The other day, I was supposed to meet a friend at an estate sale to which I’d received a "pre-sale" invitation to attend. She, like me, is an avid collector and seller of vintage clothing, and she drove over an hour to see the tons of quality vintage clothes that were promised. I hit a bit of a snafu on my way out the door and was running late to meet her -- meaning that I would not be able to join her half an hour early, as we’d planned. Then, about ten minutes before I was supposed to meet her, she called to tell me not to bother: "There’s a list outside the door and I’m number 38. There are tons of people milling around and none of them look friendly." I told her that I was still curious and was going to head on over. But less than five minutes later, she called me again. "I’m sorry, T, but I’m leaving," she said. "These people have fangs. I just asked a couple of guys a question and they looked at me with total disdain. I just don’t have the energy for this." And with that, she hopped back on the highway and drove for an hour back the way she’d come, utterly lacking the stamina needed to deal with the rude glances and jostling movements of milling strangers.
By now, you may know me well enough to predict that I wouldn't be deterred. It would take literal, rather than figurative, fangs to keep me away from a promising estate sale. Well, fangs or the potential threat of hanta virus, as my good friend Caitlin could tell you; she received a terrified 3 a.m. call from me the night I'd gone on a vintage-clothing search to a heartbreakingly filthy, mouse-infested home. Yes, I still looked in spite of the mess -- and no, I did not buy anything with mouse poo on it. But later, after waking up with difficulty breathing and then Googling "mouse droppings," panic set in and I had to call Caitlin, who happens to be a med student.
At any rate, I headed to the sale ready to shop in spite of whatever attitudes I might encounter. After all, $1 vintage is a powerful lure. The clothes were definitely picked over, but there were lots of really nice pieces of jewelry and letters and books from the 1800. It was interesting, if not exciting -- but it did get me thinking about how strangers interact with each other at estate sales and thrift stores.
These are the kinds of places where avid collectors search feverishly for unnoticed valuables and novices stumble across $10 chairs that turn out to be worth $17,000. (True story.) For the most part, people seem to respect each other’s space and the right to look things over. But I have seen impatience and territorialism seep in; heck, I’ve been impatient and territorial at times, too. When it comes down to it, though, I try to remember that everyone who stepped foot through that door has the right to browse and to possibly find a hidden gem, even if the gem they find is the one I was seeking.
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It never hurts to say "excuse me" and "thank you" or to wait your turn, even if you are dying to look through that box of old postcards and someone else is sifting through them just as slow as molasses. If you must, ask if they mind if you go ahead and look at what they’ve already perused. Most people won’t have a problem with that. Fact is, two different collectors, no matter how avid, aren’t necessarily looking for the same thing. I’ve stood watching someone dig through a closet full of estate-sale pieces that I was dying to get my hands on, my stomach in knots, only to sigh with relief when she didn't pause at a single thing that had caught my eye. In the end, I hadn't needed to put myself through all of that stress, because I still walked away with an incredible haul for much less money than I would have spent at the thrift store.
There's no need for intimidating looks and rude language. Estate sales are supposed to be fun, an adventure -- and when we’re lucky, they’re adventures we can share, even with strangers. It’s so much more fun when we just go in, relax, and let fate determine whether we will find trash or treasure -- and don’t get too caught up in what everyone else found. Let’s just get out there and have a good time. And while we’re at it: Can’t we all just get along? -- TaRosa Jacobs