We often hear older adults say “my children can have all this when I’m gone,” without realizing that changing styles and tastes greatly diminish the desirability of their household belongings. This duty is as overwhelming for their heirs as the prospect of residential downsizing was for the older adult in their later years. Perhaps they thought they were saving their survivors from emotional or financial stress by not moving to a smaller home or retirement community, when in reality it just delayed the inevitability of emptying the home of its contents.
The task of purging the home is much more manageable with helpful hands and a systematic approach. The best technique is to separate belongings by their next destination for ease of handling. Scan the home in several stages or separate according to the following categories:
- Keepsakes which have emotional value to you or another family member
- Items which have potential monetary value in resale or as scrap
- Items worthy of donation
- Items which have no ability to be repurposed (trash)
Hardcopy photographs which were stored away in albums or boxes may not have been viewed in many years. Did you know they can be digitized for as little as eight cents each? Order and distribute copies of the resulting digital archive to family members to preserve memories and create new ones! Beloved books, hand crafted and hobby items, military mementos, or other keepsakes can be easily crated and delivered to out of town family members. Local express shippers or specialized small load freight carriers provide a cost effective and reliable alternative to full scale van lines.
With notable exceptions, the market for used and even antique furnishings has become saturated. The Baby Boomer generation is beginning to sell off their accumulated possessions as they downsize and has flooded the market with furniture, china, porcelain collectibles, outdated electronics, and all kinds of household goods. It is a buyer’s market, but any monetary return is usually better than none.
Time and potential return will factor into your selling decision. Auctioneers and liquidators can usually work quickly, but will sell for whatever they are offered. Good estate sale or tag sale companies should have a regular following of buyers, but on-site sales often need to be scheduled months in advance. Consignment shops will accept fine furnishings, collectibles, or clothing at their discretion for a set time period and split the proceeds with you if the items sell. On-line sales such as eBay are a convenient option for smaller or lighter items.
It is natural to want to pay the emotional price of parting with these possessions by receiving an outstanding monetary return. Although situations vary greatly, the sad reality is that you may only receive pennies on the dollar when compared to the original purchase price of many everyday items. Often a better salve for this heartache can be found by donating. Clergy members can make excellent referrals to organizations which will distribute your family’s belongings to people in need. Some charities will haul away larger items at no cost. Call ahead, as charities are sometimes selective about items they accept.
A word of warning. “Sandwich Generation” children need to balance the pressure they feel from time, their own family and career responsibilities with the desire to honor their deceased loved one by finding a proper disposition for belongings. In addition, there is a larger financial incentive to quickly capitalize on selling or renting the home in order to settle the estate. The home’s contents stand in the way of repairs needed to make it presentable. This raises the temptation to “dump and run”, a decision family executors may later regret. Nonetheless, household goods with no physical or intrinsic value can be easily hauled away by local or national companies in their own trucks. This service can include personal document shredding.
Although many of the decisions you need to make in a home clean-out are very personal and require family consensus, the help of a compassionate, yet unbiased third party can keep your project moving and give you the advice, physical and emotional support you need during a tough time. Asking for help is difficult, but well worth it.
This article is part of the eFuneral Resource Center and was written by Ted Forthofer, President of Moves Made Easier, a Cleveland, Ohio-based company offering help with home organizing, moves, and estate liquidation. Ted is a Certified Relocation & Transition Specialist (CRTS), member of the National Association of Senior Move Managers (NASMM) and American Society of Estate Liquidators. For more information, please visit www.movesmadeeasier.com.