Submitted by Susanne Bacon
Estate sales are something that I have never been to in my German past. Not that Germany didn’t have its number of those – they are usually announced in papers in specific advertising pages. Germany also has thrift shops like Oxfam or Christian organizations’ ones. It’s just that our family never went to either. We bought new. We saved up to get new. Whereas here in the US, estate sales seem to be a favorite weekend pastime, in Germany it is still associated with poverty. Or being a bit odd. Or … a collector. At least it was in the circles I used to grow up and live in.One person’s cast-offs might be another one’s treasure, like these Japanese vases I just love to look at.
When I came here, I quickly found that getting to estate sales as early as possible was a competitive matter. You see the signs pop up and off you go. Some of those estate sales are professionally organized, others are done by the owners themselves. It keeps astonishing me how many possessions a single household can hold, up to the level of where it makes no sense anymore. I have seen estate sales with three pianos in one room, kitchens with a multitude of rolling pins none of which had intact handles, bedrooms filled with scores of pairs of designer shoes, rusty items in tool sheds that had obviously not been used for ages. I have kept wondering where people stow all these things. And why they keep what they obviously don’t use anymore.
I remember that I went over my possessions twice a year way back when and discarded the unusable that hadn’t already been disposed to the roadside for the city’s biannual bulky waste collection. I discarded clothes that were worn out to clothes containers. I never had more than one rolling pin, one piano, a dozen pair of shoes (which I all wore), and certainly no rusty items. And even now I think I can do without a lot because I simply have no need for it.
Thrift stores are another source of things that one person doesn’t want anymore but another might need. Or want. I find so-called antique stores often in a similar department of offers, though there are a few that are really worth looking at for old, beautifully designed furniture or decorative items. A couple of years ago, a friend and I went to a quite fancy antique store in Lakewood in search for a gift for a friend of ours. I saw a couple of gorgeous Japanese ceramic vases that I simply couldn’t resist. And that I still have neither room nor purpose for, but they are so beautiful. So, I guess this is how people end up with way more items than a house can theoretically hold.
Sometimes, while wandering around an estate sale, I am more interested in the story the possessions tell about their owners. I spot foreign nationalities, hobbies, tastes, memorabilia of a life that has moved on to somewhere else. I look at the houses and imagine what it must have felt like living in them when there were children’s feet pattering up and down the stairs and a dog might have had its bowl somewhere by the backdoor in the kitchen. Estate sales, thrift stores, antique stores are fascinating places to let the mind wander indeed. And I love the thought that things are not just tossed, but that people care about them and buy them for reuse.
I still purge my possessions regularly. Right now, I have an accumulation of bagged vases, seasonal decorations, an unworn sundress (whatever possessed me to buy it?!), and a number of books that I won’t reread. They are waiting to be transported to a thrift shop. To imagine that one day anybody would have to handle all the things I use on a daily basis and a clutter of items I never even look at … No, I rather take the latter and give them away now. Except the brand-new fondue set that has been sitting unused on a garage shelf – for how many years now? But you never know. I might want to use it yet one day.