I go to a fair number of estate sales in search of finds, which in the cold winter months requires extra fortitude! When I moved back east from Kansas City a few years ago, I discovered a whole new set of estate sale rules and procedures than I had encountered previously. At most sales here, a list can be started at the midnight proceeding the sale, to which people can add their names up until about 7 am, when the estate sale company arrives to distribute numbers to all present, corresponding to their place on the list. Everyone then disperses (usually I find the nearest coffee shop to keep warm; many others sit in their cars, perhaps carefully reviewing the online photos of items in the sale and plotting their routes through the house….), then everyone reconvenes about 15 minutes before start time, lining up according to number.
One challenge in winter is that many estate sales take place in homes that are both fairly small and tightly packed with years of accumulation, meaning that only a few people are let in at a time, leaving the rest of us to wait outside in the cold, often for a very long time! This is made all the more painful for the fact that the only place for people to pile their treasures is out on the lawn, so we watch jealously as the best stuff is dragged out and heaped in front of us while we wait patiently to for our turn to get at the house. This is all compounded by the fact that in winter estate sales are scarcer, so there tend to be more people at any given sale than in the summer, where there are typically lots of sales happening on any given weekend, meaning that one has to choose among them.
Not being inclined to drive an hour or more at midnight to sign my name to the list, I tend to arrive a little before numbers are given out, meaning I’ve recently wound up 70th in line, or even 114th at a crazy sale in Lowell that attracted lots of dealers. At another recent sale there was a separate line to get into the packed upper floor of a crumbling old barn that threatened to collapse under very much weight, such that only 4 people were allowed in at a time. I waited for what seemed like forever, as those before me took their sweet time.
At the end of the day, though, I think the endeavor of it all makes for great adventure, and one develops a sense of camaraderie and community with others crazy or driven enough to get up in the dark to go searching for treasures. And for me, any competitiveness with other pickers pretty much dissolves in favor of my focusing on small stuff that others may overlook or not bother with—things that may not necessarily have a lot of value, but which I find somehow beautiful, curious or unusual, and am eager to take home, research and share with you!