Minimalist memoir

Dec 25, 2002 at 12:00 am
John D. Freyer has found a fresh answer to the existential question, "What am I going to do with all this crap?" The filmmaker and graphic designer was in graduate school in Iowa two years ago when he had an epiphany: The piles of junk he'd collected from thrift-store shopping and compulsive collecting were determining his future. Eager to whittle down his possessions and move to New York, he proceeded to sell literally everything in his apartment — from his furniture to his mix tapes to the contents of his kitchen cabinets — on EBay. Total revenue: about $6,000. Peace of mind and insight into the nature of consumerism: priceless.

Freyer documents his quest to imagine no possessions in All My Life for Sale, which includes pictures of each item, a description of its history, its ultimate sale price, and its current fate. (Many updates come from the author's in-person visits with his customers; strangely, many buyers were "out of town" when he swung by their cities.) The market value of Freyer's stuff is often predictable but sometimes perplexing: It's no shock that the snazzy T-shirt on Page 31 that advertises a Wyoming radio station drew 13 bidders, but why would anyone spend $20.50 for Freyer's half-eaten box of taco shells?

Yet, All My Life for Sale is more than just one man's excuse to clean his apartment. It's also a surprisingly effective exercise in consumer profiling — the notion, embraced most fervently by online retailers, that tracking an individual's consumption of goods and services can create an accurate picture of his or her personality. We learn a lot about John D. Freyer through the descriptions of his worldly goods. Some is obvious: that he likes to bowl, enjoys disco, and thinks Utica, N.Y., of all places, is some kind of hipster mecca. But we also gradually learn that he's naive, open to new experiences, flees when things get tough, and harbors some career conflicts (he designs books, yet hates to read). Most of all, we learn that Freyer is a guy blessed with tons of friends: Virtually every page contains some story of a connection made or strengthened by the acquisition or sale of one of his possessions, and a couple of pals help out by bidding on the least-loved items in his auction. All My Life for Sale tells an old story — material goods as the glue that bonds a society — but this time, the telling renders the tale sunny, not sinister.

Heather Joslyn writes for Baltimore City Paper, where this feature first appeared. Send comments to [email protected].