I hope you had a good life


Anika Svancarek @sw.an.ika

I hope you had a good life

Saturday mornings are for sitting outside on a stoop waiting for someone to come unlock their relatives front door just for me to snoop through their mothers unmentionable drawer. I have a problem. I love to rummage through dead people’s belongings, Not in a creepy Norman Bates kind of way, but I am still trying on the mother’s dresses.

Possessions are a big part of my identity and how I express myself. As an artistic mind, I lean more towards maximalism rather than minimalism, and use decor of the past in almost every part of home life.

I come by it naturally. Seriously, I don’t have any family that resides in a home that was built in the last fifty years, our cupboards are filled to the brim with unnecessary china and anything is possible if you have the space for it.


I don’t know how or why we became this way. I could pin it all on the very specific taste of my mother’s mother, or the even more peculiar taste of her sister, but we are all like that. We don’t buy junk, we hold out and usually wait for the treasures. These treasures can be anywhere, you just have to look around for them, or just let them come up along your journey

Three years ago while shooting the loop around my hometown in my beat up 1998 Monte Carlo with my sister, I screeched to a halt. Now what I am about to say, I don’t want you to judge me, but I realized it was spring cleanup. To any normal human, you wouldn’t think anything of it, but to a hoarder like me, jackpot.

While rummaging through the spring cleanup pile outside of a large Edwardian home in my hometown, we came across at least eight crates of old books. We peeked through some of them and decided to just take the boxes with the oldest books in it.

I brought them home and sat at the picnic table in my backyard with my sister before we went through our loot. Mostly just disintegrated books, but there lay at the bottom was a large family bible.

As with most southern families, this is usually sacred and stowed away. You fill them with prayers and bookmarks and pictures and special momentos. Letters from her husband stationed in France during the second world war, a snippet of her son’s hair. All of this was cared for and it was filled to the brim with memorabilia from a woman’s life, all in the trash. 

The lifelong question that everyone else seems to be asking is “what happens when we die?” The question that I am asking is, “what happens to my stuff when I die?”

People set up wills and testaments for the big ticket items like a collection of faberge eggs, or their jewelry, but what about the things they used on a daily basis? Those are the things that end up at the estate sale. The “crap” that nobody wants or needs ends up sprawled around their home on display for people from around town to pick through it and throw out a buck or two. The entirety of this person’s life is all out for the world to fawn over all because of one really scary thing: Death.


Dying is the ultimate act of vulnerability to the world. Letting go of earthly possessions is a haunting thought. Hopefully it will be a long time from now, but whether it be today or tomorrow, it is inevitable. We all kick the bucket eventually, but our stuff doesn’t.

Throughout high school I bought and sold vintage women’s clothing for a little bit of side money. It was more of a hobby and a way to get my shopping fix without breaking the bank and filling my own personal closets with more clothes.

By my junior year, I was a pro. You go in, head straight for the closet, and quickly grab what you can get before any of the other buyers get to it. My routine was fast and money hungry, I never took the time to really take in the home until this one sale that changed my life.

Upon arriving, the house seemed odd, not so staged and oddly just lived in. Like I was touring a random person’s habitat. It felt off. I made my way to the closet and couldn’t believe my eyes. A gold mine of vintage glorious clothing spanning from the1920s-1970s, mostly pristine and barely worn.

As I pulled back fur coats and thought about how I was going to explain withdrawing my card again, I gasped and oh, I stared blankly at this beautiful wedding dress buried deep within. Late 1940s with beautiful satin buttons on the back and sleeves. Sometimes, clothing brings me to tears, and on this occasion it did.

Why would somebody not want their family member’s wedding dress after they have passed? 

I pulled it from the rusty wire hanger it resided on and felt the love and energy coming out of this dress. I added it to my pile, of course. As I did a last lap around looking for any rogue hats or accessories, I saw a table with pictures and albums scattered across it.

I approached the table and realized that these were family pictures and they were for sale as well. I gasped again in horror and asked the man running the whole event, “who wouldn’t want these things?!” to which he promptly replied “Grandkids.”

My blood boiled and my eyes filled with tears. I was just so upset for this woman. So of course I bought her entire wardrobe, plus a ton of pictures. Suddenly, I knew this woman, or so I felt. I did research on her, and talked to people who knew her. She was a wife, a mother, a grandmother. She was a human, so why were her things just thrown around with such a lack of respect. 

I learned an extremely important lesson that day, to honor the person you are there for. I no longer look at estate sales with grubby fingers, I go in and observe.

Go through the records and see what they listened to, or see what they read. Admire their fashion taste, no matter how bad it is. Look at the decorations for sale and see what interests them. Feel the connection between you and the items you are purchasing, and think about why they wanted them. 

I am now able to appreciate the person and what they might have provided to the world. I look with care and think to myself “I hope you had a good life”. I feel out how the person’s home is left behind and what their vibes were. If you look hard enough, you will find out exactly who they were just by analyzing everything.

An estate sale isn’t what we deserve, but it’s what we get. It is a bit calming to think of it that way. The thought of dying is terrifying, but at least I know that my estate sale will be amazing. 

Staff Writer Aaron Elliott can be reached at [email protected] and on instagram at aaron.elliott_. To stay up to date with all your Southern Illinois News follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.