More than any previous generation, today’s seniors have the freedom to choose where and how they want to live in retirement. Perhaps because of this, many choose to simplify their life and downsize. However, many older adults have not moved from their home in 30, 40, or even 50 years. And as we age, we tend to collect more “stuff”.
It’s easy to feel weighed down with possessions that you don’t need, but feel obligated to keep: children’s memorabilia, family hand-me-downs, boxes that haven’t seen the light of day in 20 years. What happens when you need to make a transition, or even just declutter your home? What are your options for what to do with the items you no longer want or need?
When downsizing your possessions, you typically have 4 main options: give items to loved ones, sell them, donate items, and, finally, recycle/trash them.
For many people, passing down your possessions to loved ones is the preferred place to begin downsizing. Therefore, always give them the first opportunity to lay claim over items they want. If there are heirloom pieces or family mementos that you were planning on willing to your children or loved ones, consider giving those gifts now while you can see them enjoy and use them. This can free up your space while giving you the pleasure of seeing your mementos passed on.
Some people prefer to host a large family gathering where possessions are divvied, some prefer having one-to-one talks with loved ones, while others prefer utilizing online tools to sort and track. Whichever method you choose, be firm about the date that your loved ones have to collect their items by. While you will need time to get organized yourself, your children and grandchildren should respect your schedule to collect or make arrangements for their items. If they really want the items, they’ll find a way to make your timeline work for them.
Among those downsizing today, it is common to be surprised by how little of your possessions loved ones want to accept. Most of your possessions don’t hold the same significance or sentimental value to them as they do to you. Your family members may not know the significance an item or collection has to you and it may mean more to them if you take time to explain to them. Historically, it was simply expected that you would want your parent’s belongings. Today’s adults are bucking that trend. And while there are many reasons why, including limited space, accessibility, and style, you should be prepared for the reality of this new trend.
When looking to sell your possessions, it is important to carefully consider what your options are, but to also be realistic. We have a tendency to overvalue our possessions. Economist Richard Thaler called this the endowment affect, discovering that the amount people are willing to pay for an item is often much less than the amount they are willing to accept to give up that same item. Therefore, it has been shown that if you have an emotional attachment to the possession you’re parting with, you’re less likely to be able to determine its true value.
If you have a collection you think has monetary worth or if you question the value of your items, consider consulting with an appraiser. A professional appraisal can help you decide whether to treasure or toss items and answer questions regarding value. A truly independent appraiser should have no interest in buying your items - it would be a conflict of interest. Appraisers are not required to be licensed, so do your homework when hiring one and consider using an appraiser associated with one of the three major professional associations: The American Society of Appraisers, the International Society of Appraisers, or the Appraisers Association of America.
With the Internet, many individuals believe that you should be able to do much of the research yourself to compare the value of your items. While it can be a good resource, it can be hard to do an apples-to-apples comparison from the Internet, especially if your possessions are older. Often the value of your item may be less than what you can find online.
While there is always an ebb and flow of demand for different styles, right now many people downsizing will find it relatively easy to sell quality mid-century modern furniture and difficult to sell oversized, heavy, dark furniture mass-produced in the 1970s and 1980s, as well as china, silver, and figurines. If you are trying to sell those items, consider repurposing them or selling to a shop that will repurpose it. You could also try selling them on local classifieds or through Facebook groups.
While selling can be a great option, it does require a lot of work, so take into consideration the amount of time and effort you will spend trying to sell an item for its estimated value. You have a lot of options - individual dealers, estate sales, garage sales, consignment stores, online forums, social media groups – but you have to balance the how much time, effort, and hassle you are willing to going through to try and sell your items.
Supporting charitable causes is second nature to many of us, bringing joy and a sense of fulfillment. It can be especially meaningful to donate possessions when you know your items can be used to make a difference in their local community. Therefore, when you are downsizing, consider doing good with your gently-used items through donation.
When deciding what you’re going to donate, consider supporting the charities and causes close to your heart by asking how they could benefit from your items. For example, animal shelters are usually looking for more sheets and towels. Your local library typically accepts book donations. Unused china can be sent to benefit American veterans and their families. Local women’s shelters are often looking for professional clothing, kid’s games and books, and toiletries.
Sometimes getting your items to your favorite charity or organizations is the largest barrier. If you are looking to donate large household items, such as furniture and appliances, many charities and thrift stores will offer pick up services when you contact them, and may even pick up some of your smaller items alongside the larger.
Overall, be mindful of what you choose to donate. By dumping broken, unusable, or unsalable items, you’re actually setting the cause you’re trying to help back by forcing them to get rid of the items for you.
Recycling & Trashing
If you are not able to divest yourself of items by any of the means listed above, then it is time to consider recycling or trashing them. Don’t try to give away an item beyond repair or that no one would pay money for.
Knoxville, Tennessee has several city and county recycling centers available for its citizens. Last year alone, Knox County taxpayers spent between $1.6 to $2 million to haul our trash to a landfill and bury it. On the other hand, the sale of recyclable waste generated over $500,000 for the county. Therefore, check with your local recycling center information or visit their website to understand what is accepted where and see how much you can recycle before simply trashing items.
Rather than hauling everything yourself, another option is to hire a junk removal service that will come into your house and get items out of the way for you. There are several options locally, but take time to research which company is best for you. Some of these companies will find recyclable or reusable uses for much of your belongings, while others will simply quickly and efficiently deal with your belongings.
It can become easy to be overwhelmed by the downsizing process.
If you are looking to downsize, give yourself time to get started and don’t feel as though you have to tackle everything immediately. It may be helpful to begin by tackling your “hidden spaces,” such as cleaning out a drawer or a box in the attic. Once you gain momentum, then move forward.
It is a difficult and daunting task to look at your house and physical legacy and ultimately decide what stays and what goes. If you’re able to begin going through items without an impending deadline, it can be easier to deal with and allow you to be more patient. And remember, just because you don’t have the physical item anymore doesn’t mean that you lose the memories associated with it.