I'm writing this from ground zero: My childhood home in Orange, Calif. To get through my job here, I need smelling salts and a bulldozer.
Eight months ago, my elderly parents moved out of the single-story ranch they tended for years into a home that tends to them.
I've taken a week off work to clear the place out and start fixing it up to sell.
I can tell right now, one week is not time enough to undo nearly half a century of living in one house. It's not time enough to sort through the mountains of memorabilia that have accrued, the dishes and documents, linens and letters, crystal and cookware, photos and furniture, tools and trinkets.
I try not to fall into sinkholes of sentiment. I sort stuff into piles: toss, donate, sell, Craigslist, keep, unsure. The unsure pile grows faster than any other.
Still, I steamroll along because the painters are coming Thursday, and everything in the house has to be gone or in the garage by then.
As the sale pile grows, I know I have to hold a garage sale — or estate sale as the bigger ones are called. I have to host the sale midweek. I worry that no one will come.
I post an ad for an estate sale — “50 Years of Treasures” — on Craigslist, www.estatesale.com and the PennySaver online. My brother and sister-in-law arrive to help sort.
Monday I empty closets and cupboards, and set up display tables with like items: purses, tchotchkes, china, vases, books, CDs, floral arrangements and figurines. We turn the 1,700-square-foot house into a boutique. I really have no clue what much of this stuff is worth.
I discover that my British mother has enough crocheted doilies, dresser scarves, hankies and linen tablecloths to cover the surface of the moon.
The next morning, I'm up again at 5 a.m., putting price stickers on items — $1, $5, $50, Make an Offer. I put “Not for Sale” Post-its on furniture I can't bear to sell, though know I should.
The two-day sale starts Tuesday at 8 a.m. By 7 a.m. a line starts forming at the front door. Buyers are making a numbered list of who was first, second, and so on. They know game rules I don't.
So starts a steady stream of buyers armed with magnifying glasses, penlights and laptops, who in two days turn more than half the household contents into cash, and teach me about the world of secondhand sales:
Call it what you like. An estate sale implies that a whole household is on sale, meaning more and better items. It is usually held indoors. A garage, moving or yard sale implies that the person is cleaning house. These usually take place in the garage, driveway or yard. A rummage sale invites people to dig for buried treasures.
Value is relative. Do not assume you can guess what shoppers will buy. A box of old rags, cans of rusty nails, an old meat grinder, vintage postcards from the trash — all sold. One couple bought the Clorox and a gallon jug of white vinegar.
Nothing is sacred. Signs on doors that say “Don't Open” mean nothing.
Which day? Weekend sales may attract more buyers, but midweek sales attract better buyers.
Some people have no class. One buyer picked up a pile of worn towels. As my sister-in-law finalized the sale, she found that the customer had shoved a few more treasures inside the stack.
Some people have a lot of class. One customer pointed out that a porcelain figurine I had priced at $5, was a first-issue Hummel, circa 1939-1945. It was probably worth closer to $1,500. He suggested I reconsider the pricing.
Know your goal. It's easy to get caught up in pricing items based on how much you would have to buy them for, but when we kept our goal in mind — clear the place out — prices fell.
Don't do this to your children. Parents of adult children, PLEEEEEAASE declutter now.
Next week, I enlist the help of a celebrity appraiser from PBS's Antiques Roadshow to help me know how to price and sell my parents' antiques.
Marni Jameson is the author of “House of Havoc” and “The House Always Wins” (Da Capo Press). Contact her through www.marnijameson.com.