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Thread: The Oddness of Estate Sales

  1. #1
    Super Member jillaine's Avatar
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    Given the preponderance of successful fabric finds at garage/yard sales and estate sales, I thought I'd try attending estate sales. I'd never attended one before, although I am the periodic drive-by garage/yard sale participant.

    In a yard sale, the owners are there, usually, and alive. As you peruse their stuff, as odd as it may be, there is explicit permission from the owner of the items. They're sitting there, they've chosen this stuff to sell, they want to get rid of it, they want to make room in their lives for something else (including cash).

    At an estate sale, it is usually INSIDE a person's home, that person is deceased or in a nursing home, but in either case, NOT present, and may have had little to any choice about the disposition of their belongings (unless they had a strong last will and testament).

    Depending on who is running the estate sale, the "presence" of the owner is stronger or weaker. At a clearly professional sale we attended a week ago, the rooms had been re-arranged as "boutiques" in a way. The sense that the person had lived there was minimized-- all books were in one room, all clothes in another, all kitchen items in another. The house had been transformed into a store of sorts.

    At the estate sale I attended yesterday, the organizers were clearly not professional or experienced (in large part by having only one person at the check-out, resulting in a LONG line of people holding one or two items in their arms).

    They had "organized" (or not) each room by what was already IN that room, and as I went from room to room, the previous tenant's "presence" was still very much alive. I felt like a sneak, a voyeur, pawing through her closet of clothes, her desk drawers. In the pocket of one of her jackets was a used tissue and a tube of chapstick. I felt like she would walk in at any moment and ask "What are you doing wearing my jacket?"

    Worse: the garage-- the "store" for the exercise equipment and tools, etc. was also the storage place of this woman's business life. Cardboard filing boxes were grouped in one area, some without lids and one could glimpse the titles on the files and notebooks. Her career-- successful or otherwise-- loaded into boxes.

    It was then I had to leave. I came home quite disturbed at the state of our house. If we died together tomorrow, WHO would unload this stuff, and what would we have done to make it easier for them? Would someone peruse my home, my rooms, go through my drawers and decide, oh yeah, my husband would enjoy seeing me in THIS!?

    What would happen to my photo albums, and the trunk of journals I'd kept from age 9 to 39? What about my portfolios of drawings and paintings going back to high school, and some as recent as a few months ago?

    Ugh...

    Anyway, I probably won't stop going to estate sales-- the finds you promote here are too tempting to ignore. But I sure am learning about what sort of emotional armor I need to don as soon as I walk onto the property...

    -- Jillaine

  2. #2
    Super Member Lisa_wanna_b_quilter's Avatar
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    Estate sales totally depress me.

  3. #3
    Super Member Central Ohio Quilter's Avatar
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    Interesting thoughts. Thanks for sharing.

  4. #4
    Super Member kittenquilts's Avatar
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    I totally understand what you mean. I got some fabric and quilt tops at an estate sale. I can't help but think of the person who did all the lovely work on them. They are just tops - not quilted yet. I did complete one recently - added borders and did the quilting on my long arm. I think of the person who put all those hours into this quilt top and hope I have done her justice in the completion.

  5. #5
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    WHO would unload this stuff, and what would we have done to make it easier for them? Would someone peruse my home, my rooms, go through my drawers?
    ------------------------------------------
    Yeah, that's what I've been thinking these last 4 years since DH passed away. I've been reading Flylady and for 15 minutes at a time, going through my stuff, one drawer at a time. And donating a lot, sent a lot of lovely (but unused for years) nice wool coats to our local women's place. Gave masses to the kids but they won't accept much more. Have to actually LOOK at things and decide..it's amazing how little I really need to live comfortably. And I even gave 3 boxes of worthless fabric (fabric not cottons for quilts) to a family group who makes dolls.
    And tools..I've finally admitted that no way do I need 9 hammers, including the one I glued (accidently) to the garage floor years ago and managed to pry up. I find it hard to get rid of things, but it's easier after seeing those "Hoarder" programs on a friend's TV. I don't "Hoard" fabrics, even though I have a bookcase wall half full of them. Just makes it easier to find what I want.

  6. #6
    Super Member LindaR's Avatar
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    it has crossed my mind and weird, I have started to get rid of UFO's I will never do. LOL, cleaning out patterns, etc. I'm not that decrepid but getting there

  7. #7
    Super Member Tink's Mom's Avatar
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    A friend of mine runs some...It bothers me a little. When I am helping price, I feel like I am invading privacy.
    If I am just walking in off the street, it isn't too bad.
    I feel that I am giving whatever I get a good home so, it depends on how you look at it.

  8. #8
    Super Member oldswimmer's Avatar
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    jillaine,
    I feel much the same way you do. It is much easier when things are arranged by like items into distinct areas...and like you, I will still go, trying to keep in mind that the previous owner has no earthly care about these things anymore. I say a little prayer for them and find a connection with them in some of the things they treasured. And also like you, I have thought about my own home, and have tried to clear out anything I dont use or really care about anymore....and made lists of items that have family stories and history.

  9. #9
    Super Member quiltinghere's Avatar
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    Very interesting and well written thoughts. I've never been to an estate sale and after reading your thoughts, I don't know if I would.

    I find the same thoughts about 'stuff' in my house and who would handle it. I've said to 2 friends that I'm leaving them in charge - they think I'm joking - but I'm not.

    I've been trying to identify my sewing things (i.e. what goes with which machine...what's expensive...etc.)

  10. #10
    Super Member rusty quilter's Avatar
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    I love your writing style, and agree with you totally. When I was younger, my parents took me to farm auctions. I felt so sad for the people standing their watching their prized possessions go to the highest bidder. I feel the same about estate sales. I get the idea that the things aren't needed anymore, but like you, I don't want to glimpse into that person's life. The plan to group like items in different rooms seems somehow more humane??

  11. #11
    Super Member luvTooQuilt's Avatar
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    Due to the economy Ive seen alot of auctions for families that need to sell because they cant afford to live there anymore.. So where will they go I always ask myself. It saddens me that they worked hard all their life to see their hard work go to the highest bidder and sometimes its pennies on the dollar..

    Then again ive been to auctions where the family of the deceased do not want anything but would rather put it all up for auction...

  12. #12
    Super Member JanetM's Avatar
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    I agree with you completely. I feel as if I am invading the privacy of someone I have never met, and it makes me uncomfortable.

    It is not unlike having to settle my in-laws estate when my MIl passed away. I remember bringing home her purse and clothes from the hospital. At one point, I went through her purse and even said to my husband that I felt I shouldn't violate her in that way.

    Clearing their home of their 50+ years of collecting was so difficult. All of us chose something in remembrance with the rest going to charity. I thought to myself...is that it?..the sum total of our lives is our stuff?, and when it is disposed of it is as if the person never existed.

    Oh boy, I shouldn't have started this. I am a bit emotional right now because my Mom is dying. She has Alzheimer's and in the last week has taken a turn for the worse. My sister and I have tried to prepare ourselves for this, but now that it seems very close, I'm finding it very difficult.

  13. #13
    Super Member jillaine's Avatar
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    kittenquilts,

    THanks for the reminder. I suppose the one thing I feel least uneasy about is my quilting stash and UFOs, etc. Knowing by example, the people on this board, I hope someone like you finds my leftovers and makes something of them.

    I wonder if anyone has done any research into the person who left behind their quilt tops? (That's another area of my life: genealogy.) A historical society recently shared with me a sampler made in the 1820s; the sampler included a family tree. With the information on it, I tracked the family from about 1785 to 1930. Wasn't able to find any living descendants, but I was able to paint something of a picture of the woman who made the sampler and document her family.

  14. #14
    Power Poster CarrieAnne's Avatar
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    I've never been to one.

  15. #15
    Senior Member Mimito2's Avatar
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    I went to an estate sale last week and bought a handmade (by the deceased) cabinet to use as a pantry for $22. The Family thought it was junk.... I silently thanked the person that made it and assured them that I would make good use of it. I know that may seem silly but it makes me feel better about buying (stealing) it. As for my stuff. It will be given/thrown away for a pittance and my sons will run thru the money like water, Makes me want to leave it all to the local school system for a school to be built on for this end of the county instead of the kids having to ride the bus for an hour...It would be better appreciated.

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    I've been to one estate sale. The pjs and robes were still hanging on the back of the bathroom door. Can you say weird? It was like they had just stepped out for a trip to the grocery store.

  17. #17
    Senior Member ljfox's Avatar
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    It doesn't bother me if it is run by a company, but the ones done by the family members are just creepy.

  18. #18
    Super Member ChubbyBunny's Avatar
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    I have never been to an estate sale and wouldn't know what to expect....until now. Thank you for sharing your experiences and thoughts with us. I think it would feel sad and strange to go into someone's home and purchase pieces of their life. It sure gives you a lot to think about.

  19. #19
    Super Member Lori S's Avatar
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    I had the same feelings you did , somehow feeing irreverent by meandering through the possesions.... Never really feeling all that good about my purchases as if the favorable price to me is somehow a dishonor to the deceased or owner.
    It has given me the strenght to use some of my prized fabrics more often since I reconginzed in the emotions after the estate sale part of my sadness or less than happy feeings came from the realization that yes someday that will happen to my "stuff".
    I also made a resolution to stop saving stuff for "good" or the right occasion.
    I guess it all comes down to that a quilters fabric can be profoundly personal as it relects the hopes and dreams of what it will become.

  20. #20
    Junior Member maggy's Avatar
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    That really bothers me too. I have expressed to my husband that my sewing room should be open to my quilting friends to help themselves. At least a quilter can appreciate your quilting tools and will use them. Like you I still go tothem & look for quilting and sewing items.

  21. #21
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    A remark on Estate Sales and only one person who checked people out. My mother died in 07, a month later my FIL died (had an estate sale) and then 08 my dad died. We had a real mess on our hands in both houses. With no help from siblings, they did not want to bother or as in my dad's house, my brother wanted nothing to do with my dad for the yr from when my mom died. He would not even help organize or help out after death for the estate sale. Therefore, that left me and my husband to do everything. That may have been the case in the estate sale you attended. You just don't know what the case may be. Just speaking from experience. Never an easy thing to go through....

  22. #22
    Super Member sharoney's Avatar
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    I always feel the same way you do at estate sales. I'm always uncomfortable, but I still go.

  23. #23
    Super Member amandasgramma's Avatar
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    I understand where you're coming from. I attending an estate sale in the town I used to live in. I did't know the woman, but had passed her house to get to and from work for years. In the summer I'd see her out there working in her beautiful yard. At the estate sale, they put everything out......including adult diapers. Now all my family has been informed if/when I die, they are to throw out ANYTHING personal like that!!! I know it's a common thing - to have to use diapers, but I do NOT want it advertised like that!

    As for my hobby and craft stuff -- I've been dumping the regular craft stuff and antiques on my children for a few years now. My quilting stuff -- I told my daughter to get ahold of my friends that quilt and give my "stuff" to them, if she doesn't want it . :)

  24. #24
    Super Member Treasureit's Avatar
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    I probably shouldn't tell you this, but I used to run professional estate sales. I was a personal property appraiser and hired to sell the contents of homes. At first it was very strange, but to be honest I grew to love the process. As I sorted, cleaned and rearranged everything in the house, I felt partly like a detective trying to figure out who this person was and what they had loved in life.

    I really felt a need to respect their property and treat it with dignity. So for me cleaning and displaying it nicely was important...and it sold better.

    The early shoppers are the ones that have little respect for the person...they are usually the dealers and they are on a mission to find the best stuff for the least amount of money they can. Those who come later are usually very nice folks. There are sometimes people who come in and ask a lot of questions about the family and who they were and look through everything as if they want to get to know them.

    Every sale was a different experience...from finding a big container of silver from a dentist homes to rats in a hoarders place.

  25. #25
    Super Member Naturalmama's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by quilt1950
    I've been to one estate sale. The pjs and robes were still hanging on the back of the bathroom door. Can you say weird? It was like they had just stepped out for a trip to the grocery store.
    Oh - that is just wrong!!! Thankfully the ones I've attended haven't been that bad, but I do always feel uncomfortable. I don't like the idea of having someone go through my stuff someday - I like to think that they are still around and doing well - and wanted this to downsize. Actually, I do know of someone in their 60's that is planning on having an estate sale so they can move into a condo that is already furnished. Although their stuff is far from what you'd see at an average estate sale - you'd know they weren't old enough to be in a nursing home..... although if I didn't know them I'd probably be feeling awful because I'd imagine that they were both killed in an accident or something....

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