My 2 Cents On Stuff

A column about letting go by Michelle Passoff of - Aug 17, 2012

Pluck the Personal Memories Before Your Estate Sale Set Up

It is a dangerous proposition to leave anything in your house that you don't want estate sale companies to merchandise and shoppers to snap up and buy, especially your family photos, albums, slides, and movies, clothing memorabilia, and special anything that relates to the family history.

Many of these items are tucked here, there and everywhere in albums, boxes, bags, and even framed.  Cull them all and remove them from the sale. Assemble them elsewhere in a meaningful way because you don’t want family history to fade in the next generation and be totally lost after that.  If you don’t identify photos and the story around events then consequently pride and/or understanding of the past will be tossed and that is tragic for future generations.

When my mom died, I wanted to be sure that my parent’s love story would be recounted through the generations because it was a quality of life that I wished for my nieces and nephew to inherit. Even though I did not have children, I took it upon myself to assemble an album that recounted my parent’s relationship at a glance and digitally duplicated it for them.  It was easy to trace how my parents met in high school, the first house they owned, the business they built together, highlights of their travel, the birth of all their children right on through to their elder years. If these photos were randomly left in boxes it would not have sent the message, which I thought was important: love and relationship can endure.  The proper place for this memorabilia was not at our estate sale, but in the hands of family. 

Not only is it a good idea to be thorough in your search through the estate sale home for genealogical purposes.  Leaving memorabilia in the home for a sale only tempts questions about the host family’s story and we don’t encourage that because gossip is not the game. In a lot of cases another’s family story saddens shoppers who presumably are reminded of their own losses to the point that we sometimes have found shoppers crying in a corner! This detracts from, rather than encourages, sales. We prefer to create an upbeat energy around our sales, making them more like a pop-up retail experience than a mausoleum tour.  The bottom line is: save your important stuff and neutralize the environment so shoppers can project owning items as their own and not dragging someone else’s past. If this sounds like a rule, then let me add that rules are meant to be broken.

Sometimes the mystique around a family’s story adds to an items appeal and value, like the military uniforms of a brigadier general who wore his heart (purple heart, that is) on his sleeves.  We have gone to the trouble of getting documents from our clients for a buyer, which helped establish provenance for the items he purchased.

On another occasion, we had a photo of a 70-something chunky mom in the middle of a Florida swimming pool, donning dark sunglasses, playboy bunny ears and toasting with a drink in her hand. Had it not been for the fact that the photo was poster-sized, it would have been just a real cute addition to any family album. But given that it was larger than life none of the family members wanted to make it the centerpiece of their home, so we thought it was perfect for someone, somewhere and we showcased it in the sale. A funky boutique in the trendy part of town bought it and resold it to a couple who liked kitsch.  Our client’s thought mom would get a giggle out of the photo’s destiny because they said she truly was a work of art!

One of our clients gave us the green light to go ahead with an estate sale as soon as he finished taking from the house of all he wanted for his cross-country sojourn in an RV.   Then he got a call from us about the diplomas he had left on the wall and an urn marked “Benny”, which turned out to be the remains of his beloved dog.  So check more than once to be sure that you have everything you are taking and ask your estate sale company to be on the look out for what you may have forgotten.

My two cents:  don’t wait until you are dead and buried to let your family reconstruct your life story.  It is worth the time and effort to assemble albums throughout the years so that your memories of milestone moments are fresh and you get to tell your side of the story of life!  In the absence of that, pluck personal memorabilia before the estate sale company comes in to toss or sell your treasured past so that future generations understand their roots.

Ask The Clutter Guru

Michelle will respond directly to questions or comments below.