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Couches! Futons! Cheap! (Oct. 1997)

There are a number of ways to look at Yale. In movies, Yale usually gets pegged as a factory that produces people who like to wear blue blazers and sporty tweeds. Others see Yale as one of the world’s truly great universities. But I like to think of Yale as the world’s largest flea market.

While I do not envision the admissions department using this description in the view book they send out to prospective students, it does capture the essence of a certain facet of Yale. For a few weeks at the beginning and end of every year, Yale becomes one giant, used-furniture-dominated flea market. Why? Well, Yalies like comfort. And we like bargains.

In order to really make a dorm room feel comfortable, it needs to be outfitted with all sorts of things that the University does not provide. One of those things is a big couch. Or a big easy chair. I don’t know who bought the first couch to be placed in a common room at Yale, but chances are that couch is still on campus somewhere. Most students simply do not live close enough to Yale to bring furniture with them. That means they buy someone else’s couch when they arrive and sell that very same couch, if possible at a profit, when they leave or draw a small room in the housing lottery.

There are a couple of different ways that Yalies go about selling their used furniture. The easiest method is to employ word of mouth. Generally this method is used by undergraduates planning to go on to law school or who are, at the very least, majoring in economics. He or she will ceaselessly talk about the piece of furniture, hoping to drive up its value, while glossing over the fact that it’s a lovely electric pink or only has two of its original four legs. Instead, the seller mentions over and over what a great bargain it is and how much nicer it will make any room. They hope a buyer will commit to purchasing the couch or chair without looking at it first.

The most popular way to sell furniture is to cover the campus with flyers advertising your wares. There are no bounds on where these flyers may end up, and the rule of thumb, it appears, seems to be that there should be three flyers where just one would do. Oddly enough, it seems that this method is favored by the more artistically challenged members of the Yale community—the flyers generally feature at least one, if not more, barely recognizable renderings of the furniture in question.

But the simplest way to sell used furniture at Yale is to bring it to the Old Campus the day the freshman class arrives. As campus-furniture-market neophytes who possess a newfound sense of freedom and independence, freshmen usually will pay top dollar for just about anything. Perhaps Yale should include a warning in the information packets sent out to incoming freshmen about predatory upperclass furniture sellers. I just hope I can find someone to buy my extra futon first.

Filed under residential colleges, 1990s
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