Thursday, August 8, 2013

Thoughts on an Estate Sale

Confession: I'm an avid estate sale shopper. As in, once I see an ad for one, I can't help myself. I make a beeline for what I imagine to be a gold mine of antiques and undiscovered treasures, just waiting for me. Usually my hopes are dashed and reality comes crashing down once I take a look around, but I have walked away with some sweet steals, like these little beauties I picked up today.

I collect crystal and cut glass, so these two are right at home with the rest of my pretties.

My passion for estate sales was born out of necessity, not indulgence. Brendan and I married while I was still in grad school, which meant that we needed to furnish a duplex on one meager income. Both of us inherited a handful of leftover furniture pieces from past roommates, but there's something about being newly married that makes you want something that's just ours. Every now and then I'd hit up an estate sale, and we slowly amassed a mismatched but well-loved collection of furniture and decor culled second-hand. Fast forward five years, and we're living in a new city on two incomes, having shed our estate-sale trappings and enjoying a new home and new furnishings to match. When it came time to donate our well-worn furniture, I felt a deep twinge of nostalgia. It was hard to let go, imbued with the memories of living on love and little else. There's something very special about the things you had, when you had next to nothing.

I surveyed the spread at today's estate sale with a keen eye, trying to separate the hidden treasures from the junk. Taking in the dishes and Christmas decorations and old clothes and books and knick-knacks, I kept thinking about all the stuff, rooms and rooms it. The woman who lived in this house had recently died, and all this was hers; some of it was probably very dear to her. But now, weeks or even days after she passed away, it was junk, a lifetime of possessions ready for strangers to wade through in search of a bargain.

Her stuff, this nameless woman's things, made me think of my stuff. I'm a spender. I struggle with caring too much about the things I have and want. I tell myself that I need a new dress when school starts. I become convinced that people will look down on me if I don't have trendy furniture and decor for my house, and that my new outfit will look terrible without the perfect shoes and jewelry. I focus on it way too much, but all that stuff won't bring any real meaning to my life. It's just noise.

When I was in college, a professor was talking to us about the importance of using our money to help others. His mother-in-law died a few years back, and she was a hoarder. He and his wife spent a week packing up her house to get it ready to sell, parsing through and throwing away piles of possessions that were once important to her. Now they were all trash, or something to sell to a stranger simply to get rid of it. Things, he said, won't matter when we're gone. We need to spend our lives giving back to others.

My goal is to have a new perspective about the things in my life. I'm not saying that you shouldn't have furniture or buy that dress you love; we need to view them through a different lens. One day all our possessions that we loved so dearly, put so much thought into, and worried so much about, will be useless to us. The best thing we can do is give back to others, invest in helping people, and care less about our things. My goal, my work in progress, is to measure my life not in what I have, but in what I give. And hopefully I can remember that the next time an estate sale rolls around.

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