HOW IT BEGAN
This wasn’t my first rodeo in the couch conundrum. It seems acquiring goods is much easier than getting rid of them. And although I rarely bother with purchasing large pieces of furniture, both of the times that I dealt with this matter in the past few years, began as a reaction to being humiliated.
Yep. That’s right. I had been shamed into obtaining furniture.
In 2020, when I moved to Miami Beach I had clothes, my yogaboard (a balance board that looks like a wooden surfboard), my yoga mat, some pillows, a few books, and some cooking gear. I felt insanely wealthy having so much STUFF. Only a few years prior I had been traveling the world literally owning only what was in my suitcase, and a backpack.
I loved life on the road. It was simple. Freeing. Anything I needed, I bartered, traded, or purchased. There were no extras. No subscription services to maintain. No items in storage. Just me and my necessities.
I used to joke that I had a dress photographed around the world. That particular piece of clothing had been a hand-me-down gift from a friend who had a teenage daughter about my size! My few possessions had function, stories, and beauty. What more could I ask for?
But fast forward to coming back to the States, and suddenly there was this PUSH to have things. Yet my free spirited self pushed back hard at a consumption driven society, and only furnished my first beautiful little studio with the absolute necessities. After all, we had wonderful common areas I could use (and did use) to throw parties, and no one minded intimate gatherings in my home which often ended with floor picnics. “Bring a bowl and a spoon” I would text. “I’ve cooked Thai spicy curry for all of us.”
Even my second place in the States didn’t require much decoration as it came furnished. Yet I never felt quite at home there - especially when stuck inside during most of quarantine. Having a TV, couch, coffee table, desk, chair, end table, and more incited my claustrophobia. Escaping the clutter, I spent hours of the pandemic walking deserted roads and stretches of beachfront as the walls, and stuff, threatened to suffocate me.
But then came Florida. A fresh start. My first night I happily laid out my yoga mat, opened my balcony window, covered myself in a sheet, and laid my head on my one pillow. I loved the open space of my new unit, even appreciated the echo of it’s emptiness. As a singer I adored the acoustics, as a dancer I relished in the space to twirl.
But then, I made a friend. A neighbor several floors up, who finally came downstairs to visit. She was appalled to find me blissfully eating breakfast on my floor, admiring my view of the bay which I could see from my balcony.
“Is this all you have?” she cried out in bewilderment, looking around at the spartan space. “You only bought a mattress and some bar stools? How can you live like this?”
I shrugged my shoulders. Miami Beach may have been open but getting work was challenging. I had lined up a few event gigs but wouldn’t get paid until after the completion. So buying furniture wasn’t high on the priority list. Plus, I explained, I liked the open space and was happy like this.
She looked at me like I was sprouting two heads. “So you don’t have the money?” I was immediately triggered, flashing back to my childhood when money was something my parents agonized about privately. I had sworn to myself I would never worry about this again. I shook my head to clear it.
“No I don’t” I said firmly, “and I’m okay with that…” She made a funny sound and we decided to go for a walk. Later that night I got a message from her saying her mom was buying me some furniture as a gift. That they wanted to help me. And while I appreciated the offer, I hesitated to say yes. Did I really need or want this?
Despite me saying no a few times, they pushed so hard I eventually relented. And along with the couch came a coffee table, a picture for the wall, and a half a dozen large plants with expensive ceramic bases. I was grateful for the kindness, truly thankful. But I also felt like I had been shamed into receiving a gift I hadn’t wanted or needed.
And that become abundantly evident when it came time to leave Florida, as I ran into the problem of getting rid of my possessions.
Craigslist having become the sketch version of personal ads, in recent years apps like OfferUp or social media Facebook Marketplace have stepped in to help everyone buy, sell, or trade their unwanted goods. And although urban legends galore talk about the deals and money made, I found both to be cumbersome and in some cases even worse than other avenues.
A test listing on Facebook Marketplace, FLOODED my Inbox with bots, scammers, and people trying to find out where I lived. OfferUp is supposed to be the “safer” version but you are practically bullied into giving people good ratings (whether they deserve it or not) so that they will give you good ratings.
I finally found someone on OfferUp willing to come buy some stuff. We made a plan, I helped him carry his purchases down to his car while we chatted innocuously and then… “Don’t you want me to come back up?”
“I’m sorry what?” I stuttered thinking I had misheard or that we had left something accidentally upstairs. He grabbed me around the waist. “You know, so we can have some fun before you go?” I struggled trying to push him off me. The security guard having already walked away, I was now alone with a man a foot taller than me.
“Get off me,” I said practically racing for the back door to my building. “Come on,” he leered as I started frantically hamming the elevator close button. He continued to text me as I went upstairs. I barred the door to my flat wondering wtf had given him the idea that I CAME with the goods sold.
Although most of the online sources cite scammed purchases as the buyer beware, conversations with other women led me to believe that I am not the only one dealing with this lechery issue. Stories of having to push someone out the door, people refusing to pay the asking price unless they got “extras”, and just plain old creepy people trying to take advantage of the deal, abound. And lest you blame the bad behavior on men, guys also related stories of unwanted attention by women who started stalking them or sending suggestive texts after purchase. Inappropriate acts are abominable regardless of which gender initiates them.
Initial Cost of the Couch: My feelings of worthiness
Final Cost of the Couch: My feelings of safety during my last nights in Miami Beach
HOW IT’S GOING
But we still haven’t dealt with the problem of THIS couch. The one I was on the phone with a removal company trying to negotiate a price.
After the THIRD time being told I didn’t understand the logistics of getting a couch out the door (it’s not rocket science), and the complexities of moving furniture (sure buddy, like I’ve never done this before), I finally (politely all things considered) hung up. I rested my head in my hands and sighed. Perhaps I would just take a hammer to the damn nuisance, chop it into pieces, and put it in the dumpster?
Truthfully though, when I arrived in Phoenix I didn’t even want a couch. Couldn’t have cared less about one. I bought a mattress (no bed frame), a Goodwill mirror that I sanded down and painted white, and some used pots and pans. But when the man I was casually dating came over, he sarcastically remarked “Geez, I love what you’ve done with the place,” and rolled his eyes.
For the next ten minutes he went on and one about my lack of decorating skills, how there was “nowhere” to sit (didn’t matter that we spent most of our time together down at the pool or in bed or out on the town). I felt myself shrinking smaller and smaller.
How did I never seem to measure up according to some of the people I trusted to enter my life? Was I constantly going to be seen as “lacking” because certain things didn’t rate as important to me? Was owning a couch some great measure of being a grownup?
So I got a couch. I took one more chance on OfferUp gambling on the fact that a new area might have less sketch people. I arranged for my guy’s brother to help me with his truck (my guy was out of town) offering to pay him with lunch and gas (which turned out to cost more than the price of the couch), and got a couch. Ironically, it’s lasted longer than the guy who shamed me into buying it.
So here I was trying to get rid of the unwanted item, and I began to wonder how much was this all REALLY costing me?
What if I calculated the amount of time I had spent feeling inadequate, the price of the couch itself, the cost of getting the couch to my place, and now the lost time I had already spent trying to get rid of it. I mean time has a value too, doesn’t it?
THE VALUE OF TIME
We talk about time as a commodity:
We spend time, waste time, and budget time. We use time, and gain time. We almost always don’t have enough time. We work in order to have free time. We allocate time for things, and we buy time. We talk about treasuring time, the gift of time, and time (especially with loved ones) being priceless.
In short, we treat time as money - pun intended. But we often don’t calculate the VALUE of our time.
In the past year, I’ve gotten smarter about HOW I spend my time. And a simple equation helped me realize how much my time was worth.
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics the “Median weekly earnings of the nation's 120.2 million full-time wage and salary workers were $1,070 in the third quarter of 2022”. (*1) Accounting for a 37.5 hour work week (assuming a 40 hour work week with a half hour unpaid lunch break each day), the average person’s hourly rate is:
And that’s before taxes. If we assume at least 25% of that is subtracted for taxes and such (about the average for a single taxpayer) then we have an hourly rate of:
Which means that every hour of your time is worth at least this much. So how many hours do you have to work to buy the junk you claim you need?
Assuming this rate, this damn couch has already cost me:
$60 to purchase
$80 to pick up
Which equals 6.5 almost 7 “working hours” of my time - for a couch I didn’t even want in the first place.
That’s a full day of work for most people. Can you imagine if I had bought the couch new? (*2)
And that’s not including the cost of mental anguish of feeling shamed into buying it, the time spent trying to find it, the time going to pick it up and negotiating about the pickup, and the time trying to get rid of the freakin thing.
I think not.
POINTS TO PONDER
Our stuff is costing us greatly. Medically, it is making us physically sick. And although the cliche says “don’t sweat the small stuff”, it doesn’t take a large item like a couch to hurt us. People have developed “text claw” from constantly holding and scrolling their phones while in lines, out at dinner, or even walking around their neighborhoods. (*3)
And with the compulsive need to have the latest and greatest, of anything and everything, we are accumulating purchases at a rate faster than any other time in history. Yep, cue another cliche here because “the small stuff adds up”. Hoarding disorder is a legitimate mental health issue. But those suffering from it, also have physical ailments such as allergies caused by air quality issues, pest infestations, and illness caused by unsanitary conditions. (*4)
“But I’m not a hoarder,” you’re thinking.
Are you so sure?
Take a walk through your neighborhood and peep into garages. I’m willing to bet that many are overflowing with so much junk that they can’t fit cars inside. According to 2018 statistics, there were 23 MILLION (yep not a typo) storage units in the United States - about one for every 14 people.(*5) And that was FIVE years ago. With an average price of $100 per unit, people are paying $1200 per year for junk they never even see or use.
Let’s not forget that all our possessions are costing more than what we think. Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus - the self named “The Minimalists” - point out that our possessions have hidden costs we rarely think about (*6): storing, cleaning, charging, protecting, fixing, refueling, maintaining, etc, all come at a cost to our time and monetary resources.
And we haven’t yet discussed the cost to our natural resources to create the item, or the cost to the planet to eventually - as all things must go - dispose of it.
When looked at it this way, the expense of this one couch is hardly worth the agony I’ve been going thru. And it’s a problem that won’t easily go away. It definitely doesn’t fit in my car so it’s not coming to my next location. And I’m hardly going to pay the fee to rent a vehicle to move a couch I didn’t want to begin with, to a new location nearly 3,000 miles away.
There is a happy ending to this story. At least I hope so. At the time of this posting I found ONE local charity that would come pick up the couch this week. However they would not give me a window smaller than “sometime between 8am-5pm", nor would they help me get it out my place. So this couch is costing my time (loss of a day of work) and muscle power. Fortunately all 5’3” of me is pretty tough and resourceful because if all doesn't go smoothly I may have to move a couch out of my flat, by myself, with only a half hours advance notice.
(Update: The couch was picked up this morning, and my lovely neighbor Greg was kind enough to help me with the lifting! People can be truly amazing!)
About five minutes ago, as I was writing this piece, I was royally cursing this damn fucking couch when I realized what a blessing this experience really is. I’ve learned two priceless lessons:
Happily, I move in less than a week. I can’t wait to find my next home, and decorate it in a manner that fits who I am. I’m thinking a few cozy floor pillows are just my style.
*2 Incidentally I looked up the online the average cost of couches in the United States and prices range from $300 to the THOUSANDS. I can’t imagine working weeks anymore for a place to sit my ass down. The floor is fine.
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Tink, world traveler, positivity muse, and adult entertainer, has also freelance written for a number of companies as their ghostwriter. Now talking directly to YOU on this platform, she is also writing two books at her community's request.