In the spirit of celebrating our 20th anniversary all year, we're resurrecting an old series, Day in Little Rock, where various central Arkansans reflect on their memories, pastimes and adventures in the capital city. Up this month is Gwen Moritz. Take it away, Gwen.
It's been probably 15 years since my husband bopped into the kitchen on a Saturday morning and said, "What are you doing today?" I shrugged and said, "I don't know. I was thinking I might see if there are any garage sales in the neighborhood." Rob disappeared for a few minutes and came back fully dressed.
"Where are you going?" I asked.
"You had me at 'garage sale,'" he said.
Thus began a joint activity that has given us thousands of hours of cheap entertainment. While we still brake for garage sales when one looks interesting, we quickly reoriented to estate sales, which are superior in a couple of ways. First, they are generally managed by professionals who understand the sweet spot on pricing stuff that owners invariably think is more valuable than it really is. Second, there's a lot more good stuff in an estate sale since the goal, in most cases, is to dismantle a complete household rather than just get rid of excess stuff.
So what do we buy at estate sales? Often the answer is nothing. We are rarely looking for anything specific because, after 33 years of marriage, we really don't need much of anything. But even if we come out empty-handed, we have had a small adventure. There's nothing like following the estate sale circuit for learning about different residential areas that you might never visit otherwise. And I enjoy seeing inside other people's houses, seeing the things they amassed and getting an idea of the personality and lifestyle of the owners.
When we do buy things, they range from the strictly utilitarian to the utterly frivolous. I once bought a year's supply of litter box liners for a couple of bucks, and I can't remember the last time I bought paper napkins in a store. And I hate to tell you this, but you are a fool if you pay retail for flower pots or fine china or holiday decorations. It's Christmas all year round if you go to estate sales.
I pick up vintage costume jewelry when something catches my eye, and my husband has a bunch of Hawaiian print shirts — all secondhand. I bought so many pretty dishes and serving pieces that I finally had to have a talk with myself. Rob needs to have the same talk with himself about books and vinyl records.
The best estate sale finds are totally unexpected. Once, Rob had the jaw-dropping luck of finding — here in Little Rock — two beautifully framed prints of Paramaribo, the capital of Suriname, the obscure South American country where he lived for several years as a boy. Estate sales are a great place to find art of all kinds and for all budgets, but you must be present to win.
Are you interested in joining the prowl? Estatesales.net — website or phone app — is a great way to find sale listings from all over the country. I mainly rely on Ashley Norris' indispensable website, ashleysfinds.com, for a round-up of each weekend's sales in central Arkansas and elsewhere in the state. She links to the sale operators' sites, where they will generally post dozens of photos of items in the sale.
If you see something you can't live without, you need to be in line when the door opens on the first day. Items that don't sell on the first day will then be discounted each day until the sale ends. Most start on Friday and end on Sunday, but two-day and four-day sales are not unusual. Dickering over prices is acceptable at garage sales, but not at estate sales. Instead, you can leave a bid. Since most sales are 50% off on the last day, you might leave a bid for slightly more than half the marked price and hope for the best.
Maybe I'll see you there.