Category Archives: October 2011

Why Do Hoarders Hoard?

The term “hoarder” is one you hear a lot these days. At one time the term was used to refer only to those with a profound and psychological inability to limit their attainment of possessions and/or the inability to dispose of them once they have been attained. Nowadays, the lapel of hoarder is pinned on anyone who has a lot more possessions than is usual. As an estate sale professional, I have first hand experience with the hoarding behavior of the American people, at least those on the west coast. A few days ago, I read an excellent blog called So Many Things, So Little Prosperity, (written by William L. Scurrah, a retired college English instructor who writes about “a deeper view of important ideas and issues”) that presented some of his ideas about why there are so many hoarders in today’s society. In my comments on his post, I added my findings to his, and this is basically what I wrote.

Most hoarder households I have worked on (and there have been many) have fallen into one or more of these categories:

  • Adults with a home full of their own purchases who have inherited the household belongings of their parents or other relatives. This may be directly related to the category of people who hang on to things because of the memories associated with them, but it may have other reasons: people are often so busy that, at the time, it just seemed easier to put all that stuff into the garage or storage unit until one has more time to deal with it. It can also be a form of perceived savings for the future.
  • People (mostly the elderly or those who have limited mobility for whatever reason) who have been lured in by the ease and the promises that they have found on late night shopping channels.
  • People who have made a lifestyle choice or have been forced by the economy to downsize, which leaves them with all the huge household trappings crammed into a much smaller space.
  • People with an ingrained thriftiness that butts up against the cheap products being produced today, which can lead to an abundance of broken purchases that that the person still hopes can be fixed or somehow still be of use.
  • People who hang on to stuff because of the memories associated to them. Maybe it’s due to the fast pace at which today’s society changes, but many people–the elderly chief among them probably because they have so many years to hold on to–cling to things that still are “the way they were”.
  • Many are collecting as a safeguard against a bad economy: buy at a cheap price now (often by shopping at garage sales or discount stores) so that they will have it later when it will be much more expensive to purchase.
  • Rarely have I encountered a hoarder of expensive symbols of a conspicuous consumption (though I did just do a downsizing sale in an expensive community that contained exactly that). Perhaps I have found less examples of this kind of hoarder because family members are often happy to obtain all of these types of hoarded possessions, and it therefore doesn’t make it into the sale.
  • People with a compulsive or pathological hoarding disorder, which (according to Wikipedia) ” is the acquisition of possessions (and failure to use or discard them) in excess of socially normative amounts, even if the items are worthless, hazardous, or unsanitary. Compulsive hoarding may impair mobility and interfere with basic activities, including cooking, cleaning, hygiene, sanitation, bathroom and sleeping.”

Whatever the reasons, our society is indeed becoming a hoarder nation. It’s good for my business (who else wants to deal with the masses of possessions), but I’m unsure what it says about our lifestyles in the long run.

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Filed under October 2011

How to Handle Difficult Estate Sale Clients

Anger Controlls Him

Image via Wikipedia

You know the kind of client I mean:  they hound you, bully you, accuse you of cheating them or of not knowing your business.  They claim you made promises that you never did, never would.  They bitch, moan and complain about everything despite all your best efforts to give them your usual, excellent service.  I know what you’d like to do, but maybe there are some things to try on them before you act rashly.

Let me make this perfectly clear right up front: I don’t have any secret weapons against angry, crazed clients.  However, I believe there are a few tools that might help against the more ordinary kinds.

  1. First and foremost, always get a signed contract before you begin ANY work.  If you don’t already have a good contract, you might consider asking a lawyer to draw one up for you.  If you already have one, you might consider having a lawyer look it over.  Don’t give in when your client  says that they are so busy but will get you one “soon”.  Get the contract signed first.  Once you have a contract in place, make sure you follow it.
  2. Don’t make any promises to your client that you can’t keep.  Know your limitations and stay within them.
  3. Make sure you schedule enough time to adequately do the job you were hired to do.
  4. Strongly encourage your client NOT to attend the set-up and the sale.  It’s a difficult situation for those who are too invested in the things being sold.  Why make it more difficult for them and for you?
  5. Breath deeply and relax.
  6. Think of all the treasures yet to be found and get to work.

With these few rules  firmly entrenched in your brain, what can you do if your client still acts crazy?  Try to remember these:

  • Go into every new situation with a positive attitude.  If you go in expecting trouble from every client, chances are good that you will find it.  Clients often pick up on negativity.  If they hire you anyway, then it may be that they, too, are seeking trouble.  Watch out.  That’s not a good combination.
  • It’s not about you, it’s about them.  Many people who act angry towards you are really angry with themselves; you just happen to be in front of them.  Try not to take it personally.  If you still feel you are reacting to their anger, perhaps then it is time to look within yourself for some answers.  Step back and take stock of the situation. Are you reacting because you thrive on angry situations?  If you decide that you are indeed encouraging the anger, it should be easier to defuse the situation or to at least stop reacting strongly to the other’s anger.
  • Don’t try to beat them at their own game.  They are likely much better at fighting than you are because they’ve had years of practice.
  • Be firm in your resolve.  An angry person may try their best to beat you down.  Don’t try to appease those kinds of clients because it rarely works.  The more you give in, the more they will demand.  State your stance firmly and clearly right up front and if they don’t accept that, plan to walk away from the situation.
  • React slowly when confronted.  Give the situation a while to settle before you react.  If the difficult client forces the issue, you can always leave for a while or otherwise remove yourself from the conflict.  When you react too impulsively–throwing back angry words or writing that nasty email–often things are said that will only make the situation worse and the difficult person even more difficult to deal with.
  • Remember, you don’t always have to be right.  It shouldn’t be about your ego.  Sometimes you are in the wrong and you need to accept that. If you are indeed wrong, work at coming to a reasonable agreement with your client.  If the situation doesn’t improve, then it doesn’t matter if you were right or wrong, it may be time to terminate your services to that client.
  • Make sure you are in fact doing the best job you can do.  Your client deserves your best.  If they complain about what you are doing, take a look to see if there is any validity to their claim before you dismiss them as whiners.  If you still believe that you are doing a good job, then you may just be dealing with an unhappy person.  Either accept that they will continue to complain or take steps to change the situation.  That may mean that you will need to stop working for them.
  • Be caring.  At some points in our lives, we all get angry or hurt.  In the estate sale business, this is especially true because most–maybe all–clients who are in need of an estate sale professional are in stressful periods of transition.  Maybe they’ve lost a loved one, or must move from their home or must sell everything due to divorce or other calamity.  Few people go through these types of situations completely unscathed, even when they have wanted to move or divorce or kill off a relative (well, it could happen).  Show them some compassion.  Let them vent a little. Understand that they are hurting and may be taking it out on you.  You’re a big professional.  You can take it.
  • Practice forgivenessWhat ever the reason is behind the actions of a difficult client, you might as well learn to let it go and forgive them.  This is especially true once the sale is over.  Remember: “Holding a grudge against someone is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”  A difficult client may leave you feeling drained and negative, but by holding on to those feelings, you are only hurting yourself.
  • Stop chewing it over and over again.  It’s over.  I know you may want to keep talking about that horrid client you had who made your life miserable, but by doing so, you are just prolonging the pain.  If you need to vent, try writing the client a long, mean, nasty letter telling them just what you think of them.  Then tear it up.  Don’t recount the tale in a blog or bring it up to every new client you meet.  These acts will not help your career and will likely sour it and you.  Spit it out and move on.  Your next bite will taste better for it.
  • Learn your lessons well.  I believe that every difficult situation we experience has some kind of lesson we need to learn.  Take the time to think about what went right and what went wrong, and learn how to do things better next time.

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Filed under October 2011