When I started my etsy shop in 2006, it was an online outlet for me to sell the beaded jewelry that I make. Mostly “statement necklaces,” before I’d ever heard of the term. I was known for using chunky gemstones in unusual color combinations. Unusual for 2006, but inspired by the colors of the vintage clothing I’d been collecting for two decades.
I didn’t actively seek out vintage clothing, but I do love it and I seem to have a knack for finding a dress from the ’60s or a skirt from the ’50s mixed in with all the flotsam and jetsam of a tightly-packed thrift store. Over the years, my collection grew. Sometimes I would find a beautiful dress that wasn’t my size, but the thought of some “upcycler” finding it and “modernizing” it makes my skin crawl, so I would buy it to keep it out of irresponsible hands. Now my closet has dresses for me, and dresses for… well, for who? Ostensibly for me, with a little tailoring… or a lot of tailoring. But there are people out there for whom those dresses will be a perfect fit. So I decided to sell the excess out of my etsy shop, as long as I already had one up and running.
Well now, that introduced a bit of an issue. You see, people liked what I had found. And they wanted more. And I like making people happy. Not only that, but being out of “proper” work means that I have time during the weekdays, when most folks are otherwise engaged, to go hunting for stuff. And the patience. And the deep love and appreciation for my prey. The thrift stores, around here anyway, are good about selling clean clothing. I rarely find an item in an ARC or Salvation Army that smells of smoke or has surface dirt beyond what it might pick up from being dropped on a dusty linoleum floor. That being said, there’s a nearby Goodwill that I will go to only on rare occasions, partly because it’s mostly the crappiest of crap and partly because I want to bathe in Purell whenever I leave. ::Shudder:: Thrift stores can be surprisingly consistent. Consignment stores will have a selection with far less junk in the way, but they charge higher prices (and rightly so, since they’re paying their suppliers rather than relying on donations). However, I am cheap frugal living on a tight budget and assume my customers are as well, so I try my best to find bargains that I can pass along.
And so I hit up estate sales. Typically, Ol’ Widow Jones, after living for 30-40-50 years in her suburban ranch home, the last few without the companionship of her beloved husband, has passed on. Her children have cried and bickered and quarreled over who gets which lamp or Hummel figurine or clock or sofa, and what’s left is too overwhelming for them to deal with. They can either set mom’s house on fire, or hire a company to come in, empty out all of the drawers and cabinets and boxes, price everything, and have a 3-day garage sale. When was the last time you moved? Remember how much stuff you couldn’t believe you had accumulated? Multiply it by a factor of… 10. Now, when you put stuff out for a garage sale, you dust it off. You wash it. You sweep out the garage, you move stuff that isn’t for sale onto the back patio for now. You’ve probably thought about that garage sale for three months. This estate sale was organized in a week. The fact that stuff is priced at all is impressive. Clothing is hung in the closet, exactly as it was found. Dresser drawers full of half-slips and Playtex bras are emptied into cardboard boxes, which will be pawed through by hundreds of people over the next three days. 75 church guild cookbooks are cleared out of the cabinets and piled on a folding table. Gardening pesticides that were outlawed in the â€™70s are loosely organized in the garage. Over in the corner is grandpa’s box of 45s, the box that got wet when the pipes froze in â€™86, and it dried up eventually but not until mold had time to form. Over here is grandma’s stash of brightly-colored polyester double-knit fabric from when she was still sewing her own clothes in the â€™70s. The basement still smells “off” from the time when poor Rex was accidentally locked in there for 12 hours, and everybody was outside looking for him.
I went to a sale last weekend that was a little creepy for me, because I actually knew the homeowner. Mark, a neighbor of mine, lived alone with his two small dogs, Romeo & Juliet. I almost didn’t go at all, but I assume that Mark’s college-age daughter had hired the estate sale crew, and I wanted to make sure that she got as much money as possible to help her with expenses. The carpet and padding had been removed before the sale was staged, but you could still smell all the times that Romeo & Juliet didn’t get outside as quickly as they needed.
The sale I went to on Saturday caught my eye not only because it was a mere 1/2 mile from my house, but because the listing mentioned “over 6,000 LPs.”Â Six thousand vinyl records. Holy jeebus! However, I didn’t notice the listing until Saturday morning. Estate sales usually start at 9am on Friday, and people line up early to get the best selection. I’d missed the first 8 hours of this sale before I even knew about it. Nah, anything good will already have been snatched up. Besides, it’s cash only (as they often are) and my bank is in the opposite direction. Also, my mom said she’d be stopping by, which means I’d only get over there even later in the day. Nope, not even going to bother with this one. I still have a couple of dresses, some Melmac, a BOX full of day gloves, and more sewing patterns to list. No time to be OH MAN I CANNOT STOP THINKING ABOUT THIS SALE. There are photos online, and that starburst wall clock looks coooool. The mid-century console phonograph is pretty rad, too. I have no budget for furniture, but I figure the kind of people who would own a Danish Modern buffet would probably have some neat kitchenware and clothing. Fine. Fiiiiine. I’ll go.
By now, I’ve hemmed and hawed for so long that the sale will shutter for the day in 90 minutes. The front door to the house is open. Through the doorway, I can see tables full of glassware, and as I cross the threshold, WHOA there were some dogs living in this house! Olfactory alert! I glance through the glassware, start to rummage through the costume jewelry, and before long I need to get out of that room. The kitchen is much better on the nose, and the basement merely has your typical musty-ness going on. There’s a bed heaped with tablecloths and whatnot, tables full of I-don’t-get-a-chance-to-look because there are racks of clothing, and I am racing against two guys who, I glean from their banter, buy up vintage rockabilly and western wear for export to Japan. There’s lots of polyester which I don’t bother looking at, but also a lot of cotton which needs investigation. The lady of the house was apparently a big fan of house dresses, so much of what I can manage to pull out from the tightly-packed racks gets put back. There are some gems squished in there, but I still have to look carefully at each item: our patron was also a seamstress, and many items are in an unfinished or partially-altered state. There’s mildew, there’s dust, there’s no delicate way to put this: there’s cat barf. The basement is a tight squeeze, and there isn’t much room for inspection. I do the best I can, pack up a bag that I thoughtfully brought along with me, and explore the rest of the house. The sunroom offers up a pressure canner that I could use, had I the room to store it or the initiative to clean off what looks like 40 years’ worth of dust and grime. There’s a container with some umbrellas, but a cursory glance indicates broken ribs, so I don’t take a closer look. There’s an entire Melmac dinnerware set, but one of the teacups is broken and I don’t feel like piecing it out. The first bedroom is nothing special, the second bedroom is stacked beyond comprehension with record albums (the 6,000 LPs! they really do exist!), the third bedroom is HOLY SMOKES this must be where they kept the cat. And for some reason, the heat is cranked in that room. Now that my senses have been thoroughly shocked, I can go back to the front room and look at the jewelry again. While I’m perusing the plastic baggies of brooches, I eavesdrop on the team of guys who are running the show. They’re laughing, they’re having a good time, they’re talking about the dead squirrel that is apparently somehow attached to one of those umbrellas that I didn’t take a closer look at. Seems that none of them want to be the person responsible for detaching the squirrel and then… what? What should they even do with a dead squirrel? Who would be the one to carry it to the Dumpster out front? They ring up my purchases. They offer me the fab-yoo-lusss 1950s dinette set for half price. I don’t have the cash, the space in my house, or the room in my car. Which is a shame, because that set is the best looking Formica/vinyl pairing I’ve ever come across. I go home. I wash my hands up to the elbows for about 10 minutes.
Maybe I’ll go back today.