All kinds of items can be offered at an estate sale, from valuable antiques to average household possessions.

David McNew/Getty Images

Most people have too much stuff, and gradually, they get rid of old possessions to make room for the new, perhaps by donating them to a charity or holding a garage sale. But what about getting rid of a whole house full of items all at once? Most of us have to do it at some point, usually when a family member dies. The process can be overwhelming, but there are professionals who can help you organize an estate sale and sell all these items efficiently.

Estate sales are similar to auctions. Though they're usually held after someone dies, they can also be necessary because of long-distance moves, divorce and bankruptcy. Whatever the reason, estate sales can be a good way to pay off debt or make money off unwanted possessions. For the shopper, they're often a great place to find bargains, antiques, and unusual items.

Estate sales are also known as tag sales in some places. They're different from garage sales, though, because they're usually run by a professional company, and the goal is to sell all the items remaining in the home. In most estate sales, the public is invited into the house and can browse through everything there. The prices are generally clearly displayed on the items, but it's often possible to bargain for lower prices.

This article will tell you what you can expect from an estate sale, how companies manage estate sales, and how to plan one yourself. Read on to find out exactly how estate sales are conducted.