What if Tom Sawyer had Craigslist?

At some point in my twenties I opined a corollary to the phrase “there is no free lunch.”  I rewrote it as “there are occasionally meals at greatly reduced prices, but there is no free lunch.”  The twenty years since have proven my point, but every so often you can get your lunch damn near close to free, and maybe even come out ahead.

I have friend named Joe Cassara, and he is very clever.  Several years ago he bought a house in the next town over, and in the back yard were a half a dozen, ugly, large, steel poles sticking up out of the ground.  He had no idea what they had been used for, but he did know that he wanted them gone.  One day while driving home from work, he observed someone going along his street collecting all the metal from the garbage his neighbors had put to the curb, and he had an idea.  If scrap metal was valuable enough to pick out of the garbage, maybe it was valuable enough to remove from his yard.

Joe put an ad on Craigslist offering the substantial metallic mass of the poles to anyone who was willing to come get them.  Within an hour, three guys showed up in a pickup truck with picks, shovels and other implements of destruction.  They removed all the poles, including the four feet of concrete into which each was sunk.

Job done – by complete strangers – for free!

Not long after Joe told me that story, I was removing 100 feet of chain-link fence from our yard.  It was about 25 years old, but in really good shape.  I disassembled the whole fence, removed the posts and sledge-hammered the concrete off the bottom of each one.  I went to the Home Depot website to see what all the pieces would cost new – $700.  I then took all the parts, hosed them off and laid them out in an orderly fashion on the driveway.  I posted the fence parts for sale on Craigslist at 1:20pm for $300.


Would you give me $240 for this? One guy did.

At 1:38pm, the phone rang and the guy on the other end said he wanted to come right away.  Thirty-five minutes later, he appeared in my driveway with a trailer.  He offered me $240 cash for the fence.  I took it.

$240 deal done – fence gone – fewer than 90 minutes


Just last summer we decided to remove the last section of the same chain-link fence from the back of our yard.  Again it was about 100 feet long and in pretty good shape, but I had neither the desire nor the time to remove it myself.  Furthermore, the fence was tangled up with some vines and small trees.  The job was going to be no small effort.

So, combining both Joe’s and my experience, I placed an ad on Craislist, offering the 100 feet of fence to anyone willing to come get it.  A few days went by with no responses and I was beginning to believe it wasn’t going to work.  Then, one day, in the course of about three hours, five people responded saying that they wanted the fence.  I went back and forth with the first responder and we arranged for them to come the following Saturday.

Sure enough on Saturday morning, they showed up, and four strong twenty-somethings spent almost four hours, in the rain and mud, removing my fence.

100 feet of fence removed – zero cost – didn’t lift a finger!

These are stories about value and point of view.  Just because something might be of little value to you, does not mean it isn’t of value to someone else. Think about how what leaves your house on trash day has shifted from the garbage can to the recycle bin.  As a society, we are finally recognizing that just because we are done with something, does not me the something is done.  Just look at Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, who won four Grammys rapping about a ninety-nine cent item in a thrift shop.  It is cool to do anything the ends in “cycle.”

The advent of websites like Craigslist and Freecycle make this kind of “stuff matchmaking” possible with very little effort.  So the next time you have something you need to get rid of, think long and hard about if it might have any value at all to someone else.  Getting rid of it (and maybe scoring some cash) might be easier than you ever thought possible.

They say one man’s trash is another man’s treasure… it turns out they (whoever they are) are right.

Copyright © 2016 – Stephen S. Nazarian – All rights reserved – What if Tom Sawyer had Craigslist?

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One thought on “What if Tom Sawyer had Craigslist?

  • Hi Steve,
    Your Tom Sawyer story brought back my own memories of one such scenario, albeit with an oddly, opposite result — monetarily speaking. One day, shortly after moving back to Webster in 2006, I read an ad saying virtually anything I needed picked up, destroyed, demolished… would be taken away the same day by these local Herculean men-of-iron. I had some extra cash back then from my move up from PA, and it was worth every penny, I thought, to tear out the chain link fence in the back yard that was embedded into trees, poison ivy, weeds and vines, as well as trim the overgrown canopy that was sapping every bit of limited sunshine the Rochester area had to yield that summer. They informed me it would be a two-day job and the cost would be $1,600 with a crew of four men on the job. Lesson #1: They were not from Webster, as the ad indicated. I believe it was Buffalo. Lesson #2: Do not sign a contract ahead of time with unknown people. Lesson #3: Look for ways reinvent your trash (hence, your article)…Lesson #4: It is never too late to re-negotiate if you do it quickly…sometimes. Lesson #5: The adage, “You get what you pay for” is not always true. They went out and bought a chain saw that would cut through the metal imbedded in the trees and came back with two men and a boy of about 16 who had no idea what he was doing in art of tree trimming. Long story short, they were done in about three hours tops. The backyard was literally transformed. They had ripped out the fence, pulled into the back with a gigantic van, filled it to the brim with tree limbs, fencing and debris, but not without renegotiation by a fried homeowner as to the promise of a 2-day 4 man crew. They reluctantly agreed to $1,200 after much wrangling. Someone made out like a bandit, and I’m sure it wasn’t the workers or the homeowner! However, I got exactly what I wanted… instantly. Compared to the later cost of giant tree removal, this was a drop in the hat, but a lesson, nevertheless. In ruing the moment, my neighbor said, “Karen, chalk it up to updating your educational courses and treating it as such.” It didn’t hurt as much when I reframed the situation and realized it wasn’t all loss, and that some things are worth their weight in gold in hindsight when several years later I realize it probably would have been years before I addressed the situation, how I’ve enjoyed my lawn.

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