In the last column I discussed the quick and dirty part of downsizing: the identification of trash and recycling. Next in the narrowing circle of possessions to be downsized are the treasures, both real and imagined. If unprepared in the task of divesting ourselves of our treasures, we might be very rudely awakened to the reality of just how difficult it is to sell—or even give away—certain things (fine china and old fur coats, for example).
Treasure, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. But a list might include delicate antique furniture, heavy antique furniture, china, silver, dinner bells, individual sterling silver ash trays, table linens that need copious amounts of bleaching and ironing, leather-bound books, etc. If you have children or heirs of any type, the first step could be to open the home to them and allow them to identify anything they would like.
If you know for sure that, for example, all three of the children are salivating over your great-grandmother’s Limoges, make sure to note in your will that it should be sold and the proceeds split evenly between the three. Or offer three items of equal value and let them draw out of a hat. The point is that if your heirs would like anything from the estate — be that estate humble or grand — it is important to know so that you can get busy getting rid of all the stuff they aren’t interested in.
Because the market at auctions is so flooded currently by an aging population (and their heirs who neither wish to perch on fragile antique chairs nor lift heavy Spanish colonial ones) selling things is not as easy as it used to be. Japanese dishes, Italian pottery and the aforementioned Spanish colonial (Mexican and South American) furniture sells for a fraction of original purchase price. For certain things, at least at the moment, it is a buyer’s market.
To sell through an auction house, furnishings and art must be of a certain quality and in fine condition, which is not usually the case in the average home. But there are several levels and types of auction houses. Do some research on the Internet to see if an auction house near you could suit your needs. Be prepared to pay them to do a site visit and for time they spend packing and transporting your goods in addition to the percentage taken when an item sells.
Consignment shops are an option, but they, too, are getting pickier and pickier about what they allow to take up expensive real estate on the floor. The hefty percentage of the sale price taken by consignment shops— 40 to 50 percent for household goods — can scare people away from consigning.
The truth is that very few of us are inclined to spend the time to host a garage sale or sell item-by-item on eBay and Etsy, so I advise letting someone else do the selling and release the stuff mentally. If something has been useful and enjoyed at all, then it has earned its “money’s worth” and anything additional should be considered a bonus. Take a moment to appreciate it once more, then let it go.
Which brings us back to the considerations of the future downsizer: is there anything in the house, garage or in storage that is no longer useful or beautiful to you? I’m talking about old electronics, dressers, coffee tables, armoires, bed frames and sheets belonging to a mattress size you no longer own—you get the idea. These things are taking up valuable space and should be sold or given away while it is still potentially useful or beautiful to somebody. The fantastic feeling of being prepared will be much longer lasting than the pain of the bargain-price sale or donation.
In two weeks: Downsizing, part 3: almost everything else