Portnoy's Stammtisch

The eBay diet

The eBay diet
Photo: DPA
In the latest installment of Portnoy’s Stammtisch, The Local’s column about life in Germany, Portnoy purges years of junk with a 30-day eBay program that works better than any diet.

In May it will be 13 years since I filled an oversized duffel bag with clothes, slid a handful of books in a briefcase and shuffled myself onto a Germany-bound plane. At the time, I figured I’d be heading to Europe’s most populous nation for three years to pad my journalism resume and do some Euro-style partying.

Instead, I ended up a married father of two and stumbled into a career as a financial journalist. Somewhere along the way I also bought a 130-square-meter Berlin pad that is now full of stuff. Though we use some of the stuff, much of it just lies around making me wonder why we bought it in the first place.

Three or four years ago I began casually sifting through all this detritus, sorting out what we actually used and what we would never use again – if we’d ever used it in the first place.

Anything we no longer required was stacked behind my desk with the thought, “I’ll put it on eBay tomorrow.” There’s an ISDN phone from when we switched back to analogue. A PlayStation 3 controller and game I once bought in an early sign of aging – I didn’t realize I only had a PS2. A smoke detector that was supposed to be installed in my kids’ day care centre. A pair of hiking boots that didn’t really fit.

I also started collecting what I determined to be eBay-worthy boxes for shipping all this unused stuff. This towering pile of cardboard took on such dimensions that some of struggling artist friends would jump at the opportunity to move in.

This dark and cold Berlin winter, my crowded life was making me claustrophobic. Since I couldn’t unload the kids or career, I figured the eBay pile would be a good place to start. I kicked off a 30-days of eBay program to get rid of everything. One item per day for 30 days.

Surprisingly, unlike a half-dozen diets I’ve tried, my eBay slimming program worked. And people actually wanted the stuff we didn’t. They even seemed glad to get it.

Halfway through the 30 days a friend who said he trusted eBay but not himself on eBay (I didn’t understand either), asked me to sell a concert ticket for him. So I threw it up there. At the end of the auction I got an odd email – the buyer wanted to come pick the ticket up. I said no worries, I’d cover the cost of a stamp. No, he said, he had to pick it up. That was part of his eBay experience.

I’ll give him the fictitious screen name ArtSVier. ArtSVier was about 50 with a Santa Claus figure that made him equally jolly. He told me he’d never heard of the band he was about to see, but that was also the point. He buys discount tickets on eBay for whatever. He sees really interesting things at a discount, he said in a thick Berliner accent, and isn’t at all picky. That was evident by the list of ’70s power bands he’d seen on the cheap that he then rattled off.

He said he does the same thing with food. Oddly, eBay is his social network.

After he left, I looked up a bunch of his past auctions. Sure enough, he buys discount gift certificates to any and every food chain – even the Ikea cafeteria. The dude certainly gets around, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t consider copying his lifestyle. Though I don’t really get off on cheap Fischbrötchen from Nordsee. Or Marillion.

In the end I cleared about €800, mostly because I also sold an old racing bike that hadn’t been out of my cellar in two years.

Now I’ve got some extra cash to buy stuff for the next 13 years.

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