Musings on Estate Sales.

I used to never go to estate sales — I was purely a yard sale gal. Estate sales seemed overpriced and crowded to me, after the nice open spaces of yard and garage sales, not to mention prices that rarely went over a couple of bucks. Then I started accumulating a little more disposable income, thinking about moving towards turning my obsessive collecting into a business, and figuring out which estate sale companies were worth shopping from — now I probably go to more estate sales than yard sales. Especially considering that, though they slow down a lot during the winter, you can still find one or two estate sales every weekend.

Estate sales come in two types: the kind that are run by estate sale companies and the kind that the family runs themselves. While the sales run by families often offer better bargains, I still find them harder to shop at — estate sales are often sad to begin with; add the deceased’s family to the mix and it’s all I can do to not run out of the house sobbing. I honestly don’t know how a family can do that — they’re made of stronger stuff than I am. To watch people pawing through your relative’s belongings, complaining about the prices or making fun of the clothes (people can be  SO rude at estate sales) right after a death must be so painful.

Case in point: one of the estate sales I went to this weekend was run by the family. Really nice people. Upstairs, in the master bedroom, a young man in his early 20s was sitting in a chair, keeping one eye on the shoppers and the other on his phone, on which he was furiously texting. He looked bored to tears. One of the women shopping in the room made some comment to the effect of  “well, it’s not too difficult a way to make a little money, is it?” and he snorted and said he wasn’t making any money, that he had to be there. Very typical behavior of a son who has been forced into servitude against his will. Then, suddenly, he looked up from his texting and noticed a woman holding up a dress from the closet. “Oh,” he said, “She used to wear that all the time.” And this silence fell over the very crowded room and the woman said, “Was this your mother or your grandmother?” “My grandmother,” he answered, and friends, that sound you heard was my heart breaking. And that’s why shopping at a family-run estate sale is difficult sometimes. At one sale, I asked the lady who was monitoring the master bedroom if she knew why there were so many ballroom dancing dresses in the closet. They had belonged to her mom, who had just died after a long battle with Alzheimer’s Disease.  Her mom had been an avid ballroom dancer for over thirty years. She talked about how sad it had been when, in the early stages of the disease, her mother started to slowly forget the dance steps. I almost embarrassed myself by crying in front of this poor woman who was going through so much pain.

Even without the stories from the family, when the sale is run by a company, going through someone else’s house after they’ve died can be sad — sad to see what the family is letting go of, like wedding dresses, family photographs, or baby clothes from the forties and the fifties. Sad to find letters that tell tragic stories of sons lost in wars. Sad to see the pets that are sometimes still in the house during the sale — that’s REALLY, REALLY sad. It was a while before I could shop an estate sale without a tragic commentary going through my head the whole time.

PATHOS ASIDE, I have found super-cool things at estate sales, and sometimes, it makes me really happy to bring things home so I can treasure them as much as their previous owner did.

I found these this weekend.

Dresser mirrors. Obviously, the mirrors aren’t in such great shape, but I love them. I think they’ll end up in the booth — maybe I’ll keep one.  I’m tossing around the idea of painting the bases.

I also got this:

Little wooden chicken! He’s got holes in his back — do you think he’s meant to hold toothpicks? That’s really the only thing small enough to fit in there. I have ended up with an inadvertent collection of chickens in my kitchen to which I will add him.

One more thing:

This tole tray is pretty beat up, but I got it 50% off (it was the second day of the sale) so I picked it up for the booth.

March 18, 2010 - 10:30 pm

janie hightower Those are all good things. I’ve never seen one of the chickens before, very cute.

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