Robin Caton’s Business & The Hoarder House (Part 1)
I was so fortunate to work with Robin Caton founder of Found Stuff Estate Sales and Appraisals. Robin has been a full-time antique dealer and certified appraiser for almost two decades. She is an expert in art, antiques, jewelry and collectibles. Found Stuff Estate Sales and Appraisals is her full-time business.
Robin invited me to take a look at the ‘before, during, and after’ of one of her estate sales. During our first meeting she and her team were cleaning out and preparing a large house in North Portland, Oregon for an upcoming sale. This house had belonged to a professional who had recently passed away. The house was a “hoarder house.” In other words, it was so full of stuff that it was close to un-inhabitable. Unlike what often comes to mind about hoarders –newspapers, boxes, trash stacked in every corner–this home was filled with collections of antiques, baroque decor, chandeliers, religious collectibles. Golden angels were everywhere. Each bedroom had a large antique bed frames. Finely carved sideboards and hutches populated each room upstairs and down. There was a Steinway concert grand in a front room light streaming in through what looked like old arched church windows.
When I go to estate sales on my own I always experience the house as a story. This house was definitely a story and seeing it before the sale was absolutely fascinating. I couldn’t decide if it was heartbreaking. It was clear that former owner was a collector. He also had a successful career and it seemed to me, from photographs of him through out the house, that he had lots of friends. He was smiling in all the photographs and in the background, the house was heavily decorated but there was no evidence of hoarding. Perhaps, there had possibly been a “tipping point” for him where his collecting turned into something else. A home once filled with taste and whimsy somehow became a spectacle. A case study in mental illness. I wish I could have met him. I think I would have liked him.
This article is presented in several weekly segments about Robin’s estate sale business, the house itself, and the psychology of the homeowner.
Next Week I’ll post Part 2 “A Tour of the House”
The links below will become active as I publish each part.
Part 1: Robin Caton’s Business and The Portland Hoarder House
Part 2: A Tour of the House (Before and After)
Part 3: About the Home Owner
Part 4: The Day of the Sale
Part 5: Reincarnation of Objects: A Visit with Photographer Beth Hansen-Winter, Estate Sale Customer
About Robin and Her Business
Founder of Found Stuff Estate Sale and Appraisals, Robin Caton has been a full time antique dealer and certified appraiser since 1988. Her years of experience have given her a broad knowledge base of art, antiques, jewelry and collectibles. Robin grew up in the antique business, where she learned from her parents and grandparents who owned antique shops in Oregon. Robin has personally owned several antique shops over the years including a 44,000 square feet antique gallery. Appraisals,antiques, and estate / moving sales are her full-time business
In the following two videos Robin and one of her employees talk about their experineces managing sales at houses where hoarders have lived.
About The House & Homeowner
When I photographed the second floor of the house, the team had just started the process of sorting and cleaning out the rooms in preparation for the sale. It is hard to describe what it’s like being inside a hoarder’s house. It was fascinating to walk through the narrow walkways dug into the piles and piles of things. The windows were covered by furniture or boarded up from the outside so the rooms were dark. It was an intimate a tour of one man’s psychology. Estate Sale-ing is a business and a hobby but it’s the act of dismantling a home no longer inhabited but holding the spirit of the deceased.
I had asked several time if the former homeowner’s relatives would be open to an interview. They declined, wanting to maintain their privacy. It had only been a month since they lost someone dear to them. There must also have been the stigma of hoarding. I wondered if the owner’s brother felt my project was voyeuristic, at the expense of the family. Robin said often families turn over a house to her through out the whole estate sale process. Often they come and collect the things they want to keep, either sentimental or monetary value. Robin does the rest. She organizes the sale, cleans the house, manages, the money and depending on how much the estate wants her to, she cleans and prepares the house for sale. Robin says that when she finds personal items: photographs, journals, tax returns, and the like, she boxes them up and returns them to the family.
One customer I interviewed said she felt kind of bad for picking through someone’s personal things and she had stopped going to estate sales for a long time. I asked Robin what she thought. She didn’t agree. She said estate sales give objects a second life. It’s recycling. I’m not sure how I feel about it. I am voyeuristic. It’s not just the objects I’m looking for but more the secret lives of the former owners. I want to know how they lived and who they were. I’m not sure that’s any of my business.
Maybe it’s because I spent so much time with Robin and her employees and so much time looking at the photographs and videos, but I felt like I got to know the home’s owner. I could see beyond the mental illness and felt I became acquainted with the person that he was. He had a very definite taste in antiques, art, and decor. The photographs of him depicted a joyful, outgoing man with lots of friends.
One thing that struck me as I sorted through the photographs of the rooms was the evidence of religious images and artifacts. When I zoomed into the pictures or cropped them a certain way it almost seemed the random clutter was curated for these whimsical surprises. As I zoomed in and cropped photographs on my phone I began to see these little imps, fairies, angels, icons. I loved this discovery. There was a spirit to it. Meaning.