Along the way she learned a little something about the human condition: “You learn how to read people, and you try to bring the positive out of somebody, not the negative.”
While those days are mostly gone — the horses, the 70 stalls, the ranch — the skills that got her there are not, and she’s using them in a new arena: helping people to downsize.
Wadham and her husband, Jack, own and operate Frog Pond Estates and Downsizing, an estate liquidation service in Waynesville’s Frog Level, where she holds the reins to guide people through one of the most emotional transitions of their lives: clearing their home or a relative’s of a lifetime of living. The business, she said, requires understanding the emotional impact of separating people from their possessions, some of which may be the last connection to a long-gone family member.
“We are like psychiatrists,” Wadham added.
“Often, there is so much stress and pain coming out of this home, it’s like a big stone around their neck,” Wadham says. “So you come in and say, ‘I’m here to help you, I’m your life saver. I’m going to help you up out of the water. And I’m going to make this easier for you.’”
This is how it works: First, the customer decides what, if any, of the possessions he or she wants to keep. The rest, Wadham will either buy out or sell for the family at a tag sale at her gallery at 255 Depot St. in Waynesville. Her crew will do the inventory and pack and move the contents to the gallery, where the items are sorted and priced individually based on a fair market value. Wadham takes a percentage of everything that sells.
“We are not an auction,” Wadham clarifies emphatically. “We do not sell box lots. We sell everything individually.”
And it shows. The gallery is a mélange of furniture, glassware, China, kitchen utensils, records, books, artwork, odds and ends, and other items that at one time were treasured by or just plain useful to their former owners; tangible proof of a life lived, but a life now changed or gone. And therein lies the heartache part of Wadham’s job, when she must call up the skills she once used to calm skittish colts and comfort young riders.
“When people ask us to come in and to evaluate an estate, we can pretty well sense the meanings of different possessions. But because we aren’t personally involved with the sale, because we haven’t lived with the merchandise our whole life, it makes it easier for us to do a liquidation or a cleanout. But what happens with the family, they can remember sitting down at a dinner and using a piece of china or their Nanna’s favorite bowl.”
And that’s hard, she said, because many times the memories are just too much.
“When we go in, we see the bowl, we love the bowl, we cherish the bowl, but we’re not emotionally attached, because we never knew Nanna. I desensitize myself to a point,” Wadham said. “But because the families are often so sensitive about the possessions, we try to go in and give them dignity. We listen to them, when they emotionally break down we sit there, we talk to them and we try to understand what they’re going through.”
Not all treasures are immediately obvious, Wadham noted.
“When we come across jewelry or money or things that are very important to the family, we call them and ask them what they want us to do with it. These possessions are not ours. We are working for our clients. It’s really important that you are honest and you have integrity in this business,” she said.
She’s been touched by other finds — such as wedding dresses and love letters — because they were things that were cherished. But the biggest lesson she has learned is that people don’t always realize what is valuable and what isn’t.
“We tell people to please not throw out anything until we can get there to see it,” she said. “The reason is, what they think is valuable, nine times out of 10, it is mediocre. What they think is garbage is not.”
Wadham is a long way from her native California and her former horse ranch, but you wouldn’t know it. Friendly and eager to help, she greets customers and works the gallery like it was another arena.
“I like to see people happy. And when you go into a situation, you’re trying to help them, you’re not trying to harm them, and people can sense that when you go into talk to a family member,” she said. “It makes a difference. I was always taught to treat somebody like you want to be treated and I try to remember that.”