Life as the textile expert at a regional history museum

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Estate Sales and Home Visits

Last weekend Olivia and I were walking around our neighborhood and saw a series of signs about an ESTATE SALE just a few blocks away. It was a nice day and we didn't have much to do, so we followed the arrows and ended up at an old Capitol Hill mansion with a long line of people waiting outside. Our interest had only barely carried us far enough to walk to the house, so when we saw that waiting was involved we decided to just go home.

I mean, we left the house when there was still Kimmy Schmidt to binge watch

But I kept thinking about that giant house and what could be inside, and so later in the afternoon I went back on my own. It was just one hour before they closed for the day and there was STILL a line. I heard people around me talking about how they had heard it was "amazing" and "worth the wait" and how the house had to be 7,000 square feet at least. When I finally made it inside...

I was reminded that giant houses full of stuff are never quite as fun as they sound.

And I should know.

At the museum we sometimes get calls from potential donors who don't have one specific thing they want to donate, but are cleaning out their grandma's/parents'/beloved neighbor's house and want the museum to come and take whatever they want. On paper, this sounds AWESOME. Room after room of stuff for the taking!!! But having gone on a few home visits, and I gotta say, it's not all it is cracked up to be. Here is why:

#1: It is overwhelming

We all own too much stuff. I share a two bedroom apartment and wherever there is space I have filled it with stuff. If I lived in a 7,000 square foot house I would fill it with stuff. Some people have the energy to hunt through mountains of stuff to uncover that one awesome find (these people are usually expert thrift store shoppers) but I am not one of them. I loose energy really fast when faced with sorting through piles of stuff to find that "gem."

#2: There is too much pressure

Estate sales foster impulse buys and competitive shopping--you had better grab that thing and commit to it before anyone else does. For museum home visits the person hosting you wants you to commit to taking as many things as possible, and taking it quick. We don't say yes to every offered home visit because we often don't have the staff resources to do it within the timeframe they need ("everything has to be gone by Friday!"). They are usually experiencing a mix of grief and stress: facing the loss or declining health of someone they love and just wanting this damn house cleaned out already. You taking armloads of stuff assists with both problems: they can be comforted knowing that the legacy of their loved one will be preserved by a museum, and you will be reducing the number of things they have to get deal with themselves. You want to make them happy, but you aren't excited about taking tons of stuff because...

#3: It is mostly things that you don't want and/or have too much of already

Table and bed linens, dishes, well-used polyester clothes, MORE DISHES. There are always so many dishes. Dishes can be cool and interesting but the Seattle Art Museum has already won the prize in this town for doing an amazing display of dishes and there just isn't a need for MOHAI to go there.

I ended up not buying anything at the estate sale. But I have taken things during museum home visits that I was genuinely excited about. So I can't pretend that I am immune to the siren call of "a house full of stuff."

Amazing future museum artifacts are out there...waiting...perhaps just beyond that wall of monogrammed towels...

No comments:

Post a Comment