She runs a successful estate sales business in Austin, TX. And she’s learned some fascinating things about how we move through our seasons of life and what it has to do with all of our stuff. Allison Armstrong joins AllMomDoes host Julie Lyles Carr on the podcast!
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Julie Lyles Carr: Today on the AllMomDoes podcast. I have, I’m actually gonna call her the very first guest I ever had on the AllMomDoes podcast. For this reason, when we were pitching the show to see if someone would have an interest in us developing this podcast, I had this friend of mine this wise hilarious, amazing friend of mine, come on and do a trial run, if you will. We recorded a whole podcast episode to present to the production board and you know what? The girl got me the job. She was that amazing on that interview. I am so excited, my friend, to introduce you to Allison Armstrong, Allison. Thanks for being on the show.
Allison Armstrong: Thank you. I’m super excited.
Julie Lyles Carr: How does it feel being the person who kind of helped kick all this off? We’re in our fifth season, Allison and it has a lot to do with you. You, you sold it girl, when we uh, when we put this thing together.
Allison Armstrong: Honestly, I feel like you owe me a lot, so, you know, I’ll be waiting on that huge gift to show up whatever that is. It’s all good.
Julie Lyles Carr: I owe you tons. I owe you more than I could ever pay you back. Allison is someone who has had, I don’t even know how many seasons in her life. At her young age, you have been an improv comedian. You have been a vocalist. You have lived out in Los Angeles. You have lived in Waco. You have lived in the tiniest town in Arkansas. You have done all manner of all things. I can’t keep up with everything you’re up to. How have you crammed so many seasons into your relatively short life? What is that about?
Allison Armstrong: Honestly, I have no idea, but I mean, we all do that and that’s what I tell my kids. Everything, everybody’s experience looks different, but it’s all relative to us, you know? So, yes, it is overwhelming all the stuff that I’ve walked through, but everybody’s experience feels overwhelming to them, you know? So, yes, I’ve crammed in a lot, but it’s all I know. And so, I’m just kind of taking one step at a time, which is something you’ve always told me to do.
Julie Lyles Carr: Well, I I can say it and I can tell you to do it. I’m not always so great at doing it myself, but, but thank you for heading my words.
Allison Armstrong: Well, me either. Girl.
Julie Lyles Carr: Allison you truly, I mean, when I think about the scope of your life and all the things that you’ve done, when we did that original test episode, you had just walked through having your grandmother living in your home and seeing her through the end of her life. And right as your grandmother was crossing the line to the pearly gates, your mom and your dad were living with you also, and your mom had a catastrophic stroke. And so, then you went through a long season of taking care of your mom, and that is definitely an episode that I want to revisit with you again and put out there for listeners, because it was so incredible. But you’re in a season of your life now in your career that I think is really fascinating. Was something that I wanted to tap into as we continue this series that we’re doing on the season’s of life.
You have moved into a space over the last several years where you’re still singing. Thank goodness. You’re still one of the funniest people I’ve ever known. Thank goodness. But you have started an estate sale company where you go in and you help people clear out the houses that they’ve been living in for however long, and I find this work to be absolutely fascinating. First of all, I have been the recipient of some good deals, which I really appreciate. But you have this incredible ability to go in, to understand the value of people’s stuff, and know how to price it and organize it and all the things, but you’ve also learned some really fascinating spiritual lessons as well. So, back us up to when you started doing this, because when I walk into someone’s home, when I had to clear my mom’s, my mom and dad’s house, when I had to clear my in-laws house, I was so overwhelmed. I’m fascinated how you’re able to walk in and begin to make order of the things. So, how did all of this start?
Allison Armstrong: It started, I started working with the lady actually at my church, that was years and years ago, and she did estate sales for a living. She was in her eighties. She could no longer, it’s a lot of heavy lifting. It is very physical and you’re right. It is emotional. But for her, she couldn’t do the things that she used to be able to do. So, she called and asked, I had a partner at the time, if we would work with her, and she kind of just taught us every single thing there is to know about estate sales. Now, now it’s so completely different because back then there was no internet. I mean, there was an internet, but there was nothing on the internet. You know, now every single thing is online. So it makes my job a lot easier. And now that I’ve been doing it, you know, for over a decade, It’s so much simpler than it used to be. But you you’re right. You can tell a lot about a person, about a family, just by walking into their home and walking through. It’s like, you can see every decade of their life, just in their stuff. It’s an interesting place to be for sure. And not emotional for me because, I mean, sometimes it is because I see things that remind me of my grandparents or my parents, but generally speaking, I’m on the outside of that realm of grief. So, it’s a lot easier for somebody like me to handle.
Julie Lyles Carr: For you to be able to go in and be a little more removed from all of the emotion that gets attached to the stuff. I have an interesting question for you. When I was a kid, we went through multiple seasons of moving, which then I swore I would never do to my own children, and of course, yeah, we’ve moved. But one of the things that my brothers and I have talked about is because of those seasons of moving as kids we found that we were extremely sentimental about some stuff, because it felt like the only thing that had permanence. Have you found any line of continuity with that within your clients? Do you find that if someone’s moved around a lot, it’s tougher for them to let go, or does it not seem to matter? That’s just one of my own theories I wanted to test out on you.
Allison Armstrong: Oh, absolutely. I mean, my dad was a preacher, right? So, we moved from place to place. I can totally relate to that because I never, if someone asks me what’s your hometown, I don’t have a hometown. Right. I don’t. So, there are certain things in my mom, you know, she’s, I wouldn’t call her a hoarder, Julie, that would be mean. But there are certain things that she has put in a box and refuses to let go because she feels like she’s holding onto her parents and her children and her, you know, young marriage. And that’s difficult because your loved ones and your experiences are not in those things. We typically think that they are, but they’re not. It’s just stuff.
And at the end of the day and what I tell my mom and she absolutely does not listen, is that you can’t take it with you. And it’s going to sit in that box or sit in the cabinet or sit there in your home, cluttering it up and it’s makes it difficult to move forward because you’re stuck in the past. So, yes, that’s something I see absolutely all the time.
Julie Lyles Carr: Really interesting. And you know, one thing that I found that was difficult for me to let go of, and now I’m sort of patting myself on the back a little bit, so you gotta kinda watch this, is there were a lot of baby items for me because I don’t have a great memory, if it’s trivia , if it’s history, if it’s some random Bible verse or a Greek word, I’m your girl. But when it comes to really remembering, what did we do for Madison’s, you know, fourth birthday party? I’m clueless. But if I have an object, then I’m able to go, oh yeah, and it opens up this portal for me to be able to remember. And I found that I, I hung onto a lot of baby stuff and part of it, Allison, truly stewardship. And this is the place where I think that our stuff and some of our spirituality gets crossed up because, you know, we used baby clothes from number one, all the way to number eight. Like we reused all kinds of stuff. And so, because of that, I do think there’s, there’s something to that for me that when I think about the seasons of my life, and the times where let’s say finances were tight and we had all these little bitty kids and I kept hanging on to stuff, some of those practices that were good disciplines at the time, those are sort of hard to lay down too. Now, now I’m like, oh, well, I’m going to be able to use some of this baby stuff when, you know, grand babies start coming to the house.
So, now I’m like patting myself on the back. But how, how do you untangle all that with clients? Where you, they have things that they represent, memories, they represent good things like being thoughtful and careful with the blessings god has given you… with being good stewards. Like how do you coach people and untangle all of that when it comes to the stuff?
Allison Armstrong: Sure. It’s all about balance. And I do think there’s something to what you’re saying. And even I’m sure you’ve done it where you pull something out that was Madison’s, or Macy’s or whatever. You pull it out and you show it to them, and there is something that happens. It’s like, oh, mom kept that of mine, I must be special to her. Like there is something of great value. I really believe in holding onto maybe just one thing, you know, as long as we don’t overdo it. But yeah, I think, I think that’s a big piece of it. Of course, everyone I come across thinks their things hold way more value than they actually do, and they… right at the beginning, when I go into a home and I look around and they walk me through what they’re keeping or what they’re selling, generally, they wanna keep way more than when it comes down to the sale, which will be a few weeks later, they end up putting it all back in, right? It’s like one last Torah I’m holding onto this item, but then they move, let’s say they’re downsizing, or their kids are moving, they end up putting it back in because it’s kind of just a grief. We attach our grief to things, but we can also attach really great memories. So, I don’t wanna, I don’t wanna discount keeping things that mean something to you. It’s just, you have to be balanced, like anything else in mind. Right?
Julie Lyles Carr: Right. I love what you said when we started talking, that when we hang on to so much material stuff, it keeps us from moving forward. What are some things that you’ve walked with and wrestled through with clients in helping them let go in a way? And how do you do that? Because again, it’s so fascinating to me. I know that what you are doing is very hands on material stuff, and yet I really see you as sort of this spiritual doula, who’s helping people let go of what’s been and move forward. It just happens to be through the vehicle of their stuff. So, what do you say to people? How do you help them let go so they can move forward?
Allison Armstrong: That’s a huge part of my job. And I’ll tell you a story that actually just happened. I’m currently working in a home in Barton Creek, which is a beautiful neighborhood in Austin. I walked in that home. The woman came in. I’ve never met her. She’s from California, but her parents lived here. We sat down and talked. Both of her parents passed away within a few months. And of course, my heart, I, I love people. I do. I love people. I know this experience on earth is not easy for anybody. I know we’re all walking through really tough things and grief, yes, you’re grieving your parents that you lost, but it also causes everything in your life to kind of rise up. And the meaning changes for you because it’s kind of like, okay, wait a minute. My parents are gone. What am I doing? You know? Where is my life heading? What have I done? How do I, how am I raising my kids? Like a grief brings up all of this stuff. Anyway, I sat down with her, and somehow, we were talking about kids and I mentioned my brother, who has been an atheist for years and years and years, and he recently became a Christian and it’s a miracle and it’s just an awesome story. And she said, Allison, you know, what church do you go to? And I told her, you know, where I was going and where I’d been that Sunday, and she said, oh my gosh, I was there. I Googled, you know, church, and I was there too, and we were at the same service. Like, it was really a cool thing. But those little connections that, I mean, God does that, right? He makes everything weird and funny for me, you know? I always say he’s got such a like sense of humor, but also such a heart that like, He sees us, you know, and she needed that at that moment. Like to hear the story about my brother and to walk forward and know here’s someone she’s never met. And we actually went to church together on Sunday. You know, these really cool moments, which made her trust me a little more. But yeah, we always initially talk about grief, and I have noticed that people are scared to talk about the Lord or faith. And I understand why. You know, a lot of people are not fun to talk to when you’re talking about Jesus, but Jesus is awesome. Like he’s simple and loving and kind, and he will walk with you. So, when I approach the conversations, and I’m not trying to convert anybody real, I’m not. I’m just trying to tell people how, in my hardest moments how I’ve gotten through it. And I’ve gotten through it by holding the hand of a God who is good and easy and loving. And that when I tell that story, and I never intend on telling that story, but sometimes it, somehow it always comes out. It’s just a hope, you know, that enables people to move forward and know. But one, I mean, I go back to what you always say, Allison, it’s gonna be okay. Like, put one foot in front of the other and that’s with any difficult thing, especially the death of somebody you absolutely loved. You gotta just keep walking forward and find the lessons, which are hard.
Julie Lyles Carr: Absolutely. And you know, and I will tell you, I mean, I felt like, you know, as you know, and you walked with, through me losing both of my parents and my in-laws all in very short order and my grandmother. And I felt like going through their stuff was one of the hardest things just second only to losing them. It was so much more difficult than I ever anticipated. And that is another unique face. Of this work that you’re doing now, because it’s both helping people downsize and move into a new home, but it’s also helping people who are coming in to undo the family home after the passing of a parent or loved one. That work is so sacred to me because you are in such holy ground. You are amongst the relics. You are amongst the things that bring that person back to life for them. And you’re encouraging them to let go. One thing that I found really interesting once I walked through, and I’m making this sound so clinical, but it was interesting. I was observing it in myself, was when I got back from doing that work for my parents and for my in-laws, I took a look at my own house and went, oh man. I wanna make sure as I’m moving into new seasons of my life, as kids are launching and starting their own families and on and on, I wanna make sure that I’m keeping pace within my own environment that reflects that. Like, it’s great to have a bucket of toys for when my friends’ kids come over and that kind of thing… You know, Allison, I probably don’t need the whole attic full of them. I wanna make sure that I’ve got linens for when we have guests, but I probably don’t need linens like I did when I had 10 people living at this house. So, what is the impact of this work had on you in terms of how you view your own stuff, and how you’re managing your own household?
Allison Armstrong: Well, as you know, I’m married to a scientist, okay. He’s very different from me.
Julie Lyles Carr: Yeah. He would have two lawn chairs and a popup table. Yeah. I know.
Allison Armstrong: That’s some, he’s a minimalist. Yeah. Right? So, I, and I already know if I want him to not divorce me, I have to keep it, you know, at a certain minimum of stuff. Right. And I’m getting it. But it, you’re right, it makes me go home every time and just wanna take a blow torch to like every material item. But I don’t do that because I also love beautiful things. So, generally if I bring something into my home, I take something out, or not just one thing. I mean, I, I do, I try to get rid of things. If I’m gonna bring something new, I always take something out. And then my husband will go behind me when I don’t know, and he’ll take 15 things out and just hide them, you know? In the car, and then eventually he takes them somewhere and I never see them again. But no, you’re right. It, it, it does. But one thing I wanna touch on, you said it was the most difficult thing you did, or one of the most difficult things you did was going through their stuff.
Okay, this is another thing Christians don’t like to talk about. And of course, I like to talk about all the awful things that nobody else likes to talk about. but they don’t like to talk about death. Right? We only think of life. We only think the Lord is in life, you know? Oh, a new child. Or new, whatever it is, but God is also in death. He is right there. A steady in death because to him it’s a door. Death is a door. It’s, it’s not a stopping point. It’s an entrance. So, when you’re walking through those things and going through and the getting the grief out, you’re right, it’s like devastating. Cause I’ve done this with my grandparents, but also in a sense with my parents. You know, when my mom had the stroke, and everything changed. When you’re going through those things, it it’s a, it’s a learning and a growth process that’s so important. So, I would say, don’t neglect that. If your parents pass away, if someone you love walk through it, don’t ignore it. It is easy. And sometimes I do those, and I get it. People are out of state, and they can’t do what I do. But if you can go home and walk through those things, it’s, it’s so helpful. And it also, those lessons that God is teaching us through the pain and the grief and the death… We don’t wanna learn them. They are so important because they teach us, this is not the end. This is not the end. This is like the, you know, forward of of our life. It’s just a little spec that God has given us. And it’s like, it, it does make you turn around and say, what am I so worried about? You know, With my kids or, and not that we don’t worry. And yes, this life is hard. Don’t get me wrong, but it’s a great reminder that God is still with us, even in the pain. And there’s more to it than what we see.
Julie Lyles Carr: Right, right. Allison, how do we separate out what I would call true value, when it comes to a lot of our stuff? And here’s what I mean by that. It was so weird to me when I was going through my in-laws, my parents’ home, the things that I felt like I needed to keep because I felt like there was a monetary value. Even if it was something that I hadn’t laid eyes on in decades, because it had been hidden away in a China cabinet or whatever. Versus some of the weird stuff that I kept that I look back and I’m like, Why did I keep that? For example, yeah, I kept, and it is, it was ancient when I was a kid, you know, those old blow dryers that used to be able to buy like in the fifties and sixties, and it, it has the hose and the cap. Yeah. And the, my mom had a pink one. I mean, it is epic looking. It really is. That she kept in a suitcase that she received when she graduated from high school and was going to college. That I kept. I, I don’t know. I mean, I remember as a kid, her giving me perms and dragging that thing out and putting that thing on my head. Why on earth I would keep that over maybe some other items that my parents would’ve gone, “whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. Do you know how long we saved up to buy X, Y, Z?” And I, I kept the pink blow dryer contraption thing. What do you see when it comes to people and how they evaluate what value is and where do we need to let ourselves off the hook on that?
Allison Armstrong: Yes. That’s such a big thing. Everyone… plus you have to look at it like every generation sees value differently, right? You know, maybe with your grandparents, parents, it was Hummels, or these little collectibles, which, not that I don’t sell those all the time. I do, but nobody cares about Hummels anymore. Right? like, think about, you know, your kids, like in their twenties, they don’t care about a little figurine, you know? They don’t. But I am just like you in that department. Like, I like the weird stuff too. We’re never gonna have a blow dryer with a head piece and a tube. And I’m like, no, is there value in that? Typically, absolutely not. The value is, it’s cool. And you can show your kids like this is how they used to dry their hair; you know? In this internet, age and everything our kids have, they don’t have anything cool like that. You know, you can buy it on Amazon. That is me.
Austin, you know, people say, keep what Austin, keep Austin weird. People in Austin want the weird stuff. they don’t, they don’t… if you go to Dallas, if you go to Houston, you sell more of the antiques and fine China. And we do sell that here, but people in Austin want the weird stuff you can’t get anywhere else.
So, that’s one thing. As far as value goes, nine times out of 10, your stuff is nothing special. Okay. And I’m working in a beautiful home right now and they truly do have beautiful things, but they’re just things. And unless it’s made of gold, silver, where it has a monetary, I mean, that’s basically currency. And they also have fine art, and of course, fine art holds value. But generally speaking, unless you’re gonna take the time and like change careers and start selling antiques, you know, on eBay, what are you doing? Like you don’t need that stuff. What are you gonna have? Like a China cabinet? You didn’t want it before, you know, so that’s a tough one.
Julie Lyles Carr: You always make me laugh because you are, you know, I know that you and your husband are very minimalist, yet you adore beautiful things. They’re in the business of selling beautiful things, but you’re always telling people, you don’t need more stuff in your house.
Allison Armstrong: I do. I do. I mean, sometimes… like this lady that I’m working for now, she called me. She’s like, I forgot something. You know, I want this old telephone, you know, what take the telephone. Do. If it means something to you, take it out. I, for sure don’t ever wanna be the person that’s keeping you from cherished, a cherished item. Absolutely. But if there’s not something really special, or a memory that just means so much to you, or if you are already a hoarder, like, please don’t keep it. You know? Please don’t. Because, like I said, people who go home and I know you, you can relate to this cuz you’ve had clearly a lot of children in your home and stuff is overwhelming. And whether that’s your stuff that you purchased, or your parents, don’t do that to yourself. Yes, have a designated spot. I would say don’t ever have a storage unit. Don’t even have boxes in your attic. If you don’t have a place in your home where you can put that item on display, where it’s not messing up, you know, the room or in a corner, don’t do it to yourself. Get things that you can put out and see every day. Otherwise, you don’t have space for it because you’re just holding it for the next person to get rid of. And I can assure you, your kids don’t want it. None of them do.
Julie Lyles Carr: Yeah. I was reading a statistic recently and I wish I could pull up the percentage in my head, some of the stats that it gave, but essentially it was that this generation that you and I are commandeering, we are the recipients of more stuff from our parents and our grandparents than any generation before. Part of that just is the nature of how some things are designed now. I know we say, oh, they don’t make it like they used to, but I’m here to tell you that because of a lot of advances in how we produce all the stuff and the decor and the furniture and all the things, there’s a lot of stuff that gets handed down. And because we are the, you know, the ancestors, the descendants, if you will, of those who had more stuff, than a lot of people have had in history, when it comes to say that middle class level, we’re getting all of this stuff and we have nowhere to put it. And there is tremendous attachment and baggage that comes with a lot of this because we feel the onus on us to sort of carry on the archive of the family history. So, how do you release people from feeling, wow, well, this was my mom’s and dad’s, therefore, I have a responsibility to take on these items that represent seasons of their life. Now I have a responsibility to pull it into my season. How do we with honor, but also with freedom, release ourselves from that sense of responsibility of being the family archivists?
Allison Armstrong: It’s really hard, Julie, for sure. It’s even hard for me. I mean, I still have a chair of my grandmother’s, you know, I’m telling people don’t put…
Julie Lyles Carr: I’ve got a chair of your grandfather’s that’s in it, up at my house. Do you know a family archivist for you.
Allison Armstrong: Yeah, but I will say I do give a lot of things away.
Julie Lyles Carr: You do.
Allison Armstrong: Everything in my home is vintage. Everything. I don’t buy new things. One of the reasons is I love vintage things. Another reason is my 17-year-old is vegan. She only buys vintage. She won’t wear, you know, animal skins unless they’re, you know, a certain number of years old. So, she helps me in that process, like say no to new things. but there aren’t some really beautiful things that are old. And they do hold up if you take care of them. So, I’m not saying don’t keep old things. A lot of the new things that we purchase online, it, they don’t last. And we kind of have this disposable economy, you know? We buy a piece of furniture and a year later we’re ready to redo the room and we wanna throw it all away. I don’t. I don’t like that. Right? I do wish we would get into the habit of really reusing things that are beautiful. And a lot of people say, well, my house is modern, or my house doesn’t fit that. Yes, it does. You can fit something awesome no matter what the design of your home is. And of course, some of these homes I go on go in are just unbelievable. But I love to see the way they incorporate old things. So, that, so there are different ways to do it. If you, you have to really be creative. Don’t let those things take over your life. But also know that the person is not in the thing. And eventually that chair or desk or tchotchke does lose meaning over the generations. I mean, your kid, my kids don’t, you know, they don’t care that it was my grandmother’s. Now my mom does. Every time she comes to my house, she thinks, you know, it was all my grandmothers. And I’m thinking, no, I got that on the state sale. It just looks like grandmothers. But it’s tough. I mean, that’s, I don’t really have a great answer for that because I do still have things of people that, that I love and remember. It’s balance, it goes back to balance. Don’t let things take over your life. Let it go. It’s just a, an object. They’re not it. Best case scenario, take a picture of it and keep that photo so you can remember that. But you gotta let things go.
Julie Lyles Carr: Yep. Yep. I know and you’re the master at helping people move from one season into the next. And part of moving to different seasons in new ways is letting go of some of the physical reminders and constraints and furniture and tchotchkes and rugs, and linens and all the things.
I really think you are. I truly mean this. Have seen it. I know you were out there doing a really incredible ministry to people. It’s such a beautiful thing. And of course, you’re just one of my favorite human beings ever. So, Allison, where can listeners go to connect with you? Find out more about what you do and just all around, be able to soak up your awesomeness and your weirdness? Where can they go to do that?
Allison Armstrong: Yes. And I, one more thing to add is that this process working with people, ministering to people, it’s ministering to me. You know, it’s, it’s a really selfish situation, but it’s really God saying “Allison, you’re not alone. You’re yes, you’re in pain, or yes, today is hard, but we’re all walking through this together.” so, that’s number one. People can find me. My company is called Armstrong Estate Sales. My website is armstrongestatesales.com. Of course, we’re always on estatesales.net. If you’re not familiar, it’s a website where you put your zip code in and it shows you every estate sale around you and that’s national. It’s a really cool thing. And you can see photos from every sale. I’m also soon opening a store in Austin. I’m very excited. I don’t have a name for it yet. But basically, it will be really beautiful things, kind of curated just for the store. So, beautiful things from estates, and also we’ll have new gifts and things that I’m really excited about. But I need a name for that store. So, if anyone’s good at that…
Julie Lyles Carr: I think seasons would be a great name for the store. I’ll be here all day. Ladies and gentlemen.
Allison Armstrong: Oh, girl. Whatever, you know. But yes, they can find me that way. Or if they just have, I love talking to people, even if you’re in another state and you have a question, you can always call me or email me.
Julie Lyles Carr: Yeah. Shoot her a DM, all the things. And she, she is, she will be, she’s just one of those people. She’s got the biggest heart you can imagine, in one of the best cities in the biggest state, one of the biggest states in the us. So, Allison Armstrong, my friend we gotta get together soon for that dinner. It’s ridiculous how long time can go without us seeing each other. So, we gotta fix that.
All right, friends, thanks so much for listening today. We are gonna continue our series on seasons. I know that this one is probably left you with a lot of things to think about, and a closet or two to go through. So, be sure and send out the link for this episode, if you don’t mind, if you think it would be of help to a friend of yours. We just love it when our listeners share. And I’ll see you next time on the AllMomDoes podcast.