I subscribe to a website that advertises estate sales, providing descriptions and photographs of the items for sale. When the occasional email pops into my inbox, I can’t resist scrolling through the photographs of the bits and pieces of a life that are now up for grabs.

Why, when I live on a small sailboat, would I be interested in such a website? I signed up when my daughter and her partner were looking for a used sleeper couch (a task they accomplished on their own, of course, without my help). But in looking for a couch, I scrolled through dozens of photos of people’s things and became mesmerized as I looked at these personal objects. It felt intimate. Somewhat voyeuristic.

Those carefully folded linens wrapped in ribbon don’t fool me. I know this is not a store. I am aware that I am viewing well-loved, somewhat worn remnants of someone’s life. Things that have peoples’ hand prints on them. That still carry their essence. In glimpsing someone’s history through their objects I can almost hear their voices echoing through the house that was once a home, resting on these odd displays of details that made up the whole: old pocketbooks; a closet full of clothing; endless collections of glass and dishware; multi-pack boxes of Dove Soap; a yellowed cellophane-wrapped box of Chanel N° 5; an ivory comb, brush and mirror set that looks like it came straight out of Lady Mary’s room in “Downton Abbey.”

When I see a pair of royal blue dress shoes displayed in a woman’s closet, I imagine the woman driving to the store, trying on the shoes, standing in front of a mirror and looking at them, first from the front, then from the side, perhaps twisting her ankle just so to see how that looked. And then deciding, yes! I’m getting these. And now, all these years later, we are looking at these worn shoes, the inner sole slightly curled at the edges, and thinking, well, these are really out of date, or, these are cool, very vintage, or, these are pretty but I’d never wear them …  or …

When my mother died just a few months ago, my six siblings and I spent time going through her Washington, D.C. condo, looking over things, most of which were comfortingly familiar. Just knowing that they were familiar and meaningful enough to her to have kept them for so long added a level of poignancy to the process. We broke down the home my parents had created, divided belongings and shipped things to our various abodes near and far. There was no estate sale. My mother was frugal and organized and there was little left after the seven of us had divvied things up. We said goodbye to the family hub where these items had lived for so many years. It was the dissolution of a life, of an era, of a time now gone. The passing of the baton as they say.

Ten years ago when we downsized from our 2,000 square foot home to a 42’ sailboat we, in a sense, witnessed our own estate sale. I carried things, many of which I had owned and used for 20 years, out to the front yard, put price tags on them and then watched as people picked over the items, thinking whatever it was they were thinking about them and then either buy something, often haggling over the price, or put it back down, rejecting it as not quite right.

It was surreal and painful.

It was radical and liberating.

Making dinner and moving about my own small home, I touch things and think, which of these items will my daughters want when I am gone? How will it affect them to hold and keep them in their own homes someday? One thing for certain is that there will not be an estate sale’s worth of things for them to deal with. They will not have to hire someone to go through my things even if we someday move back into a house.

Precious little calls to me when I browse or window shop. Or makes sense for my lifestyle. And that has made my life so much simpler. And has taken so much less of the precious time I now know we have. I am not suggesting we live like monks, although I do understand the appeal. But when I think about the fate of those things we surround ourselves with in this life, and the ease with which they are sold by our heirs and family members after we die, it does make it easier to keep walking.

IRENE PANKE HOPKINS (irenehopkins.com) is a writer and essayist. To comment on this column, write to QAMagNews@nwlink.com.