06 April 2013

The Frugal Home: Estate Sales


Estate sale goodies! Vintage fabrics, sewing notions, buttons, and a 1930's iron that weighs 10 pounds.

Have you ever been to an estate sale? If you have, then you know discovering gems amongst other  people's stuff is one of the best kept shopping secrets.  If you have not, well I kinda feel sorry for you. You see, estates sales are much more that a glamorous garage sale. An estate sale is usually the liquidation of an entire home. If you are into anything vintage, retro or just plain out unique- you need to hit up an estate sale ASAP.


My pride and joy: pink entry way chandelier!

I became hip to estate sales about 3 years ago when an old colleague asked for my help in working an event. My eyes were larger than my bank account! China, purses, linen- everything I adore was organized under one roof! I made out with a cool 50's era desk, and huge gold embossed wood framed mirror. Fast forward to today, I am now apart of a team that organizes sales throughout the South Bay area of Los Angeles County. We've organized sales in million dollar homes and modest houses with bounty of treasures. Besides getting first dibs on great items, I have the rare opportunity of getting to know the former owners through what they possessed. Estate sales usually happen for one of two reasons: the resident is moving and needs to down size; or the family needs to liquidate a deceased relatives possessions. Not to sound eerie or anything, but the best sales are when a death happens. Let me explain.


The first house I worked contained 3 generations of stuff- dating back to the early 40's. The family owned a dry cleaning business and were active within the community...fancy dresses, china, linens, and jewels galore. At this home, I also picked up one of my favorite items, women's lifestyle mags dating from the late 40's to early 50's. It was charming to discover her handwriting in the margins of the pages. The most recent house was in a neighborhood that was built up after WW2. As it was normal for the era, the wife stayed at home and tended to the house while the husband provided. This husband was the maintenance super at StarKist Tuna. From the abundance of booze and the 70's sound system, these two liked to entertain! The Mrs. was a pretty good seamstress and loved to shop as evident from the abundance of fabrics, sewing notions, and business cards from department stores that have been closed for over 40 years. Childless, they took in her sister's sons after their mother's death. How do I know all this? By their possessions, pictures, and letters. It's awesome "getting to know" these people that have departed.

Since I don't want to become a greedy hoarder, I limit my purchases around what I like to collect:


Most of the sales have vintage jewelry from before 1980.. As you can see, I look for brooches, pins, pearls, and crystal jewels. I am the lookout for a lamb brooch...




Sheep Pics! And cat pics too...I look for anything (ANYTHING) with a sheep, ram, or lamb. I'm a bit more selective with the cat pics, and usually get pictures that look like my kitty.


I was a ballet dancer many moons ago, and still have a love for all things ballet. I look for anything sophisticated or vintage. My greatest find in the ballet genre was the Lladro Ballet dancer.



 I have an abundance of vintage china, so I really have to limit myself on this collection. I look for pretty floral and anything interesting and pink, such as a the candy dish topped with a deer.



Back in the day, folks were all about making their bathrooms glamorous. Tea towels, Bakelite vanity mirrors, crystal and bronze goblet-  I want a pretty bathroom too!





 With the exception of the newer homes or when the estate sale is due to a move, expect to find  table clothes with matching dinner napkins; plush floral embossed towels; and carefully crafted feminine aprons. What you will be hard pressed to find is clothing. For whatever reason, many of the family members donate the clothes before me and the crew get access to the house. Yeah, it's a bummer. I was able to get my hands on some slips and tulle sleeping caps.



I'm all about food and sex...books. Cookbooks from the 50's and sex books from the 1940's with some women's mags on how to catch a man and not become an old maid dating back from 1948.



I leave you with some estate sale shopping tips:

- Discover estate sales in your area. You can search Craig's List or estatesales.net. You know that Penny Saver circular that comes in your snail mail every Tuesday? Don't toss it! Estate sales are posted in there!!

- Get on the email list. It's best to get on the email list to get notifications about upcoming sales and images of what to expect.

- Be nice to the staff. I can tell you from personal experience that I give a little extra off the price of some stuff if the customer is nice...and they are not a  shrewd resaler. Also, do not haggle for a lower price on the first day. Since the idea is to liquidate the house, everything will be marked 50% off on the last sale day.

- Know what you like. Know what you need.  As demonstrated, I collect specific items based on themes. I am all about any item with a feminine, vintage flair. If mid-century modern or steampunk is your thing, stick to it. Looking for cool kitchen gadgets or fine china? Stick to that. Trust me: this rule will prevent you from becoming a hoarder.


- Expect to pay more in affluent neighborhoods. Million dollar homes are usually not filled with junk. Their vintage stuff is of high value while their new items are designer. Based on my experience the reason for the sale is due to a move- expect to find furniture, art work, clothes and books.


- Older suburban homes have the best stuff.  These places are packed to the rafters with treasures with friendly prices. Don't overlook the run-down home in the boring neighborhood.

- Respect the home.  Remember, this is not a rummage sale. The items hold memories of someone that once lived there. Honor their memory.

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