If life's about the journey, does it matter how many bathroom breaks you take along the way?

Sifting through almost ninety years of my grandfather-in-law’s stuff just sucks.  On multiple levels.  In an effort to weave a path through lives still in motion, things become pretty cut-and-dry, and more quickly than I’d like to admit, a keep pile, sell pile, and trash pile form.  Multiple mounds ebb and flow seamlessly, in constant competition with one another while they grow in disproportionate shares.  Every artifact is there, present and accounted for, if not fully appreciated for a sticker price that can no longer be collected on demand.

One man’s treasure is another man’s trash, like the wooden bowl with a permanent, oily sheen that’s tagged for Good Will.  Even though it held a homemade Italian salad every Friday for fifty years, because spaghetti night was Gumps’ favorite of the week, valuables must be sifted, prioritized, and turned into chattel.  Tschokies are tagged at a dollar each because they don’t match anyone’s décor.  The truth is, no one else in the family is into cluttery collections, or understands the international appeal of the Lladro-like figurines that lined every dresser and shelf.

Image via

If you’ve been in the position of having to troll through a loved one’s possessions, you know that determining the “value” of the mementos left behind not only feels wrong, it is.  But life sometimes becomes commoditized, drilling down to a series of lists to be checked off and eventually thrown away.

I’m not going to mine a trove of memories too deeply right now, because I’ve been sad for two weeks, and at the moment, I’d rather smile.  Instead, I’m gonna tell you why you shouldn’t put me in charge of anything you cherish or might want to keep.  As sentimental as I may sound, my actions tell a different story.  It’s not what you say that matters; it’s what you do.

I’m a classic discarder, the anti-hoarder, an OCD Gemini who cleans the kitchen counter and sweeps the floor about nine times a day, with or without Necessary and Proper Cause.  I’ll pick up your glass and put it in the dishwasher before you’ve gotten halfway through your drink, and you’d better nail down or hide anything I consider to be superfluous, because I’ll toss it through the air and into the trash before you have the chance to remember that it was ever yours.

I am not a hoarder. I am, however, hyperventilating while looking at this picture.

This is especially true with anything containing the words “stocking” and “stuffer,” and if it was purchased at Dollar General?  Forget it.  It never existed as far as you know.

So I found myself in an interesting position yesterday, suddenly a person of great influence and power.  I was tasked with the responsibility of negotiating prices at Gumps’ estate sale, and while others in the family were actually trying to make money, my goal was a little more mild: to get anything inside the house out.

If you’re gonna take the time to argue over why a box of sandpaper should be $0.50 instead of a dollar, you can have it.  Seriously.  Take it, because I’ve got better things to do than give you the thrill of your life when I settle at $0.65.  In fact, since I’m in such a generous mood, why don’t you add the dining room set and a Mandarin-to-English dictionary while you’re at it?  You’re a big guy, perfectly capable of strapping a four hundred pound organ on your back, right?  So go for it.  It’ll look great next to that new table and chairs you’re lugging home to set up in your backyard alongside the washer and dryer that don’t work and your collection of blown-out tires.

Sanford and Son rules!

But in my haste to discard waste yesterday, I was little trigger-happy with a couple of things that deserved a second thought.  I’m listing them below so that when you have to spend a warm, sunny day selling the relics of someone you wish was still around, you’ll be a little more judicious than me.

Even though the Craig’s List ad says the doors open at 10:00 a.m., there’s a contingency of scavengers who get to a garage sale at least an hour ahead of the start, and sometimes camp out the night before (just kidding…I hope).  I imagine this occurs because at a certain age, the sleep that’s beginning to elude me simply disappears, and rather than watch an endless, glassy-eyed loop of Lawrence Welk reruns, it’s a lot more fun to get out of the Barcalounger and haggle with me.

Image via

So when an ancient dude walked up with a box full of old spray paint, I thought I’d hit the mother lode.  Not only was it useless junk, but hazardous waste that I couldn’t put out by the curb.  Double score!  If he’d been the clairvoyant zombie that keeps popping up in every book I read lately, he’d understand that I would have paid him to take that stuff off my hands.  Instead I got a crumpled $10.00 bill.  Sweet!

Image via

I was feeling pretty good about myself until a nice lady tapped me on the shoulder and told me the real value of what I let ricochet out of the tool shed.  Apparently, there’s an ensemble of successful graffiti artists, mostly residing in Malibu or Park Avenue co-ops and not anywhere close to the river in a tent, who will pay just about anything for certain paint colors that have been retired.  Like, to the tune of $1,000 a can.  As I internally high-fived myself, about a dozen of them walked out the door, on my watch, and under the appraisal of my self-satisfied eye.  Oops.

A little more on my guard (or so I thought), I immediately ran into another kind person who found a box of toys we hadn’t had the chance to sift through.  We managed to pull a vintage G.I. Joe off the top just ahead of the sale, but hadn’t yet foraged into the depths of broken Lincoln Logs, pick-up sticks, and dirt.  He rummaged around, and at the bottom found some old Barbies with mismatched clothes and really bad hair.  He mentioned that his granddaughters loved to play with dolls, he missed them dreadfully because they lived out of town, and that he’d take them off my hands for $1.00 each.  I found this sentiment to be endearing, since I have two little girls of my own.  Plus, he was old, and even though the coot with the spray paint pulled one over on me, I have a soft spot for elderly people who smell like Vicks vapor rub and mentho-lyptus all rolled into one.

Vintage Bad Hair Barbie. Image via

Had I made it past remedial math in college, I would have realized that at about eighty, his granddaughters would be like, twenty years old today.  Playing with dolls when you’re almost legal is creepy, but I was so touched by his desire to look out for his sweet girls (and excited to get rid of more junk), that I would have happily let him take the whole box off my hands for free.

These are the Barbies I deal with on a daily basis at home:

In the land of Essa's misfit Barbies, amputation is common, and floating heads fly across the room for no apparent reason.

This is the one he was most interested in at the sale:

1962 Bubblecut Redhead Barbie loves hanging out in the desert.

Notice any similarities?  Right.  They’re all scary as hell.

Luckily, the same kind, genius-lady who knew what a fortune we lost in paint was hovering nearby, and stopped him in his tracks.  Not only was he trying to get out the door with the previously pictured 1962 Bubblecut Redhead Barbie with extra-large bangs, he had Yachtsman Ken #789 buried at the bottom of his stash, who was totally spiffed up and packaged in mint condition as he smiled winningly from the confines of his box.  You could just tell that Ken was dying to go sailing with the mega-millionaire graffiti artist who buys four-figure cans of half-used spray paint on a whim, and probably, in a strange twist of fetish-fate, loves to play with overpriced vintage dolls.

Vintage Ken wants to play with you. Image via

The old codger’s offer immediately went from $5.00 to $100.00, my savvy mother-in-law said no, he turned a ghastly shade of do not resuscitate, and quietly slithered away.  As it turns out, Barbie, Ken, their friends Skooter and Skipper, and all of the mismatched clothes are worth thousands of dollars.  Don’t come lurking around my house in search of them as they await their eBay fate, though, because they’re nowhere near my house.

Everyone in the family is onto me now, and next weekend?  I’m in charge of the free coffee and donuts, and that’s about it.

30 thoughts on “Why You Don’t Want Me in Charge of Your Memories…or Your Garage Sale

  1. i mayfly says:

    FMV – what a ‘willing’ buyer WILL pay for an item vs the value assigned by experts – sometimes there is a big discrepancy. I EBay’d a valuable ($300 range) leather Harley Davidson saddlebags and got a whopping $3.40. I still have the check. It was such an insult, I refused to cash it. So, don’t feel badly about your spray paint. There’s one of us born every minute, according to P.T. Barnum

    Distribution of a lifetime of accumulated stuff – so many emotions passed through me with my mom’s estate. In the end, I paid a 90-yr old friend of hers to conduct the estate sale and distribute what was not sold. I selected the items I wanted to cherish and walked away. I know the value of her estate was more than what was given to our family, but that’s on others’ conscience not mine. I did the right thing.

    1. It’s hard because everyone has different values, taste, style, needs, etc and at the end of the day, the whole “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” really is true.
      Thanks for taking the time to leave such a thoughtful comment.

  2. Jennifer (Greenwell) Haddow says:

    When I moved from Tacoma back to Louisville 14 years ago, I sold everything from my 1-bedroom apartment, except what would fit in my tiny Ford Escort hatchback (mostly clothes and books), and got a whopping $800, furniture, expensive china, electronics, and all. It hurts to know I probably could have gotten more, but I am like you – just take it off my hands, please, so I don’t have to pay a moving company and/or storage company.

    Unfortunately, I married a packrat and delivered a second one, so it’s a little harder for me to continually purge. Don’t tell, but I often put away things I don’t think they will miss and donate them after a certain period of proving me right.

    P.S. Wish I were in Hawaii 😉

    1. I’m with you Jennifer, both in Hawaii and on the discard strategy. Maybe we need to go to Maui and clean out your parent’s closets?
      Thanks for taking the time to comment, hope all is well with you!

  3. clownonfire says:

    I’m a purger myself, but will hunt for bargains, especially during garage sales.
    Some of the best vintage figurines can be found there.
    Wish I was closer, we could have had lemonade together.

    1. You don’t by chance want a pair of cute, his and her squirrel figurines do you? According to the lady who knew all about the paint and barbies, they’re worth something, and they’re still around….

  4. crubin says:

    It is difficult to sort through loved ones possessions after they’ve passed on. After watching my husband and his siblings recently go through this, he and I decided to make a conscious effort to widdle down our belongings. Once our kids are grown and gone, we want to majorly purge. Kind of liberating to think about. 🙂

    1. I feel the same way Carrie! Even though I’m a discarder, we’ve still got boxes and boxes of VHS tapes in the basement and high school text books that haven’t been opened since 1988. By the time my kids are in 9th grade text books will be obsolete. I love the idea of a small condo with minimal storage space (no boomerangs allowed in this house) overlooking the ocean. Thanks, as always, for stopping by. =)

      1. crubin says:

        Oh, now that sounds lovely. 🙂

  5. I had no idea what a hoarder was until about 6 years ago when I noticed a neighbor couldn’t close the door of their apartment because of all the “priceless” stuff they we holding onto were flooding outside. Rather scary. I’m with you….get rid of the stuff, though having patience on a few things is ok too.

    1. You seem very level-headed. Are you doing anything next Saturday? We’re having another garage sale and could use a rational, yet firm negotiator.

      1. Do I get a cut of the sales????

      2. You can have it ALL.

  6. Aw, I have the red headed bubble cut Barbie myself, and an original Ken with the flocked hair, although his hairline is receding…

    I know my family is going to toss all of my “valuable” belongings when I die, so I try to tell them what’s what. I don’t think they are listening….sigh.

    I am not a hoarder, I am a collector….I keep saying that.

    1. I have about six cheap mugs from Michael’s that I drink out of every day that I write (I’m drinking tea, not vodka, btw). They say things like “write your own story” and all of these inspirational creative quotes that I love. They were $1 each. I know they’ll be some of the first things to go in the dumpster when I’m gone. The red headed bubble cut Barbie, on the other hand, will be the first thing put onto eBay.

  7. My 87 r old grandmother passed away last year and we have begun the task of going through everything. Sadly we cannnot even assume that empty paper bags from stores are empty. In one we found a necklace of my sisters that we had believed was stolen by a crazy ex in the bag with a receipt showing my grandmother had taken it to be fixed about a year before we last knew it was gone. As we go through this I have decided to organize papers very specifically. Also I have been encouraging my pack rat of a father to allow us to start this with his items. I feel forced to be very blunt and say it is better to do this now then basically have it all thrown out when you die.

    Sadly, garage and estate sales are full of people trying to pull an episode of “storage wars” on you. Don’t worry you are not the only one who has been ripped off in a fast one by someone!

    1. Right. Memories can get turned into a mess if you’re not careful, and conversations about the future can be really uncomfortable. Thanks for taking the time to leave such a detailed comment and best of luck!

  8. No, my blogging bestie – you are dead wrong. I DO want you in charge of my garage sale. As I am packing, I am finding it easier than ever to put items in the discard pile. Though all of this will end up going to Goodwill (no time for a garage sale), you’ve got the right attitude. Get the stuff out of there. If it’s in the garage sale pile, it’s because you don’t want it anymore – so get rid of it. What the people reading your blog don’t know, is how much time you’ve spent since Gump’s death organizing this sale and sorting through the remnants of his life. You’ve been a wonderful daughter-in-law and I’m sure that your hubby’s family really appreciates all the hard work you’ve done – and the fact that you’ve made a lot of the hard decisions for them. It can be so hard to let go of things for some people and they often feel guilty getting rid of the belongings of someone who’s passed. They’re so fortunate to have you with your discard attitude. Now, what do I have to do to get you to come over here, help me pack and weed the plant beds for me? Wonderful post – as always – and I learned something. Spray paint is valuable. Who knew?

    1. Awwww, thanks BB. Why don’t you and Matt move to Denver and I’ll help you UNpack. =)

      1. Because Tampa is a callin’! But I’ll see you this Fall!

  9. Anastasia says:

    Got a good chuckle out of this… I remember a former boss leaving me alone at his yard sale while he and the wife went to post signs and when he’d come back I’d sold a VERY valuable coffee table book from some photographer…for $5. 🙂 enjoyed your post !

  10. Ah, I chuckled to myself all the way through this. It’s so reassuring to know that there are others out there like me. I had a friend post something on facebook about her son finding my son’s soccer jersey as they rummaged through racks at the local Goodwill. He begged his mom to let him buy it so he could return it to us. It had his name on the back – but we’d have over twenty soccer jerseys in the dress up bin if I didn’t toss a handful of them now and then. Yes, I am a tosser through and through.

    All things come in different shades of good and bad. I am bent on believing there are a lot of great shades of good in it – or at least enough to counter the bad ones.

    I’m pretty sure somone once said we should store up our treasures in heaven anyways:)

    I love it that you made some guys day by selling him cheap artsy graffiti paint. Love it.

    1. Thanks for your great comment, Tris. I’m with you all the way!

  11. So, how’s the pooch doing?

    1. Oh, Vickie. That’s an entirely different conversation and post. I’m gearing up for it, but don’t have the heart to write about it now. Let’s just say I was overly ambitious with Brandy…. =(

  12. truefinds says:

    I wish I could have talked to you BEFORE your sale, because I would have suggested that you hire a professional to handle it. Not only do they know the prices, but they’ll watch for the thieves and deal with the messes. All you would have had to do was take out the things you wanted to keep and then collect your share of the money after it was over. You would have had much less hassle and would have likely gotten much more money.

    1. Yes! If only I had somehow posted before the sale, you could have advised me to outsource it, sit back, and relax. We’re gonna do round two one of these days (definitely not tomorrow), and contacting the kind lady who saved the barbies seems like the way to go. Thanks for the advice!

  13. Amy says:

    As the other daughter-in-law, I was happy to have had the opportunity to help my mother-in-law and sister-in-law with the sorting, purging and selling of once cherished items. I too am a tosser outer, however, I was thrilled when I haggled with a gentleman over 4 1970-71 Nebraska Cornhusker Champion bar glasses and got 10 bucks for them, not to mention the 12 dollars I got for 4 1970s Bronco’s Orange Crush beer mugs, as well as, 35 dollars for a large array of glass figurines which I haggled up from the initial offer of $20…I knew watching Pawn Stars would come in handy some day!

    Thanks Stacie for the post, and the memories of last Saturday. I look forward to our next selling adventure and can’t wait to see who will be in the dumpster when we get there!

    1. So thankful you were there to counter my lack of negotiating skills. If it weren’t for you, we would have ended up in the red. Love ya sista!

  14. Logan Pearsall Smith: “The mere process of growing old together will make the slightest acquaintance seem a bosom friend.”

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