Rehoming earthly treasures

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Wednesday, March 10th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. 

Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard.

Most homes have an accumulation of family heirlooms, cherished keepsakes, and, truthfully, a closet stuffed with stuff. Bric-a-brac. Tchotchkes. Daily life things like forks and sofas to things that make you wonder… what is that in the garage?

EICHER: Have no idea what you’re talking about…

REICHARD: Riiight.

EICHER: Seriously, someday someone’s going to inherit what we’ve stored up and wonder what to do with it all. WORLD correspondent Bonnie Pritchett spoke with a woman who helps people manage what others leave behind.

MEEKINS: Hey, y’all! Any items that aren’t priced just ask. I’ll give you a bit better price on them. Be careful where you turn around. The house is full…

BONNIE PRITCHETT, CORRESPONDENT: That’s Rae Meekins, proprietor of Collective Home Mercantile, welcoming customers into a Houston home.

It isn’t her home. But today, she’s playing hostess. As an estate sale manager. Meekins is hired to root through, sort, clean, organize, price, tastefully display, and, hopefully, sell every material possession left behind by the deceased homeowner.

MEEKINS: So, the gentleman who lived here passed away like two years ago at 87. Spoke 7 or 8 languages, mastered multiple martial arts. Held multiple, multiple degrees…

All of those talents produced books, equipment, computers, and electronics, including a Commadore 64 game system circa 1982 in the original box. Add to that family mementoes from multiple generations. Meekins has a full house.

MEEKINS: There will be more out. This house literally keeps giving the gift of something…

Managing estate sales is a second career for the 58-year-old Meekins. Her previous job as an executive administrator with an oil company provided well for the single mom of three until she got laid-off. By then she had already been cultivating her lifelong appreciation for antiques and her affinity for organization. Her part-time gig as an estate sale manager turned full-time 13 years ago.

MEEKINS: So, it slowly, accidentally, thankfully, and as a curse – all in one – lead to this…

Meekins doesn’t always learn about the homeowner from the obituaries. Some clients she gets to meet.

MEEKINS: Probably, let’s say, four to five years ago most of my clientele were elderly that had passed. Or elderly that was being moved into more like a nursing home back then. Now, a lot of my clientele is all age groups that are just downsizing…

They’re moving to retirement or assisted living communities. One young family sold off their house, bought an RV and traveled the country and homeschooled their kids.

The term “estate sale” may bring to mind a manor surrounded by well-manicured gardens.

MEEKINS: Any home is someone’s estate…

With that in mind, Meekins acts accordingly: She expects her customers do likewise.

MEEKINS: I want people when they walk in the door to respect that fact that they’re shopping in a home…

That’s why her welcome spiel at the front door includes this caveat: 

MEEKINS: Be kind or be gone. You can’t be rude to other shoppers. You can’t be rude to my staff. I will escort you out of our sale. There’s no reason for it…

Her no-nonsense admonition contrasts with her genuine affection for and appreciation of her customers – even the problematic ones who want to nickel and dime her into lowering her prices.

MEEKINS: And I flat tell them, my priority is my client. I need to cater to my customers but my priority is my client and my client is who I answer to. So, they’re not going to hire me if I have a garage sale for them…

Most customers are looking for that “something special”:

WOMAN’S VOICE: We just find the neatest things that you would never think of…

They’re decorating their homes or looking for bargains on everyday housewares and tools. Others are collectors of, well, whatever.

VOICE: I said, I could use this ax. I have no idea why. It’s just going to sit in my garage. But it looks pretty in the garage…

Ok. One woman had someone else in mind as she picks through a salt and pepper shaker collection. Each shaker is paired with its mate in a plastic sandwich baggie.

WOMAN’S VOICE: [RUSTLING SOUND OF PLASTIC BAGS] It’s just the cutest stuff. I don’t know why I like it so much. They just have so much character to them. I always look for bride and groom. My mother-in-law collects them…

Most items at Meekins’ sales don’t have a price tag. Supplies, plus the time it takes to tag thousands of items isn’t cost effective. Twenty-five years of experience, and her antique appraiser certification helps her judge their value.

MEEKINS: I am a certified antiques appraiser. So, basically, that means I know a lot. But I know, do not know, a lot more…

To her knowledge, nothing sold at one of her estate sales has been showcased on the Antiques Roadshow.

Meekins’ relationship with her clients is more than transactional. Hence, her reluctance to deny requests for help that fall outside the scope of her contract.

MEEKINS: The hardest thing for me is saying “No.” You know my client hires me to take care of them and take care of things so they don’t have to. And it’s just my nature to be “Don’t worry about that. I’ll take care of it for you.”

The value of taking that one thing – the sale of a loved one’s worldly possessions – off a grieving person’s to-do list can’t be put on a price tag.

MEEKINS: Sometimes I get a client that calls me days after someone’s passing. You know they’re very emotionally vulnerable and they just need this done and they can’t deal with it…

Meekins loves what she does. But, she admits, she spends way too much time doing it and is beginning to appraise the value of a life well lived.

MEEKINS: So, I’m starting to feel some wear. And going at the rate I go at doesn’t allow me any time, hardly, with my family or with my grandkids. I’m working on trying to flipping that around a bit…

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Bonnie Pritchett in Houston.

(Photo/Bonnie Pritchett)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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