That Auction Life: When all your belongings are disposable, for sale, or have a price.
One of my many hobbies is moonlighting as a vintage jewelry dealer. I’ve been thrifting since I was a teenager, and started getting into auctions in a serious way a few years ago. About that time, I started to specialize in jewelry and sell jewelry online. Why jewelry? It’s the subject of another post. Just know that if you told me ten years ago that I would geek out over costume jewelry from the 1940s and ’50s, or tooth and hair jewelry from the Victorian era, I would have laughed in your face. I sell jewelry, mostly. What do I collect? Jewelry. Glass. Knives. Linens. Art. All things mid-century. Kitsch.
As the season shifts to spring, I think nothing of getting up early in the morning and throwing some pants on to get to all the best garage sales and auctions. Driving home from an auction last weekend with a pile of new stuff, I realized I’m always driving around with piles and piles of stuff in my car. My poor kids. Trash, items to donate to resale shops, items to photograph, items to sell, and items I haven’t quite identified yet litter my house, my car, my basement, and my garage. “The churn,” as I call it in my head, is one of the side effects of buying and selling vintage items. It becomes a lifestyle. When you start the churn, it’s usually small and manageable, but a few years in, the churn takes over your life, your home, and your free time.
1) You’re a dumping ground for stuff now.
People in your life begin to see you as a picker for stuff they may want in the future, and as a place to drop off things they no longer want but don’t want to donate. This is a blessing and a curse. You get tons of gorgeous stuff from generous friends, but you also get a bunch of things that you weren’t interested in, don’t know anything about, and now have to deal with yourself. You also get tasked for finding the perfect birthday present for “the guy who has everything.” This becomes an art form.
2) That vintage widget you so admire might be an exact item you had in your hands a year ago.
You find yourself wheeling and dealing with other vintage pickers, trading pieces of your inventory back and forth. There have been times I went to someone’s place to look at their stash, and found myself admiring something I gave to them a year before. I’ve been to a antique store in town and seen something I sold at a garage sale for sale in someone else’s booth. I’ve even found myself admiring a sweater at Goodwill that I’m pretty sure I donated.
I’m convinced a certain percentage of things in the resale market churn remain so in perpetuity.
3) I’m not hoarding — this is inventory!
Your time and money is tied up with no discernible returns. Participating in the resale market means limbo. Much of your personal inventory is mid-churn, sitting on a shelf, waiting for you to research and list it for sale, or it’s already for sale waiting for someone to love it and buy it. It means accepting that a lot of your money that you’ve invested is always waiting for a return — which is why the big finds and big paydays are so important. And exhilarating.
4) One day you realize that everything in your house is disposable, for sale, and has a price.
I’ve stopped developing attachments to stuff. I used to be the kind of person that hung onto things “just in case,” and amassed collections of things because I had some tenuous sentimental attachment to them. Outside of things that carry real sentimental attachment for me, tchotchkes come into my life with a limited shelf life. Eventually I get tired of having a hand-painted birdhouse/ceramic tiger/brass peacock decorating my shelf, and into the churn it goes. See also, everything in my kitchen, jewelry box, and closet. If I hang on to something I’m not in love with, it’s because I know the dollar value on the item and have plans to sell it.
5) You find out you have become an expert on weird collectibles without having tried.
If you get enough auctions and antique stores under your belt, you’ll find that you’re magically, very suddenly, able to spot high dollar items, determine quality on a wide variety of collectibles, and that you somehow know everything there is about creepy clown and doll collections. Having a wreath made out of human hair in your home, for example, will no longer seem morbid or weird. You happen to know quite a bit about art glass tabletop ashtrays and hand-crank meat grinders. You know the value of a fifty-year-old box of dusty matches. You are also quite comfortable hanging out in a dank barn or a damp warehouse with a vast array of people quite unlike you, all of whom share this bizarro collection of knowledge about old brands, artisans, and regional history. You might find you’re quite talented at bidding while standing up, eating a cold hot dog, and balancing a cup of coffee at a consignment auction in the dead of winter.
In fact, you’re probably bidding with your hot dog.
6) Flea markets? Psssh.
I’m the dealer at the flea market and you buy my stuff. I used to like fleas because the items were already curated for you, the shopper. What I didn’t realize was the huge (HUGE) mark-up on said items, and that I was missing out on the thrill of a great find. Many people who start as collectors will eventually start selling, either because their collection is out of control, or because they’ve amassed so much stuff they can’t hang on to all of it. As a buyer, profits are great, but you’ll call it even if you earned enough to buy the cool item that caught your eye in someone else’s booth.
I’m still a magpie at heart. I just can’t justify keeping everything for myself.