06/25/2014 12:22 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Yard Sale


Los Angeles, CA

It's a beautiful day in Los Angeles. The sun is shining its ubiquitous CareBear stare. I've been up since 6AM pricing a room full of superfluous objects which have been crowding my shelves for years. Decorative pillows, vases with ornamental ferns, an iron I believe to be functional, wine glasses with etched-on vineyard names from locations I'd visited, and a collection of Christmas decorations carefully curated from years of idolization.

Heart-shaped silicon cake pan. $5? Old laundry basket. $1? Tree stump cutting board for plating cheese. $5? No focus groups, corporate level data, or research studies to rely on; I am employing this strange and unused internal network to make decisions: my gut.

I have been working in corporate digital marketing for over 10 years rising up through the ranks to lead digital in my last full-time position. I've worked for large brands from HBO, Lionsgate, Kia, and Smashbox Cosmetics. As I ascended in the ivory tower, I floated higher in salary and job title but farther from the reason for my existence as a marketer: the consumer.

I launched into the game as an anthropologist, an individual obsessed with human behavior. I was intrigued by the emotional responses that caused human beings to connect to each other and how brands served their purposes. I wanted to be a part of making a difference and hell, getting paid for it.

As I'm still setting up my wares, a man saunters up the sidewalk asking about my vinyl and book collection. Sale number one includes Boardwalk Empire DVD's unopened in their shiny shrink-wrap and a Game of Thrones anthology. As I hand the man the merchandise and count his change, I feel a rush of exhilaration. Here I was exchanging a tangible good for physical cash. No media agency giving me consumer target profiles for our ideal customers or retail data showing real-time consumer purchase data; instead, a hand-to-hand transaction and money in my pocket.

This day, I learned more about human behavior than in my many years of marketing experience. I enjoyed learning how the Latino community loves to negotiate even when an item is priced at a mere $2. I met many neighbors I had never even seen before.

The woman who lived two doors down told me in her 10 years living there, she had never seen anyone have a yard sale. My neighbor across the street told me about her tribulations trying to transfer from an unfulfilled finance career to one in social work. I cheered her on and shared my own challenges in finding career happiness. She introduced me to her husband after buying over $50 of my extraneous objects and he offered to help me move out at the end of the month.

I had put it all out there on the curb but what I really had done was put myself out there. I had connected to my neighbors and they to me. It's what we used to do across America and still do in many small towns outside of our urban metropolises. However, as we have transformed from connected societies to those who rely on the information supplied from digital screens, the fabric that tied us together is diminishing.

I made $170 cash from my yard sale. It was backbreaking work lugging a room crowded to the brim of objects to the curb down a flight of uneven stairs. Despite the rush of people in the beginning of sale, the four hours I sat in a sun-chair awaiting customers were mostly uneventful. I passed the hours with conversations with friends who stopped by and a bottle of my favorite Sancerre. I got a sun tan. I waited.

Still, the day filled me with accomplishment I had not felt in many years, not with completed iPad applications, website re-builds, social media contests, or consumer research reports. The satisfaction of exchanging a physical good for cash and looking someone in the eye while doing it was palpable.


Brooklyn, NY

One month later, while visiting a friend in Brooklyn, the yard sale found me. This time it was New York City-wrapped as a stoop sale. My friend's neighbors downstairs were moving to San Francisco and had their own redundancies to unload. I sat on the stoop watching them carry each item outside, their 4-year-old son claiming every new object as a play toy. I learned more about that couple in 30 minutes than my friend had learned in the years she had lived above them.

Sequoia trees are some of the tallest trees on the planet but yet don't have taproots, which hold trees up during storms. How do they sustain themselves? They wrap their roots around each other and hold each other up. Sequoias cannot survive alone. Humans are social animals and need community to flourish just like the grand sequoia trees. Yet, we are trending towards isolation pouring hours into Facebook and our smartphones rather than noticing the world around us.

As a marketer paid to unravel the mysteries of why brands supply a consumer need, it's even more critical that I connect to my fellow man. All the research reports in the world can't pass on the knowledge inherent in simple conversation.

It's time we got out there and made a little yard sale magic. It's your community after all.