What I Learned From the Estate Sale

 Eventual destination of a lot of stuff.

Eventual destination of a lot of stuff.

A house, said comedian George Carlin, is just a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get more stuff.

Since February, I have been liquidating an estate.  Weeks and weeks of going through overflowing rooms, cupboards, drawers, shelves, boxes.

Digging, sorting, tossing.

Fascinated, puzzled, amused.


I would now like to share a few things I learned from sifting through the lifetime accumulation of other people.

  • We human beings love stuff. We love to buy stuff WHEREVER we go, whether downtown or Australia or Disneyland or Egypt. Stuff, by the way, from places other than where we live is more interesting/attractive/valuable than stuff from our local mall. Evidently.
  • We do not stop and think about the irrationality of having boxes and boxes of stuff stored in garages or closets or attics or basements. And I’m not talking about Christmas decorations.  All of us have stood in the middle of the garage gazing at the crowded shelves, thinking, “This is ridiculous. I need to go through that mess.” Then we get in the car and go to Target.
  • The old adage “Nature abhors a vacuum” is true. True, I tell you, true. Do you have ANY empty drawers in your house? Hmm? Or empty shelf space? Or empty plastic bins? Why not? Because an empty drawer/shelf/bin just seems wrong. Why? THERE IS NO RATIONAL REASON. Except nature abhors a vacuum. It may have been part of the original Edenic curse.

     Dresden. Valuable. On some planet.

    Dresden. Valuable. On some planet.

·         We think that those collectibles or fine whatevers we find SO interesting will be appreciated and valued by the people we leave behind. While this is often true of family heirlooms, I can tell you that, for instance, a small antique Dresden lamp with the figure of a simpering French dandy passed down from great-aunt Justine is unlikely to be appreciated by anyone in your 21st century sphere. Trust me.

Don’t get me wrong. I have stuff.  But I am decreasing the amount of it. And listing items in our Living Trust I think my loved ones might like to have. And they can keep them or not. It won’t, at that point, matter to me.

You do have a Living Trust, don’t you?

Oh, well. It all ends up in that great river of human accumulation washing around the globe anyway. Think about that the next time you see “Estate Sale” taped to your corner street sign. Go ahead and stop by, but if you find a cool pair of brass andirons, make yourself take the Dresden lamp to the thrift store. Get something – get rid of something.

Fight the curse. Your heirs, or whoever organizes your estate sale, will thank you.

Thoughts? Are you an accumulater? Or perhaps a decumulater?


6 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Donna Thomas on April 30, 2013 at 3:54 pm

    We found this past autumn when going through Mom’s house (stuff) precious items she had kept since her very young childhood; valentines, a graduation dress, corsages, and photos of people I still don’t recognize. So, what to do with it all? But the one item that tickles me yet is a note we found in a book about a town in Texas. “I don’t think this town has any part of our family history.” But she kept the book anyway. Sweet Mom


  2. Posted by Erin Smith on April 30, 2013 at 9:39 pm

    Smiling:) You are so right Debra… but still, smiling… Strange thing about us humans. I love the way you study our peculiar behaviors and writing loving little nudges to gently help us recognize said behaviors. I have been missing your blog posts<3


  3. Funny thing. I have been thinking and dealing with this same thing, just today. We had a lot of “Stuff” in our garage that burned down. Yearbooks and photo albums, saved kids art work, and baby shoes and clothes that I didn’t want to get rid of. My wedding dress and memorabilia from the day. Art that my first boyfriend did, just in case he got famous. Most of it went with the fire. But much of it, by well meaning friends and neighbors, was salvaged into boxes or ashy sut that I have yet to really go through. Today was that day. We are trying to fit all our “Stuff” into one, one car garage, as to use the other one for bedroom for Benjamin. I tore melted photos out of melted photo books, to put into a baggie….. it was fun to look at the photos, to remember… but it wasn’t life or death. I found some journals written as a young woman, before I was saved….. scary, but telling. Nothing I would ever want my kids to read. I considered tossing them, but I didn’t. I did toss a lot. I saved the salvageable photos, and some letters from parents and such, but it was a nice feeling to know that if it all went up in flames….. again, I would be okay. It is almost strange that I feel a sense of release that those things were burned, and lost forever. Like now I don’t have to feel bad about not really caring too much about my kids half completed baby books, and the signatures of high-school classmates, and Benjamin’s first pair of shoes, even my wedding dress. If the fire taught me anything, it taught me that stuff is nothing more then, well, stuff. We actually have very little stuff to store, and it feels great, but it would probably never have happened without being forced into it. 🙂



  4. As you said, catastrophe has a way of reminding us, distilling, what’s important.


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