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Selling his sharper image for a more adventurous life

It's a fantasy shared by many a middle-aged, mortgage-strapped adult. Sell all the gear you've accumulated, pocket the money, stuff a few clothes into a backpack, and take off for Europe or the South Pacific, where freedom's just another word for nothing left to download.

Way more often than not, of course, reality prevails. That 60-inch plasma-screen TV is pretty cool, after all. And while it may be true that you can't take it with you, hey, why not enjoy it while you're here?

So meet Christian Richardson, 24, a college graduate with a promising future in the restaurant business and a taste for expensive toys such as high-end electronic equipment and fancy kitchen gadgets. Though it's a bit early for him to be having a midlife crisis, Richardson did something rather unusual, if not revolutionary, last week: He posted a list of his possessions on an Internet shopping site and invited everyone to his sale.

"I am selling everything," Richardson announced, supplying a link -- with home phone number -- to his own website.

Notebook computer, DVD player, DJ-quality turntable, studio speakers, leather sofa and chairs, cordless phone, kayak, binoculars, floor lamp, fish tank, wine rack, food processor, microwave oven, mixing bowls, martini glasses, even the bathroom towel rod and shower head -- all were for sale. His list contains 229 entries, from a $200 (his price) ADJ Pro-Scratch CD player to a $2 banana stand.

Richardson posted the notice on at 4 in the morning a week ago Monday. By 8 a.m. his cellphone was ringing furiously. It rang so often that by the end of the day he was 170 minutes over his monthly allotment and had yet to return several dozen messages.

Something about the sale, the whole idea of it, struck peoples' fancies -- more than just bargain-hunting might account for, at any rate. By Monday afternoon, Richardson was directing strangers around his Tremont Street apartment so they wouldn't trip and smash the Asian globe lamps. Many were seeking deals on barely used stuff; Richardson's prices (nonnegotiable) were generally half off retail, in some instances more. Others were curious, though. Was it desperation or inspiration that motivated Richardson?

"I got an e-mail from some MIT friends asking like, dude, why is he doing this?" says Sahar Aminipour, 25, a master's degree candidate at Boston University Medical School, who showed up last Wednesday -- twice -- and wound up buying candle holders, a drying rack, two cobalt bowls, and a pair of headphones. "But talking to Chris, yeah, it made sense. If you're trying to find yourself, why not reduce the number of material objects that are weighing you down?"

Richardson has been eager to answer questions, too.

"I've said my goal is to walk out of here on November 1st with nothing but a backpack, a toothbrush, and a plan," he says during a rare lull in the action. "Right now, there is no plan -- just one step at a time, the first step being to get rid of everything."

He's not a closet Buddhist or born-again back-to-the-lander, says Richardson, who was wearing torn blue jeans and no shoes when he answered the door. In fact, he says, he used to get the same buzz from buying a 300-disc CD player that others get from taking drugs or dining in fancy restaurants. Nor is he drowning in debt or depressed over a busted romance. The job he recenty quit, managing an upscale South End restaurant, paid nearly $1,000 a week, more than enough to support his Sharper Image shopping habits.

"People say I live more like a 30-year-old than a college student," says Richardson, who graduated from the University of Vermont in 2001. "I was always checking out the coolest, latest stuff. I bought a lot of things that made me feel I was down with some sort of subculture. But the fact is I never really was."

The restaurant job -- a high-pressure, long-hours situation -- had its drawbacks. The harder he worked, the more miserable he felt. Owning a better subwoofer or shinier espresso maker wasn't going to make him any happier, he realized, whereas a change of scenery might.

"That could mean I leave here and do absolutely nothing for a while," says Anderson, sitting on a plush black leather sofa that won't be his to sit on much longer. "But to do whatever I want, I needed to make choices that weren't dependent on this apartment or all this stuff. I felt like I didn't own these things, they owned me."

Friends have suggested Richardson go hike the Appalachian Trail or take a cross-country car trip. Having sold his new Volvo last week, the latter seems unlikely, but adventure is definitely in the cards. Richardson is leaning toward buying a round-the-world plane ticket and spending several months globe-trotting before settling in a foreign city. "I'm not an arrogant rich kid," Richardson says. "I want to learn another language, learn the streets of a foreign city. When else in my life could I do this?"

To a degree, Richardson is following in the footsteps of mavericks such as John Freyer, an Iowa college student who auctioned all his possessions (including a set of false teeth) on eBay two years ago. The auction, and Freyer's follow-up plan to track his stuff wherever it migrated, led to a book and website titled "All My Life for Sale." The whole point of the exercise, Freyer writes, has been to explore "our relationship to the objects around us, their role in the concept of identity, as well as the emerging commercial systems of the Internet."

Richardson's purpose is less artistically grandiose. He wants to raise enough dough -- as much as $14,000 -- to buy the time and freedom most people can't afford.

"My parents were both hippies back in the '60s, and my father's trying to save me from the sort of mistake he might have made," Richardson says with a smile. He says his father offered to buy everything on the list and keep it, anticipating the day his son would return to America and want his Krups coffee grinder back. And Richardson's stepmother told him she's worried he'd get in trouble overseas.

"You know what?" he says. "I want to get in trouble. I told my father, `You're missing the point. I don't want a safety net. I want to be able to screw up.' " The reason he's getting rid of his cellphone and credit cards, he adds, is so if he does land in prison, "I won't have Daddy calling to get me out."

Guilt pangs? A few. Richardson offered to give back a couple of big-ticket items his father bought for him in college, such as the PalmPilot and Panasonic home computer. Others he's giving to friends and relatives. His books ("I'm not ready to sell them") and a Rolex wristwatch will be stored elsewhere for safekeeping.

What will he keep? A point-and-shoot digital camera so he can post travel picture on his online journal. His backpack, of course. Camping equipment. To those who might wonder whether Richardson wouldn't feel freer by giving the money away, too, he has a ready answer. "Could I afford to? I don't think so," he says. "Unless this becomes a movement."

Joseph P. Kahn can be reached at

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