Downsizing: The Hard Truth

bc96845d0569bd469ac9ae235d1d47c6_-carrying-donation-boxes-donations-clip-art_1300-460Clearing out and donating items can be a happy and rewarding activity. Look at the kids in the graphic above, carrying their boxes of material goods away to someplace that will reuse them. From the look of their expressions, they are happy. In most cases, this is a great reflection of how it feels to clean up, clear out, and recycle the items you no longer use.

Unfortunately, this is not always the situation.

In the February 12, 2017, posting of Next Avenue (the Forbes blog for editorial writers), I saw an article under the Personal Finance/#RetireWell header called “Sorry, Nobody Wants Your Parents’ Stuff.” The article discussed the author’s situation of cleaning out his 94-year-old father’s “independent living apartment” after his death. It is a clear-eyed look at the reasons cleaning out can be difficult and makes some excellent recommendations for action.

The article reminded me of what happened when I  first thought about unloading my personal stuff. This happened about two years before we moved into a smaller house.

I’ve been a serial collector for a long time. It started innocently enough when I got married in my early twenties, and my family offered me my bedroom suite (a style from the late 1920s, when they were given the suite by their family) and an old living room couch that was still in pretty good shape. It was, after all, a hide-a-bed that would accommodate overnight visitors, should we have them. Even if it was orange. They reminded me that it was a sturdy, “good” piece of furniture.

As my grandparents and other elderly relatives passed away, some “good” furniture pieces found their way into my tiny home. A dining room table with ten chairs and a matching hutch, and a set of china for eighteen come immediately to mind as items I would have been better off refusing. That doesn’t include the many vases and stools and accent tables I accepted because, to me, they were part of my family history.

Winter BarbiesThen there were the dolls and teddy bears and gargoyles that I loved. Not to mention the purses, shoes, jewelry, and clothing I acquired in the name of collecting. As I piled up item after item, I suspected that someday I would have to unload them all. I convinced myself to collect them because they were “collectibles,” an idea purveyed by major designers, Brighton, Mattel, Gund, Boyds Bears, and many other companies. Antique catalogs included such things as original Barbies and mohair bears from the early twentieth century. Clothing websites made it appear that clothing would fetch top dollar. It was easy to convince myself that I would have no trouble selling any of these items at a later date for a hefty profit.

By the time I decided to liquidate my collections, the market had changed completely. Traveling to doll and bear shows, then to auctions, I discovered that I was not the only person trying to find homes for the items I once held dear. Dealers were no longer talking to people unless they had a MIB collection – “mint in box.” And trust me, my dolls and bears did not languish in boxes. Unworn shoes? Unused purses? Not in my closet.

EPSON MFP imageAnd that “antique” furniture that I accepted from beloved family members? The market was packed with sellers like me and items like mine.


If you are looking at a similar situation, my suggestion is that you spend a bit of time assessing the market in your area and then be realistic. How much time do you have to work on these items? Do you have enough time to look for the perfect home for your grandmother’s mass-produced china? How much money would you pay for someone else’s pieces from their parents’ home? Do you really think your grandkids are going to want to play with the dolls you had as a kid?

Five things you can do to move things along:

  1. If you are liquidating an entire house, call in an auction company and talk to them. They are experienced with disposing of property and can help you determine the right avenue to take. Remember that, if they assist in the process, they will take a portion of the profits. As they should.


2. If you simply have a few pieces of furniture, see if a consignment company will take them, and find out what they do with the items if they are not sold. Do you want them back? Or are you seriously cleaning out? An experienced, quality consignor will discuss your objectives and pricing. They, too, will take a portion of the proceeds, and like the auction house, work hard to get the best dollar for your goods.


3. If you are clearing out china or silverware, check out their worth on and see if they are worth selling or better off donated. Particularly in the case of silver, it may be worth it to work directly with Replacements and sell your pieces to them. They have all the necessary instructions online. You will only receive a portion of their listed purchase price. Replacements will send you an offer to purchase which will tell you the price they are willing to pay. Also, you will pay any shipping costs for items you send to them. Remember that they clean and warehouse these items for people who are looking to add to their sets.

4. If you are selling small items, tchotchkes,  or jewelry, check out eBay to see what is selling and how much items command. When I sold some pricey jewelry pieces that I wasn’t wearing, I went through a third-person seller who was familiar with major buyers and how to sell internationally. If you don’t know or can’t find any services like that, I suggest you talk to a local jeweler to see if they provide that service or if they know who does. That’s how I found the service I worked with.

5. If you have access to local clothing resellers/recyclers, find out their needs and how they examine the clothing they take in.

It’s not impossible to find homes for your items, but it takes time, persistence, and patience. If you are short on any of these three but determined to downsize, donation to local resellers or to service-oriented organizations may be your best bet.


This blog post is part of a series called Downsizing. It is the chronicle of moving from a 2475 square foot home to one approximately half its size during the first six months of 2016. It takes place in New Cumberland, Pennsylvania.

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