A Facebook Yard Sale

Courtesy MV Stuff 4 Sale.

It started innocently enough. Kim Hilliard, a Vineyard Haven massage therapist and musician, had an attic full of stuff she wanted to clear out. So in December 2011 she formed a Facebook group called MV Stuff 4 Sale, a virtual yard sale. “At first it was all people you know, so there was a certain niceness,” she says. “I had no idea what it would become.”

Now she finds herself riding herd on more than 2,500 group members. The two basic rules are: (1) be nice, and (2) no businesses. “And they’ve been broken soooo many times,” Kim says with a chuckle. The first rule should be self-explanatory, though it seems people have different definitions of “nice.” The second rule is intended to keep MV Stuff 4 Sale from becoming another Amazon or Etsy. Group users want to keep it a yard sale.

And the site is a terrific yard sale: furniture, clothes, electronics, vehicles. The savvy user could outfit an entire home from MV Stuff 4 Sale. But you’d have to be quick, since most common and reasonably priced items seem to sell within a day or two at the most. Yard sales, virtual or physical, are part of the “informal economy,” outside of official statistics, but critical for many people, especially in an economic environment as challenging as Martha’s Vineyard. Lively trade in second-hand goods also reduces waste and the environmental impacts of consumer goods. “We have enough stuff on the planet,” Kim says.

Courtesy MV Stuff 4 Sale.

Arguments, disputes, rule-benders, issues arise constantly. “I don’t want to be a playground chaperone,” Kim says. After a recent incident in which she found herself being asked to referee offline behavior, Kim asked users if they wanted to keep the group “open,” meaning anyone can see listings, or “close” it, so that only group members have access to the site; the group voted to close it. Kim approves all new members, and recently added six other Facebook administrators to the group to help keep order, including pruning the inevitable posts left up long after items have been sold.

Though Kim derives no financial benefit from her efforts on MV Stuff 4 Sale, that doesn’t mean she gets no reward. “I get a lot out of it,” she says, noting that she enjoys fostering community, she has met a lot of people through it, and 98 percent of the feedback is positive. “I get messages every couple days, saying things like, ‘The extra $50 here and there helps get my family through the winter,’ or from the high school kid who sold something for $40 to help his mom buy groceries.”

Kim has spawned a raft of imitators, some of which specialize in items banned on MV Stuff 4 Sale. They include MV Arts & Crafts 4 Sale, MV Autos For Sale, MV CHILDREN’S ITEMS SALE/SWAP, and in a snarky bit of commentary, “Drama free mv stuff for sale.”

Economists call Kim’s non-financial compensation “psychic income,” and it’s what keeps Kim at her computer, helping other people buy and sell, helping the Vineyard economy in a very real way. “It gives me insight. It gives me an opportunity for growth, to do better.” Plus, she says, “I still have a whole attic of stuff to get through.”