Writing lessons from an auction

Reading time: About 4 minutes

When we started to downsize, I had no idea I’d get a series of writing lessons from the exercise….

My husband and I are far from being hoarders.

Friends and visitors often comment on how neat and tidy our house looks.

What they don’t see is all the doodads, gewgaws and plain old junk lurking in our drawers, closets and garage. And in my office, I’m ashamed to admit.

We’ve lived in the same place for 14 years now, and it knocks me out to see how many things have just crawled their way into our house when we weren’t looking.

We’ve discovered boxes of CDs, mountains of old sports equipment, two serviceable but utterly unused guitars, an unbelievable number of microphone stands (our son started his adult life as a musician) and way too many books.

As well, we have our late daughter’s entire apartment — she died of a brain tumour in 2022 — and much china, crystal and silver plate from my husband’s late mother’s estate that we’ve had stacked in our crawl space for years.

I’ve spent much of the last six months giving away stuff — to friends and neighbours, to refugees, to the Facebook Buy Nothing group in my neighbourhood. But this method of divesting ourselves has been slow and painful.

We have to arrange for pickup or drop-off. People don’t show up when they say they will. Getting rid of one thing at a time is okay when you have one or two things. But when you have dozens of things, it’s not nearly fast enough.

By the end of February, I was starting to get frustrated with the whole endeavour. That’s when a good friend talked to us about the idea of doing an auction.

There’s even a company that manages such auctions. If you’re willing to do a good chunk of the work yourself, they’ll take just 30% of the profit (a minimum of $300).

Your responsibility is to organize all the stuff you want to get rid of into “lots” and then photograph it and upload it to their website. You don’t have to price anything, because every lot — no matter how big or fancy — starts at $1. They even sell cars via this site and the starting price is still just $1.

You wouldn’t think you could make any money this way — and indeed that’s not our aim. We just want to stop the stuff from going to landfill. But our friend made several thousand dollars with their sale.

The auction runs for five, seven or 10 days (you choose) and the company collects the money and pays it back to you minus their cut. Then — and this is the part that sold me on the deal — you give the company a four-hour window on a particular day, and they make an appointment with every buyer to pick up their items, at that time, on that day, no exceptions.

Although the whole exercise is turning out to be an unbelievable amount of work, I think it’s effective for five reasons. And I also believe there are lessons for writers in these reasons:

1-Organizing gives you MORE energy

Organizing takes energy but it also gives you energy. My husband and I have gone through every drawer, closet and corner of our house, cleaning and purging. Our house feels cleaner and tidier now, and I suspect it might just float up into the stratosphere once we hold the auction at the end of May and get rid of all the boxes currently sitting on the spare beds (see photo) and in closets.

Writing lessons: Don’t postpone starting on your project, even if it means you’re only going to re-read the assignment or do a minimal bit of research. Getting started is always the hardest part of any job, and the sooner you do it, the more energy you’ll have for it.

2-The high volume of decisions helps you

 We all get better at doing things with practice, and this principle applies to making decisions as well. The more you make, the faster you get at it. Often, we imagine decisions to have irrevocable consequences, and in the case of our auction, this may very well be true. Once we get rid of something, we won’t be able to get it back. But now that we’re facing decision after decision about what to let go of, it becomes easier to say, “We don’t really need this.” Also, it helps to know that it will go to someone who really wants it.

Writing lessons: Most of the decisions you need to make won’t be irrevocable at all. You just have to hit the “delete” key and then start writing again. Why not go ahead and decide now? Do you want this word or that word? Pick one and try it out. Do you really need to do more research? Decide not and start writing. You can always change your mind later.

3-You’re forced to let go of perfectionism

I have wildly raging perfectionist tendencies that I work hard to tamp down. In this, the volume of work required for the auction has been my friend. Even entering the items into the website is so time-consuming that I have to moderate my standards. I need about an hour to enter 10 lots (it’s the uploading of the photos that’s so slow). There’s no way in the world I can be perfect with it. I just don’t have the time.

Writing lessons: I know there’s often a sense of disappointment that comes with the writing we finish. It seemed so much better in our heads before we finished it. We had such high hopes and expectations. But understand that this piece of writing that taunts you with its imperfection is not the last piece of writing you’re going to do. You will have other chances to write again, and writing is a skill that grows with time, not overnight. You don’t go to the gym and expect to have muscles the next day. Writing is like that, too.

4-Momentum makes you WANT to go further

My husband is more sentimental than I am and is naturally inclined to want to hang onto more stuff. (It’s one of the things about him I love the most and that drives me the craziest.) But, for both of us, the success in identifying, cleaning, photographing and loading the first 25 lots gave us the impetus to do the next 25. And the 25 after that. We are neck deep in this project now and are deeply committed to seeing it through to its end.

Writing lessons: Don’t leave your work until the day before it’s due. Start early on all writing projects, and you will build a sense of momentum and even excitement that will help sustain you during the hard work.

5-A deadline helps enormously

When we set our target auction date for the end of May, I naively thought that we might finish earlier than we’d planned. Ha! It’s going to be a bit of a push for us to finish all the work on time. But that’s the advantage of a deadline. We have no choice. We’ll get it done.

Writing lessons: If you don’t have a deadline, understand that’s a detriment, not an advantage. There is something wonderfully non-negotiable about a deadline. If you’re writing a book and don’t have an advance deal with a publisher, then set your own deadline for it and figure out some sort of penalty you can charge yourself (perhaps a donation to a political party you don’t support?) that will hold you to it. Deadlines are a gift, not a problem.


If you want to write, make sure you have a system in place that supports you. Start early, work quickly and strive to meet a deadline.


My video podcast last week addressed separating personal from professional writing. Go here to see the video or read the transcript, and you can also subscribe to my YouTube channel.


Need some help developing a better writing routine? Learn more about my Get It Done program. There is turn-over each month, and priority will go to those who have applied first. You can go directly to the application form and you’ll hear back from me within 24 hours.


What writing lessons have helped you the most over time? We can all learn from each other, so please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section below. If you comment on today’s post (or any others) by May 31/24, I’ll put you in a draw for a digital copy of my first book, 8 1/2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better. To enter, please scroll down to the comments, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join Disqus to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest. It’s easy!


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