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What Do I Do With All My Stuff?

I don’t believe moving is on anybody’s bucket list and is especially difficult for seniors contemplating leaving their family home. The memories fill every room: all the Christmas mornings, the kid's birthday parties, the special meals prepared in your kitchen. All those places you lived your life and created family memories will now be someone else's home. The emotional issues can be large. But it must be done. For whatever reason, health, retirement, family, finances or otherwise, it is time to sell your home. You know what else fills every room, the garage, the attic and the shed? All your STUFF!! This article is designed to address “right-sizing” your personal property in anticipation of making this major transition.

Downsizing can be overwhelming and complicated. When you look around your house and struggle with, “where do I start”? you see treasures, necessities, and a lifetime of memories. Your Realtor and/or children see a houseful of stuff to sort, sell or toss, Only the death of a spouse or divorce rank as more stressful than downsizing and moving to your retirement home.

Everyone agrees that this is a daunting task. START EARLY, give yourself and those helping you plenty of time. First approach your family and confirm that what you believe to be family treasures are actually wanted by your family. Ask them what they want and listen carefully. You will likely be astonished by the brevity of the list. I caution you not to ask your children about a specific item or collection. Often, they will humor you and tell you that they “would love” your collection of antique teaspoons, when they just don’t want to hurt your feelings.

You have an excess of stuff and are prepared to be generous. I am a huge supporter of gifting especially valuable items to children, grandchildren and those special people in your life during the holidays. You will experience so much joy in giving these treasures to your benefactors, and you avoid any potential for family fights after your passing. Unless you happen to have family members in great need or just setting up a household, no one really wants the bulk of your personal possessions. They have their own stuff and don’t have room for yours and tastes have changed over the past 30 years.

This is the hardest news to appreciate: virtually all your prized possessions, carefully accumulated over decades, are nothing more than “yard sale inventory”. Dishes, China, fine crystal, and related items are often virtually worthless. Today people want microwavable, dishwasher safe, durable dishes. Silverware, platters or tea service are worth whatever the silver will bring melted. Fine art and antiques have also lost significant value and younger tastes have gone elsewhere. I have heard it said that millennials “don’t want anything if it can’t fit on their phone”. One of my greatest surprises was the lack of value of real wood furniture. Your maple dining room set with 8 matching chairs and buffet are hardly worth the moving expense.

Once you have given the children and other benefactors all the family treasures, you still need to deliver an empty property to the buyer. You will likely still have a good amount of stuff, some of which may have real value. At this point, you can hire a personal property appraiser, call a trusted consignment shop or other experts to inspect and value any items of great value. It may be old, it may be rare, but seldom does that mean it is valuable. Often a simple internet search will tell you whether the item has any value. Search for it on eBay! I have been told that real jewelry, guns, and tools are really the only categories which have gone up and/or held their values. Most everything else you own is worth pennies on the dollar of what you paid for it.

Yes, your heirs and benefactors love you and will do whatever is necessary to help you downsize into your retirement home, but they won’t take your china. What stuff do you really need to have a happy full life? Take this to your new home. Everything else has got to go. Be generous to your benefactors and your charities of choice.

Seniors have special real estate needs. As a Senior Real Estate Specialist, I am trained to advise you regarding your housing options, adaptations you can make to your existing home, financing options only available to seniors, and of course selling your home and finding your new home. For questions I don’t have an answer for, I have a sizeable network of caring professionals at my disposal. If you have questions, I may be reached at 626-524-4158

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