Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Digging Through the Bones

Retirement communities like those in the Coachella Valley have always been a little different than your average homestead. While most neighborhoods around any town have a reasonable number of deaths each month, here it’s a bit different. The more older folks around, the more that are likely to pass away any month of the year. Then the elephant in the room has always been: ‘What happens when?’ The reality here is that an above average number of retirees get old and die in place each month. What happens then to their lifetime of collected ‘things?’

Unique to Palm Springs and perhaps a few other retirement areas is our preponderance of consignment stores, Goodwill, thrift stores and estate sales; all meant to clean out the remnants of past residents. As a friend of mine likes to say upon hearing the sound of an ambulance. “There goes another condo for sale!”

I assume it’s the same in parts of Florida, Arizona, and other warm winter locales. The circle of life comes around and starts all over again. Newly purchased homes and condos are often furnished with the bones of sold off condos. Children of the deceased usually come into town with one goal in mind. Their objective is quite simply to empty their parent’s home, either sell off the furnishings or get them to a consignment store ASAP and leave town as quickly as they arrived.

The Coachella Valley has a wide variety of resale opportunities. Locally, a chain called ‘Revivals’ competes with other thrift stories such as Angel View and Goodwill. There are professional resale establishments like The Estate Company and (my wife’s favorite) Misty’s. There are probably dozens and dozens of smaller shops all collecting and catering to specialty items for resale. Then there are the many estate and garage sales meant to strip a house of any furnishings in as little time as possible.

In the field, the competition doesn’t stop at the door. There are professional bargain hunters who treat estate sales, garage sales and consignment stores as their full time buy and swap or resell profession. What’s left are the bargain hunters who are always on the lookout for a deal.

For some folks like myself, it’s a surreal experience scrounging through someone’s home after they have passed or gone to a nursing home. While it can sometimes border on the morbid, it is always a somber yet fascinating trip back in time. It’s like peeling away the life story of a person, revealing beneath the layer of dust and corner dust bunnies a glimpse into their daily lives. Old furnishings, paintings, appliances, records, tools, magazines, CDs and DVDs all tell a tale of their past life.

Last year, we went to the Hearst Estate sale (the grandchildren of William Randolph Hearst) and last week it was an estate sale conducted by the state of California through a broker. Both must have had fascinating tales to tell.

There can be bargains galore if you’re in the right place at the right time and the price is right. Sharon has collected, over the years, wonderful items for our home. She has found frames for her paintings and crystal and china for her collection. I’ve found old books that were ideal for research material for my novels or just a great read.

Moving amid the casual shoppers are the serious bargain hunters. These are folks on the lower end of the economic spectrum for whom garage sales and estate sales mean they can buy items they would never be able to afford otherwise. Furniture, old and comfortable, is often relegated to the poorest of shoppers.

Around here, especially in season, it’s the great circle of possessions passed on from one generation to the next. It’s digging through the bones of the deceased to build a new foundation for the living. For the serious and casual shopper alike, consignment is not a dirty word. It’s bargain hunting, great finds and surprises every time the garage door opens.

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