Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Culling, selling, shipping, rebuying

We're travelling to the States with: the clothes we stand in. Two suitcases each, mostly containing clothes. The PC, keyboard, and mouse on my back in its backpack. Our vital documents.

Shipping separately are: the most valued books. The 400-odd CDs which survived the cut. The rest of the paperwork. And anything else we can't bear to part with. (I'm lobbying hard for my kitchen knives, but there's a question-mark still over whether they're allowed even in air freight.)

And that's all.

Everything else we own either has gone or is going. Some has been sold; a lot has gone to charity; some things will find new homes with friends or family; and an awful lot has gone, or is going, to the tip.

It has been a very liberating experience. I'm fond of Sturgeon's Law: "90% of everything is crud". Well, it seems to apply to possessions too: a large proportion of what we own is unnecessary. We've been through cycles of culling, and haven't really missed anything that's gone. If you haven't used it in a year, you probably don't need it. It's also left us both feeling rather ambivalent about acquiring new possessions in the US: how much stuff, really, do we need?

(I still lust enormously after an iPod Mini, though.)

We've sold books and CDs on Amazon Marketplace, an experience which has been almost entirely positive: it cost some time in packaging and shipping, but the proceeds pretty much paid for the visa.

I think Marketplace is an absolute stroke of genius on Amazon's part: used bookselling with all the convenience of their existing catalogue and payment-processing infrastructure, but none of the bother of carrying inventory or shipping product. Get the seller to do it and take a slice of the transaction.

CDs in particular are ideal for Marketplace sellers: they're durable; small and light; and of relatively high value for their weight. Amazon offer fixed postage allowances for books and CDs, which can be either good or bad for book sellers: on light books you can turn a profit on the postage allowance alone, which is why you often see used Penguins selling at 1p each; on heavy books you risk losing your profit in postage. CDs are more consistent in weight, and Amazon's postage allowance is generous; buy cheap packaging in bulk and ship second-class but immediately and you can keep your buyers happy and make good profit.

Shipping is tricky: Royal Mail no longer do cheap surface mail on packages of any significant size, and the courier services (Parcelforce and the like) tend to be pricy on heavy boxes. Better to use a specialist shipper, and it turns out that for reasonably small quantities air freight is both faster and cheaper than sea. We're using Excess Baggage, who have yet to prove themselves; a bit of confusion over quantities and dates, but they should be dropping off empty boxes on Friday and picking up full boxes next Tuesday.

And finally, there's a category of things which simply cost more to ship than they're worth: the PC's 19" monitor is beautiful, but enormously bulky and heavy and cost under £200 new. Similarly, I've been very happy with the laser printer — an office-grade Samsung — but it's big and heavy and obsolete and consumer lasers cost £50 now. These we're disposing of here and rebuying new equivalents when we arrive.