Downsizing: What do I do if nobody wants my stuff?

Apr 16, 2024

couple packing kitchenBy 2030, more than 20 percent of U.S. residents are projected to be age 65 and over. In tandem with that population growth is an anti-clutter movement.

What does that mean for those ready to declutter? A lot of people are looking to downsize their homes and belongings, but not as many people are looking to scoop up those possessions.

If you’ve started or are getting ready to start the process of downsizing your home and are finding that your family doesn’t want your stuff, use these steps to get rid of the stuff that doesn’t make the cut.

Everyone’s Looking to Declutter

A lot of people are trying to simplify their lives and that’s led to a bit of a disconnect between the generations. You’ve done your duty and stored the family heirlooms. Now that you’re thinking about downsizing your home and moving to a smaller house or apartment, you’re ready to pass them on.

But what a lot of parents are finding is that their adult children are either unable or unwilling to receive them.

The Boston Globe took a closer look at the trend of baby boomers downsizing and found that changing lifestyles are at the heart of the matter. Adult children of baby boomers aren’t hosting as much as their parents did and tend to live in smaller spaces. While they might see the value of your dinnerware set, they may not see the need for it in their own lives.

With that in mind, it’s important not to take it personally when your adult children don’t want your stuff. They’re probably looking to minimize their own belongings and don’t have room to take their great-grandma’s 19th century walnut armoire off your hands.

So, if there aren’t any takers in your family or friend group, what do you do next?

Step One: Determine the Sentimental Value of Your Stuff

We all know the drill: keep, donate, toss. But the key to knowing what items go into each box is figuring out how much your stuff means to you. Anything that goes in the “keep” pile has to earn its spot.

Marie Kondo, a Japanese organizing consultant and author of the New York Times best-selling “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” has a great way of determining the value of a possession. She recommends picking up or touching everything you own and asking yourself each time if it brings you joy. If it does, great! Keep it.

If not, she instructs people to thank the item for its service and get rid of it. It sounds a bit silly to thank a sweater, but you’d be surprised at how much easier that makes it to put your old favorite in the “donate” box.

This helps keep the decluttering process less sentimental. Acknowledge the memories held in that chair you bought with your first paycheck and then send it to a new home.

Step Two: Determine the Financial Value of Your Things

When you’re downsizing your home, you don’t want to miss out on the financial gains your valuable items can bring you. Before you toss it or donate an item, you’ll want to make sure you know how much it’s worth.

It’s important to establish the value early on so you have a price in mind when you’re ready to sell. For collectibles and heirloom items, The Spruce has a great list on how to determine the value of antiques. Look at online auction sites to see what similar pieces are going for. Do a little research at the local library — they can usually be counted on to have antique and collectible price guides in their catalog.

For all other items, you’ll have to do some more online legwork. What are bedroom sets going for in your area? What’s the average price of an armchair?  Once you have a price range in mind, you’re ready to sell.

Step Three: Selling Your Unwanted Furniture and Possessions

There are endless options for selling online these days, which is great — it takes away the hassle of organizing sales yourself. However, you aren’t limited to online auction sites when you’re downsizing.

For furniture, though, it might be easiest to sell online — there are a lot of sites dedicated to facilitating rummage-sale-type exchanges. But if you don’t want to go through the trouble of setting up accounts and payment options, you can contact professional liquidators. To find a trustworthy one, search for estate sales online or go to a local estate planner and ask if they can give you a referral.

And don’t forget the classifieds. They may seem a bit outdated, but they still get results.

For smaller items, you’re probably better off taking them to a consignment shop if they aren’t collectible or antique. That way they’re off your hands in one big group, and you don’t have to sell them piecemeal online.

For valuable antiques, it’s a good idea to take them to an antique dealer. To find a reputable one, do some online searching or look at members of the Antiques Dealers’ Association of America. They have an easily searchable list that can be sorted by item categories.

Step Four: Downsize and Donate

You may decide you would prefer to donate certain items instead of selling them. There are so many great charities out there that the biggest challenge of donating is deciding where to go.

If you’re donating furniture, Habitat for Humanity is a great first stop. Many of their Habitat ReStores offer free pickup of larger items, keeping it hassle-free for you. The same is true of the Salvation Army — you can schedule a pickup if it’s available in your area.

Want to help out locally? Consider donating your clothes and household goods to local shelters, churches, and crisis centers. However, be sure to call ahead. They might not be able to accept the items you wish to donate. Schedule a time to drop off your items so they’re ready for you and can have a receipt for tax deductions prepared.

For clothing that didn’t make the cut, consider Dress For Success and Career Gear. These charities provide clothing for interviews (Dress For Success is for women, Career Gear is for men). Both provide job training services like interview preparation, job search techniques, and financial literacy programs.

When you donate your business attire to these charities, you’re helping someone show up to their interview looking professional and polished. It’s a great way to give your clothes a second life while giving someone else a boost as they start their careers or get them back on track.

For other items like bikes, shoes, cell phones, computers, office supplies, sports equipment, AARP has a fantastic article on where to donate all kinds of things.

They even have a suggestion for boats — Boat Angel and Boats With Causes. Both sell your unwanted boat to help support a lot of great causes. You know what they say — “the two happiest days in a boat owner’s life is the day he buys a boat and the day he sells it.”

Of course, some things you can’t donate or sell. For things in that toss box, it’s time to let go and declutter your life.

Step Five: Get Rid of the Extra Stuff

Once you’ve tackled the task of sorting through your stuff, you’re ready to throw out the things you no longer need.

But sometimes there’s something standing between you and the trash bin: your adult children.

Is your storage space being monopolized by old trophies, piles of grade school projects, and well-loved but long-forgotten American Girl dolls? If so, you might still have it because your kids can’t bear to part with it, yet aren’t willing to add it to their own storage space.

It might be time for an ultimatum. Have them go through their leftover stuff and take what they want. Make it clear that anything not claimed will be recycled or thrown away.

And if they live across the country, smartphones provide an easy fix. Simply take pictures of the items you think they may want, and they can give you a thumbs up or a thumbs down.

Step 6: Preserve Your Memories

Maybe you’re ready to give up your glassware collection or your vintage Christmas ornaments. But you’re a little hesitant because they’re old favorites and have been a part of a lot of happy memories.

Keep those happy feelings by choosing a few favorites and taking pictures of the rest. Keep them on a thumb drive so you always have a record.

If you’re feeling ambitious, you can do the same with pictures and letters. Scan them and save them all in one spot so they’re preserved forever. This is also a good opportunity to go through and make sure they’re all properly labeled for future generations.

Downsizing Services

Of course, all of those steps will take some time. If you would rather leave it to the professionals, you can hire a senior move specialist.

The typical fee of a move specialist is anywhere from $40-$125. Move managers don’t do the actual moving, so you’ll still have to pay for a mover. But they do handle all the chores associated with moving, like packing and arranging donations.

Free to Live the Life You Choose

After you’ve downsized and decluttered, you’ll be ready to move into a more efficiently sized place that’s better suited to your lifestyle. You’ve gotten rid of the extra weight. What does your future look like now?

Residents at The Admiral at the Lake are enjoying active, vibrant lives in luxury apartment homes that are the ideal size for them. It’s never too early to start thinking ahead about the future. Is our dynamic lifestyle right for you!