Tag Archives: hoarding

18 Tips on Shopping at Estate Sales

This is a companion piece to my earlier entry about how NOT to shop at estate sales.  If you haven’t read it, you can find it here.  Shopping at estates sales is not only economically sensible, but it is also ecologically responsible and possibly financially rewarding.  You get great stuff at low, low prices!  And you can either use them yourself, give them as gifts or sell them at a profit.  Whatever your reason, here are some ideas about how to go to an estate sale:

  1. If you’ve never been to an estate sale, then expect a learning experience.  Estate sales are for everyone, not just the rich, or the poor, or whomever you had once thought they were for.  They are for you.  You are not being intrusive by entering someone else’s home.  You have been invited in.  If it is in the home of someone who has died, don’t feel like you are being disrespectful by going through their stuff.  They won’t care.  They would rather you buy their treasures than to have them go in the trash.  Their family would also like you to buy things.  They have already removed the items they want to keep.  What’s left are things they would rather you buy.  You are helping the family by buying as much of the things in the home as you want and can use.  And the staff at the sale also want you to buy a lot.  You are helping them, too.
  2. Estate sales are not just for shopping for antiques and other expensive stuff.  Most estate sale also have lots of ordinary items for sale, like clothes, pots & pans, ironing boards, vases, cleanser and garden tools.  In fact, usually you will find any possible type of item that you would normally find in your own home.  So why pay retail for laundry detergent when you can get it for a margin of the cost.  Need a coffee table?  What about bathroom rug?  You’ll likely find them at an estate sale.
  3. If finding something specific is important to you, plan to get to the estate sales early.   Some items will go fast at a sale.  If there are photos of the household goods available, look them over carefully and plan what you would like to buy before you go to the sale.  Remember, though, that not everything will be photographed.  What you really want to buy may still be in the house, but may not be in the pictures.   If possible, contact the company to be sure the item is still available.  Some companies sell items before the sale, if they can,  because that is often the best way to get the best price for their client’s property.  Knowing the company’s policy will help you decide what is the best way to get what you want.
  4. Come prepared to pay cash.  Some companies do take checks and/or credit cards, but you shouldn’t count on it.  Bring plenty of cash with you; you can always take the money back home with you if you don’t find something you want.  Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, my company can and does take credit card payment, but it’s not what I prefer.  There is always a fee to be paid for the service and it also means that I have to put my own dollars into the client’s fund because the credit card charge goes directly into the company’s account.
  5. Be respectful of the neighbors.  Don’t stand in their yards, block their driveways, or otherwise be rude.  I know that you think it won’t hurt to park in front of their drive because you are just going to run in for a second and there is NO other place to park.  Don’t do it.  It always takes longer than you think it will.
  6. Make sure you follow the rules that the estate sale sets up.  Every estate sale company has their own way of handling a sale.  Maybe they put up a sign-in sheet, or give out numbers, or run their sale on a first-come-first-in basis.  Whichever they choose, you need to follow it.  Don’t put up your own sign in sheet even though they’ve specified they don’t do that.
  7. When you finally get inside, don’t just randomly grab anything and everything that you think you MIGHT want to buy.  When a customer does that, it prevents others from having a chance to purchase some items.  I’ve had customers bring up a ton of stuff for me to hold that I thought they planned on buying, only to have them come back after shopping an hour and then have them go through their pile and discard half of it.  Not only do I lose potential sales from them, but nobody else was able to buy the stuff either.  And if they’ve had me hold stuff while they shop until the crowd dies down, then the potential that someone else will come along to buy their discards is less too.
  8. Be considerate of your fellow shoppers.  Don’t bogart the good stuff unless you actually plan to buy it; don’t grab stuff from someone else’s hands (yes, I’ve seen this happen); don’t push in front of another customer to reach something before they can; don’t dig through someone else’s pile of goodies; smile a lot and complain rarely.  This should be a fun experience for everyone.
  9. Try to shop in an orderly manner.  See above, but also: walk, don’t run; don’t create a mess if you can help it (and you know you usually can); while waiting in line (either to get in or to pay) talk with your neighbors or stand quietly, but please don’t grumble.  The staff are trying their best to move the line along quickly.
  10. DON’T STEAL.  That says it all.  You know what’s right.
  11. Never leave unattended any items you plan to purchase.  While above I admonished people to not dig in someone else’s pile, you shouldn’t tempt them by leaving a delectable selection sitting unguarded.
  12. Feel free to bargain with the estate sale professional, but don’t get angry if their idea of a proper price differs from yours.  And be reasonable.  Don’t offer a dollar for something marked $20.
  13. NEVER be rude to the estate sale professional.  It’s never profitable for you.
  14. Get on the estate sale company’s  email list.  Even though you might find out about their sale through another source, being on their email list is usually a better idea.  Sometimes companies will offer a pre-sale open only to their followers.
  15. Take your time at the sale.  Those who hurry often miss things.  It takes a while for you to see beyond the clutter of stuff so that you can see the individual items.  A sale can feel overwhelming at first.  Take a breath and wander for a bit.  Try to ignore the people rushing past you and just be in the moment.  Sounding a bit zen?  It is.  Your treasure will often find you when you least expect it.
  16. Look in less obvious places.  Everyone will search on the tables and counters, but it takes little effort to look under the tables, in the corners, in odd gaps.  Is there a garage?  What about under the house?  Any place that isn’t strictly forbidden is fair game, in my opinion.  But on that note:
  17. Don’t enter where you’ve been forbidden to go.  I know it’s tempting to open that door that says KEEP OUT.  Who knows what treasures may be hidden inside!  Unfortunately, those treasure need to be kept from you for a reason, whatever that reason may be.  Probably it has the family’s items that they plan to keep, or maybe it contains the estate sale crew’s personal belongings, like their purse or coat.  Be respectful and leave it alone.  The same goes for drawers and cabinets marked as areas to leave alone.
  18. Enjoy yourself.  Life should never be so serious that you can’t enjoy the experience of shopping, or even just being among other people or interesting stuff.  Look around you and see how someone else lived their life.  Admire their belongings and appreciate their interests.  Or just be glad that you didn’t have to live with that avocado green refrigerator or that brown shag rug.    Think about how much money you are saving by not buying retail.  Or think about how you are helping the environment by not letting the stuff be added to the landfill and how your carbon footprint has been reduced by reusing and not just buying new stuff that had be manufactured, thus using up even more of Earth’s precious resources.  Whatever.  Estate sales can be lots of fun if you approach them the right way.

As always, I’m sure I missed some tips.  Please feel free to add your own.




Filed under December 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.


Filed under October 2011

The Tarnished Yoke

How did I start doing this kind of work?  Sometimes the way we travel is straight forward, but usually it is circuitous.  I most recently (before being kidnapped into my current profession) worked for ten years as a manager for a major bookstore chain, but prior to that I owned my own bookstore, and prior to that I got my university degree in English with a minor in Writing.  A pretty straightforward path so far (except for my previous years as a psychiatric technician in a state hospital).  So, how did I end up as an estate sale professional?  As I said, the route was circuitous.  My grandmother was born in 1899 of good, thrifty farm stock from Kentucky.  She was neat and orderly, but she saved and used everything possible.  She once gave me the sage advice to never turn down anything someone might offer me, because if I do, they may never offer anything again.  My father was born at the beginning of the Great Depression, so I’m sure he absorbed my grandmother’s thriftiness while still in the womb.  Even my mother learned the hard way that thrift could save one’s life when she and her family fled Oklahoma during the the Dust Bowl Days, only to find work hard to come by in the Great Central Valley of California.  Thrift is in my blood, too.  It’s hard for me to pass up a bargain or to throw useful items out, but I have also learned the dangers of holding on to too much.  My father turned his gift for thrift into an obsession for possessions.  And not always the good kind of possessions.  While my mother lived, she limited my father’s growing masses to his garage, where he kept his old car parts and tools, his dressers and tables, his oxen yoke and his plain old junk.  When she died, the mass grew until it consumed the house.  Every weekend found him scouring garage sales and estate sales looking for treasures.  When we, his children, tried to convince him that his treasures were overwhelming his life and we tried to talk him into letting us help him get rid of some of it, even just a little at a time, he would get angry.  When he died, from the growing mass of cancer that was consuming his body, we mourned and began the task of clearing his house.  He had indeed amassed some treasures, but for every precious thing we found, we uncovered five that were not worth saving.  Some precious things had been destroyed by the weight of worthless things that covered them.  He had saved his treasures as a shield against poverty, or so he said, but in the end his possessions had not added to his life in any good way, and they had limited his life in more ways than just their infringements on his living space.

My father, though, is not the only reason I started doing estate sales.  My daughter is the temptress who led me astray.  Sometimes a gene will loose some of its power with one generation only to spring full force in the next.  My own sweet daughter has the thrift curse.  Fortunately for her, she also inherited my brains and beauty.  At nineteen, she opened her own thrift store.  From that beginning, she started investing in antiques and collectibles, placing them in a succession of stores, until finally she discovered the wonders of estate sales. She was already a knowledgeable professional by the time my father died.  It was she who held the estate sale in my father’s house, she who organized and priced the masses of treasures from his collections.   She had started tempting me slowly, convincing me to come work a day for her here and there.  Soon, I was as addicted as she was.  Then, clever girl, she started asking me to handle more and more of the estate sale business until she had me firmly wearing the yoke.  That’s when she started to pull out.  She opened her first vintage clothing store, then moved to a larger space, then opened a second store.  I was left in the estate sale yoke, thankfully happy with my lot of pulling the business forward.  Kris is still my go-to expert, though now I hope I’ve gained considerable knowledge on my own.  I increased my knowledge by attending the College for Appraisers in Whittier and by reading copiously on the subject, but I know there is still much to be learned.  Always.

Most of us don’t grow up thinking: “Gee, I think I’ll be an estate sale professional!”  I know I didn’t.  However, I find that this business combines many aspects that I find fascinating: people, treasure hunts, peeking into people’s private lives and learning their stories.  It has also taught me many lessons: don’t hold on to things you truly don’t want others to find, organize your stuff so your heirs don’t have to suffer to find your treasures, but don’t throw or give your stuff away just because you think nobody would want it.  They will, or they will sell it for good money.

It’s a good business to be in.  It can be very rewarding, both monetarily and emotionally, but it is also hard work that is often dirty and occasionally unprofitable.  Ignore what you see on TV about this business; most of it is either outright lies or dramatized to make it look more exciting than it really is.  To do this work, in my opinion, you should have a strong sense of honor and professionalism, a stronger stomach, sharp eyes and a good brain.  The ability to empathize goes far, too.  People are an important aspect of this work; if you dislike people in their many forms and moods, you will grow to hate this work.  I’m sure there is more that I’ve forgotten to include.  I welcome comments, but that’s enough from me for today.


Filed under Personal Findings, September 2011