The Appeal of the Whatnot Auction

“I don’t even wear jewelry,” a Whatnot member writes in the platform’s chat, “but I like watching it sell.”

It’s 10:15 on a Sunday night, and I should be sleeping, but instead I’m watching thenurseflipper do $5 15-second jewelry auctions on Whatnot over and over and over.

I know what the member means. I like watching it sell, too. To the detriment of my sleep — and perhaps my performance at work the next day.


If you’re not familiar, Whatnot is a live auction app that I’ve heard be described as eBay and Twitch’s love child. I’ve never seen Twitch, but I think it’s the site where people play video games live, and others watch. Oh.

Some of the Whatnot auctions are professional (like the nurseflipper’s) and some are downright bizarre. There’s music in the background, the auctioneer is having a conversation with people in their house, there’s more conversation than selling, and luxury bags are referred to with personal pronouns, generally she/her. I even saw one woman trying on the clothes she was selling. I clicked out of that one fast.

Some folks go live from Goodwill bins and auction off items they’ve picked before purchasing them. I’m glad this is allowed. I visited a Goodwill Outlet for the first time a few months back and was stunned by the forklifts dumping what appeared to be unsold items into dumpsters, presumably headed for the landfill.

Goodwill Bins - Dumpsters Outside
I stood and watched while forklifts dumped stuff from inside the store into these bins.

So what’s the appeal of the Whatnot auction?

Last night, while thinking about this, I flashed back to 1983 when I was a seven-year-old sitting on the couch watching an early version of QVC. Infomercial-type items were presented to viewers who would call in to purchase and then request a “toot” at the end of the transaction. From what I can recall, the “toot” came from a simple bicycle-type horn, sounded by the host, and every last caller requested this toot — always in dedication of a relative or a friend. Their kids, their parents, their sister, their brother, etc. They’d ask to get a toot for someone, and I’d just giggle and giggle and then watch more and more and more.

(I can find only one reference to this on the Internets. It amazes me how many things before 2000 just never existed.)

Back to the story.

My parents became worried. My mom expressed concern that I wasn’t playing or doing my schoolwork. I was just watching the home shopping network and the toots.

So why was this so satisfying? And why is it so satisfying now?

I think it’s the same reason that I love doing laundry in a laundromat.

It’s all about closing the deal. Succeeding in the task. It’s appealing. Motivating.

It feels good to see these jewelry pieces sell. And in 15 seconds. Over and over and over. Just like it feels good to bring my laundry to the laundromat, watch it swish around first wet, then dry, and then fold it all up beautifully in nice, geometric patterns, and be done.

You come to the laundromat with dirty laundry; you leave the laundromat with clean laundry. It’s nearly always successful. What else in life is always almost successful?

At home, with a machine of your own, the laundry is ongoing. It never ends. A wash is thrown in here and there. The convenience makes it constant.

And secondly, it feels good seeing folks making a living like this, off the hamster wheel, not driving three hours a day to a job hanging by a thread in a basement with no windows and molded ceilings and floors that haven’t been vacuumed in, I don’t know, seven years, at a school that has a no-printer policy.

In any event. I’d like to do one of these auctions one day. Would you come?

For now, I have amassed some nice items in my little ebay store. They’re a mix of the functional and the beautiful, from power tools to a 100-year-old symphonium that plays metal discs. Listen below–it’s really beautiful.

These days, treasure hunting, first with coin roll hunting, then geocaching, and now selling, is giving me strategy and hope for a future off the wheel.

Thanks for reading!

Have you ever bought anything on Whatnot? Or do you remember the 1980s home shopping TV shows where toots were requested?

Say some things.

If you enjoyed this post on the Whatnot auction, you might like this one on money saving hacks and this one on giving things away.

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  1. Wow. This sounds intriguing the way you spin the story. I don’t think it would be my thing – but then again I never thought I’d get addicted to watching other people dance on Tiktok and I did. Had to delete the app!

    1. I’ve never seen TikTok, but this is what happened to me with Instagram. I kept watching it and comparing my numbers to others’. Had to get rid of it. Whatnot I somewhat justify because I sell on eBay, but starting to get too much!

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting. 🙂 Hope you’re well.

  2. This does sound like something fun to watch. I love the thrill of selling things in this way. I was selling on eBay until recently when they wanted my full SSN. I just couldn’t get past that, and then them wanting me to pay taxes for what I sell, after I already paid taxes to buy them? Wasn’t a fan.

  3. That symphonium music is just lovely. Have you seen A Christmas Story? The music reminds me of the scene where Ralphie opens his bedroom window on Christmas morning to see all the hoarfrost.

Say some things.