How can shopping an estate sale help you go green?

Here in Portland, it's 11 AM on a Thursday, which clearly means it's time to get some weekend plans in order.  For me that means scoping out the local estate sales.

Yeah, I'm an estate sale addict, and I haven't found a 12-step group yet, so don't judge! For the uninitiated, estate sales are usually held to liquidate an estate after someone dies. All the unwanted tchotchkes, couches, and kitchenware you can imagine, for sale in a soon-to-be-on-the-market house. 

Since a big part of the Reuse-Reduce-Recycle mantra is reusing, it makes sense to buy used - for both the planet and your wallet. Why go drop money at a big box store for something insulated in styrofoam when you can get something with more character from someone who might otherwise toss it? 

I prefer estate sales to yard / garage sales for several reasons:

  • Better stuff. The companies that run estate sales generally make sure all items are clean, in working order, and worth selling. There's no worrying about whether you're getting ripped off. Since professional companies tend to run estate sales, they have a brand to uphold. Customer service matters to them more than it might matter to your neighbor Barb, who just wants to sell her kids' old stuff to get some more cash for a cruise. 
  • More payment methods. I'm post-cash. Not in the sense that I spent it all long ago - no, I swear, Mom! - but in the sense that I find debit cards a lot easier to use for record-keeping. Most estate sale companies nowadays have some kind of card reader, though of course they're happy to take cash, as well. 
  • Safer. I believe the best of people and don't easily feel that I'm in a bad situation. But with garage or yard sales, you often end up in places you've never been, sometimes even in someone's house. In an estate sale, the people who lived there are dead and can't harm you. Wait, that sounded really bad. In an estate sale, it's like a pop-up store. You can be more confident that there are no serial killers lurking in a closet. 
  • Just more fun. Maybe this is me. But I just love going through estate sales. It's often much of someone's entire life there - their hobbies, their poor / awesome spending decisions. Sometimes you can find old pictures - when I was teaching ESL I used to buy those constantly so my students could write stories based on them (great for practicing past tenses!). Once I bought a selection of old scrapbooks from the 1930s and 1940s for $20. 


But sometimes, estate sales can be really overwhelming. Like once I went to one where even the sellers were sort of shrugging. Floor to ceiling, every room in the house - every room in a 2,000+ square foot house - was filled with Christmas stuff. It was sort of horrifying. I didn't even know where to start (and I'm not a big Christmas decor person, so...). The question becomes How can you make this opportunity work for you? 

My top estate sale tips: 

  • Go to an estate sale looking for everyday items or oddities, not antiques. You know who else was looking for priceless art? The heirs of the estate, and then the estate sale company. You're there for bargains, not the Maltese Falcon. This is a great way to get one of those single-use kitchen items that were popular for Christmas 8 years ago, like the quesadilla maker (remember those?) or a George Foreman grill - not diamond-encrusted birds that will clash with your IKEA decor anyway. 
  • Do you need a washer or dryer, preferably cheap? Start at an estate sale. Everyone dies with laundry, both clean and dirty. Nobody wants the heirloom dryer Grandpa bought 4 years ago. It's not haunted. Almost all estate sales are selling these, and if you show up early you can probably get a decent washer or dryer for $50. 
  • My friends were shocked and horrified that I got canned goods (before the expiration date, and in good shape!) at an estate sale. Whatever, they, too, were not haunted, and guess what, my friends: You ate them in that chili I made at Bad Movie Night, and you survived. 
  • Give yourself time to linger and search. Sometimes it is only after browsing for a while that you see something really cool. 
  • Think creatively. At most estate sales, everything is for sale - including storage items, garden stuff, sometimes even house or yard plants! Just bring what you want to the register and say that you want it. 
  • Go back on the final day of the estate sale, if you can. Many items are priced to move the last day. Maybe something you saw on Saturday is still there on Sunday, but on sale. 
  • Of course, make sure that you have a way to get this stuff home. Estate sales don't deliver free (I'm legally required to mention that my company does!), but your one friend with a truck - if you don't have one, make one - probably will for beer.

My personal favorite estate sale company in the Portland Metro Area is Peerless. Very friendly people, absurdly clean items and houses (PROTIP: Don't actually perform brain surgery there, but keep in mind that you probably could), they take Square, and they're often willing to negotiate. They are not paying me to say this. I will probably spend a lot of money there this weekend. I'm mentioning them because they are straight-up excellent and have a lot of sales. 

So go forth and shop with a clean conscience. Remember, if you purchase from an estate sale, you're not just keeping something out of a landfill: You're also reducing a big emotional and logistical burden for someone else who's just lost someone they love (I've been in that position and ... it sucks). 

And for the record, sometimes estate sales are held for other reasons besides death: I've seen them for "extreme downsizing," divorce, some pretty clear midlife crises (good luck living on that boat in the Pacific, guy with perfectly adequate mixing bowls that now live in my cupboard!), divorces, disabilities, or even bankruptcies. The point is, it's not always sad. The bottom line is that you're spending less and keeping stuff out of a landfill because you're choosing to buy used

And course, for all the supplies you need for small Green Changes that have not been conveniently provided at a discount by the dead, we've got you covered at 

Whether you're headed to an estate sale or a ball game, a barbecue or a midnight screening, we here at Green Changes Supplies wish you a wonderful weekend!