Parents who are downsizing or simply decluttering may have to get creative at finding homes for all their unwanted possessions — particularly these days.
The generations that came after the baby boom are famously less interested than their predecessors in the trappings of domestic life, says Elizabeth Stewart, author of No Thanks Mom: The Top Ten Objects Your Kids Do NOT Want (and What To Do With Them).
Gen Xers and millennials often don’t want to polish silver or hand wash china, Stewart says. They’re also typically not interested in dark, heavy furniture, books, photo albums, vintage linens or someone else’s collections.
It’s hard enough for parents to realize that their adult kids don’t want their stuff. The next challenge is figuring out what to do with it all.
THE PANDEMIC IS AFFECTING VALUES
Some of what parents own may have real value, but finding buyers right now can be a challenge, says estate appraiser Julie Hall, author of Inheriting Clutter: How to Calm the Chaos Your Parents Leave Behind.
“During these times where people are concerned and worried, they’re not going to be opening their wallets quite as much as they would have,” Hall says.
Even before the pandemic and recession, many items that people thought were valuable really weren’t, Stewart says. Steamer trunks, antique sewing machines, Persian rugs, old books and silver-plated objects are among the items that may seem rare and costly but typically aren’t, she says.
AN EXPERT OPINION COULD HELP
Personal property appraisers, found through the American Society of Appraisers or the International Society of Appraisers, can help people determine what might be worth selling. But not everyone feels comfortable having strangers in their homes right now. Most appraisers need to see and touch objects to determine values, although some, including Hall, will work virtually to appraise common items such as vintage lamps, old cameras, costume jewelry and figurines.
“People just wanted to e-mail me a few photos and needed a quick answer whether it was valuable or not so they could just get rid of it and not feel bad about it,” she says.
People can use auction sites such as eBay to estimate values, but they should check the most recent “sold” listings, Hall says.
“Anybody can ask the sun and the moon,” she says. “You need [to know] what are things selling for presently.”
FINDING HOMES FOR EVERYTHING ELSE
Owners of sterling silver flatware, china and crystal may be able to sell individual pieces to Replacements Ltd, a tableware retailer that makes purchases through an online process, Stewart says. The value of books often can be established with an Internet search or by visiting Biblio.com, a marketplace for rare, out-of-print and collectible books.
If you’re comfortable with people coming to your home or garage, you can list items for sale on Craigslist or neighborhood apps such as Nextdoor. Those are good sites to list items you want to give away, too, and many communities have Freecycle groups to help you find homes for unwanted items.
Charities such as Goodwill, Salvation Army, St Vincent de Paul and Vietnam Veterans of America accept a wide variety of household items, including clothing and furniture, and some will pick up donations. Charities are often selective about what they’ll accept, and many were inundated when pandemic lockdowns lifted. It’s best to call or check the local organization’s Web site to see what is and isn’t being accepted.
Furniture can be donated to Habitat for Humanity or to a charity associated with the Furniture Bank Network. Habitat also accepts new and gently used appliances, building materials and household goods.
Stewart encourages her clients to look for potential recipients more locally, as well. Domestic violence shelters, refugee services and housing authorities may need clothes, furniture and household goods to help people establish new homes, she says. School or community theater groups might want vintage clothes for costumes. Youth clubs might accept furniture, game tables or musical instruments for their recreation rooms. Stewart was able to donate a piano — an instrument that’s notoriously hard to give away — to a local Boys & Girls Club.
Stewart also suggests inquiring if friends, neighbors and extended family members could use an item, particularly those with sentimental or emotional attachments.
“It’s much more palatable for people to give to someone they know than to give to a faceless organization,” Stewart says. “You don’t wake up at three in the morning and say, ‘Should I have really given that thing away?’”
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