First Person Singular: Peggy Burds, owner of Emerald Estate Sales

First Person Singular
Peggy Burds: "Behind every door, there's a story." (Benjamin C. Tankersley)
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Sunday, October 17, 2010

I used to drive by all these beautiful homes in Washington and say, "Oh, I bet it's gorgeous in there." Now I drive by and I say, "I wonder how much stuff is behind that front door." Behind every door, there's a story.

Many stories in D.C. are political and military. I once did the home of a former head of NASA. There were things in that house that had gone to the moon! Once, I had my hands on these documents from a man who'd been extremely involved in the establishing of Israel. Another had a model of every fighter plane used since World War II. Like I said, stories everywhere.

We cling to our belongings. They're proof of who we are, where we came from. People say, "I bet you have the most wonderful things. You get to see everything first and take what you want before anyone else gets a chance." I have nothing. I live in a high-rise condo, with no basement to fill with boxes. You do this for a living, and you see the accumulations, the piles weighing people down. You see how difficult it is to divest yourself of all that stuff.

I went into the business to sell antiques and perhaps serve a little tea. But I've been selling a lot more lawn mowers than anything else. Everything gets a price tag, from the remainder of tinfoil in the kitchen drawer to the $25,000 painting. With the economy, more customers are shopping for necessities -- the cleaning supplies, the tools, the appliances -- than are looking for true treasures. Even people who'd have never thought about buying someone else's things are coming to estate sales rather than paying retail.

It can be traumatic. I tell [family members], especially when it's a daughter or a son whose parent has died, to walk into every room, and if something draws you to it, go back again. If it's still speaking to you, keep it. But you should not load your basement with a box full of stuff just because you think your mother would want you to. If you do, you're going to be calling me -- or your kids are going to be calling someone -- to get rid of all this junk that nobody cares about.

If I keep something, it has to be extremely sentimental. Everything I own has a story: It may not have started out as my story, but when I chose to bring it into my life, it became part of it. We all write our own history, and our stuff is often the only thing left to tell that story. I don't want my story to be a bunch of junk that doesn't mean anything.

Interview by Amanda Long


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