I love a good estate sale. Nothing is quite so much fun as spotting an estate sale sign when I actually have time to stop and check it out. I’ve found good pieces of older furniture, lovely glass serving dishes, antique Christmas ornaments, books, tools, old linens that I can donate to the Humane Society, and lots of other useful stuff. I especially like going on the second day of the sale, when there isn’t quite as much to choose from, but everything that remains is marked “half off.” I’ve found some terrific bargains that way.
But even though I love estate sales, wandering through the houses in search of bargain-priced treasures is also just a little bit sad. I can usually get a pretty good sense of who lived in the house, even though I’ve never met them. As I go from room to room, I can see what the person’s taste was in books, home furnishings and clothing. Sometimes, looking through the remains of their worldly possessions, I can even tell where they went to church, what their hobbies were, or what they did for a living. I am reminded that the items for sale belonged to a real person at one time, and some of those things were probably very special to them. And yet now they are sitting in an empty house with a price tag attached, being pawed through by total strangers. I can’t help but wonder how that would make the person who owned them feel.
Even though I’m a minimalist at heart, I know that sometimes I still spend way too much time and money acquiring possessions, especially the things that are special to me. I have certain authors that I love and I buy every book of theirs that I can get my hands on, and I have eight prints hanging on my walls by my favorite local artist. Even though the two Christmas trees I put up every year are already loaded with glass antique ornaments, I still buy more, if they are in good shape and reasonably priced. Every single room in my house has at least one thing in it that I treasure. And yet I know that some day (hopefully in the distant future), any and all of it could end up in my estate sale, priced to sell quickly.
The thing is, no matter how much “treasure” we manage to accumulate in our lives, there’s no guarantee that any of it is going to be valued when we’re gone. Our stuff is not who we are, and it’s not what people are going to remember us by. When I shop those estate sales, I can understand only a little bit of the person whose possessions I’m sorting through. I may see their tastes and some of their life story, but I have no idea how they acted, how they treated other people or what their deepest values were. Because I didn’t know that person, and I only see the stuff they’ve left behind.
So I don’t want to make the mistake of putting too much value on my things, even the things I value the most. When I’m gone, I know that what I’ll really be remembered by was whether I was kind or cruel, generous or selfish, willing to take risks or always playing it safe, etc. In short, I’ll be remembered by how much I was willing to try, in my own clumsy way, to make the world around me a better place. That’s not something that will be put in my will or sold at my estate sale, but ultimately, it’s the only legacy that really matters.