Kyle Troutman: Unboxing a holiday tradition

Holiday traditions are a dime a dozen, but creating new one that stands the test of time is easier said than done — yet, we have a new Black Friday tradition at the Troutman house.

We always host Thanksgiving for my mom’s side of the family, as we are the most centrally located between Little Rock, east Oklahoma and southeast Kansas where they all live. We’ve had as few as 8 and as many as 30 depending on the year. This year, the head count was 21.

In years past, after we finished our Thanksgiving meal and melted into the couch, we’d pass around the Black Friday ad that came in that week’s paper. While the paper version of that ad has been replaced with our phone apps, we still like to seek out deals and brag about our savings.

In 2015, the deals were so good we had to make four trips to Walmart to transport all the TVs we bought. Fitting a 50-inch TV into a 1995 Chevrolet Cavalier requires some forethought we did not have amidst our excitement.

For two years now, with the big box store print ads less in our faces, we’ve rethought our deals-seeking approach and found a less orthodox approach, ceremonially visiting one of my wife Jordan’s favorite shopping spots — The Bin Barn.

For those who are not familiar, the business in Monett buys pallets of overstocked, returned or lost-in-mail items, then puts them in “bins” for shoppers to short through at a discounted rate. On Fridays, each item is $10, and each day of the week after, the per-item price goes down until $1 day on Thursdays. At that point, the business restocks new items for another $10 Friday.

Jordan is a pro at Bin Barn shopping, typically going on $2 or $1 days and finding some amazing deals, especially in shoes and clothing. I could write a whole column on that, but I’m not certain she’d appreciate me divulging her shopping habits, so I digress.

Last year, The Bin Barn was open for its first Black Friday, and they made a big deal out of it. A new offering they broke out was the “mystery box.” In essence, you buy a box of items for $100, $250 or $500, not knowing what’s in it but assured the value of all items together is at least double the price you pay.

It’s a risky business, but if you unbox a big item, it could make life easier, or at least become a Facebook marketplace payday.

We bought a $100 box last year, and the first item the employee pulled out was a brand new iPad — ching ching!

Having just bought one for our daughter, we did not need a second, so we sold it online and used the proceeds to buy a couple more boxes. Neither was as fantastic, but there are numerous items we sold or use in our home to this day, and there is a value in the excitement of opening a box and rummaging through to see what you got, and what it’s worth.

This year, we decided to go a different route than just buying our own boxes. The $100 boxes were not on offer, but there were $250 boxes marked down to $200.

Jordan and I, my mom, my aunt and my sister agreed to all go in on one at $50 each, devising a number-based drawing system to determine who got what.

The first box we bought — yes, the first — yielded 72 total items, meaning we paid an average price of $2.77 per piece. We all sat on the couches in a circle while Jordan removed and presented each item like our very own stunning Price is Right model.

The unboxing was a ton of fun, as she pulled out everything from a lithium battery for an RC car to a fashionable corduroy coat to a new age Gameboy to a bra with cups larger than any of our heads.

All were laid out on the floor and given a number, then we put an equal set of numbers in a bowl and took turns pulling our prizes.

Our 8-year-old got to play, too, and all she wanted out of the 72 items was this plush blanket. Funny story, we got her a box of her own last year, and a blanket in there she was excited for we ruled should be a living room couch blanket so we could all use it. After a year of her randomly sequestering that blanket in her bedroom time and time again and us explaining it was for sharing, lo and behold she won the new one this year. For our own sanity, we are not making her share that one.

After all the items were drawn, the trading stage began. Our daughter traded the Gameboy to my other sister for a jewelry box with a stylized letter “K” on the front, even though her name starts with an “E”. I felt like a failure as a parent for watching her disrespect the classics like that, but the jewelry box was more important to her. Later on, we convinced her to trade it away for an instant slushie cup that actually works well, to our surprise. The jewelry box ended up being traded four times and landing in the lap of my aunt, whose daughter’s name begins with the appropriate letter.

All in all, the distribution and trading process took about 90 minutes, and we were all pretty happy with what we ended up with, though I had this nagging thought, none of the items in that box were worth more than $50 — where was the big stuff?

With one more family visit day awaiting us, and having to make a trip to Monett for another reason, we all decided to give it another go on Saturday. I picked out the box, the heaviest one I could find (it took two people to transport) and had a good feeling about it.

We got home, finished up cleaning the kitchen and the rest of the house, then we let my Gameboy-possessing sister play Price if Right model this time. My mom took the task for writing out duplicates of 70 numbers so we were prepared, and my sister started handing me items to put on the floor.

With her being the only one who looked in the box, I was rapidly putting things down in a spacious way to accommodate the number of items again. After handing me the eighth item, she turned to us and said, “That’s it.”

Yep, that was it. There were 72 items in the first box and just eight in the second. The room deflated a little bit, as we really enjoyed the surprise of what we won each turn the day before, and on that day, we would all get just two items.

The prize item was very clearly a robot vacuum and mop, and the two heaviest items were in boxes and we couldn’t exactly determine what they were. I ended up with one of those, which my older sister said was a storage structure. After research, it turned out it was a three-tier cat cage, valued at $120. Jordan was speaking in tongues on her turn hoping for the robot vacuum, and her faith paid off. She landed the big prize, valued at $279.

My older sister landed the last object, the most heavy box with the least descriptive text on the outside. At seven months pregnant, she got down on the floor with a knife to investigate the final item.

It was a hose with couplings on the end that resembled a fire hose. We didn’t know what to do with it.

After laughing at her misfortune, she asked the room, “Are we doing any trading today?”

Perplexed by the couplings, I started combing over the box to research what exactly it was and how to use it. Turns out, it was an RV sewer hose, valued at $100.

When I announced the true use for the item, my mom about jumped off the couch and said with a jolt, “Oh, I’ll take it!”

“This changes everything!” my sister retorted.

After researching all the items in the box, I determined the value was just under $600. Not too shabby for paying $200 for eight items.

As we separated our new wares, we all agreed a shared Black Friday Bin Barn box should be an annual event. We spent $100 total, but for the items we ended up with and the memories we created, I’d have spent another $100 more.

Now, Jordan and I have to determine if we are keeping the robot vacuum or if we want to sell it and recoup our spending. I’ll let you all guess who is on which side of that debate.

Until then, if you like cats, I have this amazing three-tier cat cage (some assembly required) available for purchase at a discounted price.

I hope someone buys it — I need to put away some cash for next year’s buy of boxes.

Kyle Troutman has served as the editor of the Cassville Democrat since 2014 and became Publisher in 2023. He was named William E. James/Missouri Outstanding Young Journalist for daily newspapers in 2017, and he won a Golden Dozen Award from ISWINE in 2022. He may be reached at 417-847-2610 or ktroutman@cassville-