07/09/2013 01:30 pm ET Updated Sep 07, 2013

Craigslist Musings

The Craigslist furniture category is fun to explore, particularly if you are trying to furnish a camp. Yet, I forget what I am looking for sometimes, distracted by the definitions, the descriptions, the requirements, the slice of life stories. Sometimes the list reveals odd folks and odd furniture; people's approach to life floats through the descriptions or the email replies to queries; very little market pricing exists among similar pieces, and the economy of the part of the country you are in reveals itself in what is on the list and what it costs. The whole thing is a mirror into how we see our worlds, our lives and families.

Any list for a city site has multiples of everything; rural sites so few items that they lump everything together. Rural sites sell everything from a chair cushion for $1 to an entire dining room set for $600. Urban sites have four pages of couches, hundreds and hundreds; rural sites have two or three couches mixed in with a kitchen chair or an old mirror for sale. Those listing furniture often add "beautiful" to the description. I sometimes check to see how a seller defines that word when it comes to a piece of furniture, and often say to myself -- 'I don't think so.' Beautiful can be a bright pink table, a couch with huge swoops of wood and pillows with ruffles and trim. Or a beautiful child's bed for over $1,000; and when one takes a look, one thinks, not THAT beautiful. Couches with big pillow-y arms and creases so deep it look as if they would grab you and not let you out, with head rests, cup holders and recliners on each end are favored in some locales; sleek, mid-20th century hard cushioned couches dominate urban sites. Perhaps each style is a statement about how the denizens of each face the world from their living rooms? Often the photo of the piece of furniture was taken with full plastic garbage bags on it or the photographer's feet at the bottom of the shot, or discarded clothes still sitting on the item. Did the person selling decide they had to sell this chair, or couch or table right NOW and marketing the item without the miscellanea on it just wasn't an option? It has to GO. Or those buying wouldn't care about the really messy living room? It really doesn't matter on Craigslist, do exactly what you want, describe the item exactly as you chose.

Craigslist is free for those posting which perhaps is why is it so freewheeling and unique. What is the fiscal situation of someone posting a $1 chair? Or that of someone with a rug claimed to be worth $10,000? And then, a bit of your life story may be part of the sale: tired of this item, must sell; leaving the country; can't deal with NYC anymore; moving to Europe for a new job; liked it when we bought it; moving in with girlfriend and she hates this couch; thought I would use this table, but then built a banquet, etc.... You can tell the world your troubles because the list gives you an anonymous email address and no one knows it's you hating this piece. Many of the listings have directives -- don't even think of emailing, reply by phone or I report as spam; yikes; I am too frightened to reply. Don't ask if it is still for sale, if it is on the list, it is still for sale; have to move yourself; must be local. Why should anyone care if I live nearby, as long as I have a truck? Why yell at me if you want me to buy this? No one puts anything on Craigslist at the crack of dawn, it's usually mid-day after roaming around their house or the storage bin and deciding that a piece has to go, is taking up too much space or is just too ugly to keep. It often seems as if the person posting might be lonely based on what they say, so why aren't they up, sleepless, at the crack of dawn?

The way people posting respond to queries seems to reflect their part of the world. When you talk to others about using Craigslist some report they get immediate responses to their queries; others in big cities never hear back from those posting; some get into back and forths and then the poster seems bored with the idea of actually selling the item, and stops talking to the person asking about the size or price or when to pick it up.

How could such an innocuous thing as a list of items for sale became a look at the psychology of a nation? Or even be interesting at all? Perhaps because it reflects the views of a region, how the posters see themselves, their possessions, their world, what someone likes or dislikes, thinks is lovely or not, reflects how people live, what is important about their living spaces, or when they need money, even if only $1 dollar. The List is full of stories.