12 Tips to Make Downsizing Easier

Downsizing. It’s hard enough to contemplate for ourselves, but to make such decisions for someone else adds layers of difficulty.12 Tips to Make Downsizing Easier

Some seniors are ready to let go of all but a few material possessions, but for others, the idea of parting with even seemingly insignificant objects can cause great anxiety and sadness – and that doesn’t even include those who may be grappling with dementia or depression. Additionally, many seniors lack the mobility and physical strength to sort through and pack things on their own.

Tips to Make Downsizing Easier

Here’s a list of 12 tips to help make the downsizing task a little less onerous for everyone involved:

1. Accrue Tax Advantages

If you donate goods to a charitable organization, always get a tax receipt, even if you don’t know whether or not your senior loved one will require it to claim a deduction. Although it can add a layer or two of complexity to your disposal efforts, take photos of everything that’s being donated and note the condition of the items to support the receipt, as condition helps to determine value. Thorough records are helpful in the event of an audit. The Goodwill valuation guide is a good, basic reference.

2. Call an Auction House or Consignment Shop

Local auction houses and consignment shops can be great places to sell higher-quality household furnishings in excellent condition and smaller items, such as art or jewelry. The downside is that these outlets charge a commission and it can take a long time before items sell (if they do, in fact, sell) and proceeds become available to your senior loved one.

3. Check out Craigslist

Available across North America (and, increasingly, around the globe), Craiglist has largely replaced classified ads as a way to get rid of unwanted items. It’s easy to set up an account and list things for sale, and – best of all – there is no charge to place an ad. Interested parties can contact you via proxy email, text or voice, so be sure to monitor whatever means you’ve chosen, and delete the ad from Craigslist once the item or items have been spoken for.

4. Consider eBay

If you have more time, eBay is a great place to sell smaller items that can be easily packed up and shipped. It takes a bit of camera skills and tech know how to set up an account and create listings, but, even though eBay and PayPal (the primary way to get paid for auctions) take a percentage, a decent profit can be made. While you can list larger items on eBay and stipulate “local pickup only,” you’re probably better off offloading such objects via other, more local means. eBay is also a good resource for researching an item’s potential value.

5. Consult Relatives

Make sure the rest of the family is on board before you embark on any major downsizing project. Ask your senior loved one if there are specific items they would like to give away, and to whom; with his or her blessing, invite siblings or others to identify items that they would like to keep. You don’t want to be in the position of having to placate a sister who’s distraught because you gave away the portrait of John F. Kennedy that she made in the second grade out of dried beans and macaroni.

6. Download Helpful Smartphone Apps

If you are tech-savvy, the apps CPlus (a third-party app for Craigslist) Letgo5Miles and OfferUp connect local buyers and sellers. Currently operating in six cities with more coming soon, Dolly is a “moving concierge” that sources contracted helpers who can help with everything from a move to a new home to delivering a single piece of furniture. Lugg provides a similar, on-demand moving service, but is limited to four urban areas in California.

7. Host an On-Site Sale

Whatever you call it – estate, garage, rummage, tag, yard sale – staging a sale is a lot of work, but it’s often the most straightforward way to get rid of things fairly quickly while also raising funds. If the estate is substantial, you might want to hire a professional company to liquidate the assets. Very valuable items such as collectible art and rare or first edition books will likely fetch more money at auction (online or otherwise) than in an estate sale.

8. Look Nextdoor

Also determined by address, Nextdoor is a free, private social network comprised of more than 156,000 neighborhood groups across the country. Each Nextdoor homepage includes a “For Sale & Free” section.

Caveats: Overwhelmingly, Buy Nothing, Craigslist and Nextdoor are perfectly safe ways in which to dispose of belongings. That said, never sell small, valuable items – such as desirable electronics or jewelry – anywhere but a public meeting place. Regardless of what you’re selling, at home or otherwise, always have one or two friends with you when meeting a buyer. This article has some additional tips on how safely to use online services to get rid of possessions.

9. Make a Donation

Deseret IndustriesGoodwill (whose website makes it easy to find the nearest donation site), Salvation ArmySociety of St. Vincent de Paul and local, standalone thrift stores are all great places to donate. Many organizations will pick up goods, with varying restrictions and limitations. (If you’re planning to deduct donations, make certain that any shop you’re considering is a legitimate nonprofit organization and can provide a tax receipt.)

More About Donating vs. Selling:

  • Apparel. Some vintage items may have considerable value (look for haute couture designer names, gloves, handbags, scarves and shoes), but unless apparel is current, stylish and in excellent condition, clothing is rarely worth trying to sell. Rather than send it to the landfill, find out where it can be donated for recycling. Many urban areas have donation sites for unwanted textiles, such as those maintained by USAgain.
  • Automobiles. Many nonprofits are happy to accept vehicles (in all conditions), but if a tax deduction is possible or intended, remember that the IRS scrutinizes such donations for over-inflated valuation. Charity Navigator offers this handy guide to donating a car.
  • Books. If your loved one has an extensive book collection that needs to be culled, many nonprofits and thrift stores are happy to take donations. Contact secondhand bookshop owners, who may be interested enough in purchasing books to come to you. Most libraries have a Friends of the Library Society that accepts books in good-to-new condition. Willing to pay media rate postage? Support the troops by sending volumes to Books for Soldiers, or promote education by contributing to Books for Africa. Many organizations around the country that distribute books to prisoners are listed here.
  • Electronics. Even old computers can sometimes be donated rather than sent to a recycling facility. Before dropping off an unwanted desktop or laptop, make sure that the organization is one that will wipe the hard drive of all personal information.
  • Furniture. Many ornate antiques that were once highly desirable have fallen out of favor. A little online research will indicate which pieces are likely to have increased in value and can help determine if you should donate or sell.
  • Housewares. Some ordinary household items have increased in value and are highly desirable now, as long as they’re in good, undamaged condition. Look especially for Mid-Century Modern dishes and flatware, vintage barware, and enameled cast iron cookware (Le Creuset, Cousances, Descoware). Anything with an “atomic” theme, from clocks to plates to radios, are sought-after collectibles.
  • Jewelry. Consult an appraiser or get out a magnifying glass. Examine items closely to determine if they’re costume or fine jewelry. Even some costume jewelry is highly desirable and can be worth a surprising sum: it’s worth looking up the value of any pieces with a maker’s mark, from Laurel Burch to Monet. A necklace made from non-precious crystals or metal might sell for $20-30, unless it has a tag that says “Chanel,” in which case it could fetch $2,000-3,000.
  • LP Albums. What’s old is new again. Vinyl is back, and many fine-condition albums from the mid-20th century can be worth hundreds – even thousands – of dollars. (Vintage jazz and traditional country genres, particularly; Time-Life box sets, not so much.) Hire a young relative to research values if you haven’t the time.
  • Spectacles. If you come across a cache of old eyeglasses, don’t toss them: they can be reused in the U.S. and abroad. Mail-in programs, national thrifts such as Goodwill, and many opticians will accept them and see that they are properly matched up to those in need.

10. Seek Professional Help

What you do with your senior’s excess stuff may depend upon how much time you have. If you don’t feel confident researching valuations on your own, consider hiring a professional appraiser to help you determine what to donate, sell or simply throw away. (You don’t want to be that person who offloads a sloppy painting for $5 and later finds out it was a Jackson Pollock worth millions.) Should you need even more assistance, consider hiring a professional moving manager like Katie Munoz. An extreme option, sometimes unavoidable due to time or geographical constraints, is working with a dealer who offers a fixed price for the entire contents of a home – total liquidation – and the owner just walks away.

11. Sign Up for Buy Nothing

Established in July 2013, the Buy Nothing Project is, according to the website, growing by leaps and bounds. Designed to be “hyper-local,” it allows members, who join specific groups through Facebook based upon their physical address, to gift or receive unwanted items of every description.

12. Take Pictures

Photograph cherished possessions and create an album, real or virtual, so that they can let go of the physical objects yet always have the memories of them close at hand. Go a step further and ask them to tell you the story of each item, which can be recorded, transcribed and included with the corresponding photo(s).

Caitlin Burm is an award-winning editor and writer who has written extensively about education, health and senior care, most recently at A Place for Mom and previously at Arizona State University and the City of Tempe, Arizona. She thrives on content strategy and storytelling and resides in Phoenix with her daughter and husband.


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