Consider Downsizing in Small Steps

Items such as knickknacks, collectibles, antiques, and trinkets, whatever you call them, it’s just stuff. There’s a good chance no one wants it.

Sifting through a lifetime’s worth of possessions can be daunting if you’re downsizing in retirement or cleaning out a loved one’s house after they pass away. In most cases, people won’t buy anything except rare books, vintage vinyl records in excellent condition, or untouched Cabbage Patch Kids.

The times have changed. The average person is living longer. You do not want or need china and dining sets if your parents are 85 years old and you are in your 50s. All of those things are already in your possession. In addition, the younger generation grew up with Ikea and Target. Experts said that minimalist sensibilities such as Marie Kondo’s advice to let go of things that no longer spark joy are also driving younger generations.

The National Association of Senior and Specialty Move Managers’ Jennifer Pickett doesn’t have the same attachment to things. Pickett said antique malls are filled with big, heavy oak furniture that was once popular. There is value in midcentury modern furniture, art, and jewelry, and it should be appraised. Depending on the type of collectible, it may also be worth money.

Carol Achterhof, auctioneer and cataloger with Thomaston Place Auction Galleries in Thomaston, Maine, suggested getting an appraiser to walk through the house to determine what needs to be examined further. All items with inherent value, such as original art, jewelry, silver, watches, and coins, should be referred to an appraiser.

Almost every auction house will do an informal walk-through for free, Achterhof said, but a more formal appraisal for insurance or tax purposes will cost a flat fee. It is estimated that American households have $580 billion in unused products or about $4,517 per household. This amounts to 23.6 billion items, or 184 items per household, according to the Mercari 2021 Reuse Report. This is based on an average family. Consider downsizing your home or liquidating your estate. 

Don’t wait until the last minute. Many people wait until there is a crisis, and you must make a decision under stressful conditions. Kaye Ginsberg, the founder of Peace of Mind Transitions, a move management company in Atlanta, said it is better to make decisions when you have the time. Start with small spaces. It would be best if you didn’t tell yourself that you’re going to finish the whole basement at once. You really shouldn’t spend more than three to four hours on it – anything longer is exhausting. Clear a few shelves, and you’ll be more likely to do it again.

In Ginsberg’s words, you should prepare yourself for the fact that your fine dining room table, Lladro, or Hummel collection might not be worth much if you decide to sell it or may not be appreciated by younger family members.

Your feelings will inevitably be hurt. Consider creative ways to pass on memories. Donate one platter of china that you served Thanksgiving to a grandchild instead of a whole set of china that no one wants. Ginsberg said that passing on little things with a note can mean much more.

A daunting project may be tempting to postpone, but it comes with emotional and financial costs. Pickett said the ultimate goal when clearing out a parent’s house is to avoid storing it in a storage unit because that moves the problem around.

There are plenty of places to sell items, from Facebook Marketplace to eBay to secondhand clothing stores and sites like Poshmark and RealReal. Other items may be destined for yard sales, consignment shops, or newspaper ads. Another batch may be donated to charities, and the last set may go to junk haulers.

Finding real buyers, however, takes time, effort, and the ability to weed out scammers. You can handle a small estate yourself, but if you’re dealing with a large estate or handling it long distance, bringing in a friend who can be impartial may be helpful, or you might hire a move manager or a consultant. The move manager can sort belongings, donate them to charities and auction houses, and coordinate with Realtors and handymen to get the house ready to sell. Nationally, move managers typically charge between $40 and $80 an hour, depending on the market, Pickett said.

You should carefully go through all the possessions, whether it is yourself or a family member who is downsizing or letting the stuff go. A poorly handled move can send an older adult into a downward spiral. It’s impossible to downsize 48 years in 48 hours. Ensure that it’s dealt with appropriately by taking the time you need, Pickett said. There are many losses associated with aging, and something has caused the need to downsize or pare your belongings. Many people define themselves by their stuff. By scaling back, do we depart from who we are? You can part with the possession if you keep the memory.