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[Diary of an Expat Bride] Second-hand blues

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

The first few days back in my native US I spend at local “garage” sales. A garage sale is a place where people sell their second-hand items for a day or two outside of their homes. It is a great place to pick up some deals. In college, it was how I completely furnished my dorm room, and later my apartment. Everything that I owned in those days, from the iron to the bed frame, had been purchased second-hand.

Now, on visits back home, I scan the sales for various odds and ends that I need for my son on our visits back. We bought a used high chair, a lot of toys, a stroller and even some play clothes for a reasonable price. My parents didn't have these items on hand, not having had a baby in the house for thirty years. It wasn't necessary to go out and purchase these items brand new just for our visits.

Ten years ago I moved to Turkey with everything I owned in two bags. My apartment furnishings had all been sold to the next batch of college students starting school. Naively, I assumed that I would find similar options for purchasing second-hand items in Istanbul. After all, I wasn't sure how long I planned to stay in Turkey, and didn't want to spend an arm and a leg on buying necessities. I was in for a rude awakening. Outside of pricey antique shops, there were little to no options. Thankfully the school I worked for provided housing. The flats contained basic amenities: a washing machine, stove, refrigerator and oven.

A few plates, cups and utensils. Our beds were mattresses on the floor, and the living room had a couch and a chair. It was sparse, but livable. Our biggest challenge was the lack of wardrobe or set of drawers to store our clothes. I didn't want to buy a wardrobe that first year as I wasn't sure how long I would stay, and had no venue to sell it should I move. We did not have an iron, a vacuum, a TV or a dining room table. When we looked around for second-hand shops for smaller necessities (an iron, for example) we were shocked to find nothing. Indeed, there seemed to be a cultural aversion to buying anything second-hand in those days. On our meager salaries, the price of a new iron or a vacuum then was difficult. These items, which can be found easily in the US, were far more expensive here.

When I moved out of school lodgings the following year, I decided to move into a fully furnished flat. Everything was there, much more than what had been provided by the school. Several flats like this exist in Istanbul, and can be found through many real estate sites or by contacting a real estate office (emlak) directly. My rent was higher as a result of the furnishings, but I didn't have to buy anything extra. I had a bed with a frame, chairs, a dining table, appliances, cutlery, carpets, wardrobes, a vacuum, an iron and even a space heater if I got cold. My former roommate also found a similar flat for herself on the other side of the city, nearer to her school. I was happy to not be dependent on my work for lodging, but also not to be buying expensive appliances and necessities if I was only in Turkey short term. The idea of buying a brand new washing machine for $300 and having to give it away for free just didn't sit right with me.

In the 10 years since, many Turks and expats have recognized the problem, and second-hand websites have popped up through Facebook and Craigslist, among others. As our move quickly approached, I turned to these sites with some trepidation. When Can and I got married, we had furnished our small flat with decent appliances and furniture. When buying or renting a non-furnished flat, you are responsible for everything. When renting an apartment in most parts of America, it will have a refrigerator, an oven, a stove, possibly a dishwasher, closets, blinds/curtains and carpet. None of these items are included in an unfurnished apartment rental in Turkey. Can and I purchased all of these items new for the long term, with no thought of selling them. When we made the decision to move to Izmit, the house we had purchased surprisingly was coming fully furnished. The previous owners were furniture designers and had designed the furniture for the house, building most of it in. It was a great deal, but now Can and I had to sell all of our nice furnishings and appliances.

I first advertised on a few Facebook group sites that list second-hand item sales. Mainly catering to expats, I was surprised at how difficult it turned out to be. Surprisingly the Americans, who I know should be used to the garage sale concept, tried to negotiate harder than the Turks. I had people asking me to give my two-year-old stove/oven that we had spent TL 900 on away for free, and to provide a truck for transport! I was truly shocked. I then advertised on Craigslist, where I got serious buyers. Interestingly enough, we sold our whole bedroom and office set to a Turkish imam. He did not haggle over the price, came with his own rented truck and did not tell us he was an imam until he was leaving. He did not use his profession as a bargaining tool. This was the first imam that my husband had met, and he was very impressed. Another stereotype breached.

I remember feeling the same when I worked at a department store in my Michigan hometown and a priest came in and bought some socks. Socks seemed so trivial when thinking of priests, yet it makes sense that they needed them, just as an imam needs a bed frame and a bookcase. The rest of the stuff we sold to a Turkish businessman furnishing a flat to use when hosting clients from overseas.

There are more options to buy and sell second-hand things than when I first moved here 10 years ago, but it is still pretty difficult. Unfortunately, many expats run into problems when they move to Turkey for just a few years and don't want to break the bank to furnish their temporary homes. For people teaching, I encourage them to seek housing through their school, for the first year at least. For those who don't want to go that route, check into renting a fully furnished flat. For those who have time, resources (can hire a van and some guys to help transport) and patience, utilizing websites like craigslist.com, sahibinden.com, and the Facebook site Buy, Sell, Swap Istanbul can be fruitful. Personally, I did not have much luck within the foreign community, but maybe that had to do with the items I was selling. They had more appeal to the native Turks who were familiar with the brands. Still, I am happy to see that there are now outlets for buying and selling second-hand items.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/asianet/130409/diary-expat-bride-second-hand-blues