Downsizing. It’s hard enough to contemplate for ourselves, but to make such decisions for someone else adds layers of difficulty.
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.
Here’s a list of 12 tips to help make the downsizing task a little less onerous for everyone involved:
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
If you are tech-savvy, the apps CPlus (a third-party app for Craigslist) Letgo, 5Miles 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.
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.
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.
Deseret Industries, Goodwill (whose website makes it easy to find the nearest donation site), Salvation Army, Society 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:
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.
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.
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).
Do you have any advice for adult children whose parents are downsizing? We’d like to hear your tips in the comments below.