One afternoon, years ago, my husband and I went to an estate sale. The homeowners died, their family removed all the items they wanted to keep, and the rest was left ‘as is’ for the estate sale. I remember feeling very sad as I walked through this particular home. I imagined the items left behind had stories to tell, and I felt a little guilty fumbling through these unknown memories.
While going through the house, I remembered back when my Dad died. Eventually, my Mom decided to move, and she had an estate sale of sorts, selling many things my Dad left behind that we did not feel the need to keep. I wasn’t thrilled about the idea of strangers going through my Dad’s things, but I preferred that option over taking things to the dump.
That afternoon, Rob and I purchased a few items from the estate sale, and I added my name to a mailing list to inform me of future sales. I have not been to an estate sale since that particular afternoon, but I continue to receive weekly emails.
About three weeks ago, I noticed the “estate sale of the week” was taking place in the neighborhood where a sister of mine lives. When I forwarded the email to my sister, her heart sank. Though she had not heard the father died, she did know the family.
When she went to the estate sale, it was a little emotional for her. She learned about how the father died and that the mother was being moved to a retirement community. The children had gone through the house and removed the items they wanted, leaving the rest for the sale.
The process was the same as the one I experienced years ago, but this time, because my sister knew the family, it felt a little more personal. My sister purchased two chairs for me (per my request), as well as some gardening tools for her and her husband.
I know that when my sister and her husband use the gardening tools, she’ll remember her neighbor out walking his dog, talking about the home-owner’s association, etc.
Today, I received my weekly notice of two upcoming estate sales. And, as is always the case, I clicked on the email, and I accessed the link for pictures of the items included in the sale.
This week’s estate sale has taken me aback more than previous estate sales. This estate sale consists of gorgeous items from a large and gorgeous home. Included in the items for sale is a painted picture of what I can only imagine is the family, perhaps painted by one of the family members.
I have gone through the slide show a number of times. I see the items – left behind by the family – soon to be bought by strangers, unaware of the memories or the history that exists in the items.
We’ve all heard a saying similar to “It’s just ‘stuff’, and you can’t take it with you when you die.” I understand that saying, and I know it to be true. Still, when I look at this huge home filled with wonderful pieces of furniture – some priceless antiques, no doubt – I cannot help but feel a sense of sadness.
I am willing to bet the family worked hard for everything they owned. I assume there is a history with the house and the items in the house. Still, what’s it all for? We can’t take it with us, and we cannot guarantee we’ll have a family with whom to leave it.
Looking at the home filled with such wonderful things, I think to myself, “What a waste.” We all have the ability to be materialistic. There are some things that we tell ourselves we cannot live without and are must-haves. But, as depressing as it is, we’ll still die.
It’s not so much that the want gets to me; rather, it is the shock of it still existing after we are gone. All that stuff – all those things we had to have – left behind, as if we never existed.
Before I die, assuming death doesn’t find me for another 50 years or more and my death is not sudden, I hope to get rid of what is not wanted by my family. I don’t want to be surrounded by a bunch of stuff when I die, nor do I want my kids to have to go through a bunch of stuff left behind by me.
It just seems sad – a house full of stuff but absent of life.
[You can click here to see the items in the estate sale.]
Comments are pending approval due to my Wednesday’s What is It post. Comments will be released on Friday.
32 thoughts on “Absent of Life”
When my grandfather died, we were overwhelmed by the amount of things he had. It’s funny what I saved: my dad’s leather gloves from when he was a toddler, postcards, a Boy Scout pack. It’s the little things…
Great post, Lenore!
Thank you, Julie. I love the items you saved. Yes. Yes, yes, yes. It IS the little things.
We don’t have estate sales in my neck of the woods, but I used to go to auctions all the time back when I bought and sold antiques. The most depressing thing was when there were boxes of old, family photos for sale. I would always think, “doesn’t ANY body in the family want those? Is there nobody to care?”
One nice thought is that the castoffs of someone else’s life get a new chance to be useful in another home.
Is there nobody to care? That gets me, Peg. I have to believe the family got what they wanted and what matter most to them – the rest, including some pictures, just didn’t hold the best of or the most meaningful memories.
I like your optimism, too. It’s a twist to the “one man’s junk is another man’s treasure”.
The portrait…I’d hate to have anyone taking over something like that from my family. That’s too personal.
“…it is the shock of it still existing after we are gone. All that stuff – all those things we had to have – left behind, as if we never existed.”
I remember having that same thought when my father died. Beautiful post, Lenore.
Thank you, Charles. Having just lost my Uncle, death is on my mind. Perhaps that is another reason this particular estate sale took me aback. Thankfully, my Uncle left behind a family, still breathing life into his ‘things’.
This is really a wonderful, thoughtful post.
The Beloved and I are childless and sometimes wonder what will become of our stuff upon our demise since we don’t really have any “heirs” to speak of.
We’ve actually purged a lot of accumulated stuff over recent years, but I think the things we keep have strong sentimental value and almost everything has a story behind it. I can imagine wanting to keep these things for a long time. I guess sometimes (hopefully) decades hence, there might be an estate sale where people might wonder “why did they keep this?” and I suppose that’s fine.
Thank you, Steve. You and your Beloved are a perfect example. You’ve got the stuff – but to whom do you pass it to? You have extended family, yes? Then again, if you can purge – that is always nice, too. My hope is to live far more simplistically when I get older. [Read: When the kids move out of the house.]
I’m with you; the “things” that mean something to me .. my books, photos, jewelry, will they matter to someone else?
I cannot bear to go to estate sales. Just too sad and my heart is not strong enough to wander through someone else’s memories.
Wandering through someone’s memories is odd, MJ. My child-like imagination runs wild, and I create countless stories of the family. I try to create happy stories, because the sadness can be palatable at times.
I would like to go to an estate sale sometime. I hope to have the opportunity to pare down things around our home so it isn’t left for our daughter to do.
It’s fascinating to walk through the home and imagine the life. At least, it is fascinating to me. My imagination runs wild, and I try to envision the empty space with life and love. (And, I throw in a little drama for good measure.)
What a great beginning for a writing project!
Thank you, Patti.
Years ago my husband and I asked the kids what they wanted. Seventeen months ago he passed away and the kids took what they had asked for. No estate sale here.
blessings ~ maxi
I applaud your husband for talking to your kids ahead of time. My Mom has done the same thing, and my brother has already said what we don’t want will be put in an estate sale. My heart sinks as I type that. I suppose the consolation is knowing we got (or will get) what mattered to us.
When my dad died, we didn’t have to deal with strangers going through his things, we kept most of his stuff, divided it between my mom and my brothers. I managed to get some of his clothes, and even wore his favorite chamois shirt for years to help me remember him. I also got to keep the little wooden box I made him to keep his watch in. I treasure that to this day. So yes, these objects can hold dear memories.
But when my mom dies, I am already dreading that necessary task. She has loads of knickknacks and tons of books, records, CDs. I know I will be the one to deal with sifting through all her prized possessions and I know it will be a very sad and painful task.
When someone dies, it is very shocking to see the stuff they left behind, a reminder of how they just seem to have vanished. But it’s also a great reminder of what we should truly value in life, not things, but people. Thanks for writing about this, Lenore, and in such a sincere way.
I think we kept most of my Dad’s things. I still wear a pair of his socks, several of his sweaters, a shirt, and I use his old overnight bag, though it is ripped. The items I have keep my memories alive, though because my boys never met my Dad – they don’t meant the same to them. I suppose they could keep it for the memory of me, but I’m willing to bet the items I mentioned would be in the ‘discard’ pile. *sigh* Makes me sad.
This is such a moving piece. It is sad– as you said, “a house full of stuff but absent of life.” It amazes me that some old farm houses fall into ruin. You always wonder where one life prospered, weren’t there others to carry on?
Our girls have some things from the farm house when my in-laws passed away. I’m heartened that they wanted them.
Old farm houses make me very sad, Georgette. I am glad your daughters were able to get some things from your in-laws. Your history is rich, and I am not surprised your daughters want to hold on to the ‘things’ they can.
I ALWAYS wanted to go to an estate sale but it scares me emotionally. We have a consignment store that just opened. Maybe I’ll start there.
Consignment shops can be fun. Do it, Kim. Go on an adventure.
Oh this touches home for me. Ever since enduring the monumental chore of emptying my mother’s home 20 years ago, I have been ever so aware of the accumulation of stuff. That’s all it is, really. What we find meaning in: the artwork of our children, the gifts and love letters from old flames, the yearbooks, the photo albums, the stuff….it means so much to us, but so little to anyone else. And these days, we have precious little to pass on to the next generation because they already have their own accumulation of stuff. While my mother cherished and kept the furniture and pots and pans and dishes and silverware and jewelry of her own mother, I already had a house full of my own stuff and no room to add her (and my grandmother’s) stuff. It’s heartbreaking.
After writing this post and reading comments, I’ve been able to step back a bit. I realize a person finds enjoyment in what matters to them at the time. When they leave, it matters not what happened to their stuff, because they enjoyed it while they were here. Just as death hurts those left behind, the stuff left behind hurts those that are here. Does that make sense? Anyway …
There was a little odds and ends shop in my neighborhood that sold all kinds of items the store owners found at estate sales in the area. In the back of the store was a large box of photos. They were all family snapshots – most of them were in black and white. It always felt strange looking through that box, looking at these people I didn’t know. Sometimes the photos even had writing on the back, like Dave and Sara, 1943, or something like that. My writer mind always got working about the people in the photos, but also, who left them behind?
My writer mind tries to tell their stories, too, Jackie. It is a wonderful box of treasure for an imagination.
Good post, Lenore. I enjoyed very much reading your thoughts on this ponderous subject.
Thank you, Carol.
Beautiful post, Lenore Diane. And a good reminder to us all not to burden our children with a lot of unwanted items. I dread the day I have to go through my parents things–they have hung to far too many items over the years.
Thank you, Susan. I am glad you enjoyed it.