Who knew that’s where all the best treasures are hiding?
Ever since my teens, I could be found on the weekends searching through yard sales for silk scarves, hand-tooled leather bags, and other long-forgotten treasures—the allure of finding one-of-a-kind things that couldn’t be easily replicated has always drawn me in. So, last summer, when a friend introduced me to estate sale shopping, I felt in my adult element rummaging through homes for everything from clothing to accessories, furniture, cookware, and more—all at hugely discounted prices.
I was originally drawn to estate sale shopping because of the accessible pricing. Now, however, I am much more intrigued by the stories uncovered in the hunt for these original pieces. The beauty in wearing someone’s (former) silk blouse feels like a special tribute. I was also shocked by the sheer volume of vintage high-end and designer items practically overflowing from closets. After leaving one sale with a gallon-sized Ziplock bag filled with ‘60s costume jewelry, a crystal wine decanter, and a 14k gold diamond cluster ring, it’s safe to say I was completely sold.
Finding the homes to shop is the trickiest part. Luckily for us, there are dozens of sites that list the sales, addresses, and even images for a peek at what’s for sale. Much like a yard sale, you never have to pay to attend, and can arrive during any window that is listed. My personal favorite site is Estatesales.net. Their head of marketing Matt Ellison says, “look at the pictures of the sale before attending. Note the style of the house and the types of items. The time period and types of the items in the images can tell you a lot about what you might find when you go hunting. For example, if you see lots of mid-century pieces, you could find clothing from that period, as well. Estate sales can be time capsules.” Making a day out of estate sale shopping is an incredible way to spend a Saturday, and if you’re planning on hitting more than one location, mapping out your route is best.
My biggest hesitation centered on my comfort level in entering a stranger’s home to, well, shop, but truthfully, it’s surprisingly relaxed. A third party (usually the company hired to run the sale) greets you upon arriving at the home. The atmosphere is friendly, and other shoppers are typically around, as well, making it feel much more like a casual visit to a friend. While inside, be sure to explore any areas that aren’t marked as restricted. Each floor and closet can be different depending on the house you visit, and don’t be afraid to ask about certain items if you’re looking for something specific. The most unsuspecting houses on listings online tend to be the most extreme treasure troves.
If you’re like me and are looking for the absolute best bargain pricing, timing is imperative. “Generally, you will find the lowest prices on the last day of the sale. It is not uncommon for discounts to drop as low as 75 percent off on the last day. Don't be afraid to make an offer,” Ellison adds. Meaning bartering is not just common, but expected. Many sales are run to clean out homes quickly, so you may leave spending less than you would on lunch. I have paid as little as $4 for a vintage taffeta gown with a matching bolero.
Having the right shopping companion is also key. Rummaging at estates may not be for everyone—pick your shopping partner based on how comfortable they are in new situations. Visiting the homes, you’ll have the opportunity to explore different rooms in the house, so you’ll want someone adventurous with you.
Top takeaway tips for those looking to secure the “bag?” List out the locations ahead of time, bring cash as not every location will take card, take a friend who is always up for an adventure, and most of all, treat the things with the utmost respect. You are in someone’s home as a guest, after all. And while not every sale will end in a victory in the form of cashmere sweaters, the adventure and hunt might just be part of the fun.
Photo: Courtesy of Instagram/@estatesalesnet
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