in-box with you.
Growing up, I flirted with every action figure franchise imaginable. Some, like G.I. Joe, I would play with endlessly, for years, and keep track of every last piece of plastic; others, like Dick Tracy or The Shadow movie tie-in toys (?), were dumped into nameless plastic bins and quickly forgotten. Another problem with being a geek is that you buy, or are given, tons of junk that has absolutely no value or practical use. I found a sleeve of Star Wars postage stamps that weren’t actually worth postage; sleeves upon sleeves of mid-90s sports trading cards that I knew nothing about but had to collect; and leagues of VHS tapes for somewhat-respected-but-ultimately-stupid anime movies. As my brother and I would make discoveries, Abby would check out their value on eBay… and promptly inform us that all of this stuff was pretty much worthless.
After spending an entire day wading through two decades of nostalgia, high school art projects, bins of college notebooks, and sacks of ugly action figures, the contents of our yard sale began to take shape. By the end of it my brain was turned to mush from too many tough decisions–I was like a battlefield medic, performing yard-sale-saving triage on only the most vital of objects.
There comes a point, and it’s different for everyone, where you stop and say “What stuff do I really need?” And a step beyond that is “What do I sentimentally need?” I think it’s important to keep pieces of your childhood to not only pass on to younger generations, but also to remind you that you were a kid yourself once. Whether it’s digging out an old board game and playing it again, or sitting down with a nephew and showing him that action figures used to have a very dangerous rubber band in the middle of their torsos. This yard sale meant getting rid of a ton of stuff… but it also reminded me of why I had (some of) it in the first place.
Keep some of your toys. Let the customers sort out the rest.