I love estate sales.

I’ve been going to estate sales since I was 15. If ever I have a weekend free of social commitments, I will most certainly be found poking through used junk at an antiques shop, flea market or other type of sale. I love the treasure hunt aspect. I love that it’s by far and away the most interesting way to shop for anything from clothes to soup ladles. I love when I find objects that completely elude identification and all good sense. I have purchased everything from garden furniture to taxidermy to maps of Mars—usually because I have a place for it, but sometimes not.

When eBay came along, a lot of people like me became really terrified: Would all sales­ of everything ever suddenly happen online, and go to the highest bidder? Would we lose our weekend treasure hunts, our access to inexpensive and bizarre impulse purchases? Would we all be reduced to basement-dwelling internet foragers, our faces lit by vertically scrolling rows of vintage glassware and WWII ammo boxes?

Reader’s Digest circa May 2007 (that’s a guess) told us exactly why that wouldn’t happen with a roundup of “Quotable Quotes” my stepmom and I laughed about for hours. I can’t find it to quote, but I remember my favorite one nearly verbatim: “The internet is where you go to find things you need. Estate sales are where you go to find things you didn’t know you needed.”

As a flea market junkie, I find this statement to be humorously truthful. As a creative, I find this statement to be completely invaluable. Yes, the internet is a GREAT place to go when you know what you need. It can find you books­, recipes, meditation techniques and even that word or song or that guy’s name you can’t think of.

But the problem with the internet is that it needs input from you to find things. You have to drive, and you have to know where you’re going. Unfortunately, for coming up with Brilliant Ideas (key thing about ideas: you don’t yet know what they are), you need something other than the internet. You need to find a thing you don’t know you need. And that takes a different kind of searching.

Estate sales are not an efficient way to shop for anything. I laugh when someone asks me what I’m looking for, because the answer is usually “anything that resonates with me”—and it’s the same with great ideas. You can’t Google great ideas and then actually find one. You have to stumble upon them after poking through a lot of stuff that didn’t seem directly related or even relevant.

You uncover good ideas, Brilliant Ideas, from beneath the dust of memories you didn’t remember you had and experiences you didn’t know you’d need. Ideas aren’t epiphanies; they’re connections made in an instant when what you have meets what you’re looking for.

Books are a wonderful way to hunt for ideas. So are antique stores. So are drinks with friends, a walk in your neighborhood or someone else’s, a trip to New Zealand or a trip to a taco stand. Really, any memory. Any experience. Any “useless” trivia. Anything you can do or look at or consider or learn that is something different from what you might look for when you’re looking too hard.

Really anything at all.


—Jo Skillman