RISC World

True Life Story: John Freyer

The auction spotlight is placed firmly on the experiences of online auctioneers, allowing you to draw both inspiration and advice from their accounts.

Having a clearout is a worldwide tradition usually partaken before moving, during spring or just when the mood takes us.

Old junk can be hard to part with, but is normally thrown out in favour of reclaiming some lost storage room for yet more rubbish. In October 2000, John Freyer decided to get rid of a few of his possessions, then most of them and finally everything he owned, even including his family’s unopened Christmas presents.

To most of us this seems like madness - purging your life of everything you’ve worked hard to acquire in one simple act. What started on eBay as a project spiralled into a phenomenon, spawning a book All My Life For Sale and many countrywide journeys for John, who subsequently decided to track down his sold belongings.

Almost a year later, everything was gone, with over £2,500 as profit and 1,927 bids received on eBay.

What first lead you to get involved with eBay?

I started using eBay in 1999, when I needed a power supply for an old PowerBook that I bought at a surplus shop. A new power supply would have cost more than what I paid for the computer itself. Being new to eBay, I bid $15 on four separate auctions, thinking that I would win at least one of them. Instead I won three out of four, and honoured my obligation by paying for each of them and having them shipped to my house. Thus, I learned that eBay was a place where people like myself would buy things that they didn’t even need.

What made you decide to sell everything?

The decision to sell everything evolved from wanting to sell a few things to the nearly impossible goal of selling off everything I owned. It started when I was returning from a summer in New York City, I wanted to stay in New York, but I had an apartment in Iowa City overflowing with stuff that I had to return to. So on the road, somewhere in Ohio, I decided that I would sell off what was there and move back to New York. Eventually I created an online catalogue of the things I was selling and registered the domain name ‘’.

How many items did you sell in total?

I sold 600 or so things on eBay, had a huge yard sale for the remaining large items and carted a good number of items to the dump.

What was the most you made from a single item?

At the end of the project I sold the domain ‘’ to the University of Iowa Museum of Art. They bid $1,165 for it on eBay. But the highest price I received for an individual item was $183.52 for a Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary.

Where was the furthest location travelled to?

Sadly, I never made it to London to visit the brick I sold, or Japan to see the fried pork skins. But I did go from coast to coast in the USA, from Highway 1 on the Maine Coast to Highway 1 on the West Coast.

What do you think was the strangest use of one of your items?

My US Army chair is in the Library of the Museum of Modern Art; my false teeth are at the University of Iowa Museum of Art and my salt shaker and salt are in Paine Hamilton's kitchen in Portland, Maine.

What was the reaction like from your family?

My family thought I was crazy, especially when I listed their wrapped Christmas gifts on eBay and forced them to bid on their own gifts. But they got over it.

Are you worried about people copying your idea, and would you advise them against it?

I am not worried about people copying the project; rather, I encourage it. An artist in Australia got about halfway through her life’s possessions before giving up due to illness, and currently a man named Brian Thompson of Dallas, Texas is to do the project all over again at

Do you ever get the urge to do it all again?

There are days when I walk into my crowded studio space and think a good eBay purge would do me some good. Does anyone need a can of Lady Lee green beans? My wife Sasha warned me not to sell off any of our daughter Georgia’s toys. I have an exhibition in the fall for which the curator is trying to collect all of the items that I sold during the project - she is trying to track down the owner of the brick in London!

What tips would you give to our readers to be a successful seller?

I’m kind of bad at eBay selling - most of the fragile stuff I sold broke in shipping. I always underestimated the shipping costs - so many times I lost money on the items I sold. I would recommend using a good photo and an interesting story to sell items on eBay. In the last few years, eBay has become more of a retail store than a junk shop. I prefer buying from individual sellers rather than the giant PowerSellers with warehouses full of new and refurbished items. I’ve always preferred the ‘mom and pop’ shops.

David Bradforth