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The True Cost of Having Nice Things

It has never been in my nature to be a hoarder. I feel good when I let go of something and give it away, sell it, or just throw it in the bin. My natural tendency towards minimalism is a physical expression of this, but the last two moves we made in Sydney were forced upon me, and this caused a bit of a shift.

The first reluctant move was Mel wanting to leave a place she thought we'd outgrown. The second was our beautiful warehouse being knocked down and turned into apartments. In both instances, like some kind of emotional overeater filling up their sad-hole with ice cream, I felt the need to deck out our new home with appropriate furniture and accessories.

Both our warehouse and the apartment that replaced it were larger than any other house we'd ever lived in, so there was lots of space to fill. I justified the time and energy and expense with my photography. I could use these beautiful antiques as props in my photos, and when I wasn't shooting, they would make our new abode a little more homely.

'Cause it's totally the couch that makes this image… Photo © Lee Nutter.

This is all well and good until you come to let these things go. I don't know why, but I honestly thought moving overseas would be easier than moving down the road. We could just sell up, and within a few weeks we'd have the clothes on our back and a few belongings in a backpack, and we'd be set, right? I couldn't have been more wrong.

The selling process was slow and labourious, and exposed us to people I'd rather never have known. There was the occasional pleasant surprise, where something sold quickly for a reasonable price to someone who seemed legitimately appreciative, but just a few days before we had to give back the keys to our apartment we still had the vast majority of the larger pieces of furniture we'd accumulated over the years.

The biggest surprise was our chesterfield lounge. Without fail every single person who came to our house remarked on its beauty, but so far it hadn't had any serious interest. We still also had antique lamps, hardwood bookshelves, solid wood coffee tables and desks, beautiful old chairs, and a whole heap of smaller items like vintage chests, magazine racks, and mannequins.

Needless to say, we were getting desperate. We called around and found an antique dealer to come and pick up the higher quality items. We got paid, but only a mere fraction of the going rate on the second hand market. Overall we were at least a couple of thousand dollars shy of our conservative estimates, mostly because of the stuff that just hadn't sold yet. And there was more disappointment to come.

What remained was admittedly the less valuable stuff, but it was still in good condition, and so we resigned ourselves to giving it away. We called the local charity shop. They were interested and arranged a day to send a truck and a couple of guys over to pick everything up. But there was one problem, we were on the top floor of our building, and upon hearing this they added a little disclaimer: pickups were at the discretion of the drivers.

The pickup day came around, and I was ready and waiting. I heard the truck pull up, and out creaked a gaunt looking guy of about 65. My heart sank. I waited at the door, but after a few minutes he still wasn't there. I leaned over the balcony and saw him sitting on the fence having a cigarette. This did not bode well. Eventually I heard him panting and wheezing his way up the stairwell. I greeted him at the door. Our hardwood furniture was not going anywhere.

He looked over everything, using the slightest scratch as reason for it being unsuitable for sale. Despite my having seen far lesser furniture in much worse condition for sale in the very same store he belonged to, I didn't say a word. There was no point. In the end he called his equally incapable workmate upstairs to take one single item: an Ikea bookshelf worth about $50 brand new. It was the least valuable piece there, but also the lightest...

After they left I did some research. There are companies that deal with this kind of situation, but of course you have to pay. I got a few quotes but ended up going with a crew that sounded decent. They claimed to recycle or upcycle the furniture, quoted me $400, and could be there in a few hours. At this point I just wanted a solution to my problem, even if I did have to pay for it, so I agreed.

A few hours later and they arrived in a beat up old truck. They quoted me $850 and when I objected they told me that outside of New York City, Sydney tips are the most expensive in the world. I continued to object. $850 was more than double what I was quoted on the phone, and they obviously weren't recycling or upcycling anything. In the end I paid $750, and within ten minutes what was left of our apartment had been thrown off the balcony and into the back of a truck.

Everything from purely functional items like draws and filing cabinets to beautiful old hardwood desks that once belonged to our now dead neighbour, all smashed to smithereens and on their way to the tip. The only thing they "upcycled" was our beautiful coffee table. It now belongs to the guy that threw everything else off the balcony.

I know that a lot the perceived value in our furniture was sentiment, but all of that furniture would have sold eventually. The coffee table was especially significant, and there's nothing left of all those nights and all those people who sat around it except a few vague memories and a huge hole in our pocket. Having nice things is more expensive than you think.


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