Standing in the attic for the first time I scan my eyes around a room covered in dust. Light and cold air is streaming in through gaps in broken tiles. Goddamn landlord. His granddad was a lawyer, his father was a lawyer, and he is a lawyer, but he is still too cheap to insulate the place. A row of big brown cardboard boxes lines the perimeter of the room, words scrawled in marker pen giving hints as to what once lay in them. I take a look inside KITCHEN UTENSILS, rummaging through scrunched up paper until I find something heavier. Unwrapping reveals a skinny porcelain lady with some holes in her head for pepper to come out. It had been sitting there for almost 2 years since Zoa was promoted to Belgian headquarters – a free ticket to ship whatever she wanted over the Atlantic, including her two dogs. Somewhere in the preceding months, a flurry of selling and giveaways, the fat porcelain salt shaking mama had found a new home, a pair forever separated.
Clearing out a whole house full of STUFF is not as easy as expected. Sure, the appliances will go quickly. A fridge, TV, washing machine, vacuum, iron or printer will probably be snapped up in a day or two. But then you are still left with the odds and ends that sneak into your home like mice through unseen cracks and crevices. Half finished paint tins, assortments of screws and tools, photo frames, cutlery, utensils, spices, clothes unworn for months and years, electronic hair curlers, house plants, STUFF hanging off hooks and screws, STUFF shoved to the backs of draws and dressers. All of the cheesy knick knacks that you feel obliged to keep, hopefully remembering to bring the right one out of hiding when the gifter comes around. Occasionally you come across a forgotten gem, like a banana guard (a yellow plastic container to prevent a banana from bruising in a lunch bag or knapsack). Unfortunately it had already sold when I realised it would have made a quirky addition to my bike frame.
With an advertisement and photos posted on the web, and our dining room turned into a shopfront, emails and phone calls came flying in. Within the first hour an Irish man had claimed most of the big items over the phone. Without haggling, or many questions, he transferred 500 euros into Zoa’s account, and said he’d pick it up a week or two before we left. What a start! Most preferred to make appointments for viewings, and suddenly I was having a hard time keeping track of all the names, times, and items scrawled over scrap pieces of papers. Unexpectedly, the electronic egg boiler, domed like a futuristic spaceship, was becoming one of the hottest items for sale. Others were cheeky, with requests bordering on outrageous. One man complaining that he had no car, asked if we’d deliver to a nearby village. When I said I didn’t have a car either, he asked if I would bring it on the train. I told them that the train ticket would be worth more than the guitar stand, selling for 3 euros, but he was welcome to get the train here. I never heard back.
There is nothing like selling just about everything you own, to bring a colourful cross-section of society to your doorstep. If there was one thing we learnt, it was that you couldn’t guess who was coming next. An exuberant young Nigerian, was followed by a suit and tie businessman squeezing a bit of bargain hunting into his lunch break. It was surprising on how many occasions I helped load discounted items into the back of Audis and BMW’s. Some people were pleasures to talk to like Casesar, an energetic Argentinian, who recommended tents, rain jackets, towels and clothing for our trip. Or the young American-Italian rock climbing couple, who insisted they pay more than we were asking for the clothing and CD’s they wanted. Then there were those who you couldn’t get out the door quick enough. One sour old French couple was outraged that some plastic tubs photographed with the garden equipment had already sold. Even though they failed to mention any specific items in their email they continually lamented having driven all the way from Brussels for nothing. In an attempt to belittle us the old woman turned her attention to a spray bottle. ‘This is not a very good one’ she sneered, pumping the trigger a few times sending sprays of water into her face. ‘Looks like it’s working pretty well to me’ I replied. They huffed and sighed their way out the door having paid 5 euros for over 50 euros worth of equipment.
For some it seemed like a profession, one in a long line of viewings. A Samoan and his shifty sidekick gave off a bad feeling, clambering their hands over everything they saw, bargaining down every item no matter how ridiculously cheap it was, and asking questions that forced us to leave the room. To one Indian man it seemed like a fully formed addiction. He bought strange combinations of items; a garbage can, spices, electrical cords, a coat rack in the shape of a giraffe, and tools. On the way out the door he spotted my malfunctioning laptop and ancient digital camera in the corner of the room. They aren’t for sale Zoa told him. His ears pricked up, seeming aroused. The next day he was back with my blessing to buy them. I shook his hand on the way out the door, while he warned us of wolves and wild dogs in the Middle East, and the importance of distributing our possessions wisely in the case of pannier theft. Before he reached his car he spotted some plants he liked, asking if he could have some cuttings. I agreed and went inside to get scissors. When I returned he had a handful of greenery and had moved onto ripping into a clump of purple salvias.
Others were more focused on what they wanted and were in and out in under a minute. One man very excited by an outdoor electrical cord decided an appointment wasn’t necessary, surprising Zoa at the doorstep. Having driven 30kms from Brussels, with wife and kid in the car, she told him she was unsure if it was already reserved. When I called him the next day to give him the go ahead, it was as if his car was idling around the corner. All for a 5 euro cord, available at any hardware store.
As the rooms became barer and barer, the dogs seemed to become more and more nervous, wondering if they would be next thing loaded into the back of a car. With the last items donated to charity, we were finally finished. 2 loaded bikes, 1 trailer, 2 dogs, a 5kg box of keepsakes and a porcelain pepper shaking lady.