“I’m sorry for your loss,” the buyer says as he streams through the door of the estate sale I’m having at my parents’ house.
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Loss? What loss?
“Thank you,” I say, mirroring his somber note.
“My condolences,” says another buyer a few minutes later.
What? This is an estate sale, not a funeral.
“Thank you,” I say, feeling once again, like the last person to know what’s going on.
The third time a stranger expresses heartfelt remorse, I get it: They think my parents died. But they’ve just moved to assisted living. Most estate sales, apparently, happen post mortem.
“Ohhhh, thank you,” I say, “but my parents are still alive. They’ve just moved on.”
The stranger looks at me weird, like I’m some spiritual kook, and slinks away. “I mean to assisted living.” She doesn’t hear me, but another shopper does.
She shakes her head disapprovingly, as if selling my parents stuff while they’re alive is tacky, though that doesn’t stop her from shopping.
It’s not like you think!
I want to explain that my elderly parents moved out because a fully loaded, four-bedroom house became too much for them, that I’m selling the contents and eventually the house — with their permission — to help pay for what I hope will be many more years of their retired life. But that is too much information to download on someone pretending to care but who really just wants to know if I’m selling the bookcase or not.
“I’m sorry for your loss,” says another buyer, removing his hat respectfully.
“My parents aren’t dead!” I say, perhaps a little too firmly.
“Boy, am I glad to hear that!” another shopper says. “Because I won’t buy anything that belongs to someone who died.”
I must have screwed up my face, because she adds, “Bad energy.”
I nod, as if I understand, but think she’s a pint short of a quart.
I’m in a weird spot, standing in the home I grew up in surrounded by presumption, superstition and more memories than the Smithsonian.
The year-long week began four days earlier when I flew to California from Florida to sort the homestead’s contents. I put trash in the driveway, donations in the garage, items for sale in the house, and what I wanted to keep in the back bedroom.
Then shoppers came through like a Waring blender and swirled it all back together. Seriously, if you ever want to clear out a house, label everything trash, donation or off limits. That’s what goes first.
After two days of dismantling the house a piece at a time — mom’s costume jewelry, dad’s tools — I finally discovered what all these buyers were talking about. Letting go, item by item, feels like a hundred small deaths.
It’s the end of an era.
As the last buyer leaves, she thanks me and says, “I’m sorry for your loss.”
“Me, too,” I say. Condolences, I decide, are in order.
I shake the nostalgia off, however, because I need to tackle my next task, which is to sort through the remains and draw the line between what to let go of and what to keep. I need to find that sweet spot on the continuum between nothing and everything. I consult my stomach lining and two experts and come up with this formula:
Join me next week as organizing guru Peter Walsh weighs in on what to do with the really tough stuff like letters, photos, wedding dresses.
Syndicated columnist and speaker Marni Jameson is the author of “House of Havoc” and “The House Always Wins” (Da Capo Press). Contact her through marnijameson.com.