So, you’ve made the Big Decision—you’ll be downsizing and moving into a 55+ independent living community.
But if you’re thinking you’ll just bequeath all of your possessions to family, you may want to come up with a backup plan. Seniors who are downsizing are finding more and more that their children, or other younger relatives, simply don’t want their stuff.
Whether it’s because they don’t want to iron your old tablecloths, because they prefer to select their own wall art, or because they simply don’t care that your great-grandmother hand-stitched that quilt, the post-baby boom generations are much less interested in developing and maintaining heirlooms than their predecessors.
For one, younger generations move more frequently. Rather than remaining in the same home for years at a time, millennials in particular are unlikely to purchase a home at all. The logistics of moving large, heavy, and/or fragile items make them substantially less appealing to those who know they’ll have to move it again in a matter of months. This applies to everything from bed frames and armoires to china cabinets and porcelain spoon collections. Lifestyles have changed, and younger people typically don’t have the time or the inclination to polish silver or care for heavy wood furniture.
Still wanted by the younger generations? Gardening tools and woodworking accessories, small kitchen appliances in good working order, heirloom jewelry, and costume jewelry, which can be used both for fashion and for crafts. However, that leaves most other usable items still in limbo, which can feel like an overwhelming problem when Plan A—unloading it on the kids—doesn’t pan out.
SO WHAT DO I DO WITH IT ALL?
Some may be inclined to sell their old belongings, but as we barrel toward an economic recession, it may be difficult to find buyers. Additionally, many items that people once thought were valuable such as Persian rugs, antique china, and old books are rarely of substantial monetary value. If you’re set on selling, personal property appraisers may help.
Estate appraiser Julie Hall advises not to take it personally when adult kids don’t want your possessions. Ask your kids what they want, Hall says — and listen to their answers. “No means no,” says Hall, “and if you assert a ‘yes’ into that ‘no’… it becomes a burden for your children down the line.”
However, most appraisers need to see an item in person to determine its value, which means making an appointment for one to come to your home or bringing your items to them. If that doesn’t suit, you might consider taking to the internet and trying to find new homes for your beloved belongings yourself.
If you’re comfortable with people coming to your home, you can list items for sale (or for free, if you’re so inclined) on Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, or community apps such as Nextdoor. Websites such as Abe Books and Biblio provide a market for first edition, out of print, and rare books, and Replacements Ltd. buys and resells vintage tableware.
If dealing with all that online exchange is just too overwhelming, there’s always donation; charities such as Goodwill, the Salvation Army, and Vietnam Veterans of America accept household items ranging from clothing to furniture. Some will even pick up donations, although experts recommend calling first to see which items are currently being accepted. Furniture can also be donated to Habitat for Humanity, which also accepts appliances, building materials, and household décor in good condition.
Elizabeth Stewart, author of “No Thanks Mom: The Top Ten Objects Your Kids Do NOT Want (and What To Do With Them)” suggests asking friends and neighbors if they could use any items slated for downsizing. She also advises reaching out to local nonprofit organizations such as domestic violence shelters, refugee services, or school groups and youth clubs, which may take anything from vintage clothing for costumes to medical equipment such as wheelchairs and walkers.
Finally, Hall advises, begin the “thinning-out process sooner rather than later.”
“[You’re] putting stuff up in the attic when [you’re] 45,” Hall says, “and then [you] wake up and [you’re] 85 and can’t get it down.” The longer you wait, the harder it is to clear the clutter, so start early.
Like any other major life change, downsizing can be stressful and anxiety-inducing. However, it can also be deeply freeing. As you navigate the process, remember that the memories are more important than the material.