Time to Downsize: Strategies for sifting through a lifetime of possessions - Albuquerque Journal

Time to Downsize: Strategies for sifting through a lifetime of possessions

Estate sales can help downsize belongings before a move or after a loved one has passed. (Courtesy of Duke City Estate Services)

Over the course of a lifetime, most people collect a lot of stuff. The closet stuffed full of items barely used, the garage full of bins of treasures, collections of memories past.

Since Marie Kondo sparked a conversation and the pandemic forced people to spend a lot of time at home, the topic of downsizing has come more to the forefront. In Sweden, they have a concept known as “death cleaning,” which is ridding yourself of items you don’t use, so loved ones don’t have to deal with it once you’ve passed. Or it can be just letting go of things little used and giving them a second life in new hands.

When and how to downsize can often be a daunting and emotional prospect. But there are several options to help the process.

For people looking to move into a smaller residence or into assisted living, those who are left to process the belongings of a loved one, or those who just want to reclaim that closet, estate sales or antique shops are options.

“The baby boomers generation, we have so much stuff … how do we liquidate it?” says David Snow, owner of Duke City Estate Services.

Campbell recommends paring down collections by keeping one or two favorites and parting with the rest. (Courtesy of Copper Bell Antiques)

As to when to downsize, Roxanne Campbell, who owns Copper Bell Antiques with her husband, says now is the time.

“All of us can do it,” says Campbell. “(We) tend to accumulate things. It’s hard if you haven’t moved. You tend to tuck things out of sight and out of mind. When you move there is all this stuff you haven’t seen in years. I don’t think it’s a bad thing to do on a regular basis.”

“Everyone collects stuff,” Snow says. “It’s the nature of what human beings are.”

For those with an entire home’s worth of items to deal with, there are estate sales. They are akin to a garage sale, but on a larger scale.

“Estate sale usually implies the entire contents of a person’s home,” says Snow.

An estate sale is usually held over a three-day period, with the first day selling items at first price, the second day getting a discount and the final day usually 50% off, to divest the last of the inventory. Depending on the company, the profit split can vary, depending on the estate. The sale is most often held in the actual estate that originally housed the items.

Antique shops often focus on more curated items where sellers can receive money up front and walk away. “You get your money right now and you don’t have to deal with it,” says Campbell.

Getting started

It can also be difficult to broach the subject of downsizing with loved ones.

“A lot of what I see is that in some point in our parents’ or grandparents’ lives … a three bedroom house is too much to maintain,” says Snow. An estate sale is an “option that allows you to choose the items you get to keep for the rest of your life.”

Snow says an estate sale can help take care of those items in a compassionate and comprehensive way, so the last years are spent loving your loved ones. But he points out that it can be an emotional thing seeing your things getting priced and going to strangers.

“(I) implore my clients to remove the sentimental items,” Snow says.

It’s OK to have sentimental attachment to things, he says, but at some point it’s really healthy to let go.

“We feel like we need it all,” he says.

Campbell says she recently broached the downsizing topic with her father.

“I think most people face it and know they can’t take it all with them (when they move),” she says. “Some people will feel better if a family member takes it. … Ask if there is someone in the family they would like to get it.”

Getting it done

Snow recommends a 3-to-1 strategy for tackling an estate. Out of four items, you let three go and keep one. “It’s OK to be sentimental. But at some point, you’re going to no longer need the coffee cup.”

“I’m a little bit of a therapist,” says Snow. “It’s building of a relationship to come to this place where its OK to let go of this thing that’s a burden or has a sentimental value.”

Snow says sitting down with family and “having the hard conversation,” can help with the process. “If mom or dad are willing to have a conversation, it makes it easier. Let’s be compassionate with each other.”

“For people who are downsizing a loved one’s estate, what I tell my children, just because I loved it doesn’t mean you have to,” says Campbell. “If it’s not something they want or love, they shouldn’t obligated to hold onto something, unless it’s something they truly cherish.”

Antique shops like Copper Bell Antiques are an option for people looking to downsize their belongings. Co-owner Roxanne Campbell says people often come to antique shops to look for accent pieces. (Courtesy of Copper Bell Antiques)

Campbell says if you want to downsize a collection of items, pick one or two of your favorites and let the rest go. She also recommends taking a picture.

Another technique Campbell recommends for dealing with items you might want to let go, is to pack them up in a box and if you haven’t looked in that box in a year, you can let them go.

“You’re not letting go immediately, but months later you realize you haven’t looked at it,” says Campbell.

“I can’t say it’s easy.”

Snow agrees that downsizing can be quite emotional.

“The process of letting go of a person’s life, it can be very emotions, strenuous and hard,” says Snow.

Campbell says its OK to give items new life. “I would rather someone buy an antique and use it however its useful to them,” she says, “As opposed to never being loved again.”

Best sellers

So what sort of items can you downsize with the expectation of a sale?

Snow says the obvious things like gold, silver, framed art, mid-century modern furniture. But also more practical items like tools or pots and pans.

“I sell more Tupperware than I ever thought I would in my life,” says Snow. “With the economy what it is, resale shopping is way more practical.”

“People spend $3 way easier than $2,500,” says Snow.

Campbell finds that items like china sets or ceramic figurines are a hard sell but colored glassware is popular. She says in most cases people aren’t looking to furnish their whole house in antiques, but looking for accent pieces. “A lot of people doing repurposing things,” she says, like “turning dressers into vanities.”

“If they make it work for them that’s great.”

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