Tchotchkes can be a kind of design gateway drug. “There is no limit to how many tchotchke things you can own,” said Annie Auchincloss, the home buyer for the MoMA Design Store. “It’s just really endless, what can become an objet. A beautiful postmodern design teakettle can be totally impractical to use, but can be displayed on a mantel.”
“But I do wonder what people are seeing when they see a brown-and-yellow, 1970s diner dinnerware set, and it sells moments after it posted,” Ms. Auchincloss added. “Is it how it’s photographed? Is this exactly what they’re looking for?”
Instagram purveyors are “a version of a mom-and-pop store,” she said. “I’m not sure if it was spurred by the pandemic or just Instagram individualism, but now our homes are representative of who we are and our own style. Our most basic items like drinking tumblers, serving plates, even our flatware — we don’t want to buy the CB2 or restaurant supply version, we want something that speaks to the personality that I’m infusing the rest of my home with, that singular story I’m creating.”
The many nods to cartoons (Winnie-the-Pooh and Tigger glasses, $18 at Starlight Vintage Emporium); to so-called granny-chic or grandmillennial style (hand-carved duck figurine with red bow, at opalessence antiques); or to bygone items (so many plastic phones) all suggest a market for childhood nostalgia.
“It’s optimistic and cheerful,” Ms. Auchincloss said. “But then I also have this theory: It’s these economic, arrested-development millennials who have been hit by a recession and a pandemic and are in this perpetual state of childhood, returning to parents being like, ‘Can you help me?’”
Selling on Instagram is a kind of entrepreneurship championed by young women whose lives have changed during the pandemic: moving or losing employment. “I’ve been going to estate sales for 20 years,” said Amanny Ahmad, 32, an artist and chef in Denver, and the proprietor of Puppy Pillow. “Typically I’m the youngest and often the only woman. Now there’s a line out the door, and a lot are younger women buying things to sell for their Instagram stores.”