“I kicked Barbie to the curb. Everything must go,” the online auction headline said. Intrigued, I read on, amused at the tale of Ken and Barbie’s “divorce.” Just because the description was so amusing, I almost bid on the grimy plastic dollhouse – of dingy furniture and frizzy-haired dolls. At a garage sale I wouldn’t have paid $10 for it all, so I was stunned to see it go for $50!
Soon after that my husband’s workplace closed down and, since I was I homeschooling our children, I didn’t have a job. With my husband’s unemployment benefits not even meeting our rent, I had to find a way to earn money and fast. My mind kept returning to that auction. “I could do that,” I said.
I began with the expensive Longaberger baskets I had bought when money wasn’t so scarce. The market for them was quite strong, but there were also lots of people running auctions. “Just Add Food,” one of my titles read, along with the essentials, of course: the type of basket, the year, the brand. Item descriptions, however, did not have a word limit, and it was there that I spun lovely scenarios for this basket: how it could benefit a marriage, and lead to a night of passionate sex.
The baskets were snatched up, netting us hundreds of dollars, followed by my extensive Barbie collection. (There was a reason I was trolling for Barbies before, but now I was a seller.) While my Barbies may not have been technically any different than the dozens described, I made sure my descriptions sold dreams of Christmases past or yet to come, of bright packages…well, you get the picture, and so did they.
Soon, I had to move on to our antique glassware, and since this was at the height of Martha Steward mania, it netted enough for us to pay a whole month’s rent, and give our children a bit of a Christmas. I was hooked.
Eventually we had nothing “of value” left to sell, and the job market was still dismal, so I began picking up items at garage sales and thrift stores to auction. I wasn’t sure what would sell, so I went with my gut, trusting that I would find the words to sell anything. I had already figured out that they weren’t really buying MY product, especially since there were dozens of identical items for sale online. They were buying my description. I just had to stay creative.
Getting bids was a high, and I loved challenging myself to sell things that I couldn’t imagine anyone would buy, just to see if I could do it. (We still had utility bills to cover.) I’d wake up and eagerly go to the computer to see how much my auctions were up to. I bought a cracked pink porcelain French poodle for a quarter. “No one’s going to buy that,” my son scoffed. The description pleaded that it needed a new home and I also offered to write up a certificate of adoption which I happily mailed along with the item. By midnight I had my first bid.
While rummaging through a box of garage-sale kitchen items, I found a plastic mold. “Why not?” I said, not really convinced anyone would want it. Soon my auction offering a sumptuous fried ravioli recipe along with the mold garnered a bid, and then another. The whole box had only cost me one dollar; I made five from just the mold.
Although it’s great fun to see if you can make an item irresistible, there are a couple of things you shouldn’t do. Don’t hype descriptions. While it is fine to say something is “similar” to another item, don’t say it’s a Louis Vuitton bag if it isn’t. First of all, your customers aren’t dumb, and secondly, the only reason people will bid on your items is because of your customer feedback: guard it carefully by being honest and pleasant.
Similarly, be creative with your descriptions, not with the truth about the condition of your item. One of the baskets I sold had a bit of dust on it in the picture, and I laughingly referred to it in the description. A prospective bidder asked just how much dust was on it — what doesn’t matter to you may well matter to someone else. Another customer asked me to carefully catalog and photograph all of the flaws on my bubble-cut Barbie, even down to the ear holes. I happily complied, glad to triple my initial investment. If there’s a mark inside of a book you are selling, say so. It’s not going to disappear in transit.
So clear your closets, get creative, and start selling. I didn’t get rich with online auctions, but it did help our family make it through a financially uncomfortable time. And I can’t help but still feel pleased that I found a home for that sad French poodle. Truth be told, I kind of wanted to keep him for myself.
Drema Drudge is a recent MFA graduate. She has been published in The Louisville Review, Chicken Soup for the Soul, ATG, Mother Earth News, Penumbra, Glo Magazine, The Municipal, and other publications. Read more about her at https://dremadrudge.com.