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Collectibles in a bright sunny yellow window at an estate sale

The Essence Of An Estate Sale

Kristy Dodson
Kristy Dodson

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Buying second-hand has long been a pastime for many. Vintage shops, thrift stores, and even neighborhood garage sales grab the attention of even the most discerning shopper. There is just something exhilarating about finding an unexpected treasure at an unexpectedly great price. What we buy is only part of the essence of an estate sale.

A round vintage thermometer with a rainbow in the background.
One of my first estate sale finds.... still has a place on my porch.

My First Time Out

My first experience with an estate sale was nearly 20 years ago. John and I were most likely out on a Saturday looking for a restaurant off the beaten path or a festival of any kind. While I don’t remember exactly what we were up to, I do remember the neighborhood and all the cars parked up and down the narrow street. It was an eclectic mix of people walking to and from a certain house. Curiosity got the best of me so we parked in a tight spot by the curb and started walking. Amazingly enough, we still have several items I purchased that day…a sturdy round waffle iron and two gorgeous baskets that have served us well for many years.

Two wicker baskets stacked outside with cloth napkins inside and outside.

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A carved wooden blackbird in a sunny kitchen window.

The essence of an estate sale

This was the day I tasted the excitement of an estate sale. At the start, I really had a somewhat unconventional reason for going to these sales. I have always had an appreciation for architecture and others’ choices in décor. But something I love even more is discovering the affections in the life of others. Our houses, collections, furnishing, and even color choices speak to who we are. Walking through a house during an estate sale is as much about the people who once occupied the space as it is about “the hunt”. I try never to remove the human element from the treasure.

A collection of vintage colored medicine bottles.

people behind the sale

Strangely enough, my mind’s eye can picture the house from which every estate sale “find” came. If you go to an estate sale, take time to learn about the people. It’s as simple as appreciating the life they created through their collections, books, and even the view they enjoyed from each window. While it may seem strange now, I promise you will hold on to this memory and consider the life and joy some little object brought to others who cherished it before you.

An amber glass chicken dish in a sunny yellow window of an estate sale
Part of a beautiful collection in her sunny window.

Always a story

My most recent venture was a spontaneous one. I woke early knowing I needed to clean house and begin making pickles with all the cucumbers my garden is producing. I happened to check my email and there it was…. a description and a few pictures of a sale in the sweetest area near me. These houses date way back to the early 40s and 50s and some have been occupied by the same families all this time. These are the types of sales I seek. There is always a story to gather, a family to appreciate, and decades of treasures to uncover.

An Estate Sale Morning

Tips for a Successful Estate Sale Experience

The Time

  • Go on the first day of the sale. Most estate sales span over 2-3 days. The first day will be full price, but you will get first dibs.
  • Go early in the day. The estate sale staff is fresh and eager to help. The house is very organized, and you may score the item you loved in the ad.
  • Go back on day 2 or 3. Every sale I have been to has cut their prices by 30-50 percent by the last day. Even if you can’t go on the first day, don’t hesitate to go on day 2 or 3. There are still some treasures and definitely deals to be had.

The People

  • Go alone or with someone who knows what you like. This may sound harsh and not as much fun, but this is not when I like to be distracted. There is always a crowd inside the house so stopping to chit-chat doesn’t work so well. If you take a partner, agree to text pictures, and keep moving without missing a treasure. Divide and conquer is the name of the game.
  • Don’t follow the crowd. If you are looking for something you saw in the estate sale ad, make a beeline to that room. Otherwise, head to the back of the house or outside. The crowd will start shopping as they enter the front door and it gets too congested. Head to the least common area or a room you enjoy (basement, back porch, garage) and you’ll have room to shop.

The Preparing

  • Take supplies. I carry a small tape measure, a list of measurements from my house (saved on my phone), my phone (for texts, quick Google searches, and pictures), and a reusable shopping bag to gather small finds. A blanket or two in the back of the car is essential.
  • Bring cash. Even though most sales do take credit and debit cards they will charge at least 3%. Cash is easier and it might help you stay within a spending limit.
  • Drive the biggest family vehicle. You’ll be prepared when you find that awesome vintage piece.
  • Get organized. When I know I want to spend the day estate sale hopping, I visit estatesales.net. This site gives you the information needed to map out your day.

The Hunt

  • Don’t be afraid to dig. Open boxes and drawers. Dig in cabinets. Sometimes there is just too much to display. This doesn’t mean it isn’t for sale. Some of my best finds have been nailed to the wall or buried in a cabinet.
  • Be sure to ask for a price. These estate sale companies do an amazing job pricing everything. However, things get overlooked. If you do not see a price, ask! When the sale is super busy, they would rather give you a low price than no price at all. Deals are found in unmarked items.
A vintage blue huffy bike from a local estate sale.
Vintage Huffy! Found in a pile out back, no price. Bought for $25!

Enriched by the experience

Shopping at an estate sale is simply the best way to find unique riches that add character and meaning to your own home. Stepping into another’s home gives us a chance to meet a stranger and continue a journey that started with a simple bird in a sunny window. The essence of an estate sale.

Stay Curious…

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