eBay, hoarding, estate sales and our relationship to things

EBay, hoarding and estate sales

I live in the United States so what I am describing is particular to what goes on in this country, but this could be true in other countries as well. I term it the eBay-hoarding-estate sale syndrome. You are probably familiar with it. It is quite a phenomenon here because we are born and bred to be consumers.

I have had some experiences lately that brought this home and challenged me to look at my buying habits. Here is the story in three parts.

Buy eBay

I don’t personally use eBay but I have friends who buy and sell on it frequently. A friend of mine and I were talking about her recent experiences selling doll clothes. Fairly often people buy things and then do not pay for them. One woman in particular kept coming up with excuses as to why she could not pay. She was disabled. She was in the hospital. She didn’t have enough money coming in every month. My friend was extremely patient and compassionate and advised her to think about all this before she presses the BUY button again.

I wonder whether this potential purchaser will take this advice or will continue to buy things she can’t afford. Which brings us to the hoard.

More is never enough

Hoarding is ubiquitous in the U.S. It is the subject of TV shows. Therapists specialize in treating it. Professional organizers help to sort through it. Junk haulers get rid of it. And a whole industry of storage facilities exist to contain what is left.

I have recently had a personal experience with this as an elderly relative has become ill and has been placed in an assisted living facility. We found out she had been hoarding when her apartment was due to be vacated. I thought it was strange that I had never been invited over; that should have been a warning sign. Now the family and friends are arbiters of what is and is not important in five rooms of things piled almost to the ceiling. Much of it will be thrown away and what little income she still has is going toward two storage lockers full of her things. An estate sale will get rid of the rest.


The other day I went to an estate sale with a friend. It was in a house up in the hills of Marin just north of San Francisco. As I wandered through a house full of the artifacts of a life I was given to wonder if these things were a reflection of the person or if the person was defined by these things. I looked at her library, her kitchen ware, her clothing, her jewelry, her furniture – a lifetime of collecting. I wanted to know who she was and what she was. In the end, I could tell that she had taken care to value those things and to value herself.

The question is…..do your things have you or do you have your things?

If you would like more information or support the following links may be helpful:

Treating People Who Hoard — What Works for Clients and Families
By Jennifer Van Pelt, MA

International OCD Foundation Hoarding Center

This information is for educational purposes only and should not in any way be considered a substitute for professional help. If you feel that you need immediate assistance please call your local psychiatric emergency services.