l'etat, c'est moi
May 17, 2019 7:30 AM   Subscribe

The Magic Of Estate Sales, Ann Friedman
I’m not anti-Kondo, but you can put me down as a firm skeptic. I believe that the physical things you collect as you move through your life—even those that don’t make your stomach flip with joy—add up to something more than their individual utility or aesthetic appeal or heirloom potential. They aren’t just things, they’re your things. And if you remove yourself from the picture, the stuff you surround yourself with tells a story about you. It is a physical autobiography you write by living. Which is why I love estate sales.
posted by the man of twists and turns (72 comments total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
 
The author was a good friend of mine in high school, when we both worked on the high school newspaper together. It's probably been about six years since I last talked to her. This article is a really great illustration of the person I knew and admired way back in the late 90s.
posted by TrialByMedia at 7:39 AM on May 17 [10 favorites]


I absolutely love estate sales. A friend of mine is an estate appraiser, and he's mentioned some things that you always look for in estate sales, including flipping through all the pages in books when you're in the home of an older person, because people who didn't trust banks often would put money in the pages of books.
posted by xingcat at 7:42 AM on May 17 [7 favorites]


I love estate sales for snooping other people's houses and for how much their relatives think they can gouge neighbors for old (mostly) junk: "Yes our 30 year old Rooms 2 Go couch in an absolutely ridiculous pattern is worth $600", and old used towels are $5 a piece.
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:42 AM on May 17 [1 favorite]


Individually, the things you own are just things—usually, they’re not even the newest, most stylish, or even most functional things you could have. But what makes them special is that they’re yours. You’ve selected each item and used it every day alongside dozens of other objects. You’re the centrifuge holding all of this stuff together, the sun at the center of your universe of physical objects. You are what the Methodist books and the sequined cocktail dress and the pots and pans have in common. And when whatever magic you performed in this earthly life is over, your possessions are destined to become part of another human universe or to be sucked into the black hole of the landfill. I’d prefer the former.

Yes, this is also a c'est moi moment. On my mother's side, everyone is stuff people - great collectors and scourers of estate sales. It's comforting to have family stuff around. All my furniture is either family stuff or thrifted back before thrift stores got too picked over to be worthwhile.

The only thing Kondo-ing is doing for me is dropping lots of great stuff into the resale market at decent prices. Get rid of your gently used thirties pottery and the rugs you inherited from your grandfather, go ahead! Sell your books - who needs books as long as we have conflict minerals and electricity, right? You probably don't want those nice scarves or your great-aunt's watercolors either, I'm sure.


“I was in the back yard when a guy from one of the ‘Machismo’ cultures comes up inquiring about a ladder that was in the garage,” she [the estate sale organizer] wrote in one recent email. So...a guy, is what she's saying? I mean, seriously, I disapprove of getting to be an adult and still writing this way.
posted by Frowner at 7:45 AM on May 17 [11 favorites]


We are in the final sprint to finish packing for a move that happens next week. So this is not resonating with me at all. We downsized a lot when we moved two years ago, but not nearly enough in my opinion.

My wife does not share my opinion on this.
posted by COD at 8:06 AM on May 17 [2 favorites]


I go to the same sales the author does! I love stuff!
posted by Ideefixe at 8:07 AM on May 17


...if you remove yourself from the picture, the stuff you surround yourself with tells a story about you.
This is why I need to start cleaning out some of my junk rooms before I die.

I'm not sure I've been to an estate sale. As in yard sales, I approve of people buying used quality merchandise instead of new from Walmart.
I am uncomfortable putting my stuff out for a yard sale because I don't usually want to get rid of anything that isn't already used up.
The stuff that would be in my estate sale would probably do better than the stuff that would be in my yard sale.
posted by MtDewd at 8:16 AM on May 17 [2 favorites]


I recently heard somewhere, perhaps it was on Fresh Air or TAL, that estate sales companies typically will take unsold items from one estate sale and stage them at their next estate sale, or even just include items that didn't begin from an estate sale at all. It deflated my interest in puzzling over apparent mysteries: why did this person have have this particular thing, and this other seemingly incongruous thing? Well, maybe they didn't.
posted by typical npr listener at 8:23 AM on May 17 [24 favorites]


what is this moisture all over the front of my head
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:24 AM on May 17 [4 favorites]


I have more than a few needlepoint and cross-stitched framed pieces in my house that I got at thrift stores, and I love them. It was a kind of art I always wanted to do but was terrible at (fiber arts in general, I suck at) so I feel good about rescuing these pieces and using them in my home. The crafters are most likely passed on, and their families didn't want or need these pieces, but they don't deserve to rot in a landfill.
posted by emjaybee at 8:24 AM on May 17 [4 favorites]


Some days, horror at the story told by what I’d leave behind is the only thing that keeps me going. I couldn’t rest easy without some serious kon mori.
posted by rodlymight at 8:28 AM on May 17 [4 favorites]


A lot of the debate about "stuff or no stuff" isn't resolvable because it's a matter of temperament. Some people associate a lot of sense and emotional memories with stuff, others don't. Some people really enjoy the act of, eg, handling a mug and others don't particularly. It's a bit like enjoying making pottery or finding all that squishy clay kind of messy and yucky, or enjoying cooking versus finding it a boring chore, or liking to look at landscapes versus being basically indifferent.

I think there's a bunch of micro-stuff stuff, too, some of which is a bit related to crouton-petting. For instance, I have three pairs of black chelsea boots (all secondhand). One is chunky and made out of pebbled leather; one is slim and made out of smooth leather, one is slim but has visible stitching on the welt. All of them go with my clothes. All of them are comfortable. I actively enjoy the differences among them even though those differences are small enough that a lot of people would just say "why do you need three pairs of black pull-on leather boots?"

I also get a lot of pleasure out of just boring stuff - I enjoy looking at my grandfather's persian rug, which is on the floor by my bed, every morning when I get up. I enjoy the feeling of it on my feet. Similarly, I like holding the specific glasses that I thrifted over the years, and even enjoy washing them. None of my silverware matches - I have midcentury forks and heavy ancestral forks and one tiny graceful sterling fork that belonged to my great aunt. I have feelings about these forks, and I enjoy using them all for different types of food.

This is all a matter of temperament. I really do enjoy a lot of things that would be boring or flat incomprehensible to others, and no amount of Kondo rhetoric is going to change that - my great aunt's fork does bring me joy, and so do all my other forks.

There are definite practicality/safety issues that can actually be decided - no matter how much you like stuff, giant flammable piles are bad, and if you have to move regularly you probably don't want to own 2500 books. But matters of temperament are not amenable to moralizing on this matter.
posted by Frowner at 8:29 AM on May 17 [39 favorites]


A lot of the debate about "stuff or no stuff" isn't resolvable because it's a matter of temperament.

Yeah, someone who is obsessing over decluttering or keeping things minimal is just as weighed down by stuff as someone whose closets are bulging. Obviously there's a a threshold where it becomes unhealthy hoarding, but the material is just material and the mind gives it all the meaning. As long as the you can close the doors and there aren't fire hazards, etc, then it's fine.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:32 AM on May 17 [3 favorites]


Maybe it’s my understanding of Kondo that’s wrong, but she’s just saying “keep the stuff of yours you want to keep and don’t keep the stuff you don’t.” She doesn’t care what you keep. She doesn’t care if you keep every single book in your home. Her method is a way for those of us who confuse obligation with want to sort out our preferences. I did a full Kondo and many of my estate sale finds (treasures) are still safe with me, as are my beloved books. But the stuff I always looked at and thought “I can’t get rid of it, I spent too much money on it” or “it might fit someday” or “I should like this, I just don’t” are no longer with me.

It would be nice if we could stop using her name as shorthand for getting rid of stuff indiscriminately, because that’s the opposite of her point.
posted by sallybrown at 8:42 AM on May 17 [141 favorites]


I have more than a few needlepoint and cross-stitched framed pieces in my house that I got at thrift stores, and I love them. It was a kind of art I always wanted to do but was terrible at (fiber arts in general, I suck at) so I feel good about rescuing these pieces and using them in my home. The crafters are most likely passed on, and their families didn't want or need these pieces, but they don't deserve to rot in a landfill.

As someone who loves the act of needlepointing but doesn’t care as much about finishing canvases or displaying them, this delights me!
posted by sallybrown at 8:46 AM on May 17 [8 favorites]


Individually, the things you own are just things—usually, they’re not even the newest, most stylish, or even most functional things you could have. But what makes them special is that they’re yours. You’ve selected each item and used it every day alongside dozens of other objects. You’re the centrifuge holding all of this stuff together, the sun at the center of your universe of physical objects.

As someone who has no real primary relationships -- there is no one I see more than a few times a year and has not been for twenty years -- what I really mind about the prospect of dying is leaving behind my stuff. My belongings aren't even great: they're just sort of pleasant. But I cringe at the thought of all the things I've carefully chosen and made and cared for over the years, such as my handknit sweaters and my swan collection and my books and furnishings, all assembled in one house where they have a certain coherency, all being dispersed out into the world. Some items will be taken by my family and friends certainly (given that they're basically all openly covetous of some of my things in particular, and some of them have already specified items they wish to be bequeathed in my estate), but many of my belongings will simply wind up in thrift stores. And I hate the thought of that. I don't feel that my nice things have much chance of being appreciated and cared for the way they are now, by me. I'll know when I'm ready to go when I stop caring about that, I suppose.
posted by orange swan at 8:47 AM on May 17 [7 favorites]


The stuff that would be in my estate sale would probably do better than the stuff that would be in my yard sale.

This is true of almost all estate sales vs. yard sales.

A friend of mine who is an aficionado of estate sales, is fond of saying that "yard sales are where people sell the shit they don't want, estate sales are for the stuff they held onto right until the bitter end". Especially for people who must have known the end was near, the estate sale represents an interesting, consciously-curated collection of the stuff they didn't sell or give away. The stuff you see in estate sales are generally things that are either really practical, such that you need them right up until you die (or go into a Roach Motel nursing home from which you'll never leave), or they're things with such clear emotional significance that the deceased didn't want to get rid of them and was hanging onto them for personal reasons, right up until the end. You definitely do get a sense of someone from that.

Of course, generally the deceased's family gets first crack at the best stuff, but it's surprising (to me, anyway) the stuff that families sometimes don't want. Photo albums and stuff especially.

I buy a lot of tools from estate sales, because I have a thing for early/mid 20th century hand tools, and I had this sudden and not altogether pleasant epiphany when I was going through a workbench and picking through the meticulously-maintained stuff, and then looked at the chairlift and other adaptive equipment that had been installed in the house, and realized there was no way that whoever had lived in that house had really been using those tools. (Realistically, nobody who is using a Bruno lift to go up and down the three steps between their kitchen and living room in a split-level is getting under their car to change their own oil, or do much of anything else that requires a 300-piece Snap-On toolkit, particularly when the tools are in the basement and another two stair-lifts away from the garage.) But yet... there they were, not a spot of rust, not even dusty. And I realized that for whoever had owned them, maintaining those tools had been something they'd decided was important, right up until they physically couldn't do it anymore.

A few estate sales that I've been to were very clearly held without anyone from the family actually visiting the property at all. Which I guess I can kinda understand; if your elderly great-aunt who lives in rural Western PA finally kicks it, and you haven't seen her or visited in a decade, do you really care enough to get on two flights and a long rental-car drive to go and paw through her crap on the off-chance you might want anything, particularly if you're a Marie Kondo-ing millennial living in a tiny apartment in some coastal city? Or do you just call up some local auctioneer and tell them to sell the lot of it, and cut you a check? I think I'd probably do the former, but that's just because I have such severe FOMO; I can totally see someone doing the latter and I'm not even sure I can criticize it.

But holy shit was there a lot of really nice mid-century modern furniture being sold at estate sales (in aforementioned Western PA) a few years ago. I think it's slowed down, but there were a lot of older people who had lived in the same houses with the same furniture since the 50s who were dying off and it seemed like none of their families were interested in the furniture (which maybe if you grew up thinking of it as "grandmas weird old furniture" maybe you wouldn't see it the same way, I can get that). More than once I was tempted to quit my job and buy a box truck and just drive back and forth between Appalachia estate sales and high-end vintage furniture stores in DC and NYC, though. Could have made a bloody fortune.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:48 AM on May 17 [17 favorites]


She doesn’t care if you keep every single book in your home.

Exactly! I have some criticisms of Kondo but this is not one of them. She says it in the text of her book:
As you reduce your belongings through the process of tidying, you will come to a point where you suddenly know how much is just right for you. [This] point differs from one person to another. For a shoe lover, it might be one hundred pairs of shoes, while a book lover might not need anything but books. [...] As you put your house in order and decrease your possessions, you'll see what your true values are, what is really important to you in your life. But don't focus on reducing, or on efficient storage methods, for that matter. Focus instead on choosing the things that inspire joy and on enjoying life according to your own standards.

--The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, pp. 124-126
posted by capricorn at 8:50 AM on May 17 [38 favorites]


I have told people this: I do not have an autobiography; I have an autobibliography. For good or ill, my life is defined by the stuff on my shelves (Silver Age comics! Japanese language texts! Tolkien! Dungeons & Dragons! The history of the Civil War and WWII! The complete works of Ian Banks and HP Lovecraft! Ah! My Goddess and My Little Pony!).

I take some comfort in the thought that, when I die, the best of me will survive, because my life, my true life, is still there to be shared.
posted by SPrintF at 8:55 AM on May 17 [6 favorites]


Maybe it’s my understanding of Kondo that’s wrong, but she’s just saying “keep the stuff of yours you want to keep and don’t keep the stuff you don’t.”

No, I think that's right, but she just gets conflated with other "minimalists" and obsessive declutterers versus just finding balance with all the shit.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:58 AM on May 17 [2 favorites]


On a smaller scale, I've seen antique tool chest (with contents) for sale at tool shows and each time I've gotten the sensation that I'm looking into somebody's mind. I can't help getting a bit emotional.
posted by bonobothegreat at 9:10 AM on May 17 [7 favorites]




When I was younger I loved going to thrift stores, antique stores, and estate sales (not so much yard sales because for me, they are too personal--i.e. the person whose stuff it is is right there and if you reject something or don't want to pay what they think it is worth, you can hurt their feelings--or at least that is my fear). I had a huge Ebay habit in the early days (I would fixate on collecting 1 type of thing).

Now, pushing 60 and after inheriting all the family "stuff" that my Mom wasn't able to get rid of, I have turned in the other direction. I'm winnowing things down slowly but surely. I find I still want to keep a few things--but I want them out where I can enjoy them so I've made some shadow boxes and I'm thinking about making a "memory vase" or lamp with all the little bits that are too cute/precious to sell or give away but also don't have any meaning just stuck in a box.

I want to make sure my nephews don't have a huge bunch of stuff to sort through when I'm gone.
posted by agatha_magatha at 9:19 AM on May 17 [3 favorites]


I think we as a country have a weird overload of guilt and anxiety about our stuff; there's so much of it, yet we want more, we want to keep memories, but no-one wants a house full of grandma's worn furniture and knicknacks, etc. Marie Kondo showed up and hit a nerve for us, and now we both love and hate her for making us deal with our weirdness about stuff.

I've been lucky in a way that I grew up moving a lot and am not a terribly settled person now. It forces you to be generous in giving away what you can't use and brutal in recycling or trashing what isn't worth donating. But I often long for a Star Trek type device that could actually recycle everything; I feel guilt about mattresses and purses and shoes that I've sent to the dump, about old furniture that I have no way to break down into component parts, and so on. Plus there's the knowledge that our recycling systems are somewhat of a joke; a lot of stuff we try to recycle ends up burned or in landfills anyway.

I guess I don't really feel a lot of attachment to stuff per se as I hate the waste and pollution of garbage. If you could feed Grandma's hideous couch into a machine that re-used those molecules for something new, I would feel no guilt at all.
posted by emjaybee at 9:22 AM on May 17 [13 favorites]


It would be nice if we could stop using her name as shorthand for getting rid of stuff indiscriminately, because that’s the opposite of her point.

It's pretty weird how discussions of Kondo on MetaFilter bring out something almost pathological in some people. This article and some comments in this thread get her wrong, but in previous discussions we had people proudly proclaiming that they had never read her books or seen her show but have Very Strong Opinions about what they think she teaches.

I know nuance in anything gets lost but it's kind of ridiculous how "just think about your relationship to your possessions and maybe apply that to how you organize them" gets turned into "Get rid of everything you own, especially your books!" despite Kondo explicitly and repeatedly saying the former in a number of mediums.
posted by Sangermaine at 9:24 AM on May 17 [31 favorites]


I couldn’t rest easy without some serious kon mori.

💀💀💀💀💀💀
MEMENTO KON MORI
💀💀💀💀💀💀
posted by zamboni at 9:29 AM on May 17 [24 favorites]


I'm getting ready for a move; last time was 5 years ago when I sold my records but kept a set of CDs. I have played 1 CD since that move, but am having a really hard time letting go of the CD collection. So much time and money spent chasing after music and ...
posted by armacy at 9:38 AM on May 17 [2 favorites]


Sell your books - who needs books as long as we have conflict minerals and electricity, right?

This is from way upthread but it's something I think about all the time. We moved recently and we have a lot of books, and I was at my wit's end re: unpacking so I hired a helper. She was super and very unemotional, in the sense of "that jacket [which I acquired in the sale room at Urban Outfitters in 2007] doesn't seem very special, so let's get rid of it," but she made a good number of comments about donating my books, too many books, wow such books, etc.

It didn't seem like she would understand if I revealed my deep, unshakable belief that at some point--maybe next month, maybe in a few decades, but sometime--everything digital will die or be otherwise inaccessible. Maybe forever, maybe temporarily. But you can bet your bippy I'm keeping my paper books because I will NOT be bored during it.
posted by witchen at 9:47 AM on May 17 [17 favorites]


Focus instead on choosing the things that inspire joy and on enjoying life according to your own standards.

But the thing is, the Kondo method doesn't exist in a vacuum. By all accounts she's a delightful person, and I'm glad that people who are happier without their old stuff are happier - but because possessions are heavily moralized in the US, and because there's a perpetual tension between "acquire things, that's how you know you're living!" and "having too many things shows you're spiritually bankrupt", there's no way that any kind of decluttering rhetoric is just "see if this sparks joy, authentically tune in to your authentic joy which emerges pure and unaffected by the spirit of the times from your authentic soul".

What people consider to "spark joy" is always modulated by the messages we're already receiving about what is worthy and unworthy, the nature of joy, etc. And you can't separate the Marie Kondo phenomenon from the various myths that white Americans have created about Japanese culture.

It's like any other fad - some people really thrive on low-carb diets, but the mass phenomenon of "carbs bad" is about a whole bunch of other culture stuff.

I tend to think that a lot of the mass, cultural/emotional appeal of purging and the whole "does this spark joy" thing is the awful times we live in - it's a way to purge something associated with the past and to focus on a kind of "joy" that is supposed to emerge from who you are, not your situation or the times.
posted by Frowner at 9:55 AM on May 17 [8 favorites]


Sell your books - who needs books as long as we have conflict minerals and electricity, right?

Seconded! Your empty bookshelves will look so pretty!
posted by The Toad at 9:59 AM on May 17 [1 favorite]


Mrs. Bendybendy works for an estate sale company, and many of the sales are completely charming autobiographies, but there's also gigs that are corporate relocations, where a staggering amount of recently bought possessions are left behind to be re-purchased in the next town. It's the opposite of sentimental attachment. A favorite example was a twelve-room house with twelve large screen TVs, one for each room. The TVs were not part of the estate sale, though, because the buyer of the house also wanted twelve televisions.
posted by bendybendy at 10:01 AM on May 17 [11 favorites]


The few years I spent as an estate buyer for a used book + record shop were the most interesting and happiest of my working life so far.

Reading this gave me one of my semi-regular pangs of regret for not having the guts to stay in the jumble trade.
posted by ryanshepard at 10:02 AM on May 17 [4 favorites]


It didn't seem like she would understand if I revealed my deep, unshakable belief that at some point--maybe next month, maybe in a few decades, but sometime--everything digital will die or be otherwise inaccessible. Maybe forever, maybe temporarily. But you can bet your bippy I'm keeping my paper books because I will NOT be bored during it.

This is my thinking, actually. I wouldn't be surprised if rolling blackouts are a bigger thing in the future as the grid ages and storms intensify, and I tend to expect just declining access in general. Also, I have the books - they're paid for. But to read an ebook, I'm saying that I expect to be able to afford new devices for the rest of my life and I really don't.

But again, it's a matter of temperament. I feel like my books are "in the bank" - they're something I have against the day, like the ingredients for a pantry supper or extra socks.
posted by Frowner at 10:03 AM on May 17 [12 favorites]


They aren’t just things, they’re your things.

When my friend Marika died in 2017, I got a bag of things from her apartment: three books, five CDs, a little stained glass lamp that I thought would be perfect for one of the bedrooms in my house, two necklaces that I had made for her, and two little ceramic fat cat figurines I'd given to her as a little gift at some point. It's the cats that meant most to me of all those things, even though they're just dollar store items and I don't even usually like cat stuff at all. Her will specified that her boyfriend and I were to each inherit 50% of what she had, and when we were looking through her things, those fat cats were the only thing we both wanted, but I when I held them in my hands and remembered how Marika laughed when she first saw them, I just couldn't bear to let them go. I thought I had a better right to them as I had been the one to give them to her, so I took them.

The necklaces were the cause of much internal debate. I didn't know what I would do with them, and yet couldn't make myself leave them behind. I didn't want to wear the necklaces myself. They were nice-looking necklaces, but I'd made them in accordance with Marika's taste, which was quite different from mine, so they didn't suit me and wouldn't have gone with my clothes. While I could have taken them apart and reused the beads and findings to make new jewelry, I didn't want to do that either. At the same time I couldn't bear the thought of them winding up in a thrift shop, with their meaning and history lost. Eventually I gave in to the internal urging I felt and just took them, thinking I'd just have to figure out what to do with them later. It was later that evening that I came up with a plan for them: I knew lots of women who'd known Marika because we were former co-workers, and I could offer the necklaces to two of them, choosing women the necklaces would suit, so that they'd have something that they could use and enjoy and remember her by. I proceeded to do just that, the two women who got the necklaces seemed delighted to get them, and it felt right.

The process of going through someone else's stuff after they're gone is so deeply personal and intuitive.

And, while I am a thrift shop fiend, I've never been to an estate sale. That article is giving me such an intense desire to start going.
posted by orange swan at 10:04 AM on May 17 [10 favorites]


But to read an ebook, I'm saying that I expect to be able to afford new devices for the rest of my life and I really don't.

Also that the company that sold you the book will always exist, and will never lose rights to the book. Seems extreme, but that's the exact situation for visual e-media "bought" from Amazon or Apple.
posted by praemunire at 10:05 AM on May 17 [7 favorites]


Re: books, we have a bunch of those "Little Free Libraries" around the neighborhood. It's fun to take walks and load them up with books we don't want (thereby making space for more books).
posted by exogenous at 10:19 AM on May 17 [5 favorites]


flipping through all the pages in books when you're in the home of an older person, because people who didn't trust banks often would put money in the pages of books.

So...you can steal it?
posted by banshee at 10:24 AM on May 17 [4 favorites]


I don't know much about Apple, but having examined the Amazon system before I started spending money on it, there is no "phone home" aspect to the Kindle. A Kindle book loaded onto a Kindle reader will work perpetually, without internet access, as long as the reader has power and doesn't physically break.

There are systems where in the absence of a connection to a central server, all your "purchases" will eventually expire and stop working. Spotify, Adobe Digital Editions (used by many libraries and B&N, I think?), etc. If you are using these services you should do so in the expectation that they could stop working at any time, and any content you have "bought" will stop working.

Amazon's Kindle ecosystem does use DRM, but the DRM is decentralized and serverless, at least on the real e-reader devices (I think on the Cloud Reader and possibly the Android/iOS apps it may work differently). When you buy a book it encrypts it using a key that your device has, using the device's serial number (there are some additional steps, but that's the gist of it). This means that the books won't expire after purchase, and it also makes the DRM largely trivial to remove. I absolutely advocate removing the DRM from all purchases, just so that they are not trapped in one device if Amazon were to go Enron tomorrow. But their architecture is not bad compared to others', and it's counterproductive to view all e-book systems as equivalent when there are some—e.g. Adobe's steaming pile of shit—that are much, much worse than others.

There is a lot of confusion/FUD because about 10 years ago, Amazon retroactively "un-sold" (i.e. took back and refunded) some books—ironically, George Orwell's Animal Farm among them—because they had been uploaded and sold via a self-publishing channel, by a publisher that didn't have the rights to them. They realized afterwards that this was a Bad Idea. Naturally there are no guarantees that they couldn't do this again, but they seem to get that it is a really terrible idea and have indicated that they won't. And the way they did this was by pushing an 'updated edition', not by remotely triggering a DRM killswitch or something. You can disable the ability for Amazon to push new editions, if you are concerned about this; normally it's used to push copyedits, so I leave it turned on.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:28 AM on May 17 [9 favorites]


Excellent title, tmotat.
posted by MonkeyToes at 10:29 AM on May 17 [1 favorite]


I love estate sales and garage sales for just this reason, but they don't really have them in NYC. Every now and then someone puts up flyers for an "apartment sale" with photos or lists of things for sale, but I never go because it just feels a bit too creepy. But I would love to be able to unload some of my own things this way -- sucks that I have to wait for death or owning a garage in order to do so.
posted by Mchelly at 10:34 AM on May 17


Ha - from the man of twists and turns's first link: "The neighbor explained that June loved her clocks, her children didn’t care for them and always wanted her to get rid of them because they were loud and often chimed at the same time.

Often? I mean...
posted by Mchelly at 10:37 AM on May 17 [10 favorites]


I am somewhat a media hoarder but I rationalize it with the fact that we live in a rural area. Streaming, Internet connections, ever power, it all hangs on that one severe blizzard or thunderstorm. The feed coming into the house is insanely fast (getting 45 mbps and my wife is streaming through the TV in the other room) and it's reliable but our weather can take out just about anything. So I keep it all.

We still have many of our favorite movies on DVD, I have a big collection of CDs and vinyl, books by the thousands, and even on my iPad I download every ebook I buy - never stream. And when we're gone my nephew can toss it all in the trash.
posted by Ber at 10:55 AM on May 17 [1 favorite]


I got rid of stuff when I moved 11 years ago. I now have different stuff, primarily for craft endeavors, but also stuff I just like. I really hope someone will help my heirs get rid of stuff as there are a few things with value that may not be obvious. I have health issues, so too much stuff is just piled up. There is no particular reason I need a mason jar of old shell buttons, one full of assorted dice, another full of action figures, but I am happy I have them.
posted by theora55 at 11:03 AM on May 17


Someone who visited my house said You have the coolest *stuff* so maybe it's a rorschach test to screen people. Kids are welcome to play with the action figures, and may take one home.
posted by theora55 at 11:05 AM on May 17 [4 favorites]


I have a lot of art and antique furniture books. I've spent as much time looking at them in the shop than I have since getting them at home. I see no problem with this.
posted by bonobothegreat at 11:06 AM on May 17 [1 favorite]


> what is this moisture all over the front of my head

I don't know, but I'll give you $2.00 for it.
posted by boo_radley at 11:13 AM on May 17 [2 favorites]


I can't help but recommend the story 'La Roba' by Giuseppe Verga, translated as 'Property' by D. H. Lawrence an available in this Project Gutenberg document.

This was an injustice on God's part, that after having slaved one's life away getting property together, when you've got it, and you'd like some more, you have to leave it behind you. And he remained for hours sitting on a small basket, with his chin in his hands, looking at his vineyards growing green beneath his eyes, and his fields of ripe wheat waving like a sea, and the olive groves veiling the mountains like a mist, and if a half-naked boy passed in front of him, bent under his load like a tired ass, he threw his stick at his legs, out of envy, and muttered: "Look at him with his length of days in front of him; him who's got nothing to bless himself with!"

So that when they told him it was time for him to be turning away from his property, and thinking of his soul, he rushed out into the courtyard like a madman, staggering, and went round killing his own ducks and turkeys, hitting them with his stick and screaming: "You're my own property, you come along with me!"

posted by bq at 11:21 AM on May 17 [3 favorites]


You’ve selected each item and used it every day alongside dozens of other objects. You’re the centrifuge holding all of this stuff together, the sun at the center of your universe of physical objects.
The night my grandmother died, my dad and I left the hospital and went back to her house. And I recall how it came almost as a physical shock to look around her living room and suddenly see everything not as hers, but as just stuff, as if I could literally see the bonds that held her things together break. It was one of the most uncanny moments in my life.
posted by octobersurprise at 11:27 AM on May 17 [43 favorites]


And I am a fucking sucker for estate sales.
posted by octobersurprise at 11:28 AM on May 17 [2 favorites]


I have never been to an estate sale or yard sale and ever found anything worthwhile. I suspect it's because all of the good stuff is long gone before it ever hits the tables.

Tools up here in the PNW are either long sold or laughably over-priced, and tools are all I would be interested in. The local CL is filled with ads from people who are selling off Dad's old tools and have a laughably inflated idea of what they're worth. Those ads stay up for months, sometimes years.
posted by maxwelton at 11:36 AM on May 17


I'm definitely deeply on team stuff in some ways -- the idea that your things are a kind of autobiography resonates with me, especially the way that things serve as a kind of key by which you can access memories that might otherwise be harder to reach. I have kept some things long past any reason other than this.

And yet: I feel the weight of things, too. I bought a Kindle because I felt the weight of my books. Several times I've pared down my stuff to things I could fit in a car + things I could leave in a room at my parents house (which I hope to buy from them someday and hold onto as long as I can). It feels like freedom to adapt to the present and future.

The tension between that freedom and the access to your past story feels like *the* tension, like it's about way more than stuff, which of course underscores the article.
posted by wildblueyonder at 12:19 PM on May 17


On the subject of magical estate sales, you sometimes get a gem, like this one:
Braniff Airlines memorabilia This stuff belongs in a museum, but instead it's available for your home! It features Braniff Airlines uniforms, airplanes, and airport models from Braniff's heyday back in the 1970s.
posted by The_Vegetables at 12:30 PM on May 17


I got my grandfather's bicycle after he died and have been riding in daily since. It broke (frame cracked) on my way in to work this morning. I am having a hard time dealing with the loss.
posted by ropeladder at 12:32 PM on May 17 [11 favorites]


I go to estate sales nearly every weekend. I only really enjoy the ones where you get to see the whole person. If there isn't a box of old spices and it's all antiques, I'm not interested!

I'm cheap and I have Mari Kondo-ed my life so I don't buy too much. I usually get practical stuff like clothes (my entire outfit today is from a dead person's closet) and kitchen stuff (my husband and I always ask each other if we need yet another grater at every sale.)

I do collect pictures of wallpaper and post the pics to Facebook.
posted by vespabelle at 12:50 PM on May 17 [4 favorites]


The best estate sale I’ve ever been to was one where the deceased collected cookbooks there were thousands of them. It was amazing.
posted by bq at 1:31 PM on May 17 [2 favorites]


I went to one a few months ago...

Every room in the house was packed with audio equipment. Hundreds of turntables, hundreds of speakers, receivers, tape decks...

It was, insane.

But, that being said, I'm a thrifter, with a couple thousand games in my house/storage...
posted by Windopaene at 1:36 PM on May 17 [2 favorites]


Inheriting the task of clearing out half a dozen estates turned me into an aspirational minimalist, because I don’t want anyone to have to spend literally months and occasionally years dissipating collections of my worthless crap. Even the worthy stuff has lost its luster.
posted by sonascope at 3:57 PM on May 17 [5 favorites]


Of course, it doesn’t help that I ended up the legal owner of an important avant-garde poet’s estate or that I ended up with furniture belonging to a stately governor of Maryland or that I wound up with a giant Victorian parlor organ of no value, because I have to keep my bathroom supplies in another part of my apartment because a governor’s weird antebellum sex chair is occupying an entire closet. Ugh, stuff.
posted by sonascope at 4:05 PM on May 17 [11 favorites]


It would be nice if we could stop using her name as shorthand for getting rid of stuff indiscriminately, because that’s the opposite of her point.

THANK YOU. That quoted paragraph pretty much is her philosophy: your things reflect you, might as well only keep the things that truly, genuinely reflect you.
posted by divabat at 4:08 PM on May 17 [5 favorites]


This article went a different direction than I thought it would. I love going into other people's homes and do the exact same making up a story about their lives - linking the books on the shelves with the items in the rest of the house, the hand tools with the hand-built items and repairs - almost like a detective's evidence board with push-pins and string connecting them.

I grew up moving around a lot and spent many Sunday afternoons with my parents going to open houses to find our next home. Sometimes we went to open houses for fun when we weren't even looking to buy. Making up stories was my defense against boredom.

My home is full of tchotchkes and bits and bobs and trinkets most of which mean nothing to anyone but me and each one tells me a story. For example, I have a plastic pin about an inch-and-a-half square that says "GAP" on it that I wore in 1990 working at the Gap. It would be mundane to anyone else but it reminds me of meeting a former very best friend and some of the fantastic adventures we had. It reminds me of a co-worker I had a crush on who later got caught shoplifting from the store with his girlfriend. It reminds of going on a New Year's Eve weekend trip with my manager and her mature, older (at least 23!!) friends and getting drunk and sledding through a bush so that I had scabs on my face for days. It reminds me of a hilarious middle-aged woman who worked days and would pick up something hideous and say, "This! With a fuschia pump! Where CAN'T you go??" It reminds me of shoplifting from the CVS next door and getting caught and the disappointment in my manager's voice when she confronted me about it. Why would I want to get rid of that?

Probably when I die some poor schmuck will just bring in a snow shovel and some big trash bins and make short work of it all.
posted by bendy at 5:02 PM on May 17 [5 favorites]


I love estate sales and garage sales for just this reason, but they don't really have them in NYC. Every now and then someone puts up flyers for an "apartment sale" with photos or lists of things for sale, but I never go because it just feels a bit too creepy.

Mchelly, non-apartment estate sales seem to be outer borough affairs. (And if one is willing to deal with the LIRR, the PATH, or the Metro North... 8^] )
posted by Iris Gambol at 5:29 PM on May 17


Like some others above have mentioned, for me there have been very different phases in my life. Until I was in my 30's, I owned nothing except for some (to me) precious books and some clothes. When I moved to my first own room in a student's housing building, I could carry everything in two wine cases. When I left my violent ex-husband, 18 years later, I could stuff everything into the cab in two black garbage bags.
And then I went amok! For me at that time, building a home filled with stuff was building a fortress around me, against the traumatic childhood and the violent ex. I loved yard sales and estate sales and flee markets and antique stores as well as designer stores.
And then my grandparents and parents started dying. Right now I feel I am drowning in stuff. I made a tiny speech at my nephew's recent 21th birthday saying I'd ignored his wish for kitchen stuff for a coming first home, because he can come and pick from my vast stores when that kitchen materializes.
My own kids don't want all that when I die, so I am Kondomari-ing, slowly and carefully. I don't want to hurt myself, as I have done previously. I all those years when I wanted nothing, I let go of things I regret letting go of, things I'd like to hold in my hands today. Mostly it's letters and books and some LP-records I lent to my brother who was then burgled. And my granddad's collection of original jazz recordings, bought in NYC and Chicago in 1930 -31 that were lost in a storm because I hadn't kept them in a safe space. But there was also the authentic Bauhaus glass food storage set which would have been perfect for our times, where plastic is no longer the best solution. And a little rocking chair from my great-aunt, which I just know the new generation of kids would have loved.

There's another aspect to this, which is interesting, but hard to be rational/logic about. My stepmother and dad inherited a lot of beautiful traditional ceramics that we'd been told all our lives were very valuable. When my dad died, the auctioneer we had called in told us it was worthless. The times had changed, and now no one wanted that style of stuff. The same with all the oriental carpets we inherited from our grandparents, most of which have ended up in my house.
On the other hand, some time ago, I showed a friend a catalogue I have, and he wanted to buy one for himself. It now sells online for about a 1000 dollars. And that happened to me again just the other day: I was writing a comment on ask, and looked if I could find an old cookbook I own to recommend to the asker. I wrote I couldn't find it, but that isn't entirely true: it's that it sells used for 700 dollars, which I reckoned was a bit silly in the specific context.
And now carpets seem to be back in fashion. It all gives me a headache. But I guess the thing is it makes no sense to hoard because someday maybe whatever you have will be valuable. I've thrown out my youngest's absurd kinder-egg collection in spite of knowing that it was probably already then worth a fortune because I didn't want to spend time on mailing stupid stuff to collectors. Sorry. (She was and is fine with that decision).
posted by mumimor at 7:06 AM on May 18 [4 favorites]


I love estate sales, although as they've become more corporate in my area they're a little more disappointing. Like someone upthread I'm delighted by the inability of relatives to assess what something might be worth to me. Ditto craigslist, and I suppose that's part of the fun.

We spend a ton of time at thrift stores and estate sales, and have a small house (that is a constant jumble of projects and tchochkes and papers and books). So we're always gradually refining our things, switching things out, gifting them, accumulating temporary things.

I've loved junk shops and bookstores and etc. since I was a poor rural kid, and it's the most ethical way I can enjoy the experience of shopping, AFAICT.

One of the more alarming experiences* of my adult life was going to a thrift store in Laurel, MD. It was there I first realized that the exurban secondhand economy in many places consists of single-use products of globalization that should never have been made in the first place and will probably not hold up to a second use.

There was not a single thing in that store worth owning the first time - it was like someone ran the As Seen on TV section of a CVS through some dishwater and tagged it all 75% off.

*alarming experiences in re disturbing realizations regarding the consequences of human activity, I mean.
posted by aspersioncast at 7:16 AM on May 18 [6 favorites]


aspersionscast, I'm with you, thrift shops, estate sales, yard sales, craigslist/free are a good way to buy stuff I want or need without contributing much to the wild oversupply of consumer goods in the US.
posted by theora55 at 9:03 AM on May 18 [3 favorites]


The thing that always amazes me is that every single thrift store I've ever been too has an entire aisle of ceramic coffee mugs. I'm convinced that that there are more coffee mugs in the US than there are people. It's got to be *at least* 4-to-1 at this point.
posted by Wild_Eep at 7:13 AM on May 19 [4 favorites]


some things that you always look for in estate sales, including flipping through all the pages in books when you're in the home of an older person, because people who didn't trust banks often would put money in the pages of books.

Huh. Maybe I should put some money in one of my books. It would be a shame to make someone flip through all ten thousand for free...
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 3:31 AM on May 20 [1 favorite]


The thing that always amazes me is that every single thrift store I've ever been too has an entire aisle of ceramic coffee mugs. I'm convinced that that there are more coffee mugs in the US than there are people. It's got to be *at least* 4-to-1 at this point

If I had the time/inclination/land I would love to make a long, meandering wall by cementing unwanted mugs into rows like bricks, so you could still read whatever dumb thing was on the outside, stupid sayings, Bible verses, bland corporate logos and catchphrases. Maybe make it like a maze of multiple walls that people could wander through and read.

If you were willing to cement it in, you could bring your own unwanted mug and add it to the wall.
posted by emjaybee at 8:14 AM on May 20 [4 favorites]


When I had a bunch of little components that needed to sit on a shelf without being knocked down, I bought a bunch of twenty-five-cent mugs at the ReUse Center to keep them in, because I figured they'd be heavy enough to sit where they were placed. It actually worked out pretty great. But I'd love to visit the Great Wall of Mugs Memorial!

I also grew up moving around more than most kids, and I think it left me with an impaired sense of place and permanence that makes it harder for me to give stuff up. I'd go to my grandmother's house where nothing had been moved since the Kennedy era, and it was always so comforting.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:28 AM on May 20 [2 favorites]


Our elderly neighbours didn't really have any relatives who gave a shit, so maybe a year after the old man passed away, and some social worker decreed that the old lady had lost her marbles and put her into care... a giant dumpster appeared and EVERYTHING went in. I'd like to think that this was the easiest way to get the stuff to a sorting depot... but I suspect that after cherry-picking, it all went to the dump. Two lives, carted away in one afternoon.

On a happier note, my friend's sister has been running a "transitions" service that helps people and families cope with all that, including managed sales of home contents.

If I don't start selling off some stuff soon, ours is going to be the estate with all the funny tools and electronics. And 6 bikes.
posted by Artful Codger at 7:29 AM on May 22


I know the KonMari phenom isn't about just getting rid of stuff, but goddamnit, I love getting rid of stuff. It feels really good to take a carloa of stuff to the thrift store or donation site. I love having a cleaner closet. I get an endorphin rush. I've never regretted getting rid of anything except a few old paperbacks, and I've learned from my mistake there. It feels goood guys.
posted by bq at 1:10 PM on May 22 [2 favorites]


Isn't that a law of diminishing return, though? How often does one need to get rid of stuff? If you're getting rid of stuff regularly there's probably an underlying consumption/acquisition problem.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:17 AM on May 23


If you're getting rid of stuff regularly there's probably an underlying consumption/acquisition problem.

I have small children, so, yes.
posted by bq at 2:39 PM on May 23 [1 favorite]


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