Sunday, September 7, 2014

Moneyless Yard Sale

An Experiment in Gift Economy and Reciprocity

By Lorraine Leslie  

September 6, 2014

Who doesn’t love getting free stuff?  Everybody loves getting free stuff.  I love getting free stuff, but what I love better is giving free stuff away to people.  I have been organizing tag sales, yard sales and setting up tables at flea markets ever since I was a teenager.  I love interacting with the public this way.  It’s a fun and satisfying human interaction that you can’t duplicate in a store or online.  There is a special connection you have with people. 

In recent years when I have yard sales, I always put out several boxes of things that I give away for free as gifts.  They are usually items that are little worn, well used or kind of funky or out of date, but are still useful.  I don’t want to throw them away or donate them and I feel weird putting a price on them, so I gift them to people instead.  The free items are always a big hit.  These are my gifts to total strangers and people honestly seem to appreciate them.  People open up to you when you give them something for free.  They feel a sense of gratitude.

And also at the end of every yard, garage or tag sale I have, what hasn’t sold by the end, I will offer it to people for free.  The surprise on their faces when you gift it to them is priceless.  The joy for me is in the giving.  It is payment enough.  Money is a form of currency or energy.  When you give stuff away for free a different kind of energy is exchanged, it’s an opening of oneself.  People open up to you with a smile, they tell you stories and maybe even share a laugh with you.  I feel this amazing energy pass between me and the person I am gifting to.  It’s lovely.  When I give freely the universe responds in kind.  People then want to give back in any small way they can.

Years ago before money, people bartered services in exchange for the products and services of others.  Now almost everything we need to survive in our society is exchanged with a currency we call money.  Basically money is worthless paper that we put a value on because we are told that it is worth something by the people that print it and control the world that we live in.  We work hours every day to acquire this paper so we can buy food to eat, clothes to wear and to pay our monthly rent or mortgage so we don’t have to sleep out on the streets. 

When we take money out of the equation we liberate ourselves and something really special happens when you gift or barter an item.  Now normally, when I have free items to give away at my sales, I give them away freely and I ask for nothing in exchange.  I am usually rewarded with a “thank you” and a smile and a feeling that the person walking away with the freely given item is genuinely grateful to be receiving it.  That gives me great joy and pleasure, but today it was different.

Today I participated in a “moneyless yard sale” put on by Jerry Wellman of Axle Contemporary Gallery at the CCA on Old Pecos Trail in Santa Fe, NM.  I set up a table, a blanket and had several boxes placed on the ground with items, not for sale, but to be offered as “free” or moneyless.  The idea of the yard sale was that no money could be exchanged.  So when no money can be exchanged for the items for sale, how are people to “pay” for them?  What can a person do to acquire these things?

A person has to get creative. They have to work out a form of exchange or trade that both parties can agree upon.  Not many people today have a special skill, service or product that they can exchange.  I was willing to except anything anyone offered in the way of exchange.  I turned no one down or refused any offers as long as there was an exchange of energy between me and the other person.  I remained open to anything and I received in abundance.  I felt my heart open to the people who approached the “free” items I had for trade. 

The handmade signs taped to my table said “Free” and indicated that no money was to be accepted.  It was by trade or exchange only.  Like I said before, the key to my successful and lucrative day was to remain open to all offers and to not have any attachment to the items offered or to place any monetary value on them.  In my mind, everything on that table was a gift to whoever chose to walk up to my table and wanted something.  It was like Christmas in September and I was Ms. Santa Claus.

Here are the trades that I took in exchange for my items:

I received quite a few hugs which were nice.  One of the first people I traded with, a lively woman danced a shuffle ball change for me.  Another lady sang with her dog.  Many people sang me songs.  One guy even serenaded me with the Elvis Presley song “Love Me Tender.” I was given a small piece of homemade art.  Another person traded a sun wind chime that they had recently acquired from a trade with another person. 

I received many handshakes.  One man danced to the Tom Jones’s song, “It’s Not Unusual.” I was gifted a wink and a smile by one happy women.  I received many smiles, mostly from young children.  A sweet lady who lost her mother several years ago and carries a prayer with her to remember her mother by, read me that beautiful prayer and gave me a hug, we then cried.  I exchanged a lot of high five’s and fist bumps with people; these were mostly from teenage boys.  One gal whistled “I’ll Fly Away,” and then came back later to play a folk song on her mandolin for me.  

I accepted a beautiful “patty pan squash” for trade from a couple who grew it in their garden; it was wrapped lovingly in a wax paper bag.  I received scented bath salts, a pair of dangling earrings and a huge coffee mug that fits comfortably in my hand for trade.  One lady I traded with gave me a small sealed mystery gift envelope filled with a piece from a crystal chandelier and handmade love inspired stickers.  I was told many jokes. An older lady recited me several clever fortune cookie fortunes.  I was invited to an art show by a gal who I took some maps from me and was inspired to make art from the maps.  I was told a few funny stories.

A man made me a peace crane for trade, he told me he always carries origami paper with him everywhere he goes.  One gal hooped with her brightly colored rainbow hula hoop for me, she was quite entertaining.  I received a 2 minute Spanish lesson from a guy from Peru and was given a handmade poetry chapbook by a woman dressed from head to toe in purple.  The paper she used to create her chapbook was purple as well.  I also gave away many items for free, especially to children and just because I wanted to.

The energy I received from people was priceless.  Everyone walked away from my table happily satisfied with their trades and exchanges.   I too felt so richly rewarded.  When you give freely, you receive in abundance.  I felt joyful and my soul felt well fed.  My heart was wide open.  Every time I give freely I feel this way.  Exchange using money as currency is never as sweet or satisfying.   The gentleman at the table next to me was so excited and inspired by my energy that he gave me a gift of this groovy meditation seat.  I asked him what he would like in return.  He said nothing.  I felt I had to reciprocate in some way so I randomly played him a tune on the jaw harp I keep in my knapsack.  I have had it since I was a kid and have become quite accomplished on the thing.  He laughed and took a photo of me playing it.  He also got a real kick out of the crazy painted and patched jeans I was wearing and asked if he could take a photo of them as well.

While walking to the car on my way home I found a dollar bill on the ground.  It had fallen in front of me as if from the sky.  I asked the person who dropped it if he wanted it back.  He said, “No, it’s a gift.”  It was one of the 1500 dollar bills Axle Contemporary was freely giving away around town as part of their Dollar Distribution experiment in gift economics.

More information below from Axle Contemporary:

Dollar Distribution

Dollar Distribution is a financial intervention by Matthew Chase-Daniel.  Crowd sourced fundraising has yielded 1,500 individual dollar bills which will be left on the streets of Santa Fe from August 20 – September 15.  The bills will be distributed at random throughout the city, one at a time left on street corners and sidewalks, on floors of local businesses, in shirt pockets at clothing stores, in front yards and countless locations. 

Photos of bills in the in locations can be seen on the Twitter feed:  
and on Facebook:
and their website:

Some photos from the "Moneyless Yard Sale"

The stuff I was trading/bartering.  No money was exchanged.
My List of Trades
This gal played a song on her mandolin for me in exchange for
items I was trading.  She played for the woman next to me first, and after
that it was my turn to be serenaded with song.
Axle Contemporary's gallery van.  It was around here that I found on the ground,
one of the free dollar bills that was part of their month
long dollar distribution.
Below is a link to Daniel Suelo's blog.  He is a dude that I have been following for a few years who has lived without using money since 2001.  He's amazing and a real inspiration.  If Daniel found a dollar bill on the ground he would probably give it away, he is that hardcore about not using money.